I think the bigger issue with collateral damage is stuff like drone strikes.
People are more understanding if there is a fire fight and you blow up the house with the guys shooting at you.
Less so when that house is quiet and you drop a missile on it and blow up some family because there are “bad guys” nearby or the like.
I don’t really buy that. I don’t think the average parent who’s kid is killed really cares if he was shot during a fire fight, or killed by an RPG, IED, artillery shell, bomb, or hellfire missile. They are pissed at whatever side killed them.
Although, I think they get more upset if they are executed or crucified.
I think they’d be fairly likely to be mad at ISIS guys who used their house for cover in a firefight as much as the US for shooting said ISIS guys in the house and killing their kids. It’s maybe a 50/50 toss up at that stage who they think is at fault.
If you drop a Hellfire on their house in the middle of the night, they’re never blaming the ISIS guys.
These are all valid, if you assume the overall context is valid. But there’s the rub.
No one denies ISIS and its ilk are bad guys doing bad things. The bigger question is, what’s the policy context where these bad things rise to the level of a national interest warranting constant military action? Is our policy going to be a general “kill all the bad people” thing? Sounds…ambitious, to say the least. So, yeah, if you don’t do anything, ISIS continues to do nasty things. But, um, if we don’t do anything, there’s a ton of people around the world doing bad things. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be opposing ISIS, I’m just saying there has never been a coherent, well put together case made for exactly how we are opposing them. The fighting we do seems somewhat arbitrary and haphazard, in our targeting, force levels, and expected goals.
So, 2-4 make sense only in the context of a tactical situation, when, yeah, of the options available, you try to pick the one that works the best all around, including collateral damage. I don’t necessarily agree that an air strike in general is better than any of those others–a 1000lb bomb is a lot worse IMO than having a heavy weapon or tank shoot up the house, from the perspective of the people inside–but if you do have a force taking fire from a house or whatever, these are all valid options.
The problem is, much of the time that isn’t the case. In drone strikes, it’s often nebulous and often dubious intelligence data about targets a long way from any allied forces. For air strikes, it ranges from direct support of US troops, to direct support of allied troops (which, as we’ve seen in Afghanistan, don’t always play by the same rules we do in terms of targeting), to the same sort of iffy intel on distant targets.
To really make sense of any numbers, we’d have to know what percentage of supposed civilian casualties occurred in direct support operations, and what percentage happened in these other cases where the use of air power per se is much less certainly a no-brainer.