Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought home the lesson that paying attention to environmental issues in contingency operations can help the Army meet mission objectives and achieve. national goals for the operati on; Careful managentent of, environmental issues can also, protect soldier's health; reduce logistical burdens costs: and potential liabilities; and improve relations with the local populace. Sustainability can be used as an organizing principle to help the Army take advantage of environmental opportunities and minimize costs and risks.
Focusing on environmental issues only during stability and reconstruction operations is not enough, however; they must be considered by commanders, planners and soldiers and assessed in the context of the national goals the United States has for the contingency operation before it even starts. As the new Army Field Manual (FM) 3-0 Operations reminds us, "operations conducted during one phase of a campaign or major operation directly affect subsequent phases." This suggests that environmental issues should be considered in all aspects of a contingency operation, including planning, combat operations, stability and reconstruction operations, logistics, and the siting, design and management of base camps.
Although soldiers may find trash in the streets and polluted waters in countries in which they operate, this does not mean that the locals do not care about the environment. In fact, the opposite is often true: Their concerns about the environment run very deep, to the essence of what humans need to survive and avoid disease - drinkable water, basic sanitation and viable farmlands. A family that doesn't have to worry about whether their water source will sicken their children will be more inclined to support the government that U.S. forces are supporting. The Army's counterinsurgency manual, FM 3-24, states that providing essential services is one of the central lines of operation for gaining support of the population.
Experience supports this fmding. During his command of the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad in 2004-05, thenMG Peter Chiarelli (currently the Army's Vice Chief of Staff) found that attacks on his soldiers were reduced in the sections of Baghdad where U.S. forces had addressed to some degree sewage, water, electricity and trash (SWET) problems. Addressing SWET issues was important for the fence-sitters who had not yet decided whether to support the new government or the insurgency. A battalion commander who was responsible for reconstruction in Sadr City a few years later found that his soldiers were not attacked in neighborhoods where the battalion had ongoing or completed reconstruction projects.
Poiling done in Iraq also supports this: SWET consistently ranks at the top of Iraqi concerns, after security. A poll done for RAND across Iraq in February 2005 showed that clean water and sewage /wastewater treatment top the list of environmental concerns. Results were largely consistent for urban and rural Iraqis and across ethnic and religious groups.
Soldiers have been actively involved in reconstruction projects that address these issues, building sewage treatment plants in Iraq, digging wells in Afghan villages, and restoring the Mesopotamian wetlands that have been the lifeblood of the "marsh Arabs" and a critical habitat for fish and wildlife. Soldiers have also taken steps to improve environmental infrastructure in the Balkans. The benefits of preserving or rebuilding these infrastructures can be high, particularly in operations for which gaining the support of the populace and helping stabilize the country is important.
Although environmental issues can play an. important role in achieving mission success, there are many other reasons for leaders and soldiers to pay attention to them. Soldier health and safety are the most fundamental: If a base camp is placed in a contaminated area or one with endemic disease, …