Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Basic Training - Reaction To Contact/Ambush/ Break Contact

During a patrol, a team may bump into another patrol. It may walk into a hasty or prepared ambush. Or it may encounter an unknown group, of unknown size, and unknown intentions.

You should learn the textbook techniques for hasty and deliberate ambushes. They may come in handy.

But The Book assumes a lot of things that won't be the case for you.

It assumes a de facto bi-polar state of conflict.
It assumes anything not friendly is enemy.
It assumes everyone on your side is intensively trained and drilled.
It assumes a larger friendly element nearby.
It assumes communications, a robust response by a Quick Reaction Force (QRF), it assumes ability to call in supporting fires, friendly close air support, and rapid medevac.

In sporty times, from disasters to societal meltdown, you will have precisely NONE of these things, in all likelihood.

There may be no conflict. Reflexively opening fire makes you the bandits.

There may be friendly, neutral, or uncommitted parties out there, some of whom may be amenable to some loose or sturdy alliance. Unless you greet them by shooting them up.

There may be multiple unfriendly forces.

They may, and probably WILL, outnumber you. In size, capabilities, possibly even in terms of training and cohesive tactics. Definitely so if they're TPTB. Try to remember, you're the guerrilla. If you aren't thinking like one, you can always die like one.

Your communications will vary (we'll get to that by and by); your QRF may be another gaggle of foot-borne guys, some time and distance away; your supporting fires will likely be nil; as will be anything like CAS or medevac. If you're lucky, somebody may be able to cobble up an ad hoc ambulance with a QRF to come and get you. Or, not.

For all these reasons, your default reaction to contact should be to hide, fade, regroup, and reconnoiter. Unless you're pinned to the wall with no other options, fighting should probably be the last thing on your mind. Returning fire should only be utilized in the context of TCCC, to get any wounded out, and then to break contact as expeditiously as possible.

Because if you allow yourself to become decisively engaged by a superior force, you will be mauled.

Don't believe me; let's let the US Army's Special Forces show you what happens when you think you're the biggest grizzly bear in the woods, and then meet the real grizzly, and you find out you're just the badger.

I won't belabor Monday morning quarterbacking.
The mistakes in this incident were legion, from the beginning to the end, in the short-time eternity of just one hour and fifteen minutes.

They behaved as if all the assumptions above were in force, when in fact virtually none of them were.

Like the LAPD in the North Hollywood bank shootout, the individual guys here were exceedingly brave. And exceedingly stupid. And they paid for bravery plus stupidity in the usual fashion: with their own blood.

In this case, it cost them all three of their vehicles and equipment, and 4 guys dead (out of 11); no word on other friendly or enemy casualties. In the grand scheme of things, what matters was, everything after getting shot at, and not electing to GTFO of Dodge ASAP to regroup on safe ground were tactical and strategic blunders. This A-team was eaten for lunch, and beaten like rented mules. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anybody.

Think about you and your group, and tell me what 36% casualties would mean for your friends, family, and neighbors in tough times.

This ain't the movies, you ain't John Wayne, and the cavalry, especially the Air Cavalry, isn't coming over the hill in the nick of time. Like they weren't for that A-team, thinking and acting like they were in Iraq amidst a war in 2004, instead of totally on their own in Niger in 2017.

If you get seen, you can be shot; if you get shot, you can be killed. The solution for that is to stay out of sight, and if you can't get out of sight, get out of range. Then, when you aren't trading lead, figure it out.

Or make out your will, and set your affairs in order.

Working things out while standing on the bullseye rarely works out well for you.
There may be times and places when you make a deliberate attack, with the odds as much in your favor as you can get them.

That will almost never be amidst contact, or in any ambush when you're the one on the "X".

Return what fire you need to, in order to recover your casualties, and/or to break contact.
That's pretty much the only drill you need to know, cold. At least once you're taking fire, you've established the other side's intentions.

The drill itself is simple: If you're on the side in contact, unload in the enemy's direction (bonus points if it's aimed fire, and not suppressive to-whom-it-may-concern fire), then withdraw through your teammates and away from the enemy. You're using return fire to slow them down so you can create distance, and move out of sight, and then out of range.

The way to learn this is hands-on, in meatspace, with people who can see you doing it, and correct errors on the spot. Every group and situation will be different, but the drill boils down to: put their heads down (and/or a couple of their guys) and go the other way, rapidly.

The rest is purely details.

Most times a patrol is to gain information, and once you're getting shot at, you've just learned where the limit of territory that is friendly ends, for you.

But until you know you've got that drill, and take the lesson of breaking contact rather than duking it out to heart, you're liable to be a lesson for others in how not to do this. If anyone even writes it down, at that point in history. And no one will likely be going back to recover your body, nor pin any medals on your coffins.


Anonymous said...

"If it can happen to them, it can happen to you"

RSR said...

Great post. Every potential firefight, you'll need to decide if it's worth your life or those of your loved ones... It becomes about optimizing odds of survival (for you AND GROUP/loved ones), not about about winning or ego.

