20 November 2009

The old lessons still apply

In the old US Army Field Manual FM 7-8, "Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad", there's a section which covers the basics of patrolling. In this section, the infantry patrol is told that it should be fully alert and at 100% defensive posture no later than 30 minutes prior to dawn, a process known as "stand-to". The book's reasoning is that this is the time when the Soviet Army is most likely to attack.

The great book, The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa, notes that the same thing is done in Iraq. The authors tell a story which features American troops on a combat outpost waking just before dawn to man the defensive positions. What's interesting is that the young platoon leader gets this advice from one of his sergeants, who notes that this tactic comes not from the conventional battlefield, but from the campaigns against the Native Americans on the plains of the American West during the 19th Century.

Some things really never change. Indeed, the Taliban also appear to use this tactic, judging from this video from the Battle at Wanat, shot from the Taliban's perspective.


Anonymous said...

Stand to always pissed my PSG off. His reasoning was that an enemy that knew anything about Army doctrine would attack some other time but during stand to when every joe is looking down his rifle sights.

His critique of stand to usually mentioned the Indian wars heritage and moving out of the past.

swordfish1543 said...

"Strategy and tactics do not change. Only the means of applying them are different."
- General George S. Patton

Paul said...

By the time I was in Vietnam (68-69), Chuck didn’t attack at dawn anymore, if he ever did. His preferred time was around 0200–0300. I’m pretty sure that COP Keating involved a nighttime assault. Wanat, I’m not sure about, but any aggressor that waits until dawn to attack deserves all the extra casualties he’ll take.

There’s a better reason to stand-to 30 minutes before dawn if you’re on patrol — so you can move out quickly. A couple of other “patrol” tips: (1) always set up your patrol base off the trail — as a matter of fact, stay off the trail all the time (fewer booby-traps); (2) after you’ve set up your patrol base (before dusk), wait until dark, then move at least 50 to 100 meters away and set up again. That way, if you’re being watched, the mortars will probably hit your old location instead of your new one. Noise discipline on this one is essential. At first, the troops won’t like the extra work but the first time they experience mortar rounds falling on their old position, they’ll quit complaining.

The thing that I took away from the video was the complete absence of camouflage netting or tarps or anything to interfere with observation from above. If I were an LT or platoon sergeant in charge of one of these tiny exposed outposts, the first thing I’d be interested in tactically is to answer the question: from where can I be observed and what can I do to block observation? I’d also give a lot of thought to alternate locations for my crew served weapons so that when I was attacked the attacker would have some question in his mind about where these weapons might be.