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Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing

STAFF: Okay, good afternoon, everyone. This is (inaudible). I'll go ahead and go over a few ground rules here today before we kick things off.

Again, this will be a background briefing attributed to "a senior defense official." We have with us today a Senior Defense Official. We will -- he will begin with a few opening remarks, and then open it up for questions. We have about 30 minutes today, so I will ask for last questions about 25 minutes in.

The focus of the discussion today is on the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan, so respectfully request we keep the questions focused on that topic.

And with that, I will turn it over to our Senior Defense Official.


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks, (inaudible). So thanks, everybody, for joining today. Many of you, I think, have the actual action plan in front of you, so I won't go into lots of detail on this. But just to start, to kind of consider where we've been here and what has been the lead-up, on January of 2022, so the beginning of this year, the secretary of defense directed the creation of the Civilian Harm Mitigation Response Action Plan, or CHMRAP, is how I'll refer to it; really focused on improving how the Department of Defense mitigates in response to civilian harm, and that's what you have in front of you now.

The CHMRAP, we think, is a systemic approach to looking at civilian harm across the department, and -- and really takes it on in its comprehensive nature. The plan incorporates lessons learned from recently-completed studies, including DOD Office of the Inspector General evaluations and under -- independent reviews of strikes that have resulted in civilian casualties. And while it's meant to be forward-looking, we're very much informed by the lessons of those studies and the previous incidences they covered.

As I've mentioned, the plan provides a systemic approach to considering, mitigating, assessing and responding to civilian harm caused by military operations. And the action plan, we think, improves our ability to understand the causes of civilian harm and continually improve our approach to civilian harm mitigation response, again, in a systemic fashion. And you will see in the plan considerably -- considerable effort to build in not only new institutions, but also resource those institutions, so we're -- we're fundamentally building an enterprise here and expanding on the ecosystem that exists in the department already.

Last point here before I get into some of the, maybe, key points in the plan in front of you is this process, since it was tasked by the secretary in January, really brought in not only operators and commanders from the department, but lots of other elements of the department that have a key role to play in civilian harm mitigation and response. We also worked with the interagency, other departments and agencies, and also some of our key national partners.

And really, the -- the purpose here is to ensure that this document is implementable immediately, takes into account the operator and commander's perspective, who have to grapple with these challenging situations in using military force. And it, we think, is really built for a future environment in which the strategic imperatives of protecting civilian harm are going to be critical to -- to succeeding and winning on the modern battlefield.

So I'll hit a couple key elements of the overall CHMRAP, and then certainly, open it to your questions.

So already alluded to, in the secretary's initial guidance in January was a creation of a civilian protection Center of Excellence, and we in the CHMRAP process have developed that out further. 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, and we would envision it going even beyond that to incorporate inputs from -- from partners in other departments and agencies, as necessary.

Really, again, the overall CHMRAP ecosystem that we think we've expanded on in the action plan is to help commanders and operators better understand the civilian environment before operations begin, and then throughout the overall joint-targeting process, so this is really baking this in from the beginning all the way to the completion of the joint-targeting process.

It also incorporates guidance for addressing civilian harm if it does occur across the full spectrum of armed conflict, and you know, that could be grey-zone activity. That could be traditional high-end armed conflict. And we look at not only the mitigation aspects of civilian harm, but also the impacts when there are instances of civilian harm, how we both understand those better and how we respond more comprehensively.

It, again, develops standardized civilian harm operational reporting requirements and data management processes, and this is the less-glamorous piece that has been pointed to by a number of the studies that the lack of a centralized approach across the department has -- has hurt us. So 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.

Some of the other things I would highlight just briefly here as we operationalize this action plan is civilian harm mitigation will be built into exercises, training and professional military education going forward. We envision the -- the protection Center of Excellence -- 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 -- the education process of our military officers and civilians.

And then last, as I've mentioned a number of times, 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. So this really becomes a -- a -- an effort across more than just the Department of Defense but across our likeminded allies and partners.

In wrapping up here, I'd highlight a couple things that get to the implementation and the next steps here. So we identify in the action plan a -- a number of immediate resourcing requirements, of which we've already been working hand-in-glove with our comptroller to request from Congress some of those initial resources and then build into out year budgets how we're going to -- to resource this.