Rule #1 is to get out of the kill zone. I'm surprised with unarmored (at most lightly armored) vehicles that they stopped to engage in a fight. It's almost as if they decided to used this as a teachable moment/training mission for Nigerian troops... Regardless, I think it's important to note that only 2 of 4 soldiers killed were Green Berets, and only 7 of 30 Nigerian forces stayed with the SF team through the final defensive position (and a couple were killed earlier while in the fight US forces as well). Initially, the 11-12 (have seen both #s) US troops plus ~30 Nigerian troops equaled the ~50+ enemy forces; however, additional mounted machine guns plus their indirect weapons were force multipliers over Americans and friendlies.
Their is helmet cam footage, google tongo tongo helmet cam, taken by enemy forces off of one killed US soldier, on youtube as well. Not a pretty picture. SOFREP hides faces and probably most respectful.

It seemed as if the SF team here operated from lessons learned in Iraq/Afghanistan where US troops almost always had the capability to win fire superiority, including air and artillery/indirect fires rather than lessons learned in prior conflicts like Vietnam where running firefights for days against much larger forces were common... So I hope this isn't reflective of current capabilities. If so, the training and support we're offering friendly nations where once Western military aid stops, friendly forces have to learn an entirely new way of fighting.
Point being, this engagement is a great contrast as to how fighting by the military's book can go badly when all the support assumptions change.

Bravo on this important topic Aesop.

Aesop said...

There were 4 SF killed outright, three at Vehicle 2, and one at V3, and an unstated number of Nigerian troops.

The error was stopping to stay and play, rather than unassing the ambush site at maxV. 36% KIA rate on your team in an hour and a half of tragic stupid has to be the SF equivalent of a F- grade.
Everything after that was merely compounding the original error, and the correct solution was always the same one: GTFO.
Clearly the TL had not considered that the local guerillas may not have gotten the press release on SF's martial prowess, and didn't know they were supposed to flee and cower at their appearance, or the mere mention of their name. Such hubris is always measured in body bags.

And I watched the helmet cam before I watched the DoD computer sim, when the review was released. Grim and saddening when you know how the movie ends, but the only thing to do is learn from it.

Just like in Blackhawk Down, once there's a command failure, people die.
They may die even if you plan flawlessly, because the enemy gets a vote, but when your f**k it up by the numbers, you get to double digit failure pretty rapidly.

I'm hoping their team captain is now back in the Finance Corps or wherever, where he belongs, with a career-ending OER, and a rating of "not recommended for command of troops". He can work it out in therapy as a civilian for the rest of his life. At his level, this should simply never have happened. Some lessons in life you don't get to make twice. HUTA planning is hopefully a career-ender in this case. The higher-ups at least two levels beyond the ODA, who left him unsupervised to UNODIR his way into this in the first place, should probably be encouraged to consider their options outside Big Green as well, or at least outside SF.

And I'm hoping someone at JFKSWCS takes the opportunity to intensely review CPT Oopsie WrongPlan's training records, to see if they might have missed something during selection, and if there's any way to either teach that out or select out similar candidates for the next 10,000 officers they see. The only true crime in this disaster would be failure to learn from it to the maximum extent possible.

I can't imagine another team following CPT Oopsie again. As an officer, you generally only get one chance at that job, and there are no shortage of bright young lieutenants waiting in the wings to do it better coming out of SFAS. Keeping him around long enough to make higher rank, esp. in SF, would be disastrous.

The traditional dynamic of SF is supposed to be experienced NCOs and SNCOs willing to tell their TL, "You're full of shit, sir, and everybody's gonna die, and here's why, sir:" I don't know what the dialogue sounded like amidst the ambush, but now we've got 7 team survivors, most with new-won Purple Hearts from this incident, to not be too shy to say that next time. At around $1M@ to select and train each guy on a team, they're simply too costly a resource to squander on getting roundly and needlessly ass-raped by illiterate savages with technicals.
We made cluster bombs, napalm, and WP shells to deal with that sort.

And FTR, we should deploy every AC-130 we can spare into the area to hunt that band down and exterminate them, to the last survivor, like rabid dogs.
That's the only way to teach lessons in that part of the world, and it'd be money and effort well-spent.
Every village for a thousand miles of TongoTongo should know in their bones to never, ever shoot at strangers again, because of what in the world will subsequently fall on you from the skies.

RSR said...

There was much chatter among GBs when this first happened about support personnel appropriating the GB/SF label... Yes, 4 total killed, but only 2 GB/SF (GBs being only true SF soldiers, remainder Spec Ops).

Technically, I *think* this was operated textbook... However, the question as to whether fire was such that necessary to stop and engage vs exit killzone entirely subjective... US Army video in your post references that the convoy stopped and personnel donned protective gear, and unarmored vehicles possibly made TL think that was required... I don't understand the Capt plus 4 Nigerians for flanking/reconnaissance however.

There was also chatter from GB/SF folks regarding that the big Army's account of GB/SF going rogue for "enemy leader capture" and falsifying reports as to purpose of mission was also a misrepresentation by big green (or fascimile argument/discussion).

Not sure of exact specifics, but believe a commissioned officer w/ this team was also out of country due to maternity leave causing a leadership vacuum.

My take is that there's been a lot of lessons learned by SF over the past decade that only apply to the specific/unique combat circumstances in Iraq and Afghanistan. Against a near-peer or anyone with the brass balls to square up and fight US troops (not knowing whether or not supporting assets are available), the modus operandi of the past decade+ against third world guerrillas no longer applies...

When fighting current war like the last one instead of tapping into full playbook, bad things happen.

RSR said...

Forgot to mention, I hope you do take the time to write a piece on the Aussie Peel and withdrawal by buddy pairs as taught by SAS and Max Velocity (reverse movement of bounding overwatch with a bit of an Aussie Peel to the flank as well).