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Newsletter 12-21
September 2012

Displaced Civilian Operations

Maj. Michael Bennett, USMC


As part of humanitarian, refugee, or displaced person-type operations, civilian and military authorities execute a series of tasks known as populace resource control (PRC). PRC operations provide security for the populace, deny personnel and materiel to the enemy, mobilize the population and materiel resources, and detect and reduce the effectiveness of enemy agents. Populace controls include curfews, movement restrictions, travel permits, registration cards, and resettling villagers. Resource control measures include licensing, regulations or guidelines, checkpoints (for example, roadblocks), ration controls, amnesty programs, and inspection of facilities. Most military operations will employ some type of PRC measures. Although PRC measures may be employed by the services and other government agencies, civil affairs personnel are also trained to support these agencies in PRC. A major part of a PRC operation is displaced civilian (DC) operations.

Displaced Civilian Operations

DC operations are a special category of PRC. Planning and conducting DC operations is the most basic collective task performed. As a combat support task, the goals are to minimize civilian interference with military operations and to protect civilians from combat operations. The availability of military personnel may be limited due to mission constraints; therefore, a mixture of military and interagency activities, including nonmilitary actors such as international aid organizations, often work together in DC operations.


The control of civilians is essential during military operations. Commanders must segregate civilians from enemy prisoners of war (EPWs), insurgents, and criminal elements to protect them as required by international law. Uncontrolled masses of people can seriously impair the military mission. According to U.S. policy, the area population, including DCs, is the responsibility of the civil government of the country in which they are residing.

Categories of Civilians

U.S. forces must be prepared to deal with two distinct types of civilians during military operations: those who stay put and those who are displaced. The first category deals with those indigenous to the area and the local populace, to include citizens from other, most likely neighboring, countries. These civilians may or may not need assistance. If they can care for themselves, they should be encouraged to stay in place as long as they are not in danger of being caught up in military operations.

DCs are people who have left their homes for various reasons. Their movement and physical presence can hinder military operations. They most likely require some degree of assistance, such as medicine, food, shelter, clothing, and similar items. DCs may not be native to the area (local populace) or to the country in which they currently reside. DC is a generic term that is further subdivided into four categories. These subcategories are defined by legal and political considerations:

  • Displaced person - a civilian who is involuntarily outside the national boundaries of his country in time of war.
  • Refugee - a civilian who, because of real or imagined danger, has left home to seek safety and has crossed an international border.
  • Evacuee - a civilian removed from his place of residence by civil or military order.
  • Stateless person - a civilian who has been denationalized, or whose country of origin cannot be determined, or who cannot establish his right to the nationality claimed.

The theater commander will define the above categories in coordination with the Department of State (DOS), United Nations, allies, and the host nation. Subordinate commanders must ensure that civilians within the area of operation (AO) are not erroneously treated as EPWs. Military police units have the responsibility of establishing routes, camps, and services for EPWs. Civil affairs elements of military units are usually given responsibility for DC operations and must coordinate with the military police units to ensure separation of DCs from EPWs as directed by the Geneva Conventions.

Objectives and Principles of Displaced Civilian Operations

The primary purpose of DC operations is to minimize civilian interference with military operations. DC operations are also designed to:

  • Protect civilians from combat operations.
  • Prevent and control the outbreak of disease among DCs, which could threaten the health of military forces.
  • Relieve, as far as is practicable, human suffering.
  • Centralize the masses of DCs.

Although the G-5 or S-5 is the primary planner of DC operations, all military planners must consider DC operations in their planning. The following are principles of DC operations:

  • The G-5 or S-5 must assess the needs of the DCs to ensure they receive adequate and proper assistance. He must also consider their cultural background and that of the country in which they are located.
  • All commands and national and international agencies involved in DC operations must have clearly defined responsibilities within a single overall program.
  • The planning and actual task accomplishments for DCs differ with each level of command.
  • Coordination should be made with DOS, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and host nation civil and military authorities to determine the appropriate levels and types of aid required and available.
  • Outside contributions to meet basic needs are reduced as the DCs become more self-sufficient. DCs must be encouraged to speed this process.
  • The G-5 or S-5 must constantly review the effectiveness of the humanitarian response and adjust relief activities as necessary. The use of these external agencies not only capitalizes on their experience but also reduces requirements placed on U.S. military forces in meeting the commander's legal obligations.
  • Under international law, DCs have the right to freedom of movement. But in the case of mass influx, security considerations and the rights of the local population may require movement restrictions.

Displaced Civilian Operations Planning

Depending on the command level, planning considerations discussed in this chapter are applicable to any tactical scenario, including logistic operations. Field Manual (FM) 3-05.401, Civil Affairs Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, Appendix F, is the main source of information for most of this discussion on DC planning.

