The falsity of ‘owning the battlespace’

The falsity of ‘owning the battlespace’


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