Unlike conventional-force troops, for small-unit irregular war-fighters, the success of a mission, as well as personal survival, may often depend on the ability to close the distance to the target, engage, and withdraw, without being observed. To succeed, he must master the ability to move silently through various types of terrain.
The guerrilla must know the operational area and its terrain. If he will be operating in an area outside of his “home turf,” he needs to conduct thorough research, including map reconnaissances, interviews with people who have lived in the area, or recently moved through it, and review any available terrain analysis intelligence on the area. The guerrilla must determine what camouflage materials he needs to procure for use in the area, and may need to prep his equipment prior to moving into the area. All shiny equipment must be subdued and anything that may make noise must be silenced. Only mission-essential equipment should be carried, in order to lighten the load as much as possible. Not only does this make the guerrilla more agile, but it also increases his ability to move silently.
When selecting a movement route, the guerrilla avoids known or likely enemy positions and obstacles, open areas, and any area believed, or known, to be under enemy observation/surveillance (this applies to both terrestrial and airborne observation). The guerrilla should choose the most forbidding terrain that he can safely cross in the time he has allotted to accomplish his mission, in order to avoid unwanted or unnecessary contact with enemy forces, except of his own choosing. Because the guerrilla element cannot afford to be seen by anyone while moving to an objective, his movement should be slow and deliberate, and he will constantly and continuously observe his surroundings, in order to facilitate seeing before being seen. The guerrilla force's movement over any given distance will be considerably slower than a conventional-force unit's movement over the same terrain and distance, because stealth is the tool of the guerrilla.
When moving, the guerrilla should always consider the following “rules:”
- Assume that the area is under enemy observation. Move slowly; progress will be measured in feet and inches, not in kilometers or miles.
- Do not cause vegetation to move unnaturally by rubbing against it, leaning on it, pulling on it, or anything else that might create a noticeable visual target indicator.
- Plan every movement, and traverse every segment of the movement route only after visually reconnoitering it and determining the most secure route.
- Stop, look, and listen often. In Vietnam, SOG teams would stop every 10-20 yards and look and listen for minutes before moving on.
- Whenever possible, utilize environmental distractions to mask movement noise. These may include aircraft noise, wind gusts, thunderclaps, explosions, vehicle highway noise, or anything else that will conceal the element's movement, or distract the enemy's attention.
Movement at night is generally the same as movement during daylight hours. The primary distance is that at night, movement is slower, more deliberate, and more emphasis is placed in noise discipline since sound travels further at night (again, going back to Vietnam, John Plaster describes in his history of SOG operations, that teams would often move as slow as fifty feet per hour. I've done missions that involved moving twice that speed and it is excruciatingly slow...). The guerrilla will have to learn to rely more heavily on his other senses, rather than his vision. Whenever possible however, the guerrilla should opt to move under cover of darkness, even if he lacks NODs/NVGs. Additionally, fog, rain, high winds, blowing snow, or anything else that can hide the sound and sight of his passing will aid the guerrilla in clandestine infiltration and exfiltration of a target area.
Largely ignored in the conventional-force, except for snipers and scouts, stalking is the irregular-force fighter's art of moving undetected into a final assault position that will ensure a high degree of surprise and prevent the enemy from mounting an effective counterattack response to the guerrilla attack until it is too late. Stalking involves all aspects of field-craft and can only be learned by repetitive practice over various types of ground.
Prior to any movement, whether “simply” patrolling, or a stalk, the guerrilla should perform as thorough a terrain reconnaissance as is possible, in accordance with (IAW) METT-TC. When planning patrols, the element may not find it feasible to look at the actual ground. This is less an issue for the irregular local defense force than for a regular military special operations/unconventional warfare unit, since the former will generally be operating on “home turf.” Nevertheless, even the local irregular element should perform a thorough map reconnaissance during the planning process. Additionally, prior to an actual stalk, the guerrilla element must stop and study the ground they will be forced to traverse. This final terrain study should focus on identifying the target or position that is being stalked towards, areas of both cover and concealment, the locations of the best firing positions to engage targets for both the support-by-fire elements and the maneuver elements, and natural or artificial obstacles that will impede the clandestine movement of the element during the stalking process. These should be used to determine the best line of advance for the stalk. Known or suspected enemy positions along the route, or that allow observation of the selected route should be identified, as well as potential observation points along the movement route. The best, most secure movement methods should be selected for each section of the movement route. Most critically, a fast but secure route for the withdrawal following the assault should be identified.
