RAF Tornado jets join Iraq airstrikes against
RAF Tornado jets join Iraq airstrikes againstReuters

After sharply criticizing Israel for civilian casualties in its air campaign in Gaza, which the IDF consistently attempted to avoid, the White House has now issued a statement abandoning the strict policies Obama implemented last year to prevent civilian casualties. 

This statement came in response to questions about reports that as many as a dozen civilians were killed when a Tomahawk missile struck the village of Kafr Daryan in Syria's Idlib province on the morning of September 23. 

At a briefing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, rebel Syrian commanders described women and children being hauled from the debris after a missile struck.

“They were carrying bodies out of the rubble. … I saw seven or eight ambulances coming out of there,” said Abu Abdo Salabman, a political member of one of the Free Syria Army factions. Images of injured children also appeared on YouTube. 

The village of Kafr Daryan is a reported stronghold of the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front where US officials believed members of what they have dubbed the "Khorasan" group were planning attacks against international aircrafts. The Nusra Front, however, is also a sometimes ally of the US-backed rebels, contributing to the controversy of this strike. 

Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council official, told Yahoo News that Pentagon officials “take all credible allegations seriously and will investigate."  At the same time, Hayden stated that the White House policy disallowing US drone strikes unless there is a “near certainty” there will be no civilian casualties does not apply to current US airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

The “near certainty” standard was intended to apply “only when we take direct action ‘outside areas of active hostilities,’ as we noted at the time,” Hayden said in an email. “That description — outside areas of active hostilities — simply does not fit what we are seeing on the ground in Iraq and Syria right now.” 

Hayden added that military operations against the Islamic State in Syria, "like all U.S. military operations, are being conducted consistently with the laws of armed conflict, proportionality and distinction." This means the prohibition of deliberately targeting civilian areas and the responsibility of armed forces to take precautions to prevent civilian casualties. 

Concern over civilian deaths from US counterterrorism actions have plagued the Obama administration from its outset. But, as House Representative Adam Kinziger (Rep. Illinois) suggested, the civilian casualties which resulted from US drone strikes are  “much less than the brutality of the Assad regime.”