National security officials are having initial, internal discussions about whether changes are needed to the U.S. military “rules of engagement,” governing airstrikes over Iraq and Syria, according to a senior U.S. official. There are no formal proposals, and no immediate decisions expected, the official said.
The discussions center around the question of whether the rules governing when airstrikes can occur should be loosened in the wake of President Barack Obama’s decision to intensify airstrikes and also deploy Special Operations targeting forces into northern Syria, the official said. Some at the White House, State Department and Pentagon are interested in changes, the official said. There is no consensus, however, on what to do. The discussions were first reported by The New York Times and Washington Post.
Some of the ideas being discussed are whether multiple confirmed sources of intelligence must be in hand before a strike is approved and whether coordination rules can be eased among the coalition.
While any loosening of the rules governing airstrikes could raise the risk of civilian casualties, the goal remains to keep civilian casualties at zero, several U.S. officials said. In each strike that is currently contemplated, there is an assessment of potential civilian casualties and top commanders must decide whether to proceed.