Due to the intense concentration required of the individual guerrilla fighter during the actual stalking movement, in order maintain camouflage and concealment discipline, and see the enemy before he sees the guerrilla, it is relatively common for the fighter to lose his sense of direction. This is especially true when the stalk requires lengthy periods of crawling. The ability to terrain associate and use a map and compass can rectify this to a great degree (I can't count the number of guys I've had to teach that it's okay to pull out your map and compass in the middle of a stalk, to ensure they're still stalking towards the target. Fortunately, I had good mentors that taught me the same lesson). Proper planning of the stalk route during the final reconnaissance, including the aforementioned route selection, will allow the stalker to use his map and compass in this manner to maintain his route.
The guerrilla light infantryman must remain alert to all incoming sensory stimuli, at all times, during the stalk. Failure to do so leads to a relaxation and the resulting carelessness ends up with the stalker being compromised and the entire element engaged before they are prepared for it. Since the guerrilla survives by initiating any action on his own terms, this compromise generally results in the entire element being killed. If, however, the element is compromised during the stalk, immediate reaction is required to expect any chance of survival. A superb mastery of the “break contact” battle drill/immediate action drill is essential.
The slow, steady, and deliberate movement of the stalker, if performed properly and professionally, will generally prevent his startling wildlife and birds unexpectedly. Suddenly disturbed wildlife draw the attention of alert war-fighters. If the stalker is professional, and notices wildlife disturbed in this manner, he should assume there are enemy personnel causing the disturbance and stop, look, and listen, ensuring that he remains thoroughly hidden from observation until he is sure the enemy is no longer present. Nevertheless, since the stalker should take advantage of any local environmental disturbances to conceal the noise of his movements, the individual element needs to determine their standard operating procedures for these situations, on an individual basis. What may work for one element may not work for another. What may work for one element in one situation may not work for the same element in another situation. SOPs and contingency plans must be developed during training.
During pre-planned observation halts along the stalking route, the guerrilla should identify his next position of concealment and plan a specific route to reach it (While I've gone back and forth speaking of the stalk as both an individual and collective team task, the need for guerrillas to be able to infiltrate a target area in buddy teams or even as individuals, then rally at the objective for the final assault, generally means that stalking is an individual, or at most, a two-man affair). When crossing areas of tall grass, especially dry, late-summer or autumn grasses, the stalker needs to change direction regularly. This not only prevents the grass from waving in the wind in an unnatural pattern, but also presents a more natural “trail” in the grass, like those left by wildlife (these paths are unavoidable. The only key is that they should appear like those of wildlife, rather than the direct, straight-line paths that humans—especially westerners—tend to create). Crossing roads, trails, or open meadow areas (the doctrinal term is “danger area”), the stalker should attempt to find low spots or the leading edge of corners/curves in the trail. As much as possible however, the stalker does his absolute best to avoid spending any time in open areas, since this increases the odds of the enemy successfully observing his movement (I live in an area with large swaths of open sagebrush-covered desert. Sagebrush, for those unfamiliar with it, can be as tall as a grown man, or as short as five or six inches. Crossing a large sagebrush flat, with only six inches of vegetative cover, even with the best camouflage expertise in the world, is a pretty sure way of failing dismally at your stalk) are greatly increased.
It should go without saying to anyone who has ever hunted big game, whether deer, elk, moose, or African Cape Buffalo, that the stalker should never allow himself to be sky-lined in the view of the enemy. If the guerrilla needs to look over a high-point, he should crawl carefully to the summit, and look over, keeping as low as humanly possible, in order to reduce his visual signature.
During the movement, the stalker must select his route a minimum of two positions ahead, in order to prevent stalking into a dead-end position. He must remember to observe his surroundings and take careful note of any changes to the local vegetation, in order to change his camouflage when necessary in order to maintain his concealment.
Stalking at night is both more difficult and more simple than stalking during daylight. Obviously, the reduced visibility of nocturnal stalks makes it more difficult for the enemy to observe the stalker with the naked eye, and in the event of a compromise, will reduce the effectiveness of enemy aimed-fire. Nevertheless, the contemporary guerrilla needs to remember that regime security forces will possess and make extensive use of night-observation and thermal imaging devices, and the use of shadows to conceal movement is much more critical.
