An undertaking employed by amongst others the UNIFIL peacekeepers in the mountains and valleys of South Lebanon. The reason for doing it was to fulfill the U.N. Security Council Resolution 425 which in short required peacekeepers to separate Israeli Defense Forces and the various armed factions of Lebanon. The latter included nice people like Hizbullah and Amal. UNIFIL appeared in Lebanon in March 1978 after the first Israeli invasion.

An ambush patrol consisted of three or four soldiers, each equipped with specialist gear and sometimes a dog and its tender. Gear included radio, flare rockets, stun grenades, nightvision goggles, a backpack containing odds and ends generally considered useful and sometimes a personnel radar. This came in addition to your personal kit consisting of personal weapon, combat armour, a full load of ammo, gas mask and a cardiovascular system chock full of caffeine pills. The pills came in handy after spending your 36th hour awake in a war zone.

Patrols lasted anywhere from four to eight dark hours, in which a distance of a handful of klicks were covered by foot in a dead slow pace. The idea was to walk slowly for a couple of klicks, take cover and listen and look for unusual activity for about one hour. No talking ever took part, it was completey dark but for the regular moonlit nights and very cold and muddy during the winter months due to the incessant rain. When spring came, the nights became very very quiet. You won't believe over what distances voices travel when there's no wind.

I spent many many hours on such an activity as a peacekeeper grunt, and only once during my service with UNIFIL did my platoon ever stop anyone. Three frightened guys from Hizbullah with an old Kalashnikov each, a few hundred rounds of 7.62x39 mm, a couple of fragmentation grenades and a block of TNT. What kind of damage they would have inflicted on the heavily fortified Israeli border and indeed if they ever would have come back alive is anyone's guess. Sitting at a safe distance in the dark watching people blow each other to smithereens is both scary and interesting in a perverse sort of way. It happened on many occasions after armed elements (as we called them) snuck up on the Israeli border through a different sector, setting off a live ammo fireworks display and trying to disappear back into the night. These brave souls were usually displayed on national TV in Israel the following day.


Before I joined I was notoriously afraid of the dark. Due to the countless hours on ambush patrols in the dark, hiding in shadows of large stones and squatting behind trees and learning to blend in with the nothingness of the Lebanese night, the dark became comforting and an ally. Not being alone as well as carrying an automatic weapon might also have helped. This happened in 1988 - 1989 when I was 21.

I got the Nobel Peace Prize while serving, and I've got a medal-ish thing and a diploma here to prove it.

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 360º. 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...

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