We cannot dominate the battlefield if we cannot control it.
The Area of Operations (AO) is greatly influenced by the terrain and the prevailing climatic conditions in which the operations take place. Exploiting and gaining control over the Area of Operations with surprise, speed and firepower ought to be a priority for own forces commanders.
The Operating Environment, also referred to as the Operational Environment (OE), is a combination of circumstances and influences that impact greatly AO and, in turn, on the decisions of commanders and subsequently, the deployment of forces and assets.
As Own Forces control over the AO/OE will place the enemy at a disadvantage and allow commanders to dictate the flow and tempo of battle or operations, the enemy will use every means possible to prevent this control and thereby attempt to impede Own Forces’ momentum and deny Own Forces the initiative.
To gain and maintain control over both the AO, the enemy or insurgent forces must be denied the ability to:
1. Prevent Own Forces access to the AO: The enemy will achieve this by denying, delaying and disrupting own forces that wish to enter the AO. These actions will be strengthened by propaganda, mines, IEDs, ambushes, stand-off bombardments, selective demolitions or a combination of these actions. Access routes and logistical lines will become prime targets to prevent effective deployment and sustainment of own forces within the Area of Operations.
2. Influence the local population: Regardless of the type of operation, the enemy will make maximum use of influencing the local population to his advantage. This advantage can include the gathering of intelligence on Own Forces entering or in the AO, assist the enemy in channelling forces into preplanned killing grounds (this can be done with simple methods such as using children or even livestock to block a specific route) and so forth. If the local population realise that Own Forces will withdraw soon after the operation, they will support the enemy to prevent retaliation after these forces have withdrawn.
3. Disperse forces: The enemy will attempt to divert the focus of Own Forces commanders in order to preserve his combat forces. This will be achieved by deploying his forces over a wide area/front whilst exploiting terrain of strategic and tactical importance to stage smaller actions aimed at inflicting casualties and confusing commanders. These actions may induce commanders to attack enemy forces at a time and place favourable to the enemy, thus causing casualties amongst the local population and unnecessary collateral damage. This will turn the local population against the attacking forces. Dispersion will, furthermore, prevent Own Forces commanders from accurately determining the enemy’s Trinity of Gravity
4. Impede momentum: The enemy will exploit every weakness in the advancing or attacking forces thrust in order to slow down the momentum. Ambushes, nuisance minefields, IEDs and such will prolong the conflict whilst drawing forces into terrain that is favourable to the enemy. By impeding momentum and thus prolonging the conflict, the enemy will attempt to survive tactically in order to achieve a strategic victory over the advancing or attacking forces. Logistical supply lines - along with static forward bases - will become prime enemy targets, being subject to assaults, raids, stand-off bombardments and even suicide bombers. These actions do not only lead to Own Forces casualties but may deprive commanders of the initiative.
5. Neutralise strengths: The enemy will attempt to neutralise the attacking forces by occupying villages, towns and other complex areas in order to divide the forces and attack them at a time and place of their choosing. Using villages to shield their actions, the enemy will be able to inflict casualties and even achieve small tactical successes. As the enemy will often know the AO better than the attacking forces, he will use the terrain to his advantage and strike high-visibility targets to gain a propaganda and psychological advantage. Retaliation by the armed forces may result in excessive collateral damage, resulting in increased local support to the enemy and the resultant propaganda proclaiming the enemy is “everywhere”
6. Deny safe areas: The enemy will make every attempt to deny safe and secure areas to the attacking forces during all phases of the operation. Using indirect and direct fire, landmines, IEDs and so forth, the enemy will target laager areas, temporary bases from positions that prevent Own Forces retaliation, such as villages, towns and so forth
7. Achieve surprise: As the enemy will in many instances be more familiar with the AO than the attacking forces, he will use every advantage he has in order to gain a strategic or tactical surprise. This may include the use of deception, feints, raids, stand-off bombardments and other actions to confuse the Own Forces commanders.
8. Gather intelligence: Good OPSEC measures as well as counter intelligence techniques must be used to prevent the enemy from gaining a clear understanding of Own Forces’ strengths, weaknesses and TTPs. Avoiding routine, alternating routes, night operations and so forth can be used effectively to confuse the enemy and deny his understanding of how Own Forces operate.
Climatic variations, although having a significant impact on operations within the AO, are beyond the control of both Own Forces and the enemy. Like terrain, it favours the one who “reads” it correctly, and uses and exploits it.
Whereas air power is crucial to achieving air superiority, conducting aerial reconnaissance and providing Close Air Support, air power loses much of its utility when the enemy make use of towns and villages to shield his activities.
Controlling the AO should therefore not rely exclusively on air power but rather rely on soldiers who are correctly trained, equipped and deployed to ensure domination of the area.