Army Jag Corps
International military operations


Satellites orbit the Earth collecting photographic images and data on potential targets. Reconnaissance aircraft fly in for a closer look. Military Intelligence personnel gather signals from multiple ground sources. All of this information (or "evidence") streams to the commander in charge of targeting decisions. The Commander's role is to prioritize that information for analysis, review the results, then — if necessary — engage the target.

U.S. Army JAG Corps Attorneys are an integral part of this targeting and engagement process during international military operations. JAG Corps Attorneys work closely with the Commander and his staff to determine several key points:

  • How to look for targets (the collection of intelligence/evidence)
    • Satellite and other high-altitude imagery
    • Signals intelligence (such as radio intercepts)
    • Human intelligence (such as battlefield scouts)
  • The selection of legally viable targets
  • The weapons systems to use when engaging those targets

During Operation Allied Force in Kosovo, JAG Corps Attorneys used advanced computer and communications equipment to examine detailed pictures of each potential target and the surrounding area. From this information, they developed a preliminary legal analysis along with questions and legal issues for further discussion. After a collaborative session, target selections were forwarded to the Commander-In-Chief, U.S. European Command, then onto the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President, then ultimately to NATO for final approval.

Legal analysis and strategic targeting were similar during Operation Iraqi Freedom, but even more reliance was placed on accurate imagery and intelligence. These additional steps were taken to minimize collateral damage to the Iraqi infrastructure. Key public utilities, irrigation canals and pipeline systems were specifically identified to avoid being targeted during the campaign. Facilities like schools and hospitals were of primary concern — not only because of legal prohibitions, but because liberated civilian Iraqis depend on the existence of this kind of infrastructure.

When making targeting decisions on modern battlefields like those in Kosovo and Iraq, it is critical to act in accordance with the Law of War'another pivotal role JAG Corps Attorneys play. The Law of War governs the conduct of armed hostilities — both the circumstances under which it is legitimate to use violence and how those violent means are used. JAG Corps Attorneys are tasked with the responsibility of advising the commanders who lead each military operation to ensure that it falls within the guidelines of the Law of War (as laid down by multiple sources including the Hague and Geneva Conventions). The Law of War is stringently upheld by JAG Corps Attorneys for multiple reasons:

  • To limit destructiveness
  • To protect both combatants and noncombatants from unnecessary suffering
  • To safeguard the fundamental human rights of those who fall into enemy hands (e.g. POWs, the wounded or sick, and civilians)
  • To facilitate the restoration of peace

Today, JAG Corps Attorneys are stationed worldwide working to ensure that U.S. Armed Forces continue to conduct operations in accordance with the Law of War. To accomplish this task, JAG Corps Attorneys are assisting commanders in the development and execution of training strategies to help Soldiers understand and follow rules of engagement during every operation.

"Following the Law of War is fundamental to protecting the legitimacy and credibility of our military operations and foreign policy and protecting our bedrock national principle of the rule of law."

Major Daniel Saumer
JAG Corps Attorney at The Judge Advocate General's Center for Law and Military Operations.