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WCK Aid Workers: Civilian Casualties Occur in Fog of War

April 4, 2024

by: Col. Richard Kemp ~ Ynetnews

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Col. Richard Kemp served as the commander of the British forces in Afghanistan.

Thursday, 4 April 2024 | The deaths of seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers were a terrible tragedy. We can only admire the courage and humanity of these men and women—and others like them—who work to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population while knowing they could be killed or seriously wounded in a war zone where by definition nowhere can be safe. While combatants on both sides have an absolute duty to adhere to the laws of war and where possible, avoid killing uninvolved civilians, the ultimate responsibility for all killings in this war—including the WCK workers—lies with Hamas.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has accepted direct responsibility for these deaths and initiated an independent investigation by the Fact Finding Assessment Mechanism. Until that investigation is complete, we won’t know exactly how these strikes came about. However, knowing the ethos of the IDF and its strict adherence to the laws of war, it is unthinkable that the action was deliberately intended to kill aid workers.

Some have suggested, however, that was, in fact, the purpose of the strikes. But setting aside morality and legality, what would have been the gain in purposely killing aid workers? The understandably harsh global condemnation would have been entirely predictable by anyone contemplating such an evil plan.

Those who do say the strikes were obviously intended to kill the WCK workers because of the prominent vehicle markings have presumably never observed drone optics at night. Indeed, the IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevy has said that a preliminary assessment shows the incident occurred as a result of “misidentification.”

The implication of that is whoever ordered and conducted the strikes believed the vehicles that were hit contained terrorists, suggesting incorrect intelligence or failure of surveillance, possibly compounded by human error. There are many variables. We don’t yet know whether those who conducted the strikes were acting according to IDF rules of engagement or were negligent. Sometimes soldiers and commanders behave recklessly or irresponsibly in all armies, including the IDF.

Nor do we know whether accurate information on their movements was passed by the WCK staff or whether it was correctly understood by the IDF or shared with the strike commander. We do, however, know that differentiating between enemy forces and uninvolved civilians is made much more challenging by Hamas terrorists’ use of human shields, always moving and fighting in civilian clothes and sometimes using civilian vehicles such as ambulances and aid trucks.

Unfortunately, nightmares like this occur frequently in the fog of war, with its confusion, chaos, danger, death, destruction, mental overload, human pressure and technical failure. For example, during the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, a US drone strike in Kabul mistakenly killed an aid worker and nine members of his family, including seven children. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff explained: “In a dynamic high-threat environment, the commanders on the ground had appropriate authority and had reasonable certainty that the target was valid. But after deeper post-strike analysis, we conclude that innocent civilians were killed.” This strike also occurred as a result of a misidentified vehicle.

Another tragedy occurred in October 2015 when a US gunship attacked a hospital in Kunduz operated by Doctors Without Borders in which 42 staff and patients were killed and many wounded. The US attributed the incident to “avoidable human error compounded by process and equipment failures,” with the aircrew misidentifying the hospital as a Taliban-controlled building.

I have not had personal experience of the killing of innocent civilians, but during different campaigns, I was involved with so-called “blue-on-blue” or “friendly fire” incidents, which are not dissimilar. They often occur in conditions of poor visibility or on difficult ground such as urban or wooded areas, when I know firsthand that it is all too easy to misidentify your own troops. Three soldiers from my own regiment were killed by a US air strike in Afghanistan in August 2007 due to human error by both the American strike commander and the British ground controller. The challenges of inherent battlefield chaos and consequent errors—which applies also to civilian casualties—is illustrated by estimates that suggest up to 25% of US casualties in war have been due to friendly fire.

I have no doubt the independent investigation will reveal the full facts and be made public. If there is intentional malice, breaches of IDF rules of engagement or reckless behavior, individuals will be held accountable under military justice. Lessons will also be learned by the IDF to help them avoid repetition, although the unfortunate reality of war is that other tragic incidents will re-occur during this and other conflicts around the world, especially where terrorists use human shields.

In this war in Gaza, there are two fail-safe means of preventing further major violence against civilians as well as soldiers. The first is for Hamas to surrender and release all the hostages. The second is the destruction of Hamas by the IDF.

Colonel Richard Kemp is a former UK Armed Forces commander.

Posted on April 4, 2024

Source: (This article was originally published Ynetnews on April 3, 2024. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our republication today. See original article at this link.)

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