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Newsletter 12-21
September 2012

The Importance of Civil-Military Relations
in Managing Refugees and
Internally Displaced Persons

by MAJ Joyce Craig, U.S. Army


Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) affect nearly every country in the world. Whether caused by a natural disaster, civil strife, or war, their situation is normally dire. This vulnerable population will need assistance from either the host nation government if they are internally displaced or the government of the country to which they are fleeing if they are refugees. Even a first world country like the United States faced an internally displaced population crisis when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region. This crisis left thousands of Americans without a home and, in many cases, left them entirely dependent on the government for assistance. This is an issue that affects everyone and that requires a combined civil-military effort to determine the best possible solutions to solve the problem.

A commander entering or assigned to an area that has a significant refugee or IDP population must understand the importance of ensuring that population group is not neglected. A neglected refugee or IDP population can cause additional security and logistic problems and can hinder the mission. They will leave their camps searching for additional provisions if there is not an adequate supply, which could interfere with the operation. If the camp security situation is not acceptable, they could also leave or band together and form an insurgency, which could cause problems in the future. Commanders need to understand the impact that refugees and IDPs can have on their mission.

Operational Environment

For commanders assigned an area with a high number of refugees or IDPs, understanding the operational environment and knowing who is working alongside them in their operational environment are critical. Numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) specialize in refugee and IDP issues and may already be working within their area of operations (AO). Prior to conducting operations, commanders should meet with these organizations. They are experts in their field and understand the situation on the ground and the needs of the affected population. Commanders are not mandated to work with these outside agencies, but the wealth of knowledge these civilian organizations possess will only enhance the commanders' situational awareness and their understanding of how to solve various issues. NGOs often possess cultural knowledge of the area and most likely have gained the trust of the people in the camps.

Role of Civil Affairs

Within their military organization, commanders may have civil affairs personnel who specialize in civil-military coordination and can greatly assist in managing IDP and refugee issues. Commanders who have civil affairs personnel within their organization have an advantage. The civil affairs officer, the G-9 or S-9, can be the focal point for civil-military coordination within the organization. The G-9 and his staff should ensure each course of action (COA) effectively integrates civil considerations (the "C" of METT-TC [mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations ). The G-9 and his staff consider not only tactical issues but also logistics support issues.

Core Tasks

Civil affairs personnel have several core tasks, but one in particular focuses on managing refugees and displaced persons.1 Civil affairs officers understand the importance of civil-military coordination and have the background and training to conduct key engagements with NGOs. "Civilian agency involvement in overseas operations is one of the most decisive factors in mission success... U.S. civil affairs forces repeatedly illustrate the importance of military assets working closely with the U.S. Department of State and USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] to coordinate emergency response and longer-term reconstruction efforts."2

Populace and resource control is a civil affairs core task that spells out how to work with dislocated civilians (DCs) and enables civil affairs personnel to understand the intricacies of working with this vulnerable population. DC operations include planning and managing DC routes, assembly areas, and camps in support of the host nation's and intergovernmental organizations' efforts. DC operations also include foreign humanitarian assistance support to the affected populace. The military police corps is a key component to the successful planning and execution of DC operations, and their involvement should be sought early in the planning process.3 Figure 4-1, from Field Manual (FM) 3-05.40, Civil Affairs Operations, illustrates the core missions of civil affairs personnel.

Graphic showing conducting CA operations

Figure 4-1. From FM 3-05.40, page 1-3

Establishing a Civil-Military Operations Center

A civil-military operations center (CMOC) is a critical structure that allows the military and civilian agencies to meet on neutral ground. A CMOC is a clearinghouse from where civil-military coordination can be conducted. Civil affairs personnel can host regular meetings with representatives from various NGOs and host nation military or state agencies operating in the area.

Photo showing Provincial Reconstruction Team Nuristan meeting

Figure 4-2. Provincial Reconstruction Team Nuristan meeting4

Extensive civil-military coordination can be conducted during these meetings. CMOCs help to promote unity of effort and, more importantly, reduce duplication of effort.

Even if a brigade does not have an assigned civil affairs officer, the commander should still establish a CMOC and engage with the interagency community in the brigade's assigned area. These meetings will allow the commander to understand who is operating alongside him in his operational environment. Even if there are no organizations specifically dedicated to refugee operations assigned to this specific area, there may be some NGO organizations that can assist in providing medical care or other supplies. The CMOC meeting will push all of this information out. Figure 4-3, from Joint Publication (JP) 3-57, Civil Affairs Operations, shows this relationship.

Graphic showing ...
Click here for enlarged image.

Figure 4-3. JP 3-57, page II-29, Figure II-8

Building Trust

There may be hesitancy and sometimes distrust within the NGO community when it comes to working with the military. CMOC meetings can help alleviate some of that mistrust. The NGOs will better understand the military mission, whereas the military will see how best to support the civil organizations and their operations. Each group can discuss their capabilities and goals and begin to build the trust necessary to work with each other.

NGOs have extensive cultural knowledge of the area and can prove to be very helpful. Their knowledge of the people, language, and the different tribal groups is good information that can help a commander determine the best COA. Additionally, the military has extensive lift capabilities and may be able to move needed humanitarian supplies. NGOs sometimes lack this capability. They have access to vital lifesaving supplies but cannot always transport them. These are all issues that can be addressed during the CMOC meetings.


Civil-military coordination during refugee and displaced person operations is an important part of mission success. Civil affairs officers and noncommissioned officers already understand the importance of coordinating and integrating the efforts of various organizations and can be an asset to a commander. However, even if an organization does not have a civil affairs officer, there are still tools a commander can use. Establishing a CMOC and providing a neutral space for NGOs and other agencies to meet and coordinate while working toward unity of effort will begin this dialogue.


1. Department of the Army, FM 3-05, Civil Affairs Operations, September 2006, 2-33.

2. Katherine Hicks, Christine E. Wormuth, The Future of U.S. Civil Affairs Forces. A Report of the CSIS International Security Program 2009. Online at Accessed on 21 April 2012.

3. FM 3-05, 3-3.

4. Provincial Reconstruction Team Nuristan. Image, accessed 2 May 2012 from


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