Sunday, March 26, 2017

Some Thoughts on the Civilian Casualties in Mosul

The press reports and images are horrific--over 100 Iraqi civilians killed in an apparent U.S. airstrike in Mosul last week.  The U.S. military has confirmed that they engaged targets in this part of the city while providing close air support to Iraqi ground forces that were in  a firefight with ISIS, and has announced an investigation.

I thought that this might be a good opportunity to discuss the Laws of Armed Conflict, Rules of Engagement, and the reality of modern warfare.  Given that the investigation is just underway, I won't have much to opine about what occurred here.  I am confident, however, based on what I know about how the U.S. manages air war, that this was a horrific mistake and not the result of intentional targeting of civilians.


So first a brief primer on the Law of Armed Conflict.  As a result of several international agreements (to which the U.S. has been an active participant), there are rules that govern the conduct of warfare.  These rules are not at all alien to the U.S.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued the so-called Lieber Code that ordered the Union Army to comply with the same basic principles found in these international agreements.

The thrust of the Law of Armed Conflict (or "LOAC" if you want to be cool) is to protect civilians in armed conflict.  The basic rules are these.  First, you can only target military targets, and not civilian targets.  Second, you must take reasonable steps to prevent civilian casualties even as you target legitimate military targets.  Third, if civilian casualties are likely even after you take reasonable steps to prevent casualties, the value of the military target must be proportional to the likely loss of civilian casualties.  This last point deserves some emphasis: LOAC reflects the reality that there may be civilian casualties in war, but insists that large numbers of casualties only come when targeting very important military targets.  (If you want to see the U.S. view of the obligations under LOAC, the best place to look is the DoD Manual on LOAC.)

In the Combined Air Operation Centers that run the Navy and Air Force air war (for both U.S> forces and our allies), there are always lawyers present to make sure that the rules of LOAC are followed.   In the current wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, the Commanders demand more than compliance with LOAC.  They issue "Rules of Engagement" that impose far stricter rules for when force will be used in an effort to avoid civilian casualties altogether.  This is not done out of humanitarian concern alone.  The Commanders recognize that civilian casualties greatly hurt our effort to defeat the enemy.  For example, General Stanley McChrystal  did not hesitate to use lethal force against the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he imposed a near zero tolerance for civilian casualties in his Rule of Engagement.  As you can see from the picture to the left, there are lots of intelligence analysts, lawyers, and weapons experts advising the commander on every target.

So that is the law, but it is imposed in the realities of the battlefield.  While military leaders work hard to comply with LOAC and the Rules of Engagement, there is much that can go wrong.  Intelligence can be wrong, human beings can transpose numbers in a targeting location, equipment can fail, and human emotions can result in incorrect information.  By and large the U.S. military has a great record for planned attacks (targets chosen days in advance) because it has time to assess likely civilian casualties and double check intelligence.  Most of the civilian casualties, therefore come not from planned attacks, but instead calls for assistance from ground troops in a firefight with the enemy.

It appears that the Mosul airstrike was the result of the U.S. providing air support to Iraqi forces that were under attack from ISIS.  What we don't know is why so many civilians were killed.  Did the Iraqi forces not know that the civilians were in the building (press reports suggest that were hiding in the basement)?  Did Iraqi forces instead fail to tell the U.S. about the presence of civilians?   Were the civilians present because ISIS itself violated LOAC by using the civilians as human shields?  These are all questions for the investigation.

So what are the "take aways" here?  First, to a remarkable degree war is fought subject to clear legal principles recognized by the entire international community and strongly endorsed by the U.S. government for well over a century.  Second, the U.S. takes these legal requirements quite seriously, and in recent Rules of Engagement, the U.S. has been even more protective of civilians than the law requires.

But third, war is a messy business, and errors in information and human mistakes can cause large civilian casualties, which is why we need to not be cavalier about suggesting the use of military force.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

It Costs Too Darn Much: Fixing How the Defense Department Buys Stuff



Even the the casual observer of the Department Defense knows that something is broken in the Department of Defense's acquisition of major weapon systems.   Newspapers are full of headlines about these problems: the F-35 program has suffered huge cost overruns and significant delays due to development problems, and the KC-41 tanker may be delayed as well.  Many programs are facing similar problems.  Whether you want to reduce or increase the size the military, it makes sense to see if we can do a better job.