Whenever possible, the resistance fighter should utilize NODs/NVGs himself, both to locate enemy personnel in LP/OPs and roving security patrols, as well as to assist in route selection. He must remain conscientious however, to not rely on the NODs/NVGs alone, to the exclusion of using his natural senses of hearing. An over-reliance on visual technology enhancements during night-time movements will result in missing key target indicators, leading to mission failure (with a little practice, it's easy to hide from NODs/NVGs. It doesn't take much more practice and expertise to learn to defeat thermal imaging also) and death.
Whether during a stalk or a general patrolling situation, silent, stealthy movement is the key to survival for irregular small-unit forces. Much more than conventional, infantry forces, the irregular-force element must rely on silence and stealth in movement. Since the irregular-force unit cannot rely on indirect-fire support or close-air support to pull its collective ass out of the frying pan, they must master silent, stealthy movement techniques to augment their camouflage and concealment skills (One of my biggest pet peeves, during Infantry One-Station Unit Training/Basic Training at Ft Benning was the complete lack of mention of silent movement in the woods by the Drill Sergeants. Having grown up stalking through the woods, and the son and grandson of special operators from past wars, their lack of instruction didn't make sense to me as young would-be hooahs went crashing through the Georgia brush like a bunch of fucking elephants. I understand now, of course that, as conventional force infantry NCOs, in a peacetime army, they just didn't know any better. It's hard to teach something if you've never been taught it, nor intrinsically understand its criticality to survival. I only hope today's cadre at the various infantry courses understand it. Considering the generally conventional-force background of Infantry School cadre however, I doubt it).
Ultimately, like all other aspects of guerrilla tactical movement, silence and stealth can be taught and learned. It requires the ability to study and memorize the ground and surrounding terrain, and using effective tactical movement to traverse the terrain properly, while avoiding obstacles that impede silent movement. The guerrilla fighter must learn to select a route, memorize the terrain he will cross, communicate with his partner(s) using silent communications methods including touch and hand-and-arm signals to communicate, and be completely comfortable with extremely long periods of absolute silence (perhaps the hardest part of successfully executing successful small-unit operations in an unconventional role, at least for most people, is the necessity of going days without speaking to one another).
In order to accomplish these requirements and successfully negotiate silent patrols during combat operations, guerrilla elements, during training, must:
- develop a SOP within the team for silent communications. While there are ample examples in various publications of these, each team, based on their operational environment still needs to develop their own SOP utilizing only those which they particularly need to master and utilize (trying to memorize every hand-and-arm signal ever developed by different infantry units, SF units, SEAL teams, SWAT teams, and sniper teams is fucking retarded. Cherry-pick for the ones you need in training, then master those. If, down the road in training, you discover another one that you need, then you can add it to your tactical vocabulary).
- Focus on learning the specifics of silent, stealth movement, including moving slowly and deliberately and conducting frequent halts to look and listen (if you're moving one mile an hour, you're probably moving too fast, METT-TC dependent). Look ahead to the next two or three movements, and move any intervening foliage out of the way with your hands, not by brushing up against it accidentally and letting it get hung up on loose gear (that “sproing” sound as a branch whips loose from a rucksack strap is extremely noticeable when you've moved silently for three or four days, no one speaking, and you're conducting the final stalk to a target less than 200 meters away...). Learn to tape, pad, and thoroughly silence every piece of your gear. Even two pieces of nylon LBE rubbing together can be an auditory target indicator. Learn to unfasten the hook-and-loop fasteners on LBE pouches silently. (If you can't open them in a dark room without your partner hearing you, get rid of them and figure out an alternative fastening system, or keep practicing). Learn to observe and recognize the natural patterns of wildlife movement, so that you instantly notice any changes in their behavior that may indicate the presence of enemy personnel...or that may indicate your presence to the enemy. Learn to use the basic elements of stealthy “walking.” Maintain a low, centered balance, shift your weight slowly and carefully from the trailing foot to the lead foot, rather than simply taking a step and “tromping” through the brush (when you move the trailing foot to the lead position, gently nudge any intervening brush or debris out of the way before you set your foot down. Generally, toe first is the ideal, but depending on ground conditions, you may find it necessary to set it down heel first, or edges first. Practice will teach you what is necessary. When you shift your weight, again, do so slowly. This will help prevent twigs or leaves from crackling underfoot unexpectedly).
