I am one of three lawyers from the Royal Air Force Directorate of Legal Services based at the Combined Air and Space Operations Centre (CAOC), Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar or ‘The Deid’ as it is fondly called by those out here. 

The CAOC is occupied by service personnel from various nations who make up the Coalition. The UK element controls UK air operations over Iraq and Syria.

As a legal adviser on operational deployment my role is to advise RAF Commanders who are delegated UK military authorities on the legitimacy of the actions of the UK armed forces.

How I start each day is dependent on my shift pattern for the week. If I am on days, breakfast is before 06:30hrs and if I am on nights it is sometime around 15:00hrs. At the Deid, you can get breakfast any time between 01:00hrs and 11:00hrs. Breakfast ranges from American style pancakes, grits and corn beef hash to your more continental offerings of croissants, bagels, toast, omelettes or boiled eggs. To cater for the varied working patterns of service personnel it is served at five dining facilities. The larger three of these are called ‘DFACs’ and the smaller two ‘grab and go’.

On arrival at work, I read the operational intelligence updates for the day as it provides me with situational awareness of the battle rhythm. I will also receive a brief letting me know what has happened in the hours I have been off shift. The brief often covers where friendly forces are, where the enemy forces are and what they have been doing. It is said that ‘War is politics by other means’ and to that I will add, ‘and the law a handrail that guides the one who wages war’. Being a lawyer on deployed operations is in some ways no different from being a lawyer anywhere else, albeit I am wearing a uniform and at a location that at this time of the year is fairly hot during the day but cold at night.

Although I am no longer in a court martial defending or prosecuting, or advising the RAF and Stations Commands on matters of policy and discipline, I am providing advice on a fluid set of variables to ensure that the rules of war (LOAC), the Geneva Convention and its protocols are adhered to. In today’s asymmetric conflicts where combatants fight by different rules, lawyers are a great asset to any commander and in order to be effective it is important that I always maintain a good awareness of the situation on the ground. Doing so provides me with context for my advice. It also helps me know and understand what my client, the commander, wants and how best to deliver it.

"Figuring out ways to protect the civilian population whilst eliminating the threat against them are issues we consider on a continuous basis. These are not easy issues in familiar environments; and certainly don’t get any easier on deployed operations"

No two days are the same and the way my day progresses after the morning brief ebbs and flows with the tempo of the conflict. Some days are extremely busy and others not so much. However, on each and every day for every combat engagement that the UK is involved in, I constantly have to ask myself does the reason for the UK participation in the conflict still exist, are UK personnel involved in the conflict acting in the accordance with UK policy and the law, is the target a valid target, and does the commander acting as the delegated strike authority on the day have enough information to make their decision. As I work with a number of commanders, I learn how each one prefers to receive information and what aspects of the advice they prioritise. Being able to build credibility fast is key and remembering that as a lawyer my role is to advise and not make the decision is crucial.

Somewhere in middle of this hive of activity, I will have lunch. Often unable to leave my station, largely due to the fact that immediate advice on a developing situation might be required, one of my colleagues will kindly pick up something for me. After that, it is back to advising in relation to military operations.

With conflicts occurring in urban environments, distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants is complex and difficult. Figuring out ways to protect the civilian population whilst eliminating the threat against them are issues we consider on a continuous basis. These are not easy issues in familiar environments; and certainly don’t get any easier on deployed operations. Being away from home you realise the value of building relationships and thankfully deployments create a collegiate atmosphere; regardless of their country of origin, service personnel out here are in the same boat. Knowing this helps me maintain some semblance of a social life.

My day usually finishes sometime in the early evening if I am on the day shift. If I am on a night shift this would be sometime in the early hours of the morning. When I get off work, I usually go to the gym, dinner or breakfast and then either catch up with my favourite box sets or read a book. Not forgetting to sleep of course! On other days, after dinner I will meet up with colleagues and other members of the Coalition at one of a number of 24hr welfare facilities provided (for service personnel from the UK this would be the Brit Bar, called Churchill’s) or go and watch a movie with them at one of two cinemas at the Deid.

Christmas has come and gone and the New Year ushered in festively back home. Although I have been at the Deid for almost nine weeks to the day I still have a little while to spend out here before I head back home. Nonetheless, in the words of Albert Einstein, ‘time is relative; it’s only worth depends upon what we do as it is passing’.

Contributor Flight Lieutenant Iphie Modu is a Legal Officer in the Royal Air Force currently advising Station Commanders on matters of Service Discipline, Criminal and Administrative Law