U.S. Military Sets Acceptable Number of Civilian Casualties in War

civilian casualties
A man weeps as he carries his daughter away from an Islamic State-controlled part of Mosul toward Iraqi special forces soldiers during a battle on March 4 (CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters).


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If you think civilian casualties of war are inevitable, think again. An op-ed from the LA Times has revealed that the US military sets an “acceptable number” of civilian casualties in airstrikes, proving that it is a choice, not an inevitability:

“The US military predicts how many people will die in its airstrikes by surveilling and estimating the population within a proposed blast radius. It also sets a limit on the number of innocent people each command is authorized to kill incidentally. This limit, called the Non-Combatant Cutoff Value, or NCV, is perhaps our starkest rule of engagement, and it varies region-by-region for political reasons.”

Although the US Army initially tried to keep their numbers hidden, Buzzfeed was able to obtain them, and was the first to release them to the public. The Associated Press later reported on the issue when the Army delivered its Rules of War Manual. The LA Times added the following quote from AP to their op-ed:

According to senior defense officials, military leaders planning operations against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria may authorize strikes where up to 10 civilians may be killed, if it is deemed necessary in order to get a critical military target.”

As mentioned above by the LA Times, the NCV varies by region. In Afghanistan, the NCV is zero, however as the AP reports, in countries like Iraq and Syria, the NCV was supposed to have been 10 last year. That was the number reported to the AP from senior defense officials, but in actuality, that count was more like 112.

How so?

“Last year, the coalition acknowledged 4,589 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. If the NCV was 10 throughout, then US policy in 2016 was to tolerate the incidental killing of a maximum of 45,890 innocent Iraqis and Syrians in order to destroy Islamic State. For context, the common estimate for Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria is 40,000, and between Sept. 11, 2001, and 2016, foreign terrorists killed a total of 411 American civilians, worldwide.”

And so, “our policy for last year, then, was to tolerate the death of 112 Iraqi or Syrian civilians per American civilian.” The numbers don’t lie, and it’s all on paper.

The main points to take from the LA Times op-ed (which we suggest reading in full), is that we now have a president who has endorsed the intentional killing of noncombatants, and for the first time, we’re causing more civilian casualties than Russia.

The other thing with terrorists, is that you have to take out their families.” – Donald Trump

The final thought readers are left with in the op-ed focused on in this report, is that though it is reasonable for one to care more for their countrymen than foreigners, we should not be willing to kill innocent civilians elsewhere to achieve our own aims. This is true, however we’d also like to add to this conclusion that weighing the value of life between human beings, and then concluding that our life – as an American – is worth 112 lives of humans who simply live elsewhere, is not only reprehensible, it’s the type of thinking that has helped enable the US government to continue its series of profitable, mass killing sprees.


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