In our last installment, we discussed at length the “Hide n’ Glide” where Taliban and Iraqi insurgents/terrorist strategically hide weapons and at opportune moments, attack U.S. and coalition personnel and then attempt afterwards to blend back in with the general populace. Today we are going to discuss how the insurgents plan and execute the actual ambush. As we discussed previously, a majority of the time, these ambushes are simply attacks of opportunity and often spur of the moment with little or no planning. These ambushes can run the gamut from one lone shooter or sniper to a semi-coordinated attack with a platoon sized element of insurgents using IED’s, small arms and RPG’s.
To help you better understand how these ambushes are coordinated and executed, I will “backstop” everything against standard military doctrine. Although conventional military doctrine supports (5) types of ambushes: Hasty, Planned, Point, Area and Anti-Armour, I will only be discussing the HASTY version today, since it is the closest, in theory, to the insurgent tactic we are studying.
HASTY AMBUSH: A unit conducts a hasty ambush when it makes visual contact with an enemy force and has time to establish an ambush without being detected. The actions for a hasty ambush must be well rehearsed so that soldiers know what to do on the leader’s signal. They must also know what action to take if the unit is detected before it is ready to initiate the ambush.
- Assault Element: Seizes and Secure the Objective
- Security Element: Provides security, isolates (blocks) objective and supports withdrawal of entire team
- Support Element: Provides Direct and Indirect Fire Support
In executing any type of AMBUSH, three primary things need to be considered:
- Can the entire KILL ZONE be covered with some type of Fire?
- Are existing (natural) or reinforcing (man placed) barriers available to keep the enemy in the Kill Zone?
- Must coordinate the timing between all elements involved so SURPRISE is not lost.
Linear: Assault and Support elements deploy parallel to the enemy route. This will position both elements along the LONG AXIS of the kill zone and subject the enemy to flanking fire.
L-Shaped: Assault element forms the long leg parallel to the enemy’s direction of travel. Support element forms the short leg and at right angles to the assault element. This will provide both FLANKING and ENFILADING FIRE at both axis points (Long and Short). The L-Shaped is best used at sharp bends in a road, trail or stream and can be used very effectively against vehicle convoys.
Combat Lessons: The “Bait” Ambush
It must be remembered, that a majority of the time, the insurgents goal in an ambush is not to get into a prolonged firefight, but simply to agitate, harass and if possible in the process, inflict as many casualties on the enemy and then blend back in with the population.The insurgent knows he is out-manned and out-gunned with U.S. reinforcements including artillery and air support very often a radio call away, the insurgents goal is not to “stand and fight” but to “hit and run” or in this case, “hit and hide”. Remember: The underpinning doctrine of Guerilla Warfare is to harass, demoralize and ultimately win by attrition.
Another tactic attached to insurgent ambush often overlooked is to lure or “bait” medevac and reinforcement (QRF or Quick Reaction Force) choppers in so they can be attacked with rockets and small arms fire from the ground. When insurgents use this tactic, all three elements discussed above are covered. The reason for this is because in a RESCUE Operation, the enemy knows your destination; it is no big secret; it is wherever the wreckage and survivors are! They will therefore, a majority of the time, set up and wait in ambush for you to come into the kill zone.
There is one exception to this tactic however, and that is it can only work if the QRF responds in a predictable pattern every time. Know this: Anytime the enemy notices a PATTERN in tactical behavior, they will seek to exploit it as long as you let them! For example, what if the QRF did not come direct to the crash site in Helos, but landed 5 miles away and then came in on foot or by vehicle?
To see this insurgent tactic in action and actually be successful, you first have to go back to Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993 and the famous Black Hawk Down incident. It was later found out by Military G2 resources that Somali insurgents had been trained specifically by Al-Qaeda operatives how to shoot down American helicopters with RPG’s from the ground. It can be assumed then that the Somali’s were familiar with the unique American combat doctrine of “Leave no man behind”, so the likelihood of a rescue chopper coming in was HIGH; all the Somali’s had to do was reload their RPG and wait.
This tactic would not rear its ugly head up again until 2005, when in Afghanistan during the rescue phase of Operation RedWings, the now famous mission where US Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell (portrayed in the movie Lone Survivor) was the sole surviving member of a four man SEAL team who were ambushed by a large contingent of Taliban in Kunar Province. During the QRF rescue attempt, all eight members of the SEAL Team were killed including all eight members of the SOAR (Special Ops Aviation Regiment) when it was hit with a single RPG rocket.
This tragedy would be repeated unfortunately again in 2011 when a CH-47 Chinook QRF chopper carrying 38 crew including 25 SEALS from Seal Team Six was shot down in route to help a contingent of US Army Rangers who were in trouble in the Tanji Valley near Wardak Province, Afghanistan. This would be considered the worst loss of U.S. Military life in a single incident in the Afghanistan campaign to date.
With the latest news of a second American journalist being beheaded by ISIS thugs, it seems FINALLY our government has decided to act and put some teeth behind the incessant threats we have been making. America is headed for another war with militant islam, there is no doubt. Except this time, I feel the war will not only be fought on some distant foreign battlefield, but possibly, right here in our own backyard here in America, with rampant acts of terrorism.
To be able to beat our enemy, we must KNOW our enemy: Know his tactics, his preferences, his personality. This is what we train for, this is why we choose to prepare to NOT be victims.
Stay Aware, Stay Armed and Stay Dangerous!