- Avoid moving through mud or muck if it can be avoided. Like deep snow, it's nearly impossible to completely mask tracks from such passage, and it tends to be extremely noisy as suction is created by pulling your feet out of the depths of the muck. Crossing sandy, or loam-type soils on the other hand, are simpler to mask and tend to be much quieter.
- When crossing obstacles, whether walls, fence lines, or anything else, the stalker must maintain as low a silhouette as possible, keeping as close to the top of the obstacle as possible, while not brushing or scraping against the obstacle, and potentially knocking debris off the top, creating even more noise. When crossing walls or other obstacles in debris and rubble-strewn environments, the stalker should take the time to prelude his movement by testing the surface with his hands and removing any debris that might break off or fall, before moving.
- Always maintain positive control of his weapon, keeping it close and tight to the body, both to prevent a recognizable profile, and to prevent it snagging on vegetation. In the event that his equipment or weapon (slings are notoriously bad for doing this) does snag on brush, the stalker should take the time to carefully untangle it or cut it loose carefully. Simply jerking or pulling it loose will result in a lot of noise being produced and risks compromising the presence of the guerrillas to the enemy.
Part of the guerrilla's required skill set will be analysis of terrain and the selection of a tactically sound route of movement to the target, using obstacles and the terrain to the best advantage. On the ground, when patrolling, the guerrilla must look for the most covered route, offering the best concealment. The use of low ground, dead space (areas unobservable from likely observation points), and shadows, and the avoidance of open, sunlit areas, easily observed by enemy positions, is the mark of the professional stalker. He should look for movement routes that will facilitate easy, but silent movement, and then selects the best movement techniques for traversing the sections of that movement route, in order to allow undetected movement over that movement route.
Selecting positions for halts and observation along the movement route is equally critical. Positions that obviously offer good cover and concealment for the guerrilla team will be equally obvious to the enemy. Selection of observation points away from prominent terrain features, but that place at least one obstacle or terrain feature between the observation point and the enemy position/target, is ideal.
Teams, regardless of the number of personnel, must master the concepts of fire-and-maneuver, even when moving silently. A two-man team will move one at a time, with the second man providing cover for the maneuver element. Larger elements may be split along buddy-team lines, still utilizing a maneuver element and a support element, alternating as needed to maintain cover fire if necessary. This supporting position is fundamentally the same as the support-by-fire element in a conventional assault, albeit without belt-fed machine guns. The support element needs to be in constant communication via visual signals, with the moving element. This allows him to signal the moving element if necessary to avoid contact with or observation by, enemy security personnel.
Maneuver elements must ensure they conduct their observation halts during movement in positions where they have the ability to provide adequate fire support to the alternate element if necessary. The support element should only fire on the enemy if it is the absolute only method available to protect the maneuver element. In the event the support element is forced to engage the enemy, the maneuver element immediately begins to either aggressively maneuver towards the enemy unit in a normal fire-and-maneuver assault, or pours fire into the enemy element in a break-contact drill.
The amount of distance each element covers during their alternate movement “bounds” will vary depending on terrain considerations and the likelihood of enemy contact. In deep, thickly vegetated areas, the distance may be as little as 10 or 20 yards, whereas in open terrain or alpine regions, the distances may be at the limits of the support elements organic small-arms ranges (yet another reason, despite the prevalent belief that firefights are all nut-to-nut affairs, for the guerrilla resistance fighter to master his weapon at intermediate-distance ranges. Just because the maneuver element is engaged in a close-quarters fight, the support element may need to lay down suppressive fire at ranges in excess of 300 yards—especially in terrain like that prevalent here in the western mountains).
The silent and stealthy movement techniques required of the guerrilla in rural environments are, at a fundamental level, the same as those required of the urban operative. When simply blending into a crowd in order to get close to a target in built-up areas is not feasible, such as at night, the urban operative will find it necessary to find “low ground” and shadows to hide and mask his movements in alleys, poorly-lit streets, and even sewer tunnels. Observation points may very well be found only in buildings (see the previous post on camouflage and concealment for concepts of concealing an individual or small-unit elements in built-up areas). Like alpine environments, only on a greater scale, urban areas are truly three-dimensional battle spaces.
Avoiding Technological Detection Devices
Somewhere in the Mountains