A new Pentagon study aims to stop deaths of innocent bystanders as America continues its attacks on terrorists, according to reporting by The Washington Post.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. commissioned the study last year, partly in response to critics of the number of civilians killed in U.S. airstrikes. The study seeks to find out why the military's own estimates of civilian deaths are so much lower than those of outside groups.
It was partially declassified because of the Post's plan to report on it.
Last week, for instance, the Pentagon reported 1,190 civilians have died in American strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria against 2014. But the Post quotes the monitoring group Airwars as listing that number significantly higher at 7,478.
The military is using the report to write its first-ever policy on preventing civilian deaths — a move that comes as the Pentagon acts quickly with multiple airstrikes to finish its campaign against ISIS under direction of President Donald Trump to withdraw from Syria.
According to the Post, the study "recommends a more open, standardized investigations process, but does not seek to determine the root cause of a spike in casualties during the peak of the operation against the Islamic State."
But the study came with issues, including how critical it should be. While some thought it should have taken a harder approach to shortcomings, others feared a too critical approach might cause commanders to dismiss it altogether.
Another problem: If investigators use the same information to investigate a strike as they did to earlier rule out that civilians were present, how could they ever reach a determination that any civilians had been killed?
The study concluded last spring, and the action plan based on it is expected to be finished in late 2019.
The Pentagon officials told the Post they believe the plan will not suffer a setback from the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, a supporter of the project, late last year.
A Pentagon spokesman told the Post that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan supported the effort to evaluate and — where possible — improve our ability to minimize civilian harm in our military operations and to be transparent when civilian casualties do occur."