Civilians can benefit when the military learns from its mistakes
Letter to the Editor by Sarah Holewinski
Thomas E. Ricks was exactly right in his Oct. 27 Sunday Opinion column, “Can the military learn from its mistakes?”: Military introspection is falling short. I see this starkly in the issue of civilian harm in combat. Anger at civilian casualties in Afghanistan caused U.S. commanders to make changes on the ground, and, as a result, civilian casualty rates fell. Yet these lessons haven’t become part of doctrine nor Pentagon policies, proving Mr. Ricks’s point that “our military is adept and adaptive at the tactical level but not at the higher levels of operations and strategy.”
As Mr. Ricks suggested, what has and hasn’t worked to address civilian harm should guide future operations, including drone strikes. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would do well to create an office on civilian harm mitigation at the Pentagon so that future mistakes are prevented.
Sarah Holewinski, Washington
The author is executive director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict.