While on the campaign trail heading into the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Donald Trump mentioned his belief that the U.S. should kill the families of terrorists on more than one occasion, leaving many Americans to wonder if the future president was serious or simply making off-the-cuff statements.
During a Republican primary debate in 2016, Trump defended his remarks about going after the wives and families of known terrorists, as well as his stance on torture, saying that military leaders would do whatever he told them to do -- even if it were illegal.
“If I say do it, they’re gonna do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”
Trump visited the CIA on his first full day as president, and the following incident transpired while he met with officials from the agency’s drone operations:
Later, when the agency’s head of drone operations explained that the CIA had developed special munitions to limit civilian casualties, the president seemed unimpressed. Watching a previously recorded strike in which the agency held off on firing until the target had wandered away from a house with his family inside, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?” one participant in the meeting recalled.
The Daily Beast notes that while no specific directive to target civilians is known, civilian deaths under the Trump administration have increased significantly.
Just before Trump took office, the U.S. military said at least 188 civilians had been unintentionally killed by coalition strikes since the beginning of its operation against ISIS in Iraq and Syria in 2014. By the end of 2017, the count was up to 831 civilians killed.
Airwars, a journalist-led watchdog group, reported in January 2018:
“Non-combatant deaths from Coalition air and artillery strikes rose by more than 200 per cent compared to 2016, rising to between 3,923 and 6,102 civilians estimated killed during the year according to Airwars tallies. By another measure, roughly 65% of all civilian deaths from Coalition actions tracked by our team since 2014 occurred over the last 12 months. This unprecedented death toll coincided with the start of the Trump presidency, and suggested in part that policies aimed at protecting civilians had been scaled back under the new administration.”