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DOD Creates New Infrastructure Focused on Mitigating Harm to Civilians

Defense leaders have noted that the mitigation of civilian harm during armed conflict is a strategic and moral imperative. The Defense Department is putting that idea into action with the publication of Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan, or CHMR-AP.

The plan details an array of efforts the department will employ to reduce harm to civilians during combat operations and exercises and respond appropriately when civilian harm does occur.

A service member carries a rifle.
Combat Skills
A Marine patrols during the certification portion of the Basic Combat Skills Course at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Nov. 20, 2015. The Defense Department released the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan on Aug. 25, 2022. The plan details an array of efforts the department will take to reduce harm to civilians during combat operations and exercises and respond appropriately when civilian harm does occur.
Photo By: Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Devan K. Gowans
VIRIN: 151121-M-GM943-023C

"This plan improves DOD's approach to mitigating and responding to civilian harm by creating a reinforcing framework and processes and institutions specifically designed to improve strategic outcomes and optimize military operations," said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder during a recent discussion with the media.

Development of the CHMR-AP came at the direction of Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, who outlined his expectations earlier this year in a January 27 memorandum.

"Secretary Austin made clear that the protection of civilians is fundamentally consistent with the effective, efficient and decisive use of force in pursuit of U.S. national interests, and that our efforts to mitigate and respond to civilian harm are a direct reflection of U.S. values as well as a strategic and moral imperative," Ryder said.

Ryder told reporters that Austin has designated the secretary of the Army to serve as DOD's joint proponent for CHMR-AP.

During a background briefing in advance of Ryder's media engagement, a senior defense official provided more details of CHMR-AP.

"The plan incorporates lessons learned from recently completed studies, including DOD Office of the Inspector General evaluations and independent reviews of strikes that have resulted in civilian casualties," the official said. "And while it's meant to be forward-looking, we're very much informed by the lessons of those studies and the previous incidents they covered."

The plan provides a systemic approach to considering, mitigating, assessing and responding to civilian harm caused by military operations, the official said.

A parachuter drops from the sky.
Airborne Ops
An Army paratrooper conducts a joint airborne operation from a C-130 Hercules aircraft as part of Exercise Rapid Trident 21 at the International Peacekeeping Security Centre near Yavoriv, Ukraine, on Sept. 25, 2021. The Defense Department released the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan on Aug. 25, 2022. The plan details an array of efforts the department will take to reduce harm to civilians during combat operations and exercises and respond appropriately when civilian harm does occur.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. John Yountz
VIRIN: 210925-A-TO756-799C

"The action plan, we think, improves our ability to understand the causes of civilian harm and continually [improves] our approach to civilian harm mitigation response," the official said.

An important aspect of the CHMR-AP is the establishment of a Civilian Protection Center of Excellence, which is expected to achieve full operational capability by fiscal year 2025, the official said.

"The center of excellence is really intended to be a hub and a facilitator for the DOD-wide analysis, learning and training related to civilian harm," the official said. "And we would envision it going even beyond that to incorporate inputs from partners and other departments and agencies as necessary."

It's expected that implementation of the CHMR-AP will affect the full spectrum of military operations, the official said. One of the most important areas will be improving knowledge of the civilian environment for commanders so that they have more comprehensive information available to inform targeting decisions.

The official also said that knowledge and insights gathered by the center of excellence will affect operational strategy and doctrine.

"As we operationalize this action plan, ... civilian harm mitigation will be built into exercises, training and professional military education going forward," he said. "We envision the Civilian Protection Center of Excellence actually leading much of that and ensuring that this type of curriculum and these types of lessons learned are built into the education process of our military officers and civilians."

Two pilots are in the cockpit of a combat aircraft while it is being refueled in the air.
Strike Eagle
An F-15E Strike Eagle conducts aerial refueling during an agile combat employment exercise with U.S. Central Command regional partners July 12, 2022. The Defense Department released the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan on Aug. 25, 2022. The plan details an array of efforts the department will take to reduce harm to civilians during combat operations and exercises and respond appropriately when civilian harm does occur.
Photo By: Air Force Master Sgt. Matthew Plew
VIRIN: 220712-F-QP712-0117

Another key area of the CHMR-AP is development of related data management processes and a standardized system for the reporting of civilian harm that results from DOD operations, the official said.

"This is the less glamorous piece, but it has been pointed to by a number of the studies that the lack of a centralized approach across the department has hurt us," the official said. "The action plan envisions a centralized, enterprise-wide data management platform that would handle all of these instances, information, and really be the foundation that allows greater collection, sharing and analysis."

Because the United States military almost never operates alone, successful implementation of the CHMR-AP will involve involvement and input of partner nations and allies the U.S. might fight alongside, the official said.

"We have a number of allies and partners who are keen to understand our best practices and provide some of their own in this process," he said. "This really becomes an effort across more than just the Department of Defense, but across our like-minded allies and partners."

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