Of course, it is not as if we have not been trying to reduce cost of acquiring new weapon systems.  Indeed we have had some success. Ash Cater's Better Buying Power seems to have been a success, and the Air Force dramatically reduced the number of cost overruns when Secretary Donley was Secretary of the Air Force.  But the problems remains.  What needs to be done?

When I was Air Force General Counsel, I ran across the writings of a maverick Air Force officer, Lt. Colonel Dan Ward, who seemed to me to have the right prescription for what ails the Defense acquisition system.  He examined programs that failed and programs that worked, and concluded that a focus on making things faster and simpler makes for a more successful  acquisition.  But, as you can see from the above chart, Congress and DoD have created a monster of a system that is neither fast nor simple.

As Dan points out, when we ignore the usual process, and focus on a fast and simple solution, we get great results for the war fighter:
The US Air Force needed more Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability and so launched the Project Liberty program. The result was the low-cost MC-12W aircraft, which flew its first combat mission in June 2009, just eight months after receiving funds. It has since flown thousands of successful missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
.  .  .
The US Navy began the Virginia class submarine program after terminating the unaffordable Seawolf program. The USS New Hampshire, first of the Block II Virginias, came in eight months early and $54M under budget, and that’s on top of the $300M cost savings already achieved on the Block II design. You read that right – a nuclear-powered submarine, early and under budget. The USS New Mexico also delivered four months early… you get the picture.
As dan points out, the Virginia submarine program illustrates that this faster and simpler approach even works for very complicated weapon systems.

While I was Air Force General Counsel, I saw the amazing work that the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office ("RCO") was able to accomplish using faster and simpler acquisition methods.  Despite deploying some of the most cutting age technology available, the RCO gave important capabilities to the warfighter on schedule and below costs.  (And I also saw serious efforts by some at DoD to kill the RCO model altogether.

I think Dan Ward (sadly, now retired) was on the right track.    Read the entire article here. You can find an entire collection of Dan's thinking here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Former Senior Department of Homeland Security Officials Pan Trump's Budget

President Bush's Department of Homeland Security Director (Michael Chertoff), the former Commandant of the Coast Guard (James Loy), Jeh Johnson's former chief of Staff (Christian Marrone) and the former head of TSA (John Pistole) have an article in the Atlantic that makes the case that Trump's DHS budget makes us much less safe.  Why?  Because it is focused on the risks we face:
Indeed, paying for border security and interior enforcement by cutting funds to the Transportation Security Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, and capping investments in agencies like the United States Secret Service and the United States Coast Guard is akin to double-locking your front door, but leaving your side door open—and your windows, and your garage door, and turning off your alarm.
.  .  .
The recently released budget blueprint, which requests a $54 billion increase in defense spending, makes dramatic reductions to vital agency budgets while flatlining others. For one, it calls for TSA to reduce its funding for efforts that include supporting state and local law enforcement officers at airport checkpoints, and conducting visible patrols in mass transit systems using bomb-sniffing dogs, bag searches, and other techniques at train and bus stations, ports, and other transportation hubs. This at a time when TSA just announced enhanced security measures. Just last year, Congress doubled the number of these teams, both in airports and in train stations. What’s more, the blueprint relies on funding 75 percent of TSA’s costs by raising airline passenger fees. We know from firsthand experience that such a budget device has little chance to be approved by Congress and will ultimately widen TSA’s budget hole.
.  .  .
Taken together, these cuts ignore both the actual threats and hazards that the nation has experienced since 9/11, as well as forward-looking homeland security risks. Almost every credible risk assessment points to the continued terrorist threat to aircraft and urban areas, something with which every leadership team at DHS has grappled. The persistent terrorist threat to mass transit is also particularly difficult to address. And an administration that decreases its investment in, and diminishes its focus on, emergency management runs the risk of large-scale calamity when disaster inevitably strikes.

Read it all here.   None of these authors could even remotely be called liberals.  They are instead all true homeland security experts.  We ought to listen to what they have to say.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Questions Raised by Chairman Nunes Disclosure of "Incidental Collection" of Trump Officials

Just when you thought things could not get crazier. the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, said today that some communications from the Trump transition operation were intercepted as "incidental collection" of lawfully authorized foreign intelligence surveillance.

This raises several interesting questions.

