TEL AVIV – It appears the Pentagon is struggling with the same moral dilemma that confronts Israel in its own war on terror: How to minimize civilian casualties without compromising the aims of airstrikes targeting terrorist infrastructure in urban areas.
Social media is ablaze with claims that the Obama administration “tipped off” Islamic State terrorists 45 minutes before the U.S. Air Force destroyed 116 tanker trucks in the Al-Bukamal province of Iraq. The strike was intended to reduce ISIS’s ability to transport stolen oil products.
The Pentagon’s Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told reporters that before the mid-November airstrike, the military dropped leaflets warning truckers, “Get out of your trucks now, and run away from them.”
The air force also made low passes to warn of impending strikes and announced in another leaflet: “Warning: airstrikes are coming. Oil trucks will be destroyed. Get away from your oil trucks immediately. Do not risk your life.”
Warren told reporters at a November 18 briefing:
‘This is our first strike against tanker trucks, and to minimize risks to civilians, we conducted a leaflet drop prior to the strike. We did a show of force, by – we had aircraft essentially buzz the trucks at low altitude.
‘So, I do have copy of the leaflet, and I have got some videos, so why don’t you pull the leaflet up. Let me take a look at it so I can talk about it.
‘As you can see, it’s a fairly simple leaflet, it says, “Get out of your trucks now, and run away from them.” A very simple message.
‘And then also, “Warning: airstrikes are coming. Oil trucks will be destroyed. Get away from your oil trucks immediately. Do not risk your life.”
‘And so these are the leaflets that we dropped – about 45 minutes before the airstrikes actually began. Again, we combine these leaflet drops with very low-altitude passes of some of our attack aviation, which sends a very powerful message.’
Social media messages claimed Obama himself issued the 45-minute advance notice with the goal of alerting ISIS to incoming strikes, and multiple blogs ran similar headlines.
“Obama dropped leaflets 45 min ahead to warn ISIS before dropping bombs,” was the title of one trending story on BizPacReview.com.
A similar headline was run by the JewsNews website.
As Snopes.com accurately pointed out, however, the military operation “didn’t directly involve President Obama” and there is no evidence Obama himself called for the leaflet drop. Nonetheless, Obama does help set the tone for Pentagon policy and the most obvious downside to the civilian tip-offs is that ISIS was likely alerted.
The U.S. military seems to be taking a page from Israel’s playbook when it comes to giving civilians notice of impending airstrikes, even when those civilians sometimes act as willing human shields for terrorists.
But Israel takes things much further than the Pentagon. Besides dropping leaflets, the Israel Defense Force is known to make phone calls and even send text messages to civilians in areas designated for airstrikes. The Israeli Air Force also practices what it calls “roof knocking,” which utilizes a loud, non-lethal empty bomb that serves as a sort of siren warning civilians to vacate a facility.
The IDF has abandoned airstrikes countless times after a surveillance craft picked up the presence of civilians – sometimes only seconds before.
These practices have been exploited by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist factions. The Palestinian jihadists use civilians as human shields and have been caught hiding weapons caches – including missiles – in schools, mosques and hospitals.
During the Israel-Gaza War in August 2014, Hamas was also caught setting up rocket launchers outside of a Gaza hotel where members of the news media were staying.