As a Marine, I had to admire the courage and discipline of the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, but no more than I did my own men. We were both in a face-to-face eye-ball-to-eyeball confrontation. Sometimes they were only 20 to 30 yards from us. After a while, survival was the name of the game as you sat there in the semi-darkness, with the firing going on constantly, like at a rifle range. And the horrible smell. You tasted it as you ate your rations, as if you were eating death.
Based on historical observation of the Chechen rebels, Somali guerrillas, Haitian para-military, and numerous other urban foes we have faced within the past ten years, some common threads exist which may be seen in future urban conflicts. No other environment allows untrained men, women and children, armed with crude, antiquated weapons and a strong will to resist, to engage better armed and trained military forces with surprising effectiveness. Keep in mind, these are tactics and techniques observed from recent conflicts, therefore expect the unexpected.
(A MOUT Homepage Note: My observations at the JRTC's Shughart-Gordon MOUT Facility during Rotation 99-2 reinforced "expect the unexpected". The JRTC Opposing Force (OPFOR) has adapted tactics, techniques and procedures that work and may not necessarily lend to detailed analysis. That said; if it works against U.S./Ally forces, expect potential urban foes to eventually adopt it - probably sooner than later.)
Ambushes are a productive and frequently used method in guerrilla warfare - inside and outside of urban terrain. The objective is to destroy or capture armament, combat equipment, material and other assets, kill enemy personnel and take prisoners. Ambush locations, makeup of ambush teams and tactics change constantly. It is extremely rare that they are organized twice in one and the same place. That said, the reverse cannot be excluded: bridges, chokepoints, serpentine and sharp closed turns are very attractive for ambush sites.
Usually 10-20 and sometimes 100 or more personnel take part in an ambush. This depends on the mission. In the case of 100 or more ambush personnel, they are usually positioned at several locations - i.e. large units of the opposing side (in march columns or in battle formations) are fired upon from several directions. Small units are usually fired upon successively as they advance.
The makeup of ambush subunits changes from time to time. The following variation often is encountered: supporting-fire element, diversionary element, ambush commander's observation point, communications and information element, and air defense gunners. A transport element may also be present depending on the number of personnel and type of equipment utilized in the ambush.
The supporting fire element is the lead element. It destroys personnel and equipment. It sets up close to the kill zone and includes a sub-element for capturing prisoners and arms - this may include one or more "condemned prisoners" and combat engineers leading in advance - the engineers mine objectives. If tanks, BMP's, and BTR's are used in an ambush, the crews of mountain guns, mortars, AGS-17's, heavy-caliber machine-guns and RPG's are given to other elements as reinforcement.
The diversionary element is disposed at a distance from the main body's objective. The mission is to divert enemy fire and security and covering subunits to the diversion and to support the surprise commencement of fire. Detonation of a mine or radio-controlled mine serves as the signal for beginning ambush actions.
Another variation is where a diversionary element, disposed on line with the supporting-fire element, opens fire from long range against the opposing enemy and then withdraws - with the intent of drawing fire and pursuers after it.
The element for obstructing enemy maneuver and withdrawal is posted on avenues of his withdrawal. The enemy often covers these avenues with explosives or other obstacles and might employ antitank weapons with small and mobile forces.
If necessary, the reserve element reinforces the supporting-fire element or the element obstructing the enemy's withdrawal. Its mission is to support the main body's disengagement and withdrawal. Observation and cover from flanks and rear also are assigned to the reserve element.
The observation, communications and information element does not take part in the fighting. Its sphere of activity is to reconnoiter and determine the preparation for the operation, the move of subunits from stationing locations, the makeup of the forces, and the direction of movement. Observers often will pass themselves off as peaceful residents. An agent network within local authorities and within law- protection structures also is utilized. Women, children and the elderly are used for observation. Information is passed from observation post to observation post or to the commander over VHF/UHF radios or other communications means.
Air defense gunners are positioned covertly on high ground. They are armed with heavy-medium machine-guns, RPG's or MANPADS.
The transport element is dispersed under cover. It supports the main body's withdrawal.
If a raid is conducted, the following observed actions typify the tactics, techniques and procedure used. A raid is preceded by thorough reconnaissance. A study is made of approaches to the objective, of the security, communications and obstacle systems, of the likelihood of a rapid approach of forces and assets for reinforcement, and the disposition of weapons and other assets.
Posts, security block posts, checkpoints, airfields, overpasses, tunnels, wells, pipelines, depots, bases and small troop garrisons come under attack more often than others.
The attackers usually number around 30 and are divided into elements; security neutralization, obstacle breaching, cover, and the raid main body.
The first element removes sentries and then withdraws to a sheltered place to conduct observation. It helps the covering element if necessary. It consists of trained fighters who are able to used edged weapons and hand-to-hand combat techniques well and is usually supplied with night vision and silent firing devices.
The second element breaches passages in obstacles, passes the covering element and raid main body through, guards the passages and is ready to support a withdrawal through.
The covering element seals off movement routes of the objective's security units and approach routes of the reserve. At the end of the raid it performs rear guard missions. It is armed with automatic small arms, mortars and recoilless rifles.
Advancing right behind the covering element, the main body moves up to destroy the objective. It withdraws rapidly in small sub-elements under cover of smoke. Sometimes "condemned" prisoners are used to divert approaching units.
Mine warfare is a major characteristic of ambush tactics. Laying mines is the most popular and refined method of guerrilla actions. Roads are usually mined near built-up areas, detours, intersections, damaged roadbed sections, and sharp turns. Using the Afghanistan War as a classic example, we can surmise similar tactics during future MOUT. Only after some time did the Soviets and their Afghan allies learn to read the ABC's of Mujahidin mine tactics. Minefields and individual mines as well as command detonated mines were marked by objects imperceptible at first glance - a bent or partly broken branch, a little pyramid of pebbles, a handful of grain, animal droppings, and other "conventional" signs familiar to the fighters and to the local population "sympathetic" to the rebels. Sometimes "beacons" were posted to warn friendlies of the danger. The rule which all servicemen must follow is not to touch objects unrelated to the performance of the combat mission. "If it isn't yours - don't touch it" should be a mantra of all urban operators. In Afghanistan curiosity was mortally dangerous.
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