We determined the extent to which the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) and the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) implemented the administrative requirements related to DoD law of war (LoW) policies.
For this report, we reviewed the USCENTCOM and USSOCOM processes for training, exercising, reporting, investigating, and maintaining records of the receipt and disposition of allegations of LoW violations for compliance with DoD policy. We did not review specific incidents or allegations to determine if LoW violations or war crimes occurred or whether specific incidents or allegations should have been determined to be LoW violations or war crimes.
DoD Directive (DoDD) 2311.01 provides overall guidance on the DoD LoW program for all subordinate organizations within the DoD. USCENTCOM and USSOCOM have published their own policies that implement guidance from DoDD 2311.01 and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction (CJCSI) 5810.01 on LoW programs.
USCENTCOM and USSOCOM developed LoW policies, procedures, and orders that implemented most DoDD 2311.01 and CJCSI 5810.01 requirements. In addition, the commands included LoW principles in training and exercises. However, USCENTCOM and USSOCOM policies need to be updated to reflect current DoD policy on LoW. Both commands’ subordinate components’ or joint commands’ training, and USCENTCOM’s exercises and reporting processes can be improved. Specifically, we found that:
- The USCENTCOM and USSOCOM policies and procedures for reporting, investigating, and collecting allegations of LoW violations are not consistent with DoD policy. This occurred because USCENTCOM, USSOCOM, and the Joint Staff were still in the process of updating their policies to reflect the requirements of the revised DoDD 2311.01 from July 2, 2020.
- USCENTCOM did not periodically review in‑theater LoW training to ensure that it was consistent with the DoD LoW program, as required by Central Command Regulation 27‑1. This occurred because, according to USCENTCOM personnel, they relied on subordinate commands to accomplish the training reviews without confirming the reviews were completed. However, the subordinate commands delegated development and administration of LoW training programs to individual units without formally reviewing the training for compliance with the DoD LoW program.
- USSOCOM officials conducted an annual review of component LoW training plans and materials, as directed by USSOCOM Directive 525 27, but did not document completion of the review, including identification and correction of deficiencies. This occurred because DoD and USSOCOM policies do not require documentation of the review. In addition, USSOCOM personnel conducting the review did not identify any deficiencies. However, we found deficiencies in several subordinate component LoW training briefings related to potential LoW violation reporting procedures. Annual reviews should be documented to capture common themes, including best practices and deficiencies, and to confirm that any deficiencies are corrected.
- USCENTCOM did not fully exercise their personnel in responding to potential LoW violations. Specifically, USCENTCOM did not include scenarios in headquarters and subordinate component exercises to improve response to and reporting procedures of potential LoW violations as directed in CJCSI 5810.01, Central Command Regulation 27‑1, and USSOCOM Directive 525‑27. This occurred in USCENTCOM because, according to USCENTCOM personnel, they focused on LoW analysis within planning and targeting processes rather than responding to, and reporting on, potential LoW violations within exercises.
USCENTCOM also reported most, but not all, allegations of LoW violations to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense in accordance with DoD LoW policy. This occurred because USCENTCOM did not execute procedures to make initial reports of reportable LoW incidents separate from procedures for civilian casualties.
In addition to reporting within the combatant command, DoDD 2311.01 directs combatant commanders to expeditiously report all reportable incidents to the CJCS, the Secretary of Defense, the Commander of USSOCOM (if applicable), and the relevant Secretaries of the Military Departments.
USCENTCOM generally complied with, and USSOCOM complied with, the administrative requirements related to the DoD LoW program. However both commands’ LoW policies require updates, and in‑theater training can be improved. In addition, USCENTCOM did not incorporate LoW reporting scenarios in its exercises, and update its reporting processes. As a result, the commands accept additional risk that U.S. personnel may not initiate and report all potential LoW violations against U.S. and foreign personnel as required by current DoD policy. According to the DoD LoW Manual, compliance with the LoW is in the strong self‑interest of everyone as it reinforces military effectiveness, encourages reciprocal adherence by the adversary, and maintains public support and political legitimacy. Proper reporting and investigation of reportable LoW incidents is important to upholding the reputation of the U.S. military when conducting operations in a manner consistent with international law. According to the CJCSI 5810.01, the DoD’s priority when LoW allegations are made is to promptly report the allegations and ensure they are thoroughly and impartially investigated.
