You are on Patrol in Baghdad. Your group leaves the green zone in a convoy of hummers. As you enter the patrol area, your alert level jumps up a few notches. The .50s are manned. Your M4 is clutched tightly in your hands. As you round a corner, the hummer in front of you has slammed on its brakes. You hear the whoosh of an RPG as it flies over the hood of the hummer in front. A near miss. The fifty opens up. The hummers all empty as soldiers pour out to form an assault team. You join up with your fire team. The LT is issuing battlefield commands. You are to move to the left with your fire team to flank the ambushers. Another whoosh as an RPG hits your now empty hummer, setting it on fire and causing some serious damage. Time to look for another ride home. Your fire teams set up and begins to lay down some cover fire. Soldiers from the hummers behind yours run start to move up and assist. The ambush is well conceived. The terrs hit just as the second hummer rounded the corner, and halted the column on the narrow streets. The only .50 in operation is on the front hummer. The rest are around the corner and of no use. You hear the SAW opening up on the right. Comforting sound. You also hear grenades being launched with the familiar call. It sounds like things are going well for your unit.
Your guys are advancing, and the enemy is withdrawing. As you move from your cover to advance towards the next intersection, fire from a window to your right forces you down an alley. You and your buddy are isolated while an AK is unloaded in your direction. You seek cover in opposite doorways on the narrow alley. As you look for the source of fire, you see smoke coming from a window on the opposite side of the road. You aim at the window, but no clear target enters your site picture. Either the shooter moved on, or someone else took care of the problem. As you step towards the end of the alley in preparation to rejoin your team, more fire erupts from the same window. Again, your only option is retreat back down the alley. This time, they have a better angle and you are forced deeper into the alley before you can find cover. Time stands still. You check your buddy. No hits, but that was very close. Fortunately these guys fire the AKs from the hip. Someone aiming from the shoulder could have made it very interesting for you.
As you try to determine which window the shooting originated from, you listen for other signs of the battle. You hear isolated automatic fire in the distance. But no large scale assault. This troubles you. Your buddy gets a bead on the right window, and puts a well-placed 203 round in to silence the shooter. As you cover each other, you work your way back to the street. Now both hummers are burning, The .50 ammo is starting to cook off. But most concerning, there are no friendlies in the area. You quickly move back down the street to the corner. As you look around the corner, you see your patrol DDing back down the road. They have turned the convoy around and are heading back the way they came. You see the last hummer turn a distant corner. Mr. Murphy is in the house. You and your buddy are alone, deep in the red zone.
As a contractor working in Baghdad, you frequently work and move outside the green zone. The possibility of ambush or attack is always there. One day, you lead a convoy of company cars near an area where a number of ambushes have occurred. You vary your routes every time you go outside the green zone. You follow counter-surveillance procedures as a matter of course. You follow all the procedures your company has in place to protect you. Whenever you leave the green zone, your awareness cranks up a notch or two. In spite of all you do, there is always a risk that you may get caught in an ambush. Today is one of those days. As you turn down a street in a neighborhood that is marginal, you notice some men on the street corner kind of lingering too long as you pass. Up ahead you see a head poke around a corner and disappear. Then you notice an absence of women and children on the road. In fact, the only pedestrians you see are 20-30 yr old males. All of your alarms go off at once. You radio the rear car to get their SAW to swing around and cover the rear. You also tell all the drivers to get ready to evade according to the evasion route you established in your pre-mission planning. You make an immediate left turn, and quickly move at a right angle away from the danger zone. As you begin your evasion routine, the rear vehicle begins to take small arms fire. They are busy returning fire. So far, so good; you are calm and in control. You have planned and prepared for just such an event.
In spite of your best planning. Murphy is always around. As the driver of the lead vehicle, you come around a corner on your evasion route and find a roadblock. You radio the following vehicles to turn off and take a secondary escape route. As you start to back up and follow your convoy, you take small arms fire from the roadblock. Of course you return fire, but your vehicle takes an AK round through the radiator and engine block. You drive away as fast as you can, but you know you only have a mile or two before the engine blows. You go as far as you can, but eventually the engine seizes. Your convoy is ahead following its evasion protocol. You are on your own. For the time being at least. You and your two other team members are on foot in enemy territory. There is no immediate pursuit, but you can expect the terrorists at the roadblock to be following along at any moment.
