Reacting to an Ambush: A HOWTO

I don't take many things seriously. I'm in the U.S. Army and things come naturally to me. But one thing I do take seriously is combat-related training. Sometime very soon my life will depend on it, and with stripes on my chest, others lives will depend on it. Training must be harsh and realistic.

The ambush is a guerilla technique whereby some force comes under hostile action from an opposing force. The ambush is generally preplanned, hidden, and begins with a signal or diversion from the opposing force. Buildings, objects, and debris often aid in an effective ambush.

Take Iraq for instance. The most common ambush technique for a convoy ambush starts with the I.E.D. A roadside bomb or R.P.G. is often the signal for the ambush. In addition to causing damage and confusion, it acts as a signal for other prepositioned forces to engage in their assault.

It generally goes like this.

 ______________ AK       MG_____
|              |     ^    |     |
|   Building AK|     ^    |RPG  |
|              |     ^    |     |
|____________AK|     ^ IED|     |
                     ^    |     |
            Convoy - ^    |     |   
 ______________           |     |
|              |     RPG  |_____|
|   Building   |
|              |

The arrows marked Convoy is the American convoy. The buildings are not sized to scale. The I.E.D. will typically detonate around the middle or rear of the convoy. The rear or middle of the convoy is the softest area, and most of the convoy is in the "kill zone", created by the small arms; RPGs, rifle and pistol fire, and mounted or stationary machine gun fire. Also, a bottleneck could be created by disabling the lead HMMMWV, causing the convoy to slow to avoid the wreckage.

Of course, reacting to an ambush is more intuitive than anything else, but military personnel train on standard "by the book" reactions to create a sense of understanding of what would happen in a real-life situation.

The typical doctrine on reacting to an ambush:

Take the graphic representation. Consider each arrow ("^") to be a HMMWV ("humvee") with 4 soldiers including 1 gunner with a mounted machine gun in a turret in the roof. In this situation, the middle of the convoy is hit by the I.E.D., signalling small arms fire from roughly 360ยบ. There are a number of options the convoy commander might choose:

  • The designated "rescue team" will move in on the disabled HMMWV, grab the surviving team members and injured personnel, weapons, and the convoy will leave the HMMWV behind. Meanwhile, the gunners in the turrets will be laying suppressive or withering fire.
  • The convoy can actually leave the stranded team behind and attempt to return after regrouping and possibly calling in for air strike or reinforcements. Although this, of course, is an absolute last ditch maneuver, which subverts unit cohesion, integrity, morale, and trust.
  • The convoy commander can order an assault. In this case, the gunners directly in the kill zone would begin laying down suppressive fire. The other team members will either dismount and (a) assault the buildings, (b) fire from the windows of the HMMWVs, (c) take up defensive positions using the HMMWVs for cover and return fire. The teams outside the direct kill zone will maneuver to flanking positions and assault the enemy from alternate angles.

Remember, the convoy commander is responsible for leading his soldiers out of the kill zone alive. His reaction depends on a number of factors. If the current mission is combat patrol, search and destroy, or anti-terrorism, his choice might be to assault the objective. If it is moving a convoy from point A to point B, he might choose to rescue the stranded team(s) and move out. All these factors must be considered, and a sound decision must be made.

The point is, reacting to an ambush is utter fucking chaos, I'll be frank. A soldier must be able to rely on the men around him to do their jobs and bring each other home alive. A few things to remember:

  • Remember to keep teams from crossing each other's lanes of fire. See: fratricide
  • Look for muzzle flashes, tracers, and smoke trails. That's how you know who to shoot at. See: Tracers work both ways
  • Stay alert. Stay alive.
  • The longer the battle, the better the chance of casualties. Sometimes it's best to minimize collateral damage and take the blow to your pride.
  • Team leaders must control the rate of fire. If their soldiers are firing on full burst, they are going to be burning ammunition. Gunners must remember to fire in bursts, instead of sustained fire. This is more accurate and takes drastically less ammunition.

    After the ambush is passed and the soldiers are in a safe zone, commanders must do an ACE check: Ammo, Casualties, Equipment. Do a headcount, and check your sensitive items, i.e. NVGs, weapons, etc...