It looks like a lot of things relative to what we've done traditionally in civilian harm, in terms of resources, but we think this is a -- a bill that's not only worth paying but can be very much paid in the context of the department's budget.

The approach again is really focused on reinforcing not only how we protect civilians for our commanders and operators but also of leaders throughout the department. This is something that Secretary Austin has foot stomped in a number of occasions. This is leadership of the department tackling this challenge, not just those who are in the position to be carrying out operations.

And we think the end of the military mission in Afghanistan and the transition in Iraq over the last few years to an advisory capacity, as well as many of the insights we gained from recent investigations and studies, offers DOD new opportunities to improve the department's ability to mitigate and respond to civilian harm and really have an opportunity here to institutionalize these improvements.

So with that, I will stop my opening points and welcome your questions.

STAFF: Thank you, sir. And for those of you who may just be joining us, just a reminder this is on background, attributable to a Senior Defense Official.

We'll start with Lita Baldor, Associated Press.

Q: Hi, thank you. A couple questions. Can you give us -- it may be in here, I just didn't see it -- an overall cost for the plan itself and for the Center of Excellence? And -- and an overall -- I saw 30 staff members for the Center but there's also staff sprinkled in here and there. So just kind of a -- a -- an -- overall staffing requirements by this?

And then -- so two quick things. Are you suggesting that this -- that the idea of civilian casualties has not been built into exercises and training in the past? Is that new? And then does this all rely on new congressional funding or will the department actually start doing this with its -- with funding it already has, in the hopes of getting it? I mean, is this just going to be delayed for whenever until Congress provides some money?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah -- and maybe I'll combine your first and third question together, on the -- the funding and resourcing piece. So a part of what will still need to be done, of course, to really sharpen the overall resource and costs is a manpower study, but we have already done some costing out. We think this is in the tens of millions per year, so not something that is an overwhelmingly large expense, relative to what we spend, of course, across the board on a lot of other activities, and entirely doable.

We've -- already have lots of engagements with Congress, including the appropriators, who are eager to fund some aspects of -- of what they've already seen in the action plan, but to answer your question more directly, the department can fund and will fund some of this activity, even without additional congressional appropriations because it's a priority for the secretary and something that institutionally we think is important.

As to the numbers of people, the initial piece that we were able to build out is on the Center of Excellence, where the -- the starting point is as it says there, about 30 people, but now that the Department of Army has been identified as the joint proponent, we'll really need to work with them to really determine what is needed in an IOC capacity and how we'll build to FOC.

And then really across the entire department, this is on the order of about 150 more people, so relatively small, and I think put in the right places, those people will be incredibly impactful because one of the lessons learned from this experience is the lack of continuity and the lack of continuity in the sense that people are there working this problem over a period of time as opposed to being sort of secondary duties.

You ask, as well, about exercises and, you know, other things. The -- the -- of course, protection of civilian harm is something that's been built in for a -- the -- the whole host of things we do. I think what I'm trying to say here is we're really in -- going to have the resources and have the imprimatur to build in civilian harm protection throughout the entire process.

So when mission planning is going on, understanding where civilians are, what the impact potentially is of operations, even if those operations aren't kinetic -- and it's this civilian harm focus that is particularly more pronounced, I think, than we have traditionally done things.

STAFF: Great, thank you, sir. Let's go to Courtney Kube, NBC News.

Q: Hi, thanks. So -- oh, I'm here, yeah -- so you mentioned the 150 people. But I'm wondering if you can say sort of what the -- the level -- how high up some of these positions will be? And, like, I'm still not clear if you're going to be hiring more people and how senior that will go -- like -- or is this just going to be this is a new -- like, this falls into someone's portfolio, an existing position?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, so it's a -- it's a great question. Back to the idea of this is an ecosystem that, in some cases, we're building out further, in other cases, we're reinforcing what already exists, we really see these people at all levels.

So a lot of the emphasis is going to be at the operational level -- so think COCOM in some cases, maybe even in lower -- if we're talking about special operations elements or other deployed elements -- but also, having, as we mentioned, in the Center of Excellence people who are looking at this holistically across the department and something that is less about kind of centralized within the department and more built into the existing C2, the existing infrastructure, the existing commands that already exist.