We recommend that the Commander of U.S. Central Command:
- Revise Headquarters United States Central Command Regulation 27‑1, “Law of War Program,” to make it consistent with the revised definitions and current requirements of DoDD 2311.01, “DoD Law of War Program,” July 2, 2020. In addition, direct Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve to review and revise Fragmentary Order 2 to Operations Order 17‑12‑0002 to make its procedures consistent with DoDD 2311.01.
- Develop procedures to execute and document a periodic review of component command and subordinate joint command training programs to ensure they are consistent with the DoD LoW program.
- Develop procedures to incorporate scenarios into command‑level Joint and Service Component exercises that require personnel to respond to and report potential LoW incidents.
- Develop procedures to promptly report reportable LoW incidents (regardless of reporting channel) to the combatant commander and appropriate external organizations.
We recommend that the Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command:
- Revise United States Special Operations Command Directive 525‑27, “Law of War Program,” to make it consistent with the revised definitions and current requirements of DoDD 2311.01, “DoD Law of War Program,” July 2, 2020.
- Develop procedures to document the annual U.S. Special Operations Command Staff Judge Advocate review of Service Component and Theater Special Operations Command Staff Judge Advocate training briefings, identify any deficiencies to the components, and track correction of the deficiencies.
We recommend that the Director of the Joint Staff review and revise Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction 5810.01, “Implementation of the DoD Law of War Program,” to make it consistent with the revised definitions and current requirements of DoDD 2311.01.
Management Comments and Our Response
The Executive Director of the USCENTCOM Office of the Inspector General, responding on behalf of the Commander of USCENTCOM, agreed with the recommendations to revise USCENTCOM Regulation 27‑1 and to develop procedures to incorporate LoW scenarios into command‑level Joint and Service Component exercises. Therefore, these recommendations are resolved but will remain open. We will close these recommendations when we receive the revised USCENTCOM Regulation 27‑1 and verify that the revisions align the Regulation with DoDD 2311.01 and that USCENTCOM has incorporated LoW scenarios into its exercises.
The Executive Director of the USCENTCOM Office of the Inspector General agreed with the recommendation to develop procedures to promptly report LoW incidents separately and distinctly from other reporting procedures. However, the response focused on reporting LoW allegations regardless of their credibility rather than addressing the specifics of the recommendation. The Executive Director did not address how USCENTCOM will develop procedures to promptly report LoW reportable incidents made through other reporting channels, such as the Inspector General, and ensure that this reporting is separate and distinct from other reporting requirements, such as civilian casualty reporting. Therefore, this recommendation is unresolved.
The Executive Director of the USCENTCOM Office of the Inspector General disagreed with the recommendation to develop procedures to execute and document a periodic review of component LoW training programs, stating there is no requirement for this within DoD policy and that such a task would impose a significant and un‑resourced burden on the command. However, CJCSI 5810.01 and Central Command Regulation 27‑1 both require USCENTCOM, its component commands, and joint subordinate commands to periodically review their LoW training programs. The recommendation is not prescriptive in stating how USCENTCOM conducts the periodic review and allows for the delegation of reviews to subordinate commands as long as USCENTCOM headquarters ensures the reviews are performed. The Executive Director’s comments did not address how USCENTCOM will implement a periodic review; therefore, the recommendation is unresolved.
The Vice Director of the Joint Staff, responding on behalf of the Director of the Joint Staff, agreed with the recommendation and estimated that the Joint Staff will update CJCSI 5810.01 no later than January 4, 2022. Therefore, this recommendation is resolved but will remain open.
This report is the result of Proj. No. D2021-DEV0PD-0045.000.