It would seem that military strategists would do well to take heed of the work of landscape improvers and the profession of landscape architecture. If indeed site improvement through design corresponds positively with ecological and social measures of improvement, then one would have little trouble understanding the profession of landscape architecture as engaged in what the military would label psychological operations (PSYOP).10 The following description of PSYOP objectives should clarify this point:


MIS Operations (MISO) is a vital part of the broad range of U.S. political, military, economic and ideological activities used by the U.S. government to secure national objectives. Used during peacetime, contingencies and declared war these activities are not forms of force, but are force multipliers that use nonviolent means in often violent environments. Persuading rather than compelling physically, they rely on logic, fear, desire or other mental factors to promote specific emotions, attitudes or behaviors.11


To a designer of the physical environment, the configuration of a site or an object placed on a site is known to effect mental states and if executed correctly will promote a set of desired outcomes. Each in their own way, lessons learned from Lancelot Brown and the landscape improvers, Henry David Thoreau and the transcendentalists, John Ruskin and the social reformers, Aldo Leopold and the environmentalists, with Ian McHarg and the ecologists, would be touchstones in a survey of domestic PSYOP, 1800 – 2000.


Ecological Psychological Operations

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has spent more than $13 billion on development programs in Afghanistan since 2002.  Individual development projects are categorized into ten distinct sectors.  Within these different sectors are projects which engage with the design of the physical landscape, environmental and ecological systems.  If reorganized, projects from the following sectors can be redefined as works of landscape architecture: agriculture and food security, economic growth and trade, environment and global climate change, global health, and water and sanitation.  Some examples of these types of projects are listed in the figure below.  Only Central Afghanistan is documented, but it is representative of the national context.   Landscape architecture can be considered a powerful tool in post conflict development.  What follows are three imagined Operations that make explicit the power of landscape architecture to improve not just physical space, but also social structures.  Ecology is tested as a tool for ethical modification: psychological warfare.

Enduring legacy

engagement one

The Canadian government identified three alternatives for increasing the water reservoir capacity of the Dahla Dam.  First, raise the dam wall to replace the lost capacity from the accumulation of sediment; second, build a new dam upstream; and third, dredge the reservoir and provide upstream sediment control.  Operation “Enduring Legacy” is a landscape strategy to control and reduce upstream sediment transport, harness its potential to generate nutrient rich soil deposits, and make available new land for pomegranate production.


The Hesco Bastion Ltd. Concertainer is the most extensively used gabion military fortification and can “provide proven protection against threats, both natural and man-made,” these containers are here redeployed for environmental use.  Placed perpendicular to the flow of the river they dissipate energy in the passing water, which then forces the deposition of suspended sediments.  Reducing the eventual accumulation of this material downstream behind the Dahla Dam wall.


engagement TWO

The ubiquitous corrugated metal sheets used for perimeter security barrier walls are here redeployed to make an instant discontinuous shelterbelt.  The effect of wind calming results in dust deposition and supports vegetal growth.  In this case almond trees, traditionally widely cultivated in Afghanistan, are established.  The Kabul North International Airport Road acts as a first line of defence and demonstrates how vegetation can mitigate wind storms, while improving airport safety, local mobility, and can provide economic development.

Soft Touch

engagement Three

Standard use sandbags are here deployed to form a set of dike walls, establishing a series of biological wastewater treatment ponds.  The organization of dike walls controls water retention time and exposure to plant root systems.  Discharge from the Airfield is progressively cleaned as it moves though the landscape system.  The sandbags can be either pliable if filled with sand or hardened if filled with concrete, depending on the permanence of the system and the level of control over water movement.