We -- we have done a lot of this before but we've done it episodically and we tend to focus it heavily on those that are involved in warfighting as opposed to having it be a -- a consistent and enduring capability that commanders can draw on.

STAFF: Let's go to Ellee Watson, CBS News.

Q: Yes, thank you. Sorry if this is in there and I didn't see it. I have a question, does the plan address over-the-horizon strikes? What you guys will do to make sure in the over-the-horizon strikes there's no harm to civilians?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, it does, because it's really meant to address all military operations. So, whether those are over-the-horizon, you know, counterterrorism or other strikes, or these are large-scale maneuver operations, it's meant to address the full extent of Department of Defense military activities.

STAFF: Thank you. Great. Let's go to Carla Babb, Voice of America.

Q: Hey, yes, thanks for doing this. Can you give us like a real-world example on what has changed and how these changes will affect things? Like, for example, the strike, the errant strike that the U.S. did a year ago in Afghanistan. What are the things that you have in place now with this Center that would have made things differently or it -- could it have even made things different?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So, I would -- Carla, I'd highlight two things that I think the plan would put into place, one on the front end on the overall targeting process. I think some of what has come out of that review is elements related to cognitive bias and a key element of the overall lessons learned built into education of our commanders and operators is focused on both target misidentification and looking for cognitive bias in which institutional efforts like Red Teaming that are episodic right now would be a key part of what would be standard process.

And then on the backend, with the errant strike and the NEI and family -- NEI being the organization they were associated with -- I think on how we would assist in those cases the plan lays out a number of additional and more tailorable options, obviously moving individuals out of Afghanistan after the Taliban took over is a degree of complexity that requires a lot of tailorable options. And so, I think, we're very much educated by that experience to look at what additional tools we might need besides some of what has traditionally been in the commander's toolbox.

STAFF: Thank you. Let's go to Meghann Myers, Military Times.

Q: Hi. So, the Center of Excellence is going to take a few years to get off the ground. When can we expect to see it integrated in this planning and after-the-fact process? And what is the department going to do in the meantime to make sure that the spirit of civilian harm mitigation is still being carried out while you're setting up this office?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, it's a very good question. So, I think, one of the benefits -- I'll speak to your second question first before we get to the Center of Excellence, in developing this overall action plan it was very much done with senior leaders in the department. So, we had, for instance, a senior leader seminar with combatant commanders, with the vice chairman undersecretary of policy chairing it with the secretary taking the -- and the chairman taking the out-brief.

But if you had looked at the screen you'd had seen all the combatant commanders or their deputies in the room. And part of the overall process has been to further build in some of this outlook into how they're doing things. And in some of our other departments and agency -- excuse me, in some of our other departmental plans in future fights, whether that's in EUCOM, whether that's in INDOPACOM, this becomes already part of that process.

To your question on the Center of Excellence, we envision this standing up actually relatively quickly in the next fiscal year here, which begins already in -- in October, and having, as one of your colleagues asked about, the 30 person IOC, Initial Operating Capacity.

So we envision working with the Army now, the joint proponent, to actually have this up and operating in initial capacity pretty quickly here, even as it may take one or two fiscal years to actually build it out to its full operating capacity, and that then becomes the keystone around which many of these other activities are built or informed by that group there at the Center of Excellence.

STAFF: Thank you. Let's go to Lara Seligman, Politico.

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this. Two questions please. One, can you just talk us through in concrete terms how this is -- you -- you envision this trickling down to commanders on the ground who are actually making these decisions? I know that a lot of the civilian casualty piece and the legal process of that is already kind of baked in to command -- to making decisions on the ground but can you just walk us through how this is going to change things?

And then also, can you be a little bit more specific on what it means when the memo says you've designated the Army secretary as the joint proponent for CHMRAP? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. So one example of how this is more concrete, I think, is if you think of the -- the overall mission planning that begins with, you know, intelligence professionals, operators at a combatant command, we would envision having somebody or probably a group of people who are experts in this -- this civilian environment, that are sitting next to the operators, the -- the threat focused intel folks, the lawyers, as they're really developing whether it's an individual operation or a campaign.

