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Sunday, April 17, 2011

IDF leaders learn to be 'humanitarian officers' in battle

After military careers lasting two decades, 30 officers are learning a new role that combines civilian and military duties.

After military careers lasting two decades, 30 officers are learning a new role that combines civilian and military duties.

It's the second class of a school set up by the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories; the idea is to produce officers with the title "humanitarian officers."

In the course's final exercise, the officers stay with their maps and boards in class, where they try to develop the equivalent of a battalion-level war room.

The officers must prepare their battalion to meet the humanitarian needs of 2,000 civilians in a Shi'ite village in southern Lebanon that has been occupied by the Israel Defense Forces.

The exercise has two parts. The first is to prepare the "humanitarian annex" - a series of commands that will accompany the operation's general commands. In the process, a "humanitarian corridor" is created that enables civilians ("uninvolved persons" in military parlance ) to escape the fighting.

After the occupation of the village the officers prepare for the second stage, during which the battalion will clear the village of Hezbollah militants and attend to the wounded civilians and soldiers.

Wounded civilians

The officers sit in groups of four and receive updates from the field every few minutes. One time it's about wounded civilians, the next time it's about journalists and a Red Cross unit that have arrived at the village, or intelligence on attempts to target Israeli troops using a civilian ambulance.

"This is a new element in the fighting, in view of the increase in the use of the urban environment and the use of the civilian population as a shield by our enemies," says Lt. Col. Guy Stultz.

Stultz has held a number of command positions in combat units; over the past year he has been in charge of developing the part of the program that deals with the civilian population during fighting.

This new role emerged as part of the lessons of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-9.

"The decision to select combat officers with extensive command experience is not something random," Stultz says. "It's also important for them to be relatively older, with families and a good familiarity with the needs on the civilian side.