URBAN E & E
These situations should never happen. Hopefully, all the checks, double checks, protocols, and procedures are in place to make sure it does not. No one should ever get left behind, but in the fog of battle, anything can, and usually does happen. Stranded in this situation, what do you do?
These kinds of situations or anything similar can happen any day in an area such as this where many of our troops and contract security personnel are currently engaged. What skills do they posses that will keep them alive while they escape and evade back to the green zone?
A DIFFERENT SKILL SET
Urban Escape and Evasion requires a slightly different set of skills than most soldiers possess. I work with elite military groups in my career training the military, and many of them are well versed in the skills needed. But since we are sending regular soldiers and contractors without special ops training into urban settings, providing additional training in how to escape and evade in an urban setting makes good sense.
To survive in a situation where you find yourself in unfriendly territory, you must be able to do several things outside the normal range of soldier training.
Prior preparation should include a thorough intelligence briefing of the area of operations. In the Military, briefing books usually exist with the intelligence officer. You should also spend time studying maps and getting familiarized with the area. You should know where checkpoints are, which neighborhoods are militant strongholds, and which are more likely to be friendly. You should note choke points, and keep track of the location of every insurgent action in your area of operations. You should know where important structures are located, which areas are lighted at night, and a hundred other important pieces of tactical knowledge. You should know enough about the religious and cultural practices to avoid making obvious mistakes. You should also know enough of the language to recognize key words and phrases that might mean trouble. You should become a student of your area. All this is pre-mission preparation, and may be the difference between successfully evading and getting caught. Anything that you use to give yourself an edge is one less thing the enemy has to use against you.
Your first priority is to get off the street before someone figures out they have a couple of US soldiers out on their own. So how do you choose a hiding place in an urban setting? Sometimes you will not have a lot of choice. You simply chose a door, try to kick it in, and hope for the best.
However, if you have time, you want to choose a building that looks unoccupied. You will want to pick the locks rather than kick in the door so as to arouse less attention. Besides, many of the doors in Iraq have two or three point locks, making kicking a door in very difficult. Once you are inside and off the street, you can try to establish commo using the phone or radio. Even if the house you are in has a phone, using a phone could be problematic if none of you speak the language. If you have cell phones or radios, by all means use them. You will need to carry phone numbers for your base.
Once in your initial hide, you should take a quick inventory. Do you have a map? What is your ammo supply? Take a drink of water and calm yourself down. It could be a long day. The stress of the firefight will be sinking in. It is easy to allow panic to cloud your thinking and force you to move sooner than you are ready to. Instead, sit quietly and assess your situation, come up with a plan, and think through several moves. Time to �cowboy up.�
After spending a minute or two assessing your situation it is time to make a decision. Do you wait for rescue or try to E & E back to the green zone? Every situation is unique. Since your life depends on the right choice, correct real-time intel is vital. If you have some form of commo with your unit, or access to a phone, then waiting for a rescue os probably your best option. If however you have no access to communication with your unit, then you may have to E & E back to your safe zone.
You first will need to choose a route that will take you back to the green zone. This is where prior preparation comes into play. If you know the maps and you have established an escape corridor, you may be able to get to a friendly neighborhood or a safe house. This can make the return much easier and is worth going a much less direct route to get to. Will you have to pass enemy checkpoints? Are there unfriendly patrols? Are there dogs or donkeys that will bark or bray and give you away?
Next priority is transportation. Are you going to walk all the way back? How about a carjacking a ride? Or better yet, stealing a car. Do you know how to hot wire a car? If so, you can boost a car and drive right back into friendly territory. How about roadblocks? Are you trained as an evasive driver, and do you know how to run a roadblock? Can you evade pursuit? Can you approach your own lines without getting shot?
If borrowing a car is not an option, then it may be a long walk through unfriendly territory. You will probably be forced to move at night. You will need to know night movement, concealment, and camouflage. Moving at night in an urban area requires some unique skills.
Getting through the red zone is difficult. Getting back into the green zone is not without its challenges. Driving up to checkpoints at high speed or approaching a checkpoint on foot at night are both invitations to being shot. You must know the protocols for entering any green zone area, not just your own. What may be acceptable behavior in one area may not be appropriate elsewhere.
Individuals that are working in combat zones, particularly in urban areas, might be wise to assess their Urban E &E skills. Urban E&E training is extremely valuable to any soldier conducting Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT). Basic skills are not difficult to learn. Some should be learned in advance, others in-country. But they should be ignored only at your own peril.
Originally published in Blackwater Weekly