Trump relaxed terms of engagement or just more aggression?

The possibility has arisen that terms of engagement relaxed after Donald Trump wanted more aggression in the Middle East may have caused a surge in civilian deaths in Syria.

NY Times: U.S. Investigating Mosul Strikes Said to Have Killed Up to 200 Civilians

The American-led military coalition in Iraq said Friday that it was investigating reports that scores of civilians — perhaps as many as 200, residents said — had been killed in recent American airstrikes in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city at the center of an offensive to drive out the Islamic State.

If confirmed, the series of airstrikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003. And the reports of civilian deaths in Mosul came immediately after two recent incidents in Syria, where the coalition is also battling the Islamic State from the air, in which activists and local residents said dozens of civilians had been killed.

Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight the Islamic State more aggressively.

American military officials insisted on Friday that the rules of engagement had not changed. They acknowledged, however, that American airstrikes in Syria and Iraq had been heavier in an effort to press the Islamic State on multiple fronts.

Whether the terms of engagement have changed or not more aggression (perhaps reinforced with the attitude of the President) and more attacks is almost certain to result in more mistakes and more civilian casualties.

It will be interesting to see how Trump handles the world exposure of more aggressive IS actions.

Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  26th March 2017

    As I understood it he had delegated more authority to the army commanders, not altered the operational rules.

  2. Gezza

     /  26th March 2017

    Dunno if these are still current, & it’s a trooper’s summary – there may be something more detailed in the document linked below.

    Appendix E: Rules of Engagement for U.S. Military Forces in Iraq

    Issued by U.S. Central Command Combined Forces Land Component Commander

    A laminated card with the following text was distributed to all U.S. Army and Marine personnel in Iraq.


    On order, enemy military and paramilitary forces are declared hostile and may be attacked subject to the following instructions:
    a) Positive identification (PID) is required prior to engagement. PID is a reasonable certainty that the proposed target is a legitimate military target. If no PID, contact your next higher commander for decision

    b) Do not engage anyone who has surrendered or is out of battle due to sickness or wounds.

    c) Do not target or strike any of the following except in self-defense to protect yourself, your unit, friendly forces, and designated persons or property under your control:

    Hospitals, mosques, national monuments, and any other historical and cultural sites.
    d) Do not fire into civilian populated areas or buildings unless the enemy is using them for military purposes or if necessary for your self-defense. Minimize collateral damage.

    e) Do not target enemy infrastructure (public works, commercial communication facilities, dams), Lines of Communication (roads, highways, tunnels, bridges, railways) and Economic Objects (commercial storage facilities, pipelines) unless necessary for self-defense or if ordered by your commander. If you must fire on these objects to engage a hostile force, disable and disrupt but avoid destruction of these objects, if possible.

    The use of force, including deadly force, is authorized to protect the following:
    Yourself, your unit, and friendly forces
    Enemy Prisoners of War
    Civilians from crimes that are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm, such as murder or rape
    Designated civilians and/or property, such as personnel of the Red Cross/Crescent, UN, and US/UN supported organizations
    3. Treat all civilians and their property with respect and dignity. Do not seize civilian property, including vehicles, unless you have the permission of a company level commander and you give a receipt to the property’s owner.

    Detain civilians if they interfere with mission accomplishment or if required for self-defense.
    CENTCOM General Order No. 1A remains in effect. Looting and the taking of war trophies are prohibited.

    Attack enemy forces and military targets.
    Spare civilians and civilian property, if possible.
    Conduct yourself with dignity and honor.
    Comply with the Law of War. If you see a violation, report it.
    These ROE will remain in effect until your commander orders you to transition to post-hostilities ROE.

    AS OF 311330Z JAN 03
    December 2003

    Off to dad’s rest home. Cya later.

  3. I believe that what happened in Mosul is clear evidence of the points I made the other day. Use of air power in other than precision guided munitions will, by definition, cause collateral damage. Engaging civilians in a counter-terrorist or counter insurgency situation will only end with more support for the insurgents due to casualties to civilians. You need to have troops on the ground with adequate fire support, sound intelligence, well trained junior commanders with flexibility to use their initiative. Slow down the pace of activity and dominate the terrain by fire and movement. Be prepared for a long war, so have frequent rotation of troops into and out of the combat area. Spend political capital to ensure the home base supports and stands behind the troops. If not, bring the troops home

    • Gezza

       /  27th March 2017

      The main problem is the classic issue that they are now fighting in the heart of a city BJ. Urban warfare. The worst kind for any troops. ISIS forces the families to stay inside their houses while they snipe at opposition forces.

      Those civilians who have managed to escape & are interviewed report harrowing experiences & are only too happy to see the Iraqi forces. ISIS fighters shoot at & kill people trying to get out, but they also get shot at by attacking forces.

      IEDs are everwhere. Walls and tunnels are used by ISIS to move around between houses. One escapee interviewed on Aljaz last night said there were only about five or six ISIS fighters in the area that got bombed where most of her family is now buried in the rubble.

      An Iraqi politician in a video segment this morning said the problem now is that they are trying to end the battle too quickly because It’s taking too long, & this is why coalition aircraft have been ramping up their attacks. Precision bombing in a crowded street is jot really possible.

      Another interview featured an Iraqi soldier at one of the bombed locations saying as soon as they realised air attacks they called in had buried numerous civilians they called in civil defence workers who were trying to dig people out in the background.

      The Iraqi government suspended attacks yesterday but they have now resumed. The US claims that the numbers of civilians killed in their air attacks in the past few days is only about 60, not 200, apparently. Who knows?

      • Gezza

         /  27th March 2017

        *Precision bombing in a city street of crowded houses without collaping others is not really possible, that should have said. Especially as so many of them seem to be of block construction, looking at the rubble. I imagine the building standards aren’t particularly high. Another interesting feature is that most of the escaped civilians being interviewed seem to be women. Not sure what’s happened to the men, but they’d be likely to be targeted by both the attacking & defending forces. There are still ongoing reports from time to time on Aljaz of Sunni men disappearing whereever the Shiite militias have taken over outside the city.


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