Version 2 / 7min read / Updated Fri 23 Jul 2021 / 821 views
Introduction to Rules of engagement and the law of war
Rules of engagement specify the circumstances and limitations under which forces may engage; they include definitions of combatant and noncombatant elements and prescribe the treatment of noncombatants. Factors influencing ROE are national command policy, mission, commander’s intent, the operational environment, and the law of war. ROE always recognize a Soldier’s right of self-defense; while at the same time, they clearly define circumstances in which he may fire.
Law of Land Warfare
Leaders at all levels ensure their Soldiers operate according to the law of war. This also is called the law of armed conflict and is the body of international law that regulates the conduct of armed hostilities. The purposes of the law of war are to protect combatants and noncombatants from unnecessary suffering, make the transition to peace easier, and safeguard the rights of enemy prisoners of war (EPWs), detainees, the wounded and sick, and civilians.
Four important principles govern 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 means discriminating between lawful combatant targets and noncombatant targets. The latter may include civilians, civilian property, EPW, and wounded personnel who are out of combat.
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.
- Unnecessary suffering requires military forces to avoid inflicting gratuitous violence on the enemy. Soldiers consider these principles when planning and executing operations.
Combatants and Non-combatants
All persons participating in military operations or activities are considered combatants. All others are noncombatants. This distinction 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.
Noncombatants include civilians, medical personnel, chaplains, and other persons captured or detained. This category also includes soldiers who are captured, sick, or wounded or soldiers who surrender. Humane treatment of noncombatants may produce valuable information, gain active support for you, and deny support for the enemy. Mistreatment serves only the interests of the enemy.
Only combatants are proper targets.
Don't shoot at 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 or do not surrender upon landing, they must be 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
Don't shoot at red cross services or hide behind medical symbols
Medical personnel and facilities are usually 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. Don't fire at any medical personnel, air or ground vehicles, buildings, tents, or other facilities used for the care of wounded, sick, and disabled persons.
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.
Don't cause destruction beyond the requirement of your mission
Under the laws of war, you are not allowed to attack villages, towns, or cities. However, when your mission requires, you are allowed to engage enemy troops, equipment, or supplies in a village, town, or city. Don't destroy an entire town or village to stop sniper fire from a single building. Use only that firepower necessary to neutralize the sniper. 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. Disciplined Firepower Is Effective Firepower.
Do your best to prevent violations of the law of war. All military leaders have a duty to prevent criminal acts. If you see any crime about to be committed, you should act to prevent it. In the event the crime directly and immediately endangers your life or the life of another person, you may use the amount of force necessary to prevent it. But remember, 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 crimes 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.
Weapons Control Status
The three levels of weapons control status outline the conditions, based on target identification criteria, under which friendly elements can engage. The Platoon Leader sets and adjusts the weapons control status based on friendly and enemy disposition, and clarity of the situation. Generally speaking, the higher the probability of fratricide and friendly fire, the more restrictive the weapons control status. The three levels, in descending order of restrictiveness, are—
Weapons Hold / Weapons Red
The first of the more specific Rules of Engagement is "Weapons Hold". When in "Weapons Hold" mode only engage if there is an imminent threat to you or a fellow team member, but only continue engaging if necessary. If an element comes under effective enemy fire, they are authorized to return fire in order to achieve fire superiority and suppress or eliminate the enemy. If it is not effective enemy fire, such as what might happen if the enemy attempted "recon by fire", the element is expected to hold fire and wait for their leader to issue further commands.
Weapons Hold is generally used by a team leader to restrict their element's fire in situations where stealth is paramount.
Weapons Tight / Weapons Orange
Only engage positively identified enemy targets and get clearance from your team leader before firing the initial shots of a contact. This ROE is used when civilian contact is likely. "Positive identification" often comes from the uniform being worn, presence of a weapon, and firing in the direction of friendly forces. Note that "Weapons Tight" is very rarely issued by itself, but is an organic part of the Universal ROE described above.
Weapons Free / Weapons Green
"Weapons Free" means that you are free to engage anything that you have reasonable certainty is a hostile target. Weapons Free abides by the Universal Rules of Engagement concepts, with the difference being that it is generally issued once things have really heated up, with less emphasis on calling contacts before engagement, and more emphasis on rapidly engaging any enemy threats as soon as they present themselves and can be effectively engaged.
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)