Secrecy News

Army Doctrine on Protection of Civilians

For moral, legal, and tactical reasons, it is U.S. Army policy to protect civilians during military operations, a newly updated Army publication explains.

“To the extent possible, civilian populations (including those loyal to the enemy) must be protected from the effects of combat. In addition to humanitarian reasons and the need to comply with the law of war, excessive civilian casualties create political pressure that limits freedom of action of Army units. Civilian harm creates ill will among the population, with lasting repercussions that impair post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation.”

And yet sometimes that policy will fail.

“Leaders anticipate that, despite their best efforts to prevent them, civilian casualty incidents occur. Similarly, mass atrocities may occur even if commanders take all possible steps to preclude them. Systems should be established in advance to respond to civilian casualty incidents; these include reporting, tracking, investigation, public response, and making amends to families and communities through the recognition of harm, appropriate compensation, and apologies and dignifying gestures if necessary.”

The necessity and the near-impossibility of employing violence in a way that minimizes its unintended effects on the civilian population are recurring themes in the new Army document.

See Protection of Civilians, Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 3-07.6, October 29, 2015.