As Iraqi security forces continue the fight to secure West Mosul, Iraq’s tribes, families, and other local residents are filling the security gap by banding together to protect their homes from ISIS.
These government of Iraq vetted tribal forces receive basic combat training from the Coalition, ranging from weapons training to small unit tactics, to counter the immediate threat posed by ISIS. However, what may be more important for long term stability is the training they received on the Law of Armed Conflict from lawyers attached to the Coalition’s special operation forces.
“Tactical training helps these men win the fight, but there is another side to war that they have never experienced,” said U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corps Lt. Cmdr. Erin M. Baxter-Haynes. “LOAC sets the rules of conduct and expectations for military forces at war. The fighters from these tribes have primarily been on the receiving end of poor treatment from hostile forces, so this isn’t anything they would know about.”
According to Baxter-Haynes, the LOAC was incorporated into the 1949 Geneva Conventions. It is both international law and a treaty obligation that the United States and other signators to the Geneva Convention are sworn to comply with.
Baxter-Haynes added that the four principles of LOAC are military necessity, distinction, humanity and proportionality. In short, use of force is justified to defeat the enemy quickly and efficiently; combat forces must discriminate between lawful combatants and noncombatants such as civilians and prisoners of war; refrain from causing unnecessary suffering; and prevent excessive harm.
Baxter-Haynes provided LOAC training to government of Iraq’s Ministry of Interior forces and vetted tribal forces at the request of the tribal forces’ Coalition trainers.
“The Iraqis are eager students,” said Baxter-Haynes. “They want to protect their families and keep their country safe, and they are very conscious of doing it the right way.”
“Eighty fighters from the A’ali Al Furat Brigade, accompanied by a seasoned commander, received the first direct training. The lessons included not only LOAC, but also rules of engagement. Similar training was also provided to MoI forces responsible for crisis response operations and detention operations,” added Baxter-Haynes.
“First we laid out the rules involved in the international laws,” Baxter-Haynes said. “The next part really helped make the training real, though. We talked through a variety of scenarios designed to make the trainees understand all of the different choices they could make to see what would be right. What kinds of buildings should be safe? What if ISIS isn’t playing by the same rules? One of the hardest concepts to grasp was that a woman could be an enemy combatant, and if captured she would be a prisoner of war. They just didn’t want to believe that there are women out there who would fight for ISIS.”
“The training scenarios forces the trainees to look beyond their past experiences and cultural norms. Once they began to see past those things, real understanding began to blossom,” said Baxter-Haynes.“
This group of men became so engaged and active it was clear they were absorbing the training well,” she said. “They asked some very complex questions, demonstrating how well they were grasping the concepts.
”The success of this initial direct LOAC training has thus far proven very effective. The method and system of training employed by Baxter-Haynes is being implemented into the course of instruction for all tribal fighters who receive training from Coalition forces.