And building in this component of civilian harm throughout the overall process in which the, you know, planners move to then refining and operation to the execution to the after action report to the review of the impact, battle damage assessment, these kinds of things, and having really this civilian harm component be baked in throughout -- also being there in a way that advises the commanders who are having to make ultimately these decisions after the planners have finished their work of what some of the hard decisions are in terms of strike, no strike, areas of potential off limits or that look strategically less important than others.

And what we haven't often had is a consistent, really deep series of subject matter experts that help the commander work through this. In addition, with the Center of Excellence, we envision being able to forward deploy some of the experts from this Center forward to actually help commanders with advice, with understanding where they can draw on additional resources.

I already alluded to the fact that red teaming is one of the kind of best practices that hasn't always been something we've done -- some of that's because of OPTEMPO -- and really having the capacity to have that as a standing capability in -- in commands that are carrying out operations, we think, are all concrete things that will improve our strategic effects and -- and really achieve more of what we're aiming to achieve here in protecting civilian populations.

On your question about the Army as the joint proponent, the simplest way I would think of it is the -- the Army's going to have a lot of the responsibility for implementing this. So think, in some cases, facilities, military construction, personnel.

Now, not everything is the responsibility of the joint proponent, in this case, the Army, but they end up becoming the implementer even as, you know, policy and the Joint Staff end up being kind of the lead for the secretary on how some of these big policy decisions are made. And so that's -- that's the simplest way I would describe it to you.

STAFF: Thank you. Let's go to Heather Mongilio, USNI News.

Q: I think my question's already been answered. Thank you.

STAFF: Thank you. All right, we'll go to our final question then -- Eric Schmitt, New York Times.

Q: I’d like you to talk a little bit more -- following up on, I think it was Courtney's question earlier on just about, how high-ranking these people are going to be who are embedded at different levels. Because it -- it's one thing to have somebody who is a kind of a lower or medium level person advocating these positions, but if they're not seeing enough, we all know that this just doesn't happen. So I guess, at what level throughout these services, agencies, commands -- whoever, what these -- will the ranking be?

And can you talk a little bit about this -- in the secretary's letter about how this would play out in a conflict with peer adversaries. Are you talking about how this -- how you're going to incorporate mitigation of civilian harm in -- in, say, cyber operations and -- and the impact of those? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So on the question of -- of rank, so some of that's yet to be worked out, I think, to be fair. We envision the -- the Center of Excellence having somebody who, you know, has sufficient rank, because the responsibility is really to be the lead of a lot of this activity for the overall institution here. But I'd point you as well to the idea of the steering committee that will really be, I think, the little bit of the hands on the initial steering wheel as this gets going with, you know, about as high as we get in the department before you get to the secretary with the vice chairman and the under secretary for not only policy, but for -- for the comptroller also, and -- and under-secretary level so making sure he's a resource. I think as the manpower study happens and this group of senior leaders looks at what some of the requirements will be, the rank will -- will follow.

It's been an intentional effort not to, say, build a new organization with, you know, a senior general officer or a senior civilian on top of it because we really thought that the -- the purpose of our efforts is to build in at all of the different levels that are involved in conducting military operations a perspective on protecting civilian harm and bringing the tools that are required across a whole range of issues. So it's really an intentionally, a distributed architecture.

To your question of civilian harm against peer adversaries, absolutely. It's, you know, really meant to be not only in all domains of warfighting, so in addition to cyber, it could be space, but also really meant to be something that works in both deliberate and dynamic targeting. And it really, we hope, agnostic of those domains and agnostic of platform.

Admittedly, this is where there's going to be a lot of hard intellectual work or hard government work in implementing it, but we think this is where building enough of the intellectual expertise and -- and frankly, you know, bandwidth to look at these issues in the Center of Excellence. And then having the ability to reach into the organizational/operational elements in the department is really where we're going to not only develop policies for these types of hard problems, but then actually test them and experiment them in the context of the operators, and then if there is an operational situation, be able to advise on the front end of how to approach those, and then on the back end, really evaluate the lessons learned from that.

So this is not meant to only be in the kind of lethal space; it's meant to be across all domains that the Department of Defense is engaged in.

STAFF: Thank you very much, sir.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's all the time we have for today. Again, a reminder: This was attributable to "a senior defense official on background." Appreciate your time. Everyone, have a great day.