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Striking Syria: Civilian Casualties

By Amy Brown
30 Sep 2014

The White House announced that it has adopted a looser policy on airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria. The United States has been conducting airstrikes against ISIS, and a strike allegedly killed a dozen citizens in Syria. A spokesperson for the National Security Council, Caitlin Hayden, said that President Obama’s policy of only using airstrikes when there was “near certainty” that civilians would not be harmed is not applicable to the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. This policy has lead to a decreased number of airstrikes, since it requires that each strike be signed off by the President himself and others in the chain of command. However, Hayden claims that these rules were only intended to apply in situations when airstrikes are used in areas that are not “areas of active hostilities,” arguing that airstrikes in actively hostile areas such as Syria do not have to follow the rule. Hayden also said that all strikes have been conducted legally and that the Pentagon will investigate civilian casualties.

This is not the first time American airstrikes have caused concern over civilian casualties. The question of “the grey zone” has been raised, as pointed out by a former lawyer for the State Department, Harold Koh. If the rules can be bent, do the rules really mean anything? House Representative Adam Kinzinger argues that civilian casualties from airstrikes will be “much less than the brutality of the Assad regime.”

What do you think? Are lax rules acceptable in certain situations when it comes to airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, or does that negate having the rules in the first place? Is killing a few to save more really a valid argument in favor of airstrikes?

Amy graduated from DePauw University in 2017, and was a Hillman Intern and the Digital Media Assistant Managing Editor at the Prindle Institute for Ethics. At DePauw, she was an Honor Scholar and Political Science major with a Russian studies minor. She has spent time abroad in the Czech Republic and now works in Washington, D.C.
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