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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin seeks plan to reduce civilian casualties

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin seeks plan to reduce civilian casualties
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin ordered his office to come up with a plan that details how the military will limit civilian casualties. Pool photo by Rod Lamkey/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo to senior civilian and military officials that his office will focus on doing better to assess, reduce and respond to civilian casualties.

Austin ordered his staff on Thursday to develop an action plan within 90 days that centers around improving how the Pentagon limits and responds to civilian casualties caused by American airstrikes.

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The plan will aim to outline steps the Pentagon will take and the resources it needs to implement recommendations made by previous studies.

"The protection of civilians remains vital to the ultimate success of our operations," Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said in a press release. "As the secretary has noted on more than one occasion, it is a strategic and a moral imperative."

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Federally funded think tank RAND Corp published a report Thursday that said the U.S. military follows flawed and inadequate processes for assessing and investigating suspected civilian damage and casualties caused by airstrikes.

In addition to the RAND report, the move follows a series of investigations by The New York Times into airstrikes that killed civilians -- including a strike in Syria in 2019 -- revealed systematic failures to prevent civilian casualties.

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Austin has also been criticized for an airstrike in Afghanistan on Aug. 29, 2021, that resulted in the death of 10 civilians.

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The airstrike was deemed necessary at first, but the Pentagon later acknowledged its mistake in targeting a civilian rather than a militant.

"Without reliable operational data that are easily accessible to commanders, the military will be limited in its ability to understand the root causes of civilian casualties, characterize patterns of harm, and identify specific measures to mitigate civilian harm while preserving mission-effectiveness and force protection," the RAND report said.

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