No Changes for DoD After Trump Eases Civilian Casualty Reporting Requirements

President Donald Trump speaks at the Pentagon, Jan 17, 2019. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks at the Pentagon, Jan 17, 2019. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump moved Wednesday to rescind part of an Obama-era order requiring the publication of an annual report on civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military and intelligence actions overseas. Pentagon officials say, however, that they will continue to release their data.

The Defense Department will continue to provide information on civilian casualties in accordance with the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, said Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Candice Tresch.

"All Department of Defense efforts to minimize civilian casualties described in Executive Order 13732 [United States Policy on Pre- and Post-Strike Measures to Address Civilian Casualties] continue to apply," Tresch said in a statement.

Any credible report of deaths as a result of U.S. airstrikes outside "areas of direct active hostilities" will be investigated, she said.

The 2018 NDAA requires the DoD to submit a report on civilian casualties "caused as a result of U.S. military operations," Tresch said.

The figure includes those killed by drone and manned aircraft strikes.

The Pentagon released its first report covering 2017 data on June 1, 2018, and plans to release the next on May 1, she said.

On Wednesday, Trump rolled back part of the 2016 requirement instituted by then-President Barack Obama for U.S. government agencies, in particular the Central Intelligence Agency, to report civilian casualties resulting from actions taken against terrorist groups or individuals overseas.

According to the new executive order signed by the president, the director of national intelligence is no longer required to issue "an unclassified summary of the number of strikes undertaken by the United States government against terrorist targets outside areas of active hostilities, as well as assessments of combatant and non-combatant deaths resulting from those strikes, among other information," the new order states.

Obama signed the his original order to create more transparency after his administration received complaints from activists that airstrikes, specifically targeted drone strikes, were on the rise in countries such as Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan.

"This requirement was about more than transparency," former Obama administration official Ned Price said via Twitter. Price, who served at the CIA between 2007 and 2017, also worked as an intelligence officer on the National Security Council.

"It allowed, for the first time, the U.S. to counter disinformation from terrorist groups with facts about the effectiveness and precision of our operations. It was an important tool that we're again without," Price said Wednesday.

The executive order comes following the Pentagon’s launch of a study into how it counts civilian casualties. The study came about after discrepancies were observed in the air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The Washington Post reported that the review, overseen by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, was initiated last year to achieve a more accurate assessment of the impact of military operations on civilians, and possibly to determine how to prevent casualties.

The Pentagon claims that "at least 1,190 civilians have been unintentionally killed by [U.S.-led] coalition strikes" since the air campaign against ISIS began in August 2014.

Independent watchdogs say the count is much higher.

Airwars, a London-based non-profit group that tracks air conflicts against ISIS and other groups in Iraq, Syria and Libya, estimates that the actual number is likely between 7,500 and 12,000 due to the nature of urban conflict.

The group says it labels its findings as a "fair" estimate, gathered in many cases from local sources.

"These originate from 1,366 separate alleged incidents," Airwars states.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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