law of war
(Sgt. Devin Nichols/U.S. Army)

U.S. Law of War Gets a Reboot as the Pentagon Updates Its Handbook on Law in Military Operations

The Department of Defense announced this week that it has issued an update to its official Law of War manual that governs the implementation of law in military operations.

The Law of War Manual, first issued in 2015, provides the legal roadmap for the DoD and its personnel in the execution of all military operations.

Pursuant to DoD Directives that primarily include 2311.01E, otherwise known as the DOD Law of War Program, first instituted in May 2006, the manual “reflects America’s long and deep tradition of respect for the rule of law and the law of war,” according to a DoD statement issued on Monday.

This week’s announcement marks the third time the manual has been updated since it was first issued.

The newest edition of the document features significant additions to what the law of war requires in relation to determining when or if objects—and people—can be deemed lawful targets during military operations.

Stemming from concerns over protecting civilians, and preventing harm to non-military operators during armed conflict, an updated portion of the manual now “describes the legal duty to presume that persons or objects are protected from being targeted for attack unless the available information indicates that they are military objectives,” according to a DoD press release issued this week.

Another addition to the manual is the inclusion of a section that outlines precautionary actions that help verify whether potential military targets can indeed be deemed to be military objectives.

Significantly, the new update clarifies issues related to the law of war, emphasizing that it “does not prevent DoD leadership and other personnel from taking decisive action under conditions where time is limited, such as high-intensity conflicts, and may engage in military action under such circumstances “based on their good-faith assessments of the information available at the time.

Since his appointment, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has taken a hard stance on improving U.S. battlefield engagement in ways that limit civilian casualties.

Speaking about the updated manual this week, Department of Defense General Counsel Carolnie Krass said the new version of the document “provides greater clarity on the requirements of the law of war that are critical for protecting civilians and civilian objects during military operations.”

The DoD says it plans to move forward with additional updates in the future that will aid U.S. armed forces in complying with the law of war in combat situations. The newest edition of the manual can be read online at the DoD’s website.

Micah Hanks is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of The Debrief. He can be reached by email at Follow his work at and on Twitter: @MicahHanks