A Complex Battlefield

While the militaries of democratic countries go to great lengths to abide by the Law of Armed Conflict, terrorist groups and non-state forces purposely abuse those rules for their own gain, which creates an extraordinarily complex battlefield for today’s troops, according to a report released Feb. 2. “Unquestionably, troops are exposed to greater danger, and indeed die, as a result of the care taken to fight according to our laws and values,” states the report by the High Level Military Group. The conclusions are based on the examination of eight case studies, including Operation Moshtarak, the joint International Security Assistance Force offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province Afghanistan in February 2010; Operation Al Fajr in Fallujah from Nov. 7, 2004 to Dec. 23, 2004; and the US drone campaign in Pakistan. Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute and a member of the High Level Military Group, said that while the Law of Armed Conflict must be followed, the US should not exceed those rules at the expense of military effectiveness. He asked rhetorically about the morality of a policy that restricts the use of airpower to avoid possible collateral damage, “while allowing the certainty of the Islamic State’s crimes against humanity?” The US must clarify the requirements of the LOAC to the media and the world, Deptula said. “The abusive use of law to gain advantage, and to discredit lawful conduct by military forces, must be countered by defending— rather than abandoning—those legal principles,” he said.