The theater commander provides directives governing policies and procedures for the care, control, and disposition of DCs. This guidance will be based on national policy directives and other political imperatives. At the corps level, the commander integrates the theater commander's guidance with the corps ground tactical plan. The driving force for DC planning must be generated at corps level. At division, the DC plan must:

  • Allow for accomplishing the tasks assigned by the higher command echelon.
  • Be within the restrictions imposed by the higher headquarters.
  • Guide the subordinate commands in the handling and routing of DCs.
  • Ensure that all concerned parties, including the fire support coordination center, S-3, and G-3 air, receive information on DC plans, routes, and areas of concentration.

DC plans support the operation plan. At a minimum, DC plans must address:

  • Authorized extent of migration and evacuation.
  • Minimum standards of care.
  • Status and disposition of all DCs.
  • Designation of routes and control measures for movement control.
  • Cultural and dietary considerations.
  • Designation and delegation of responsibilities.

Handling Considerations

Care and control of DCs fulfill a double purpose. Care for humanitarian concerns (food, water, clothing, and emergency medical aid) is important to ensure the DCs receive at least the minimum essentials to subsist. Movement control enables maximum mobility of tactical forces and minimizes civilian interference with military operations, and careful consideration must be given to establish movement control early. Military commanders can use the techniques described below.

Stand Fast or Stay Put Policy

Civilians must remain near their homes, and their movement is controlled. This policy assumes a capability for enforcement, information dissemination, and emergency services. The stand fast or stay put policy is not within the authoritative capability of U.S. forces. A host nation may have one the United States would support, but U.S. forces may not have the authority to enforce it.

Civilian collection point (CCP)

The purpose of the CCP is to establish control and direction over the movement of the civilian populace. It is the primary control measure used to gain initial control over DCs. A CCP is temporary for small numbers of DCs until they can return to their homes or, if the tactical situation requires, move to a safer area. The CCP is established as far forward as possible during the flow of battle. Since it is temporary, screening will be quick. It may include screening for intelligence information and emergency assistance. Screening to segregate EPWs, insurgents, or allied soldiers from DCs must take place. Local civilians or civilian agencies (police or firefighters) under the supervision of tactical or support troops or civil affairs personnel could operate the CCP. Military police become involved in DC operations when maneuver force mobility is threatened by refugee congestion along main supply routes. Military police will be the first U.S. elements to address DC problems and will initiate actions aimed at restoring force mobility.

Assembly areas (AAs)

An AA is a temporary holding area for civilians prior to their return to their homes or movement to a more secure area. AAs are usually located in a secure, stable environment and may include buildings such as schools, churches, hotels, and warehouses. A consideration in selecting a specific area should include the ability to provide overnight accommodations for several days. Here, screening that is more detailed or segregation of the different categories of DCs takes place. Local civilians may operate an AA under the supervision of tactical military, host nation troops, support personal, or civil affairs elements.

Displaced Civilian Movement

In handling large numbers of DCs, directing and controlling their movement are vital. The G-5 and/or host nation authorities are responsible for mass DC operations. Military police may help direct DCs to alternate routes. If possible, host nation assets should be incorporated in the planning and used in implementation. At least five considerations with respect to movement are discussed below.

  • Selection of routes. All DC movements take place on designated routes that are kept free of civilian congestion. When selecting routes for civilian movement, consider the types of transportation common to the area, and conduct coordination with the transportation officer and military police before moving DCs along proposed routes.
  • Identification of routes. After designating the movement routes, mark all routes with signage in the languages and symbols that can be understood by civilians and U.S. and allied forces. Military information support operation units and local agencies, to include host nation military and other allied military units, can help in marking the routes. Use information operations units and techniques to pass instruction concerning the routes to take via the most appropriate media available.
  • Control and assembly points. After selecting and marking the movement routes, establish control and assembly points at selected key intersections. The G-5 or S-5 should coordinate with the provost marshal and G-4 for the locations of these points for inclusion in the traffic circulation plan.
  • Emergency rest areas. Establish emergency rest areas at congested points to provide for the immediate needs of the DCs. These needs include water, food, fuel, maintenance, and medical services.
  • Local and national agencies. Using local and national agencies is essential. First, it conserves military resources. Second, civilian authorities normally have legal status and are best equipped to handle their own people. Third, using local personnel reduces the need for interpreters and/or translators.

