Operational Environment

It is imperative that commanders and leaders possess a thorough understanding of their respective dynamic Operational Environment (OE) in order to efficiently utilize available resources to achieve the desired end state. Understanding the physical environment, the state of governance, technology, local resources and the culture of the local populace is absolutely vital and failure to do so leaves little chance for success. When considering the OE the following factors need to be examined; ideology, religion, race, ethnicity, nationalism and physiological needs.
Obtaining the necessary information will only be achieved as a result of a time consuming process that entails speaking with members of the local governance and the local populace of which patience is paramount. Given our current Contemporary Operational Environments (COE) of Iraq and Afghanistan probably the most important factor to understand is religion. It is imperative that commanders have a thorough understanding of the desired end state which is to rebuild the country and not force western culture upon them in the process. Agreeing with their culture or beliefs is inconsequential.
Commanders at all levels are obligated to ensure that this end state is clearly stated and understood by everyone at all levels in order to show the local populace that are intentions are clear and that our efforts are sincere. According to FM 3-0 the OE should be analyzed utilizing the following interrelated operational variables; political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment and time (PMESII-PT). These variables provide a view of the operational environment that emphasizes its human aspects.

It is suggested that whenever possible commanders and staff utilize specialists in each variable in order to improve analysis. The political analysis also addresses the effect of will. Will is the primary intangible factor it motivates participants to sacrifice to persevere against obstacles. The military variable includes the military capabilities of all armed forces within the OE. The economic variable encompasses individual and group behaviors related to producing, distributing and consuming resources.
Cultural awareness falls within the social variable and helps identify points of friction within populations, helps build rapport and reduces misunderstandings. Ensuring that the importance of cultural awareness is emphasized at all levels can improve a force’s ability to accomplish its mission and provide insight into individual and group intentions. The information environment is the aggregate of individuals, organizations and systems that collect, process, disseminate or act on information. Commanders use information to shape the operational environment.
The infrastructure comprises the basic facilities, services and installations needed for a society to function and it is imperative that commanders understand that degrading the infrastructure will have an affect upon the entire OE. The physical environment includes the geography and man-made structures within the OE. The enemy understands that less complex and open terrain often exposes their military weaknesses. Therefore, they may try to counteract US military advantages by operating in urban or other complex terrain and during adverse weather conditions.
In regards to the time variable an enemy with limited military capability usually views protracted conflict as advantageous. They avoid battles and only engage when conditions are overwhelmingly in their favor. Given our COE the enemy is well aware that Americans are impatient and demand a decisive victory without delay and are not willing to wage a long drawn-out conflict that places a heavy financial burden upon the country. Colin S. Gray states that, “COIN is about the control of people and territory. I submit that it is virtually impossible to gain control in any region without a thorough understanding of the many different facets that the OE is comprised of. Given the fact that we have moved away from fighting “regular” wars and find our selves submerged in “irregular” warfare knowledge of the operational environment is essential because the United States is already ill prepared to fight such a war. It has taken us the last 10 years to start to change our training and techniques allowing us to achieve success.
The United States was stuck in the “cold war” era and our training and techniques were antiquated. Even so during the cold war era it was still vital to possess a thorough understanding of the respective operational environment in order to be successful. However, given the fact that we find ourselves in these “irregular” wars against religious extremists it seems to be exponentially important to know your OE. It seems as though that today’s operational environments are much more elaborate and complex.
Today we face a more “guerilla” style combatant as opposed to having clearly drawn lines on the battle field during the cold war era. Today we find ourselves more in need of intelligence in order to determine who are enemy is and in order to obtain such elusive information it is essential to befriend the local populace which can only be accomplished by becoming educated on the aforementioned vital aspects of the OE itself. Mr. Gray also states that, “the decisive combat occurs in and about the minds of civilians, not on the battlefield.
Protection of the people must be job one. ” I believe that it is overtly obvious that in order to determine what is on the minds of the civilians and what their individual concerns are we need to get intimately familiar with them and earn their trust. I submit that this can not be accomplished until a thorough study of the complete operational environment has been completed and the US armed forces possess a firm grasp of what is important to the local populace. We will be ill prepared to protect them if we don’t understand what their concerns and fears are.
They have to be willing to place a tremendous amount of trust in our armed forces to provide them with the information of whom they fear and why. I say this because we can’t really protect them until they provide the information but then again once they do they know that they will be targeted for reprisals. This is why I can not over emphasize how important it is to gain substantial knowledge of the local people and their respective culture within these complex environments.
I would like to use the following quote from Colin Gray’s Irregular Warfare to bolster my argument, “If we do not know much about those beliefs and values, we are unlikely to register much progress in persuasion, except by accident. Indeed, by behaving like strangers in a strange land—true aliens—our regular soldiers and officials are as likely to do more harm than good to their mission. ” Irregular warfare is complex and thus far has been fought in extremely complex environments. It is a fact that the United States is not well suited or well prepared to engage in such battles.
We can not longer rely on our size and strength in order to ensure victory. It is through technology, special operations and vital information obtained from the local people that enable us to achieve any success at all in these complex, hostile operational environments. I submit that obtaining a thorough and complete knowledge of the individual operational environment to include the physical environment, the state of governance, technology, local resources, the culture of the local populace, ideology, religion, race, ethnicity, nationalism and physiological needs is absolutely essential in order to have any chance of success.
According to FM 3-0 we should analyze the operational environment utilizing the following variables, political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment and time (PMESII-PT). Utilizing this method should yield a fairly complete understanding of the respective operational environment. Remember that according to Colin Gray, Irregular Warfare is about protecting the civilians and gaining their trust. How can we expect to accomplish this task if we behave like strangers in a strange land—true aliens?

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