First, who were the Trump officials talking to?  "Incidental Collection"  means that the Trump officials were not the target of the surveillance, but were instead talking with someone who was a target.  In other words, this is not the case of Obama spying on Trump--it is simply ordinary spying on foreign agents.  Unless this was the result of a wiretap focused on criminal activity, any surveillance could only be done pursuant to a FISA Court that was persuaded that there was probable cause that the target was a foreign agent.  This means that Trump transition officials were talking to foreign agents.  Quite frankly, I am not surprised that transition officials would be talking to foreign agents (such as Ambassadors), but I am surprised that the Chairman thought this was a helpful thing to disclose.

Second, given that most FISA warrants are highly classified, who authorized the Chairman to disclose classified information to the press?  Did he violate the law or was he authorized by the President?  My money is on the latter.  If so, does Trump understand that the Chairman is disclosing that his team spoke to foreign agents?  And why does he think this was helpful to disclose?

Finally, should the identity of the Trump transition team members have been masked, as part of the FISA mitigation requirements?   Probably not.  As I explain at greater length in this post,  masking is not required when the name  is necessary to understand the foreign intelligence information in the report.  Given that the counter-intelligence import of the incidentally collected material was that foreign agents were talking to members of the Presidential transition team, their identities would not have been (and should not have been) hidden in any reporting.

My sense is that the Trump team somehow thinks this disclosure helps them revive the quite discredited claim that Obama was spying on the Trump team.  Of course, it doesn't come close to doing this.  All this suggests is that the U.S. was spying on certain foreign officials (which it should obviously do) and that Trump's people spoke to these foreign officials.  Rather than vindicate Trump's false claim, it raises new and disturbing questions about who the transition team were talking to--and why.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Planes, Missiles, and Submarines: Do We Really Need a Nuclear Triad?

During the campaign, President Trump famously displayed that he had no idea what the so-called Nuclear Triad was all about.  He may soon need to make some investment decisions that will determine whether we continue to rely on all three parts of the triad: land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles ("ICBMs"), submarine-based missiles, and nuclear armed missiles.

Ever since the Cold War, we have depended on all three legs of this triad as part of our nuclear deterrence.  Each had advantages and disadvantages.  Submarines could be hidden and could therefore survive a first strike, but until recently they were also the least accurate.  Land-base ICBM's were the most accurate, but they were only useful as a deterrent if we launched on warning (since we would have only 30 minutes or so from the launch of an enemy missile before it hit the silo.  Finally, unlike missiles that could not be stopped once launched, bombers had the advantage that they could be withdrawn before they attack.

The challenge now facing the country is that we will soon need to update and modernize all three legs of the triad, and we are potentially facing a huge trillion bill to maintain the current to maintain the Nuclear Triad.  The current ICBMs were first deployed in the 1970's and will soon need to be replaced by the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent.  The current submarine fleet is also old and will be replaced by the new Columbia-class submarine.  Finally, the nuclear-armed bomber fleet is older than the pilots who fly them, and will be replaced by the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber.

A trillion dollars is a lot of money so there are some (including former Defense Secretary William Perry) who argue that it is time to retire the land-based ICBM, and rely solely on submarines and bombers for our deterrence once the current ICBMs become obsolete around 2030.  The argument is that submarines and bombers have developed nearly the same accuracy as the ICBM, that because ICBMs must be launched on warning, they are likely to lead to disastrous errors, and that bombers and submarines alone can provide a deterrent.  Here is how Secretary Perry explains why the ICBM should be scrapped:
First and foremost, the United States can safely phase out its land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, a key facet of Cold War nuclear policy. Retiring the ICBMs would save considerable costs, but it isn’t only budgets that would benefit. These missiles are some of the most dangerous weapons in the world. They could even trigger an accidental nuclear war.
If our sensors indicate that enemy missiles are en route to the United States, the president would have to consider launching ICBMs before the enemy missiles could destroy them; once they are launched, they cannot be recalled. The president would have less than 30 minutes to make that terrible decision. This is not an academic concern.
While the probability of an accidental launch is low, human and machine errors do occur. I experienced a false alarm nearly 40 years ago, when I was under secretary of defense for research and engineering.
 This sounds pretty persuasive. So what is the contrary view?  Supporters of the Nuclear Triad point out that removing ICBMs makes the targeting decision easier for our opponents.  There are only three bases for our bombers and two bases for our submarines, while a challenge to our ICBMs requires an attack on all many silos.  In addition, supporters of the current triad note that ICBMs are no longer as destabilizing as Perry suggest.  Tom Nichols and Dana Struckman of the Naval War College explain:
Perry makes a fair point that the accuracy of both the bomber and submarine force is on par with its land-based counterpart. But this, in turn, means that if America were to “ride out” a strike on the ICBM force, the submarines and bombers—as Perry admits—could do whatever tasks are left once the enemy has emptied its own ICBM force at us. The major virtue of the ICBM force, then, is not what it can do after an attack, but that that the enemy will have to take it into account before an attack, and consider the cost of starting an all-out nuclear exchange between the homelands.
Moreover, if the ICBM force were targeted, the United States would still be able to attack, with great speed and precision, not only the remaining enemy strategic force but important parts of enemy military infrastructure. Russia or China would then be the ones to face the fateful decision to attack cities, a situation they will inevitably bring on themselves the moment they initiate the conflict—which is exactly the realization that should deter them in the first place.

