Best Defense

The falsity of ‘owning the battlespace’

For years I have heard commanders in combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan talk about “their area of operations” or “owning the battle space.”

160517-M-NI439-099 TRAINING AREA 1, JORDAN (May 17, 2016) – U.S. Marine Cpl. X Cerrato, an infantryman with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shifts his fires in response to a friendly smoke signal during an integrated company assault with the Jordanian Armed Forces as part of a simulated integrated company assault during Exercise Eager Lion 2016. Exercise Eager Lion 2016 is a U.S. bilateral, scenario based exercise with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, designed to exchange military expertise and improve interoperability among partner nations. During the sixth iteration of the exercise, both joint and combined military responses to conventional and unconventional threats will be explored. Participating troops will also train across their respective mission sets including border security, inter-ministerial command and control, cyber defense and battlespace management. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Paris Capers/ RELEASED)
160517-M-NI439-099 TRAINING AREA 1, JORDAN (May 17, 2016) – U.S. Marine Cpl. X Cerrato, an infantryman with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shifts his fires in response to a friendly smoke signal during an integrated company assault with the Jordanian Armed Forces as part of a simulated integrated company assault during Exercise Eager Lion 2016. Exercise Eager Lion 2016 is a U.S. bilateral, scenario based exercise with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, designed to exchange military expertise and improve interoperability among partner nations. During the sixth iteration of the exercise, both joint and combined military responses to conventional and unconventional threats will be explored. Participating troops will also train across their respective mission sets including border security, inter-ministerial command and control, cyber defense and battlespace management. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Paris Capers/ RELEASED)

 

Best Defense is on summer hiatus. During this restful spell we offer re-runs from the past 12 months. This item originally ran on April 5.

For years I have heard commanders in combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan talk about “their area of operations” or “owning the battle space.”

Yet I also hear some of those commanders — especially at the battalion and brigade level — complain about special operators busting into their space without adequate coordination, conducting a raid, and giving high fives all around without regard to the consequences.

If you really “owned” the battle space — that is, held sovereignty — wouldn’t Special Ops have to get your permission to operate in it? This may seem a petulant or trivial question, but I think the phrase reflects sloppy thinking, which can lead to confusion and problems. Precision in speech is one way to reduce the friction of war. (And yes, the English/literature departments at military academies should feel free to borrow that last sentence.)

Photo credit: PARIS CAPERS/Flickr/U.S. Marine Corps

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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