Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Bad Guys Get Married Too

Rantingprofs got me going on how the media botches the reporting of deaths of civilians during armed conflict. I think the media has an obligation to report when civilians are killed during a conflict, but they have an equal obligation to differentiate among the following:

1. Civilians who are intentionally attacked and killed with no military purpose.

2. Civilians who are intentionally attacked and killed during an operation with a military purpose.

3. Civilians who are killed inadvertently during an operation with a military purpose, and the attacker was aware of the risk to civilian life prior to carrying out the attack.

4. Civilians who are killed inadvertently during an operation with a military purpose, and the attacker had no idea the civilians would be present or no reason to expect they would be harmed.

Professional military units like our U.S. forces understand the rules of engagement when they enter a conflict. They do not commit acts 1 and 2 above without being subject to prosecution. Number 3 is always tricky, but the commanders will weigh the military necessity of the target against the expected loss of civilian life when deciding.

During conventional conflicts the lines of demarcation between combatants and military personnel are much clearer than they are in our more recent conflicts. We have repeatedly faced situations during the last 3 years when we knew with high certainty the location of a good target, but also knew that civilians were present.

The targets in these cases were not marginal characters but rather known terrorists. Not only did they know we were targeting them, but the adult "civilians" around them also knew we were targeting them. If there were children around, then the terrorists and adult "civilians" were knowingly putting those children in harms way.

In some of these cases U.S. forces probably chose not to engage. In Kunar, with our SEALs missing in the area, we chose to engage.

When the media reports the deaths of civilians they need to include the details surrounding the operation. They also need to avoid announcing that the U.S. has apologized for the attack in which civilians were killed. In almost all cases we do not apologize for the attack because we know we hit a good target. We do apologize for the inadvertent deaths of any innocent civilians in the area, but not for the attack itself.

So next time you read a tearful article in the NYT or hear a somber reporter on NPR explaining how U.S. aircraft fired on a wedding in Afghanistan or near the Iraq/Syrian border, remember that bad guys get married too.