So what is the right answer?   A trillion dollars is still a boat load of money.  As Nichols and Struckman point out, while the ICBM serves a strategic purpose, we don't need as many ICBMs as we do now to deter an attack.  In addition, if we negotiate further cuts in our nuclear arsenal with Russia (and perhaps China), we can further reduce the costs of our nuclear deterrence while still have the strategic parity needed to deter an attack.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What President Trump Gets Wrong About NATO


 I never imagined that the President of the United States would display basic ignorance about NATO, a cornerstone of our national security.  But let's use this as a teachable moment.  One of the purposes of this blog, after all,  is to offer some explanations about national security issues for my friends and family.  Sort of a "National Security for Really Smart People."

Saturday, President Trump tweeted the following about Germany and NATO:

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Trump fundamentally  misunderstands how NATO works.  NATO is not some club with some membership fee, and Germany owes the United States nothing for having troops in Europe.

So here is your primer (which is based on a great series of tweets by Ivo Daalder, the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO) :  A few years back, in response to the rise of Russian aggression in Ukraine, the NATO members pledged that they would all spend at least two percent of their Gross Domestic Product on defense by 2024.  Two observations here: (1) the commitment was to a target defense budget, not some payment to NATO or the U.S., and (2) the commitment was to meet this commitment by 2024, not right away.


As of this year, 5 of the 28 NATO countries have met this obligation , but most of the other NATO countries (including Germany) are increasing their defense budgets with an eye toward meeting this commitment.  Remember that the 2024 target date is still seven years away.  Trump's notion that Germany "owes" NATO money is a complete fabrication--or a profound misunderstanding of NATO.

A second point also needs to be made.  The United States benefits greatly from its military presence in Europe.  Europe is critically important to the U.S. economy, and a peaceful and stable Europe is in our national interest.  While, the focus is on the defense of NATO against Russian aggression (and Soviet aggression during the Cold War), there is an often unstated additional benefit--our military presence in Europe and the NATO alliance itself, solidify peace among these allies as well,

Moreover, the troops in Europe also provide easy access to Africa and the Middle East during moments of crisis.  Our rapid intervention in Libya and Mali were only possible because of our forces in Europe.

Finally, it is important to remember, that Article 5 of the NATO Charter--which calls for the collective defense of any NATO member attacked--has only been invoked one time in the entire history of  NATO:  when the U.S. was attacked on September 11, 2001.  This was not merely symbolic.  Within weeks, NATO AWACS planes were flying over the U.S. providing air defense support.

Our NATO allies should pay more for their own defense, and a little jawboning by the United States is certainly fair game--Obama and Bush both did this as well.  As you can see from the chart above, several countries (including Germany) have lots of work to do to meet the 2024 commitment.  The problem with Trump's comments is that it displays a profound lack of knowledge about how NATO works.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Why Strategies Fail

Washington, D.C. is a town that loves strategies.  When I was at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, we devoted lots of resources to drafting a Congressionally mandated "Annual Strategy" (even though my boss, Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey noted that anything done annually cannot be a strategy.  In the Pentagon, I participated in lots of strategic exercises.  As Rand's Raphael S. Cohen (a former Army officer) notes, these exercises are almost very disappointing in a must read post at Lawfare. 