Evacuation Planning

Evacuation creates serious problems and should only be considered as a last resort. When the decision is made to evacuate a community, planners must make detailed plans to prevent uncontrolled groups from disrupting the movement of military units, supplies, and first responders. Mass evacuation planning includes;

  • Transportation. Planners must make considerations for the maximum use of civilian transportation.
  • Security. Planning must consider security screening and documentation of evacuees. Since the civilians are being removed from the area where they can best take care of themselves, the military and host nation security forces provide security for civilians after evacuation. These organizations also provide for the security of all civilian property left behind, including farm animals, pets, and other possessions.
  • Documentation. In some circumstances, evacuees may need identification documents to ensure DCs are properly manifested and to ensure orderly movement is accomplished.
  • Briefing. Before movement, the movement control officer briefs evacuees. This can be accomplished by using leaflets, loudspeakers, posters, or other available means. This briefing explains the details of the move, restrictions on personal belongings, organization for movement, and schedules.
  • Rations. For a movement lasting no more than two days, planning should ensure DCs are supplied with rations at the time of departure or at designated points en route.
  • Health care. The public health team makes maximum use of civilian medical personnel, equipment, and supplies to care for the health and physical well-being of the evacuees. Military medical personnel, equipment, and supplies should be used to supplement host nation and civilian organization assets, if necessary and authorized. Special consideration should be taken by medical personal to take proper steps before the movement to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Return. During planning, considerations need to be taken to provide for the evacuees' eventual return and criteria for determining the duration of their absence.


In the case of large groups of civilians who must be quartered for a temporary period (less than six months) or on a semipermanent basis (more than six months), camps must be established. Host nation personnel usually direct the administration and operation of a camp and are provided technical advice, support, and assistance depending on the requirements from U.S. military, interagency, and other civilian organizations. Specialty units will be assigned to assist with public health, public welfare, or public safety problems at any particular camp. Minimum planning considerations for DC facilities include camp control, construction, administration, screening, medical care, sanitation, security, supply, transportation, information dissemination, and liaison with other agencies.

DC camp location and construction. Camp location is extremely important and should take into consideration the remoteness of the site, access to water and roads, and other buildings that could be used. Engineering support and construction materials must be planned for when camps are located in areas where local facilities such as hotels, schools, halls, theaters, vacant warehouses, unused factories, or workers' camps are not available. Sites near vital communication centers, large military installations, or other potential military targets should be avoided. Camp location should also take into consideration the availability of food, water, power, and waste disposal in the area. Additional considerations include the susceptibility of the area to natural disasters (e.g., flooding, pollution, fire) and the use of local labor.

Administration of DC camps. Using host nation civilians as cadre for the camp administration is preferred. DCs should be involved in camp administration as much as possible. Past military experience in DC operations shows that about 6 percent of the total number of DCs residing in the camp should be re-employed on a full-time basis for the day-to-day operation of the DC camp.

Another point of emphasis concerns the problems that might stem from the state of mind of the DCs. The difficulties they have experienced may affect how well they accept authority. They may be angry due to their losses, or they may resort to looting and general lawlessness because they are destitute. The camp administrator can minimize difficulties through careful administration and by implementing the following measures:

  • Maintaining different national and cultural groups in separate camps or sections of a camp.
  • Keeping families together, while separating unaccompanied males, females, and children under the age of 18 (in accordance with the laws of the host nation as to when a child becomes an adult).
  • Furnishing necessary information regarding the status and future of DCs.
  • Making it possible for DCs to speak freely to camp officials.
  • Involving the DCs in camp administration, work, and recreation.
  • Quickly establishing contact with agencies such as UNHCR and the International Red Cross for aid and family reunification.


The final step in DC operations is the ultimate disposition of the DCs, although this must be considered early in the planning phase. The most desired disposition is for them to return to their homes. Allowing DCs to return to their homes as quickly as tactical considerations permit lessens the burden on the military and the civilian economy for their support.


In order to ensure effective support to refugee and internally displaced person populations, military commanders must ensure that civilian and military organizations under their command properly execute DC operations. Through effective planning and preparation, the commander and his staff can ensure that displaced populations are properly cared for, that they do not interfere with the commander's mission and scheme of maneuver, and that they are not negatively influenced by hostile organizations. By using population and resource control measures, this can be accomplished and can minimize adverse affects to the commander's operations while caring for the needs of the displaced population.


4th Civil Affairs Group. "Population Resource Control Presentation." Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2006.

Headquarters, Department of the Army. FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency Operations. Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2006.

FM 3-24.2, Tactics in Counterinsurgency. Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2009.

FM 41-10, Civil Affairs Operations. Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2006.

FM 3-05.401, Civil Affairs Tactics, Techniques and Procedures, Appendix F, 2007.

Kellar, Charles S. Organizing Anarchy: Planning for Refugee Operations. Monograph, Fort Leavenworth, KS: School of Advanced Military Studies, 1995.

Klosinski, Vance J. Population and Resource Control Measures: A conceptual Framework for Understanding and Implementation. Masters thesis, Monterey, CA: Naval Postgraduate School, 2009.


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