1-29: Law of Land Warfare

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1-29. 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.

1-30. Four important principles govern armed conflict: military necessity, distinction, proportionality, and unnecessary suffering. 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. The principle of unnecessary suffering requires military forces to avoid inflicting gratuitous violence on the enemy. Soldiers consider these principles when planning and executing operations. (Refer to FM 27-10 for more information.)

1-31. ROE are directives issued by competent military authority that delineate the circumstances and limitations under which U.S. forces initiate or continue combat engagement with other forces encountered. (Refer to JP 1-04 for more information.) These directives may take the form of execute orders, deployment orders, memoranda of agreement, or plans. ROE always recognize a Soldier’s inherent right of self-defense. These rules vary between operations and may change during an operation. Adherence to them ensures Soldiers act consistently with international law, national policy, and military regulations.

1-32. Soldiers use discipline when applying lethal and nonlethal action, a necessity for operations. Disciplined actions and decisions are a hallmark of our Army profession. In fact, the ethical, effective, and efficient accomplishment of our mission depends on the freedom to exercise disciplined initiative under mission command. Today’s threats challenge the morals and ethics of Soldiers. Often an enemy feels no compulsion to respect international laws or conventions and commits atrocities simply to provoke retaliation. The enemy takes any loss of discipline on the part of Soldiers, distorts and exploits it in propaganda, and magnifies it through the media. The ethical challenge rests heavily on small-unit leaders who maintain discipline and ensure that Soldiers’ conduct remains within moral and ethical boundaries that are in alignment with what is expected from the Army profession.

1-33. The Soldier’s Rules distill the essence of the law of war, outlining the ethical and lawful conduct required of Soldiers in operations. (Refer to Army Regulation [AR] 350-1 for more information.) Soldier’s Rules are—

  • Soldiers fight only enemy combatants.
  • Soldiers do not harm enemies who surrender. They disarm them and turn them over to their superior.
  • Soldiers do not kill or torture any personnel in their custody.
  • Soldiers collect and care for the wounded, whether friend or enemy.
  • Soldiers do not attack medical personnel, facilities, or equipment.
  • Soldiers destroy no more than the mission requires.
  • Soldiers treat civilians humanely.
  • Soldiers respect private property and possessions.
  • Soldiers should do their best to prevent violations of the law of war.
  • Soldiers report all violations of the law of war to their superior.

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