Sputnik News Service
05 july 2016
WASHINGTON, July 5 (Sputnik) – President Barack Obama’s new guidance to reduce collateral damage from drone strikes could be public relations or an oblique announcement that US forces would bomb less, former US Agency for International Development (USAID) advisor Paolo von Schirach told Sputnik.
“It is impossible to avoid civilian casualties while fighting irregular forces that hide in populated areas,” Schirach said. “If Obama is serious about cutting the number of casualties, then this means that the United States cannot realistically fight and win against insurgents who routinely hide in populated areas.”
Obama announced his new policy in an executive order released on Friday. He also said in an accompanying statement that up to 116 civilians had been killed in US drone strikes between 2009 and 2015.
However, human rights organizations have rejected that figure as far too low and put the real death toll as high as 3,000.
Schirach noted that the nature of modern counterinsurgency war made it impossible to avoid civilian casualties when targeting Islamist and other terror group leaders.
“Even with highly sophisticated satellites and other sensors that gather detailed images and provide real time data to those who operate drones, or to pilots of manned aircraft, it is just impossible to neatly separate combatants who usually wear no uniforms from innocent civilians,” he said.
Schirach also acknowledged that the 116 deaths admitted by the White House excluded the death toll from US operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
However, the Islamic jihadist groups fought with deliberate tactics so that no nation fighting them could avoid inflicting at least some civilian casualties, Schirach argued.
“Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State do not follow laws of warfare. They place their own troops [and] logistics in the middle of densely populated areas. They deliberately use civilians as human shields. The purpose is obvious: to deter… attacks,” he said.
When some positions are indeed attacked and civilians are killed, the Islamist groups try and generate a huge publicity gain. Therefore, they have a vested interest in inflating the numbers of civilians killed through drone or other air strikes, Schirach maintained.
“As troubling as this is, it is just impossible to fight an insurgency that operates in urban areas without causing unwanted suffering. If America wants to win against the Islamic State and other insurgents, it has to accept this fact,” he added.
Paolo von Schirach is president of the Global Policy Institute and publisher of The Schirach Report.