The Pentagon withheld fire on a convoy of 200 Islamic State fighters fleeing a major stronghold in Syria over the weekend out of fear of civilian casualties.
“We did not conduct any strikes because [every vehicle] had civilians in it or on it, and so we watched, we kept track,” Pentagon Spokesman Army Col. Chris Garver told reporters Tuesday.
Garver assured reporters the convoy was tracked and wouldn’t confirm its current location, saying it was part of an “ongoing operation.”
The ISIS fighters took flight after U.S.-backed fighters seized ISIS’s last stronghold on the Turkish border. ISIS used the town to ferry foreign fighters who arrived in Turkey to training camps and other cities throughout Iraq and Syria.
The Obama administration has put in place extremely constrictive rules of engagement on U.S. aircraft striking ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Routine strikes must be approved by high level commanders, and very large strikes reportedly must be approved by the White House.
President Barack Obama’s rules of engagement reflect his desire to allow zero civilian casualties whatsoever in U.S. airstrikes. In some cases, pilots who’ve requested permission to engage were forced to circle targets in the air while permission was sought through the chain of command.
“The gradualistic, painfully slow, incremental efforts of the current administration undercut the principals of modern warfare, and harken back to the approach followed by the Johnson administration,” Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula told USA Today in April.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the rules of engagement in a briefing saying the administration is, “justifiably proud of the great lengths we’ve gone to to avoid civilian casualties — certainly greater lengths than our adversaries in this conflict.”
The Pentagon’s admission demonstrates the constraints placed by the Obama administration on use of American firepower against ISIS. ISIS knows the U.S. rules of engagement and purposefully games them, to ensure the U.S. will not strike it at critical moments. The tactic mimics Palestinian terror group Hamas’s use of schools as weapons depots, to discourage Israel from targeting its supplies.
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