US to disclose airstrike casualty tolls

Figures will date to 2009 when Obama assumed office

US to disclose airstrike casualty tolls

World Bulletin / News Desk

The U.S. will begin to release casualty figures from its global counterterrorism airstrikes “in the coming weeks”, according to President Barack Obama’s homeland security advisor.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Lisa Monaco announced the coming casualty tolls, which will include combatants and civilians, and will date to 2009 when Obama took office.

The counts will then be released annually, but it is unclear if Obama’s successor will follow suit.

The tolls will not take into account airstrikes in “areas of active hostilities,” Monaco said. It could include Iraq and Syria where the U.S. has led a coalition to strike ISIL and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, as well as Afghanistan where the U.S. has been engaged militarily for more than a decade.

Beyond those theaters, the U.S. has carried out airstrikes in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan among others.

“It is the best way to retain the legitimacy of our counterterrorism actions and the broad support of our allies,” Monaco said, stressing that U.S. operators "do everything in their power to avoid civilian casualties”.

The policy change comes as the Air Force said it would nearly double the number of drone pilots in the 2016 fiscal year. The U.S. trained roughly 180 remotely piloted aircraft pilots in fiscal year 2015, and hopes to train 334 this fiscal year before reaching 384 by 2017. 

"If we can get to 384, we will be making a big dent in the availability of pilots to fully man our crew force," Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh told reporters. 

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest said the move demonstrates Obama's “commitment to transparency.”

"It inspires confidence in our capabilities. It also inspires confidence in our ability to carry out these actions consistent with our values," he said.

Lawmakers and rights activists have long pressed the Obama administration for greater transparency in its understanding of civilians killed as a result of counterterrorism operations, but the calls have faced significant opposition from the intelligence community.

Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for American Progress, said the policy change was prompted in large part by the prior policy being a "net negative" that was also a "strategic problem for the United States."

"It has fostered what I think is an inaccurate perception that the United States is engaging in illegal lethal targeting operations," he said, "and I think when people see what the policy actually is, that it represents not just a compliance with the laws of armed conflict, but an additional level of protections against harming civilians than is even required by the laws of war, that it could go a long way in rebutting some of those claims that the United States is acting illegally," he told Anadolu Agency.

He added that the likelihood the policy lives on beyond the Obama administration "depends on which party wins" this year's presidential elections. "It's almost impossible to see any Republican carrying on almost any of the policies that President Obama has implemented," he said.

Last Mod: 08 Mart 2016, 09:14
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