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.

Rules of engagement and civilian deaths

The ‘rules of engagement’ in modern warfare in relation to civilian deaths are a prominent factor in the ‘Hit & Run’ book and subsequent calls for an inquiry in New Zealand forces involved in attacks on two Afghan villages in 2010.

The US military played a prominent role, providing the faulty ‘intelligence’ that prompted the attacks, and also most of the fire power that caused the deaths and injuries of civilians and the destruction of their property.

Coincidentally this report from the Guardian: Mosul’s children were shouting beneath the rubble. Nobody came

Coalition bombs buried more than a hundred people in the ruins of three houses and raised fresh questions about US rules of engagement

By the time rescuers finally arrived no one was left alive. For almost a week desperate neighbours had scraped through the rubble, searching for as many as 150 people who lay buried after three homes in a west Mosul suburb were destroyed by coalition airstrikes.

Neighbours said at least 80 bodies had been recovered from one house alone, where people had been encouraged by local elders to take shelter. Rescuers were continuing to dig through the ruins, and the remains of two other houses nearby, which had also been pulverised in attacks that were described as “relentless and horrifying”.

This illustrates risks of modern asymmetric warfare, but civilian casualties have long been prevalent in conflict zones.

The US military said it was launching an investigation. Cololnel Joseph Scrocca, from the US-led command in Baghdad, said “the coalition has opened a formal civilian casualty credibility assessment on this allegation” from Mosul.

That sounds appropriate, but it is often difficult to get comprehensive evidence from a war zone still under fire.

Residents in Mosul Jadida say no Isis members were hiding among the civilians, although dozens of militants had been attempting to defend the area from an attack by Iraqi special forces.

Isis has been widely accused of using civilians as human shields by positioning guns and fighters on top of houses. Most residents at the scene said that while the group’s members were indeed on the roof of at least one of the homes, those who took shelter below did so willingly.

A very difficult situation.

‘Terms of engagement’ should indeed be rechecked.

And another thing – the US military has long had a reputation for it’s lack of subtlety in attack, it’s rip shit and bust blast to smithereens approach.

Might is not always the right way to do things.