The boundaries of today’s war on terrorism are highly obscure, making it highly improbable for US forces to avoid civilian casualties, in places like Somalia, and others perceived to harbor terrorists.
Terrorists, some of whom may have genuine causes, systematically utilize violence and intimidation while disguised as civilian non-combatants. In other words, terrorists imbed themselves within civilian populations and then execute attacks.
Thus, the ground of warfare in the war against terror in located within the civilian population as determined by terrorists using crude means to achieve political objectives.
Terrorists use civilians as both shields and sacrificial lambs in order to carry out their objectives.
The fact of the matter is that the war on terror absolutely has no rules of engagement. In military operations, the rules of engagement determine when, where, and how force shall be used. Terrorists operate literally in the shadows of civilian populations, and utilize wanton methods that put civilians in the line of fire.
In spite of the military might of US forces, there are severe problems to directly engage with terrorists in places like Somalia and others. The US forces face little choice except to track terrorists within civilian populations.
And therein lies the challenge.
Defining who is and who is not a terrorist within a crowd of people can be a daunting task, and despite any wholesale exercise of discretion, mistakes are bound to be made.
To complicate matters, the painstaking process of trying to identify terrorists within the civilian population places US soldiers in the line of potential terrorist attacks.
Hence, US forces have to rely mainly on military intelligence, some of which may be seriously flawed, putting civilians at the risk of a US military attack.
Given the amorphous nature of the war on terror, it is really chance and luck that rule the day, as opposed to the strict execution of military strategy intended to limit the killing of civilians.
So, while some attacks by US forces can yield intended results, others can go awry, especially when terrorists place themselves within the proximity of civilians.
Put simply, there are no easy answers to preventing civilian deaths in the formless war on terrorism. The war has no definite character or nature, and civilians find themselves caught in between like pawns in a chess game.
In order to limit the extent of civilian deaths, the US has to incorporate locals to verify intelligence information on the location of terrorists. But this cannot be a full-proof measure as local sources of information may be acting in cahoots with terrorists, and therefore divulge intelligence information to the very terrorists. As a result, planned attacks targeted at terrorists will only hit innocent civilians.
US soldiers are literally caught between a rock and a hard place with very little in their sophisticated weaponry to define or determine the rules of the war on terror.
As a result, US soldiers are forced to go on an all-out hunt for terrorist groups and personalities hidden within communities, rendering the killing of civilians unavoidable.