Civilians in the combat zone has been a problem for thousands of years, although it has become particularly troublesome in the last two centuries, as cheaper firearms made it possible for irregular fighters to hide among civilians and attack uniformed troops. It's this particular problem that caused the "laws of war" to include a provision for dealing with captured irregulars (armed, but without a uniform.) These guys are not treated as prisoners of war, but rather as outlaws, and are not given much help by the Geneva Conventions. For as long as there have been wars, civilians have known that the best thing they can do is get out of the area. That's because enemy troops are usually not going to work hard to avoid harming potentially hostile civilians. However, with the development of mass media two centuries ago, there also came journalists who realized that reporting about "innocent civilians in a combat zone" made for great stories. Along with that came accusations that the enemy was deliberately abusing civilians. Often this was true, but it didn't have to be. Often, wartime governments even supervised the creation and distribution of such stories.
So what's a soldier to do? For American troops, several generations of practical experience has demonstrated that making nice to the civilians pays off in the long term. The U.S. Marines even wrote up their experience, in 1940, in the "Small Wars Manual." The marine experience in the early 20th century applies in any decade, in any war, no matter what the size. Even back then, the marines had to deal with accusations that they abused civilians. Today, the accusations travel faster, and come in the form of pictures and videos.
These days, civilians are not just on the battlefield; they are shaping it and contributing to the fight. In the maintenance and logistics world, the Army is relying heavily on contracted civilian support so it can focus more on the mission. This is great for the Soldier on the ground. CALNET, Inc. provides employees to act as civilians on the battlefield (COB). Villagers replicate a third-world country with villages, vehicles, animals, and private property in a rural environment, while performing routine civilian activities during training exercises before deploying to IRAQ or Afghanistan. CALNET, Inc. employees are subject to background checks, security checks and medical fitness tests. Some of the roles played by ours COBS are law enforcement, military personnel, members of religious groups, hostile elements, and members of the local populace, occasionally wearing costumes and replicating customs and traditions of a typical Middle Eastern or a Afghanistan town.