Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Pentagon unveils civilian harm mitigation plan

The Department of Defense on Thursday released a much-anticipated plan aimed at reducing civilian casualties caused by U.S. military operations. 

We’ll talk about the plan. Plus, a federal judge said he’ll release the affidavit that convinced him to approve a warrant to search former President Trump’s Florida home. 

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Pentagon lays out long-awaited civilian harm plan 

The Pentagon on Thursday released a long-awaited plan aimed at reducing civilian casualties caused by U.S. military operations and proposed a better way to report and respond to incidents should they occur.   

The 36-page Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan, approved by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this week, directs sweeping changes in military planning, training, doctrine and policy for all future conflicts, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters.  

Inside the plan: The idea is to install at all operational levels people “who are trained to have an understanding of civilian harm, the aspects of civilian harm mitigation, and operational planning,” at the start of any mission, Ryder said.  

The military’s Center of Excellence will serve as the hub “that will provide expertise at a centralized location, but then that will be dispersed throughout the Department of Defense,” to include some estimated 150-plus individuals that will have special training on the matter, he added. 

What’s not in the plan? The plan notably does not include any guidance or changes as to punishment should an individual or multiple people inaccurately or inappropriately order a strike that kills civilians.   

The Pentagon did not punish any individuals related to the Kabul strike as it found that those involved had followed the correct procedures.   

Where the issue came from: The document comes nearly a year after a botched Aug. 29, 2021 attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed 10 people, including seven children, causing public outcry and significant scrutiny over U.S. drone strikes.  

  • That deadly blunder, coupled with a November investigation by The New York Times detailing a U.S. airstrike that killed 70 civilians, prompted Austin in January to order the Defense Department to develop a civilian harm mitigation “action plan.” 
  • The New York Times reported allegations that top officers and civilian officials tried to hide the casualties in the drone strike.   

A ‘moral imperative:’ In a memo included in the plan, Austin said the protection of civilians is both a “strategic priority” and a “moral imperative.” 

“We will ensure that we are well prepared to prevent, mitigate and respond to civilian harm in current and future conflicts,” Austin wrote, calling the changes “both ambitious and necessary.” 

Read the full story here.  

Judge to release redacted FBI Mar-a-Lago affidavit 

A federal magistrate judge on Thursday said he would release a redacted version of the affidavit that convinced him to approve a warrant to search former President Trump’s Florida home. 

The Justice Department is ordered to file a public version of its redacted document by noon Friday. 

Good cause to redact: The decision from Judge Bruce Reinhart comes after he ordered the Justice Department to propose redactions to a document whose full release they argued would compromise their ongoing investigation. 

“I find that the Government has met its burden of showing a compelling reason/good cause to seal portions of the Affidavit,” Reinhart wrote, noting that it could reveal both the identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents, and uncharged parties as well as the investigation’s strategy, direction, scope. 

The ‘least onerous alternative:’ Reinhart’s Thursday ruling offers little insight into what the public may glean from the release, but he ultimately decided it was “the least onerous alternative to sealing the entire affidavit.” 

What we already know: The Justice Department previously unsealed portions of the warrant related to the search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month, indicated that the government seized 11 different sets of classified materials, along with other information about Trump’s decision to pardon ally Roger Stone. 

The warrant also indicated that Trump was under investigation for a possible violation of the Espionage Act, as well as two other statutes: one that bars concealing, removing and mutilating government documents, and another that prohibits similar actions when done “with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence [an] investigation.” 

Read the story here.  

Biden, Zelensky discuss concerns over nuclear plant 

President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke Thursday about a new $3 billion security assistance package for Ukraine, and the two leaders also demanded Russia relinquish control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, according to the White House.   

Who controls the plant? Russia has controlled the Zaporizhzhya plant since early on in the war. But fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces has intensified around the nuclear plant, raising concerns about the potential for a disastrous mishap.   

  • The plant, which is the largest in Europe, was temporarily disconnected from the power grid on Thursday as a result of fires that broke out around lines connecting it to the grid.  
  • International inspectors from the IAEA are seeking access to the plant. 

‘Return full control:’ Biden “congratulated Ukraine on its Independence Day and expressed his admiration for the people of Ukraine, who have inspired the world as they defended their country’s sovereignty over the past six months,” according to a White House readout of the phone call.   

“The two leaders also called for Russia to return full control of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant to Ukraine and for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to the plant,” the readout said.   

What else was discussed? In a tweet, Zelensky said that he thanked Biden on Thursday for the “unwavering” U.S. security and financial support for Ukraine amid the Russian war, which passed the six-month mark on Wednesday. He did not specifically mention the Zaporizhzhya plant.   

“We discussed Ukraine’s further steps on our path to the victory over the aggressor and importance of holding Russia accountable for war crimes,” Zelensky said.   

Read the story here.  

US forces strike Iran-affiliated militants   

U.S. forces struck at Iran-affiliated militants after rocket attacks on bases in northeastern Syria left three American troops injured, the military said Thursday.    

In a statement, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said American forces struck at the militants with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, AC-130 gunships and M777 artillery following attacks on Mission Support Site Conoco and Mission Support Site Green Village. 

Four “enemy fighters” were killed, and seven enemy rocket launchers were destroyed, the statement added. 

“We will respond appropriately and proportionally to attacks on our servicemembers,” CENTCOM commander Michael Kurilla said. 

“No group will strike at our troops with impunity. We will take all necessary measures to defend our people,” he continued. 

Read more here.  

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The Brookings Institution will hold a discussion on “The US Marine Corps, the National Defense Strategy, and the future of expeditionary warfare” at 10 a.m. 
  • The National Press Club will host an event on “One Year Since The Fall of Kabul: A Conversation on Press Freedom in Afghanistan” at 11 a.m. 
  • The American Society of International Law will hold a discussion on “The Right to Privacy during Armed Conflict” at 12 p.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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