Fighting an apparently elusive enemy during COIN operations can be very frustrating, especially for the men in the field.
The frustration is increased when it appears that the enemy has the initiative – which he indeed has at times – as he can chose his place, time and method of attack. These attacks are usually of short duration but have the sole aim of killing, wounded or delaying own forces members – and getting maximum publicity for their cause.
When the enemy believes he has the initiative, he becomes bolder and more daring. When we believe that the enemy has the initiative, it places us in a reactive state-of-mind, thus giving the enemy the initiative.
Wresting the initiative from the enemy is not as easy as it sounds, but it is not impossible. We need to place the enemy in a position of continual disadvantage and then exploit it with speed, aggression and firepower.
One aspect I feel is not emphasized enough in COIN operations is the principle of “relentless pursuit”.
Relentless pursuit implies the enemy is pursued with speed and aggression, without stopping, pushing him past the limits of his endurance whilst we continually substitute the men doing the pursuit with fresh troops. This forces the enemy into a state of exhaustion as he has no time to eat or rest. It also impacts negatively on his morale, leads to panic and subsequently leads him to make mistakes.
When the enemy is tired and hungry, he becomes weak thus slow in his movements, disorientated and prone to making poor decisions. It is these mistakes we need to identify and exploit in order to seize the initiative.
Troops conducting the relentless pursuit should not be over-burdened with equipment and gadgets. They should only carry the very essentials of what is required to achieve their mission.
Implementing relentless pursuit requires, amongst others, that troops:
- Can eat whilst on the move
- Can track an enemy at speed
- Have the ability to leap-frog ahead of the enemy by means of helicopters
- Have outstanding communications
- Are aggressive
- Are adept at night operations
- Must outgun the enemy
Troops need to be “taught” how to eat whilst on the move. During relentless pursuit, troops cannot stop to prepare meals as this will give the enemy time to make good his escape. Dry rations and water is all these troops need to carry with them especially since they will only be moving for a few hours before being relieved by fresh troops.
The ability to track humans is an essential prerequisite. Good trackers can tell the age of a track as well as indicate if the enemy is carrying heavy loads, the types of weapons he has (this is identified when locating enemy resting points), if the enemy is moving hurriedly, what he is eating and so forth. Good trackers are also able to identify disturbances in the soil or tripwires indicating a possible landmine or IED.
The use of helicopters to substitute troops after a few hours of follow-up adds to the concept of relentless pursuit. Tired troops can be replaced with fresh troops in order to maintain momentum and keep the pressure on the enemy. Once the trackers have analysed the age of the tracks to within an hour or less, helicopters can be used to deploy troops into blocking positions as well as deliver troops onto tactically advantageous ground. Alternatively, troops can be deployed to seal off villages and prevent their use to the enemy.
Good communications is essential to ensure that pursuit forces do not engage in so-called friendly-fire incidents. Communications is also essential to enable the calling for air support, fresh troops, and reinforcements and so on. By frequently reporting the pursuit forces coordinates, operations officers will be able to plot and even predict the enemy’s intended direction of movement.
Troops need to develop their aggression level to such a point that the enemy fears them. Aggressive pursuit is aimed at initiating contact as heavily with the enemy as possible.
Pursuit must continue after dark and into and during the night. Equipment such as night vision goggles and illumination flares must be used to the optimal. Battlefield illumination, when closing with the enemy, is useful for slowing an enemy’s progress or forcing him to show himself prematurely.
The enemy must be engaged at maximum range, terrain depending, in order to force him to deploy tactically. Long distance engagements may not cause enemy casualties but it will slow his progress and allow own forces to begin offensive tactical manoeuvres. Weapons such as the 20mm PAW, 60mm patrol mortars, RPG-7s and so forth can force the enemy to slow his progress, take cover and thus slow his escape.
When the enemy scatters (bombshells), at least one set of tracks should be taken to ensure a successful pursuit as it is likely that the enemy may regroup at an emergency RV.
To apply relentless pursuit, the troops need to be fit, mentally alert and ready to immediately take offensive action.
Failure to apply relentless pursuit will continue to give the enemy options and advantages, often at our own peril.
*Culled from Eeben Barlow security and defence blog.