The Art of The Ambush

The Art of The Ambush

~ Author: Garrick

Most of the attacks against US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq contain all, or most of all the elements of an ambush. We can conclude, the ambush is not an outdated tactic. 

ambush |ˈambo͝oSH|


A surprise attack from a concealed position upon a moving or a temporarily halted target.


Fundamentals of a successful ambush

  1. Surprise
  2. Speed
  3. Violence of Action 

Predictability - If you can predict what the enemy will do, you can ambush. If the target is time and place predictable, you can ambush. Whether it's a high risk warrant or Direct Action mission, somebody was time and place predictable.

The element of surprise may be momentarily lost upon mechanical or explosive breach. However, the element of surprise may be partially regained once you are inside. The target may know you are inside, but it’s important they don’t know exactly where. This can allow you to partially regain the element of surprise, so now what you actually need is just a moment in which your action, is faster than the target's reaction. And that is the essence of the element of surprise.

Element of Surprise Reversed  - When the aggressing unit is detected and the intended target sets an ambush of their own.  The intended target(s) may quickly gain the upper hand by taking positions and setting up an ambush for the very people who were there to conduct the ambush.


What you actually need is just a moment in which your action is faster than their reaction. This concept is an important aspect to understand about the Element of Surprise. The moment may be just a fraction of a second, you round a corner, as you do so your adversary stands with a rifle raised in your direction. You begin firing first and placing rounds properly. Gun fights are often measured in milliseconds.

"A moment in which your action is faster than their reaction," is the essence of most successful missions.  This concept can be even be applied on a grand scale, such as the invasion of Normandy, (D-Day). 



Different Types of Ambushes

Dynamic Kill Zone Ambush – The kill zone is moving with the intended targets. This means as the intended targets of the ambush move and attempt to get off the X, the aggressors conducting the ambush are moving right along with the intended targets.

  This type of ambush was most likely employed during the ambush in Niger, involving the US Army Special Forces unit people were killed.  The movement of those being ambushed was anticipated. The "X", or the Kill Zone was not 50 meters by 50 meters, or any particular size. The Kill Zone would theoretically continue as long and as the aggressors could move and continue to engage the intended targets.

Static Ambush – The aggressors are not moving. The intended targets must be eliminated, killed before they get away, before the aggressors lose sight of the targets, or the targets get out of range. In a static ambush, the Kill Zone is not moving. Expect, that the persons being ambushed are moving and attempting to get off the "X."

Demolition Ambush – A small force can ambush a much larger force, or a much better equipped force by preparing explosives. Example, multiple IEDs daisy chained and placed according to anticipated movements after contact. A demolition ambush is often followed up with a small arms fire and rockets. 

Secondary Ambush – A Secondary Ambush takes place after a substantial amount of time occurs after the initial ambush. The objective is to make the enemy vulnerable within the kill zone. Disable a vehicle, shoot a tire out, place an obstacle, something to cause the intended victims to pause and become vulnerable within the kill zone.



Ambush formations:

  1. Online ambush
  2. L-Shaped Ambush
  3. Encircle

*A near Ambush – is not a type of ambush, it describes distance and is commonly thought of as being with in hand grenade throwing distance.


Actions Upon Contact – Counter ambush tactics

Understanding what type of ambush is being employed is the first step in surviving. It's often a no-brainer, but sometimes it isn't.

Detecting the ambush before it is sprung may allow you to escape. Once the ambush has been sprung, understanding the type of ambush being employed is crucial to an appropriate response.

  1. Drive through / Push through - this came about in Iraq and Afghanistan as vehicle convoys attempted to punch through the relatively small kill zone that had been set up.
  2. During World War II and Vietnam most vehicle convoys and foot patrols would stop, dismount, or begin maneuvering to address the ambush.

Personal Security Detail, military units, covert movements – most likely to be ambushed shortly after departing or upon the return to a base. The enemy knows where you are leaving from and importantly, where you’re returning to. A known location. Time and place are predictable.

Attack recognition – indications of an impending attack. Reacting before an ambush is sprung is always better than waiting, or hoping you aren't about to be ambushed.

Examples: No one on the street, normal routine is not present. Pointing, touching, flagging, somebody doing something that designates your or your vehicle as the target.