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Area of operations (AO)

Definition Area of Operations (AO) refers to a specific region within a conflict zone where military forces conduct their missions. It is typically established by higher command and assigned to a specific unit for planning, coordinating, and executing operations. The AO contains various objectives and resources essential to the accomplishment of that unit’s mission. Key […]


Area of Operations (AO) refers to a specific region within a conflict zone where military forces conduct their missions. It is typically established by higher command and assigned to a specific unit for planning, coordinating, and executing operations. The AO contains various objectives and resources essential to the accomplishment of that unit’s mission.

Key Takeaways

  1. An Area of Operations (AO) refers to a specific geographical region where military forces implement their missions, under the tactical command of a particular commander.
  2. AOs are essential in helping military personnel effectively coordinate their operations by specifying areas of responsibility, allowing proper allocation of resources and efficient communication.
  3. The size and scope of an AO may vary based on factors like mission requirements, assigned objectives, force capabilities, and threat levels, and can include smaller sub-areas called Subordinate AOs (SAOs) if necessary.


The military term “Area of Operations (AO)” is crucial because it designates a specific geographic region where military forces conduct their missions, enabling a precise allocation of resources, efficient coordination, and streamlined communication among various units and commanders.

By defining an AO, the command structure can establish clear operational objectives, allocate assets, and assign responsibilities to provide a strategic approach to the planning and execution of military endeavors.

Furthermore, an AO allows for better intelligence analysis and risk assessment, helping the military evaluate the situation on the ground, anticipate potential challenges, and execute a well-informed mission, ultimately enhancing the safety, success, and effectiveness of military operations.


The primary purpose of an Area of Operations (AO) in military parlance is to establish a clearly defined geographical region where specific units or assets are assigned to conduct and execute their missions. AO delineates responsibilities for commanders, allowing them to focus on their respective objectives and operate effectively within their assigned boundaries.

Within the AO, military forces are provided with a controlled and organized operational environment to optimize mission success and minimize the chances of conflicts or misunderstandings among friendly forces. Moreover, the establishment of an AO enhances communication, coordination, and cooperation among military forces by encouraging them to share vital operational information, intelligence, and resources.

Strategically, an AO allows for the employment of forces in a concerted and synchronized manner – efficiently contributing to the overall mission objectives. Defining an AO includes taking into account geographical factors, capabilities and limitations of the forces involved, and the potential threats in the region.

Crucial to the success in an AO is the planning, decision-making, and operational security that come with this level of organization, enabling commanders to achieve strategic and tactical objectives more effectively.

Examples of Area of operations (AO)

Operation Desert Storm (1991): During the Gulf War, the US Central Command’s area of operations (AO) encompassed the entirety of Iraq and Kuwait, as well as parts of Saudi Arabia. Within this designated region, coalition forces focused on confronting and repelling the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, ultimately securing the area and ensuring the sovereignty of Kuwait.

Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-2014): In response to the September 11 attacks, the United States initiated Operation Enduring Freedom. The area of operations for this military campaign included Afghanistan and the surrounding region. The primary goal of the operation was to remove the Taliban from power, dismantle the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, and establish a stable democratic government in Afghanistan.

Operation Inherent Resolve (2014-present): The ongoing US-led coalition military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) designated an area of operations that includes both Iraq and Syria. The primary objectives of the operation are to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group’s capabilities, recapture territories under its control, and restore stability to the region.

FAQ – Area of Operations (AO)

What is an Area of Operations (AO)?

An Area of Operations (AO) is a term used in military and tactical planning to refer to a specific geographic region where military forces carry out missions and conduct operations. An AO can vary in size, and the area is typically defined by the mission objectives and the resources needed to accomplish those objectives.

How is an AO determined?

An AO is determined by several factors, including the objectives and goals of the mission, the size of the force involved, the resources available, and the nature of the terrain and environment. The commanding officer, in consultation with other relevant parties such as intelligence and planning staff, will establish the AO to ensure that all necessary resources and personnel can be properly allocated and coordinated within the designated area.

Can an AO change during a mission?

Yes, an AO can change during a mission if the situation on the ground changes or if new intelligence is gathered that requires a change in strategy or tactics. This flexibility allows military forces to adapt to the ever-changing nature of warfare and ensures that the mission objectives can still be achieved.

What is the difference between an AO and an Area of Responsibility (AOR)?

While both AO and AOR refer to geographic areas associated with military operations, they differ in their scope and function. An Area of Operations (AO) is a smaller, more specific area within the overall AOR where forces conduct missions and operations. On the other hand, an Area of Responsibility (AOR) is a broader, more general region assigned to a specific military command, covering a larger territory that may include multiple AOs.

Why is it important to define an AO in military planning?

Defining an AO in military planning is crucial for several reasons. First, it establishes the operational boundaries for the military forces, allowing them to focus their efforts on achieving specific mission objectives. Second, it helps coordinate and deconflict the activities of friendly and allied forces, ensuring efficient use of resources and preventing accidental engagements. Finally, it serves as a basis for communication between various elements of the military chain of command, fostering a common understanding of objectives and facilitating planning and execution of operations.

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