Rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict - Core Infantry - United Task Force (UNITAF) Arma 3

P3-9 Rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict

UNITAF / Arma 3 / Core Infantry Procedures

Version 5 / 9min read / Updated Fri 13 Jan 2023 / 4443 views / of verified

Table of Contents

    Introduction to the LOAC

    The Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) also known as the Laws of War form part of the rules of engagement (ROE). Rules of engagement specify the circumstances and limitations under which forces may engage; they include definitions of combatant and non-combatant elements and prescribe the treatment of non-combatants. Factors influencing ROE are mission, commander’s intent, the operational environment, and the laws of war. ROE always recognizes a Soldier’s right of self-defense; while at the same time, they clearly define circumstances in which they may or may not engage.

    For our purposes violating the LOAC will not have you hauled up in The Hague but it does form part of a vital effort to permit mission support teams to develop interesting and creactive scenarios and dilemmas. Educating and enforcing the LOAC creates more interesting deployments and you should expect it to be enforced as any other SOP would be.


    Code of Conduct for Combatants

    The Code of Conduct for Combatants dictates what a soldier must follow, they are summarised below and expanded in detail in this SOP. They are both morally and legally obligated to follow these rules to limit damage and suffering.

    • Only engage combatants: You have a legal and moral responsibility to ID your targets. You must only engage combatants who pose a direct threat to yourself or others.
    • Avoid civilian casualties: Civilians are protected under the laws of war.
    • Respect Protective Symbols: Symbols such as the Red Crystal, Red Cross, Red Crescent and humanitarian logos should be respected. They protect: Medical staff, ambulances, relief transports, hospitals and first-aid posts.
    • Limit collateral damage: International law requires armed forces to distinguish between civilians and lawful military objectives and prohibits attacks that are expected to result in excessive damage, injury, or loss of civilian life in relation to the anticipated military advantage. 

    An IDAP Advisor briefs British Soldiers on International Humanitarian Law.


    Laws of Land Warfare

    Along with the obligations of the soldiers on the field, leaders at all levels must especially ensure their soldiers operate according to the law of war; this is also known as the Laws of Armed Conflict. The purposes of the laws of war are to protect combatants and non-combatants from unnecessary suffering, make the transition to peace easier, safeguard the rights of enemy prisoners of war (EPWs), detainees, wounded and civilians. The key aspects of the Laws of Armed Conflict help discern how soldiers can accomplish their mission whilst adhering to the Laws of Land warfare.


    Key aspects of the Laws of Armed Conflict

    • Military necessity: Permits combat forces to engage in those acts necessary to accomplish a legitimate military objective and not otherwise forbidden by the law of armed conflict.     
    • Distinction: You must be able to distinguish between lawful combatant targets and non-combatant targets. The latter may include civilians, civilian property, EPW, and wounded personnel who are out of combat. Those who are fighting must distinguish themselves from those who are not.
    • Precaution: All feasible measures should be taken to avoid collateral damage. This may include: When to strike a target, where to strike a target and what weapon systems to use against a target.
    • Proportionality: Requires that the anticipated loss of life and damage to property incidental to attacks must not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained. The advantage has to be concrete and cannot be “winning the war” for example. 
    • Unnecessary suffering: Requires military forces to avoid inflicting gratuitous violence on the enemy. There are limits on the means and methods of war and soldiers must consider these principles when planning and executing operations.

    British Soldiers cordon off a bombed-out area deemed unsafe for civilian passage.


    Protection Prohibitions

    Under LOAC it is forbidden to:

    • Attack civilians
    • Commit murder or torture
    • Forcibly displace civilians
    • Attack hospitals, ambulances and health-care workers
    • Use human shields
    • Misuse the Red Crystal, Red Cross and Red Crescent
    • Interfere with the delivery of humanitarian aid


    When civilians take a direct part in fighting, they lose their protection from attack (when in doubt, they should be considered civilian). When a civilian object is used in support of military action, it becomes a legitimate military target and loses its protection (when in doubt, it should be considered civilian). Protect the most vulnerable: civilians, wounded, CPERS and health-care workers.


    Protection Limitations

    • Captured civilians and enemy combatants should be given adequate medical care.
    • A surrendering enemy must not be wounded or killed.


