ISIS fight shifts to French rules of engagement

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The French bombardment of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets in the wake of the Paris terror attacks has U.S. officials fielding questions about why those targets were not already hit in the air campaign against the terror group, which has lasted for more than a year. 

One reason, according to Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), a retired Navy SEAL commander and Iraq War veteran, is that France operates under less-restrictive rules of engagement.    

“Under our rules of engagement, if I were ISIS, what I would do is collocate my headquarters next to a school or a hospital and ensure that there would be collateral damage,” Zinke told The Hill. 

“They know our rules of engagement as well as we do,” he added. “They operate with impunity.” 

{mosads}After ISIS launched attacks in Paris that killed 129 and wounded hundreds more, French jets pummeled Raqqa — ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria — with a barrage of airstrikes on targets that included an ISIS recruitment center, training camp and an arms depot.  

A defense official confirmed that the French military accepts a higher risk of civilian casualties in their strikes against ISIS than the U.S.  

U.S. Air Forces have so far operated under restrictive rules of engagement, aiming for a zero civilian casualty standard that has left three quarters of bombing sorties returning to their bases without dropping a weapon. 

“There’s a target of zero civilian casualties, so if there are civilian casualty concerns, we would continue to monitor a target or a potential target to see if there is a way to mitigate that,” an Air Force official told The Hill in June. 

Lawmakers and experts critical of the “zero casualty” standard have pointed out that it is stricter than what is required under the Law of War.  

“I would be in support of giving the military commanders more latitude in their rules of engagement, rather than be restricted to the point we’re tying someone’s hands behind their back,” said Zinke, a former member of SEAL Team Six.  

As of Wednesday, the coalition has carried out more than 8,247 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. More than three-quarters of those strikes — 6,443 — have been conducted by the U.S. 

Of the 1,804 airstrikes carried out by non-U.S. forces, France has so far conducted 12 percent of those strikes, or just over 215 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. A separate French government count stands at about 285. 

The coalition expects the French will carry out a greater percentage of the coalition airstrikes, especially since the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is headed to the Persian Gulf. 

“We’re encouraged by the fact that the Charles de Gaulle is is en route to this theater. So, with that — with that additional influx of aircraft — I do expect that the overall percentage that the French are contributing will grow, yes,” Army Col. Steven Warren said.  

The Pentagon had previewed France’s increased role in the air war earlier this week, announcing on Monday that the U.S. and French militaries would bolster their intelligence sharing. 

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement that the partnership would “enable U.S. military personnel to more easily share operational planning information and intelligence with our French counterparts on a range of shared challenges to the fullest extent allowed by existing law and policy.” 

Although details were scarce, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters later that the intelligence sharing would help France “be more involved in the targeting process for coalition airstrikes.” 

He added that the two nations already share some intelligence, but this step “moves a lot of procedural limitations.”

Davis noted the plan to increase intelligence sharing had been in the works “for a while,” but was accelerated after last week’s Paris attacks.

Tags Iraq Iraq War Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Operation Inherent Resolve Ryan Zinke
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