STUTTGART, Germany— An unfortunate reality of war is that innocent civilians sometimes become victims of the fighting. The United States actively takes steps to prevent this from occurring.
As part of this effort, U.S. Africa Command hosted a tabletop exercise at the AFRICOM Events Center July 9 to review and refine processes and procedures that dictate CIVCAS assessment and reporting. More than 20 personnel involved in the CIVCAS reporting process from AFRICOM and components, to the Joint Staff met to standardize, streamline and refine the AFRICOM process for responding to CIVCAS allegations. A non-governmental organization (NGO) also participated to add insight into their perspective and role.
The event featured guest speakers, discussions and practical exercises, all geared toward enhancing the CIVCAS reporting and response process.
"Avoiding civilian casualties is a responsibility we take very seriously at U.S. Africa Command. We always work diligently, along with our partners, to do the right thing with the important missions entrusted to us," said Air Force Lt. Gen. James Vechery, deputy commander for military operations, U.S. Africa Command. "While we have sound civilian casualty assessment and reporting procedures in place, we always look for opportunities to learn and strengthen our processes."
The command has processes in place to ensure the safety and protection of the local population remains a top priority. These procedures, combined with precision strike capabilities, safeguard civilians and infrastructure. U.S. Africa Command complies with the Law of Armed Conflict and takes all feasible precautions to minimize civilian casualties and other collateral damage.
Despite the diligence and precautions taken to minimize CIVCAS, allegations occur that require comprehensive assessment and rigor to ensure proper accountability. The exercise sought to reinforce standards of CIVCAS reviewing processes and procedures.
“The purpose of this event was to answer higher headquarters’ guidance to standardize the CIVCAS reporting process and to improve AFRICOM’s response to civilian casualty allegations throughout the command,” said William Mansfield, joint fires and effects specialist, Directorate of Operations and Cyber – J3, AFRICOM.
REPORTS AND ASSESSMENTS
AFRICOM has conducted approximately 30 assessments on civilian casualty allegations over the last two years, according to Mansfield.
Allegations were reported through a variety of sources, ranging from unit-self reports to publicly available reports on social media. Allegations were also reported through NGOs and open sources.
“We’re looking to take all reasonably available information considering the totality of the circumstances and include that relevant information in our final assessment to see if we’ve injured any civilians,” Mansfield said.
Another area reviewed during the exercise is how information is shared, whether it’s with Congress, civil society such as Non-Government Organizations, or internally within the DOD, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Breanna Fulton, global policy and partnership, Directorate of Strategic Plans and Policy – J5, Joint Staff. “We want to make sure that we have open communication, and if we receive civilian casualty allegations, there is an understanding that each case is different and it takes time.”
The exercise sought to understand the vantage points of a range of agencies interested in post-airstrike assessments.
Daniel Mahanty, Director of the U.S. Program for the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) addressed participants about the perspectives and contributions of non-governmental organizations to the mitigation of CIVCAS incidents.
NGOs are expected to operate under humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality.
“These groups generally see civilian casualties as one issue within a broader set of concerns related to the way civilians are affected by war, according to Mahanty. “Other groups approach the issue of CIVCAS more from an individual rights perspective.”
PRE-STRIKE RISK MITIGATION
AFRICOM and its components use an extensive pre-strike process to mitigate any civilian casualties, according to Mansfield.
“Part of that process is to use very accurate and precise weapons, said Mansfield. “The weapons systems in use in our theater are precision-guided munitions.”
Terrain and environmental considerations are made to ensure that there are no known transient civilians within the effects range of the chosen munitions, he said.
“Given those parameters and the extensive multiple sources of intelligence that we use, we ensure we have proper positive identification of the target,” said Mansfield. “Our goal for every strike is to reduce the risk of civilian casualties, and while we cannot eliminate that risk all of the time, we do our very best to minimize that risk.”
AUTHORITIES AND HOST-NATION REQUESTS
All direct action and strikes conducted by AFRICOM and components within host nation borders are at the request of the host nation government.
“We do this in order to provide [opportunities for host nation] governments to organize and perform the function of governance,” said Mansfield. “One of the ways we do that is reduce the safe-havens and the command and control that terrorist organizations are using [as they look to] create chaos within the countries we’re operating.
AFRICOM works by with and through our partner nations to advance their objectives as well as U.S. national objectives on the continent, said Mansfield.
“Our primary objective and line of effort is to support the host nations,” said Mansfield.
“This engagement was important because it helps with understanding the process as we’re charged with making sure that our processes for mitigating harm to civilians across the Department of Defense is standardized,” said Fulton.
The exercise helped us to review steps in the process, and streamline these processes while working to better understand and communicate across the combatant commands and the Joint Staff, she added.
AFRICOM plans to hold more training exercises such as this, Mansfield said.