So why do so many strategies disappoint? As Cohen explains, they disappoint because they fail to make tough choices--which is the very point of any strategy:
Finally, good strategies need to be substantive. Somewhat ironically, given how much criticism it received at the time, two decades later, the 1993 Bottom-Up Review is the strategy that is most often used as a baseline for subsequent major defense reviews. There are plenty of reasons for this, but one of them is its analytic transparency. Of all the attempts at national security strategy over the past quarter century, the Bottom-Up Review perhaps makes the clearest argument about linking threats to a force-sizing construct and to procurement decisions—in other words, linking ends, ways, and means together in a transparent fashion. Too often strategies instead devolve into platitudes, leaving strategy’s three major components disconnected and, at times, incoherent.
More often than not, the lack of succinctness, sharpness, and substance in strategies is just a symptom of the deeper reason why the strategy-making process so often yields lackluster results. They fail because leaders are unwilling to make difficult decisions—to focus on one threat as opposed to another, prioritize resources accordingly, and then explain their decisions publicly—at risk of being wrong. Instead, they prefer to delegate the process to the bureaucracy, which lacks the institutional power and the incentive to make decisions.
This may be why so many congressional attempts to reform national security strategies have come up short over the years: The real problem is not process; it is the aversion to making decisive and perhaps irrevocable choices. What makes this aversion all the more vexing is that, from the standpoint of some, it is entirely logical. Decisive choices can make enemies within the bureaucracies, lead to congressional scrutiny, and, perhaps most importantly, risk assuming blame for potential catastrophes when decisions prove wrong. Moreover, the benefits of getting strategy “right” are sometimes only visible long after the policymaker leaves office. Far better to settle for mediocrity and play it safe.
Read it all here. A strategy is a document that guides the tough choices we will make given the constraints in the environment.  If it fails to even recognize that there are choices to be made, it will fail.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Unilateral Disarmament: Why Trump's "Skinny Budget" Would Make the United States Less Powerful

Despite the $54 billion increase in defense spending, the Trump budget as disclosed last week will make the United States less powerful in world affairs. As a practical matter, this would mean that we are less likely to get our way in the world, and our adversaries, including China, Russia, and Iran, will become relatively more powerful.

But how can this be?  With more F-35's , a larger Army, and more ships, won't we be more powerful?  Not at all.  Military Power is only one element of national power, and the Trump budget is effectively unilateral disarmament when it comes to the other key elements of national power.

First, a quick look at what the budget proposes. It cuts the Department of State budget by a huge 29%.  This means that the entire State Department budget ($39 billion after the cuts) would be smaller than simply the increase in the Defense budget.  While not detailed, we know that these cuts translate to much smaller aid programs, fewer diplomats, and a dramatic cut in our participation in international organizations. The budget will also cut funding for multilateral development banks (like the World Bank) by $650 million over three years.

So who cares?  We have more starving children in Africa, less diplomats living the good life overseas, and fewer bureaucrats at the U.N. Wants the big deal?

Any one who has worked in the Department of Defense knows that while military power is very important, it is of limited usefulness in many circumstances.  And in other circumstances, diplomacy and foreign aid can be more effective and cheaper (both in terms of dollars and lives) than military power.

Here are just a few examples.  We are battling  al Qaeda spin offs throughout many parts of Africa.  We have found that even modest amounts of security assistance can be an effective alternative to American boots on the ground.  Our assistance to Colombia starting in the 1990's as part of Plan Colombia greatly stabilized the security situation in that country and led to the final peace deal with the FARC.  And our humanitarian assistance goes a long way to shaping attitudes in receiving countries about the United States.

Finally, the most influential tools of influence on our most important allies (who also happen to be the world's leading economies) is the hard work of diplomacy and our participation in international organizations.  We aren't going to prevail in our important ( but friendly) dispute with Canada over border issues in the Artic by the threat of military force, but instead by careful diplomacy.

Many European states are deeply invested in international organizations such as the World Bank and the United States.  As frustrating as it may be at times to deal with the U.N., our active participation is important as a tool of influence over the policies of many countries.

As any reader of this blog will know, I am a bit of a hawk when it comes to a strong military.  But, I am just as much of a "hawk" when it comes to other forms of American power.

Don't take my word for it.  As I noted in a previous post, Defense Secretary Mattis made the same point when he was the Commander of Central Command. Mattis said “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think it’s a cost benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.” And Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers."

So the question is simple:  why does the Trump Administration want to unilaterally disarm these important tools of American power?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump's Budget Reflects a Policy of Deliberate Ignorance

There is a great deal that can be said about Trump's "skinny budget" released earlier this week.  (I joked with a friend that the cuts in anti-poverty programs looks like it was drafted by a teenager living in an upper middle class suburb who just finished reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. )  I think, however, that the real headline is this:  Trump's budget displays that his Administration does not merely deny climate change, but instead simply doesn't care if it is true.  Instead, the budget displays a policy of deliberate ignorance by zeroing out all scientific research on the topic.