    Limitation Prohibitions

    It is forbidden to:

    • Use weapons that cause unnecessary suffering (such as chemical weapons)
    • Use weapons that cannot distinguish between civilian and military targets
    • Take hostages
    • Pretend to be a civilian while attempting to kill, injure or capture an adversary
    • Order or threaten that there will be no survivors


    Limitation Obligations

    • Those who are fighting must distinguish themselves from those who are not
    • Attacks must be limited to military objectives
    • During an attack, every precaution must be taken to minimise potential harm to civilians and civilian objects


    Enemy Combatants and Non-combatants

    All persons participating in military operations or activities are considered combatants. 

    The distinction between combatants and non-combatants is not always easy to make. Uniformed, armed soldiers are easily recognizable. However, guerillas often mix with the civilians, perform undercover operations, and dress in civilian clothes. Alertness and caution must guide you in deciding who is a combatant. Remember, a combatant may not always be armed. It is important to understand hostile intent. For example, a “dicker/spotter” who is showing clear and imminent hostile intent may be considered a combatant. However, there should be no question of using lethal force unless you absolutely must.

    Non-combatants include: Civilians, medical personnel and other persons captured or detained. This category also includes soldiers who are captured or wounded or soldiers who surrender. Humane treatment of non-combatants may produce valuable information, gain active support for you, and deny support for the enemy. Mistreatment serves only the interests of the enemy.

    Only enemy combatants are proper targets.

    A British Soldier prevents another soldier from engaging a non-combatant.


    Do not engage parachutes unless it holds a combatant.

    Individuals parachuting from a burning or disabled aircraft are considered helpless until they reach the ground. You should not fire on them while they are in the air. If they use their weapons upon landing, they lose their protection status and are considered combatants. Paratroopers, on the other hand, are jumping from an airplane to fight. They are targets and you may fire at them while they are still in the air. Paratroopers are combatants

    Paratroopers dropping into battle.     


    Do not engage those protected under protective symbols or hide behind medical symbols.

    Medical personnel and facilities should be marked with the Red Cross on a white background. However, some countries use different distinctive emblems to designate their medical service personnel and facilities. Muslim countries use the Red Crescent. A Red Crystal may also be used for the same purposes. Do not engage any medical personnel, air or ground vehicles, buildings, tents, or other facilities used for the care of wounded and disabled persons. Medical personnel who take up arms and engage you lose their protection privileges. 

    In combat, the medical service emblem protects those who have become casualties and those who are caring for them. It is a serious breach of the laws of war when soldiers use these signs to protect or hide military activities. Do not mark your position or yourself with a medical service emblem unless you have been designated to perform only medical duties. As a Medical Personnel member, you should not actively engage in combat and only act strictly in self-defense.


    Examples of Protective Symbols    


    Don't cause destruction beyond the requirement of your mission

    Under LOAC you cannot attack villages, towns, or cities. However, when your mission requires you are allowed to engage enemy troops, equipment, or supplies within a village, town, or city. You should not destroy an entire town or village to stop sniper fire from a single building. Use only the necessary means to neutralize the threat presented. Limit destruction only to that necessary to accomplish your mission. Avoid unnecessary loss of life and damage to property. This law not only conserves your own supplies, but preserves facilities for future civilian use.


    War Crime Prevention

    Do your best to prevent violations of the laws of war, while violations of the LOAC do happen they have consequences and are avoidable. All soldiers have a duty to prevent violations of LOAC. If you see any violation about to be committed you are obligated to prevent it. In the event the violation directly and immediately endangers your life or the life of another person, you may use the amount of force necessary to prevent it. Remember that the use of deadly force is justified only to protect life and only under conditions of extreme necessity as a last resort, when lesser means have failed.

    • Report violation immediately through your chain of command, if the crime involves your superiors, report to their superior.
    • If you violate any of the laws of war, even if you had orders to commit the act, you are personally responsible.

    This SOP has been contributed to by 3 editors:
    Major James
    Captain Jari
    Sergeant Johnson

    UNITAF Standard Operating procedures (SOP)
    are adapted primarly from US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Our written and audio procedures are a combination of the following primary source materials, as well as our own learnings, modifications and adaptations:
    - US Army Techniques Publication, Infantry Platoon and Squad (ATP 3-21.8)
    - Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks Warrior Leader Skills Level 2, 3, and 4 (STP 21-24-SMCT)
    - The Warrior Ethos and Soldier Combat Skills (FM 3-21.75 / FM 21-75)
    - Leadership Development (FM 6-22)
    - Dyslexi's Tactics, Techniques, & Procedures for Arma 3 (TTP3)

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