Military Engagement

We believe that one of the best ways to protect civilians is to change the behavior of the militaries causing the harm. We press them to do more than just act legally, but to also make protecting civilians an absolute priority—to do what’s right and what’s smart. Militaries listen to us because we make practical, research-based recommendations that are conflict-tested. We work directly with soldiers and leaders to help change minds, attitudes, and actions.

We work with militaries that display a commitment to change their actions, offering solutions designed to reduce and mitigate civilian suffering. We help them make smarter choices in their operations by advising on the prevention of civilian harm, investigating allegations of civilian harm, and addressing that harm when it does occur. We don’t take money from warring parties themselves, preferring to remain independent. We function in a neutral advisory role, as advocates for civilians caught in armed conflict.

Our efforts have changed training, doctrine, tactics, and mindsets within the US military, NATO and its national militaries, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the UN, African Union forces, Afghan forces, and national militaries from other States.

We provide troops and their leadership with a modern, strategic, and ethical view of civilians in the battle space and find ways to inculcate a protection mindset by humanizing civilians and what they experience in conflict. This includes advice, training, and guidance on keeping the safety of civilians front and center when planning operations. We help militaries to avoid harm during operations, and to respond to harm caused by tracking casualties, learning lessons through analysis, sharing best practices, and dignifying losses.

In Somalia, we advised the African Union mission there (AMISOM) on a civilian protection policy. We also provided technical assistance to AMISOM in developing a Standard Operating Procedure for guiding how their forces track, analyze, and respond to civilian harm. In Afghanistan, we developed a seven-step process for responding to civilian harm for international and Afghan forces. With the US military, we helped draft the first civilian harm mitigation doctrine. In Nigeria, we work at the highest policy levels with Defence Headquarters, advising them on developing a comprehensive Policy on Civilian Protection and Harm Mitigation, as well with troops deployed to the northeast. Working holistically, we run workshops on best practices in civilian protection in divisional headquarters and forward operating bases, and work with communities on self-protection. After working with groups separately, we bring civilians and security personnel together in dialogue to discuss security concerns, ways to mitigate civilian harm and issues civilians have with the behavior of security personnel themselves.

In Iraq, we developed a training module for both Kurdish and Iraqi security forces on protecting communities during operations, and we piloted this training with a group of Peshmerga forces prior to 2016 operations to retake Mosul. In Syria, since US-led operations against ISIS began in 2014, we have engaged with the US government to ensure that policies are in place to minimize civilian harm and to track, investigate, and make amends to civilians harmed by operations in Syria and Iraq.

Our military engagement work also includes training exercises that explore civilian harm prevention and response at US bases and for thousands of officers in the Afghan National Security forces. We’re developing a full array of best practices while working to institutionalize lessons learned on civilian protection, tracking and analysis, and making amends for civilian harm.

Our engagement with militaries represents some of our most successful work and gives us hope for humanity even in times of war. 

Military Engagement Publications

See a complete list of our publications on military engagement here.

Reports & Briefs

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