The most stunning example of this is how the budget deals with NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).  This is satellite that is already in space (at a cost of $141 million).  It has two sets of sensors: one focused on the Sun to detect space weather events (such as solar flares).  The second set of sensors focus on the earth, and includes a camera that takes images of the earth across 10 different parts of the visual spectrum and  a radiometer that measures how much sunlight is reflected and emitted from earth.  These sensors monitor changes in the Earth's climate and weather patterns.  This data can constitute a barometer for the process of global warming.

The Trump budget keeps the program that involves the solar weather sensors, but simply turns off the sensors  from the earth-viewing instruments.  Cost savings can't be a reason for turning off the Earth-facing sensors because NASA spends just a bit more than $1 million to operate the satellite and process its data--most of which it will continue to spend on the space weather mission.

In other words, while we have already spent over $140 million dollars to put these sensors in space, the Trump budget demands that we stop collecting the data.   This is the very definition of deliberate ignorance.  Simply put, they don't care to know the truth, and are taking steps to actively prevent us from learning the truth.  This seems to reflect the view that if we stop doing science on climate change, we no longer have to do anything about it.

This policy of deliberate ignorance permeates the budget.  In addition to DSCOVR, the budget three other NASA missions that would have observed the Earth from Space:  PACE, OCO-3, and the CLARREO Pathfinder.  It eliminates all funding for EPA's climate research.  As I noted in a previous post, it drastically cuts NOAA weather satellite program, likely leading to the elimination of a critical polar satellite.

More generally, the budget reflects not merely a policy of deliberate ignorance toward climate research, but a disregard of science in general.  It includes cuts in science spending of at least $7 billion, including an 18% cut in medical research at the National Institutes of Health, and the elimination of the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency.

When I think about what has made "America Great", our scientific and technological achievements certainly come to the top of the list.  By not merely cutting science research, but by displaying a policy of deliberate ignorance to critical climate research, this budget will not make American Great.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

When and How Should We Use Military Force to Fight Terrorism?

Several days ago, Charlie Savage had an important article in the New York Times  that reported that the Trump Administration is "exploring how to dismantle or bypass Obama-era constraints intended to prevent civilian deaths from  drone attacks, commando raids and other counterterrorism missions outside conventional war zones like Afghanistan."  As Charlie reported, the President had already declared three provinces of Yemen to be  an "area of active hostilities" where less restrictive policies should apply.  The first use of this policy was the Special Operations raid in Yemen, which killed several civilians.  He is also expected to make a similar decision with regard to Somalia.

So what's the big deal?  Why shouldn't we "unleash" our military?  That is a question that I and 34 other former national security officials tried to explain in a set of principles that we sent to Defense Secretary Mattis.  As we explained in this principles, civilian casualties are not merely a human right problem.  They also hurt us in our fight against terrorist groups:
The United States has always put a strong premium on minimizing civilian harm in armed conflicts, both because it is the right thing to do and because doing so is strategically beneficial. However, even small numbers of unintentional civilian deaths or injuries—whether or not legally permitted—can cause significant strategic setbacks. For example, civilian deaths from U.S. operations can cause partners and allies to reduce operational collaboration, withdraw consent, and limit intelligence-sharing; increase violence from militant groups; and foster distrust among local populations that are crucial to accomplishing the mission. As a result, reducing civilian harm and appropriately responding to harm that does occur play an important role in helping the United States achieve its mission objectives.
We noted that attacks in countries outside the battlefield (in Yemen and Somalia) require special caution:
The use of force outside traditional war zones, particularly using drone and other air strikes, raises complex legal, strategic, diplomatic, and humanitarian considerations that warrant continued use of heightened standards and procedures. To ensure that such operations are both strategically effective and lawful, the executive branch should, absent extraordinary circumstances . [u]se lethal force only when there is a near certainty—or a similarly high standard—that no civilian harm will occur; this standard has proven useful for maintaining support for kinetic operations among foreign governments and populations, and for minimizing the downsides and unintended consequences that occur when the United States accidentally kills or harms civilians.  

The letter was  signed by an impressive list of former national security professionals, all of whom had to make tough life and death decisions in the fight against terrorism, and all of whom learned from the experience.  We hope that the Trump Administration will recognize that while military power is an important tool against terrorism, it needs to be used with great care.

You can read the entire letter here.