Ambushing / Counter Ambushing, Pt 1

Aug. 10, 2009
It has been only during the last ten years, and more recently, the last several shootings that have captured our attention. Ambushing is up to 23% annually and climbing since 1996.

Editor's Note: This is a two part article discussing types and proliferation of ambushing and then how to avoid them or react to them. The second part will be published on the 2nd Monday in September. Until then I highly encourage you to email Bank with any questions or discussions you might have in addition to commenting below. -Ed.

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In a discussion about ambushing, we could go back over a hundred years and more to examine the bushwhackers and ambushers that have taken the lives of many of our fellow law enforcement officers. However, it has been only during the last ten years, and more recently, the last several shootings that have captured our attention. From Birmingham, Alabama, to Oakland, California to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the RCMP in Alberta, Canada, ambushing is up to 23% annually and climbing since 1996.

In the past twenty years law enforcement has made great progress in tactics and techniques, however, the one tactic we have not developed or trained for is ambushing, or in this case, counter-ambushing. To truly understand counter-ambushing, one needs to understand ambushing.

An ambush is a surprise attack from a concealed position on a moving or temporarily halted target.

Ambushes are classified by category as either (1) hasty or (2) deliberate, (3) point or (4) area, and the more common ones (5) formation, (6) linear or (7) L shaped.

A Hasty Ambush is put in place when you make visual contact with an enemy force and have time to establish an ambush without being detected by the enemy.

A Deliberate Ambush is conducted at a predetermined location and requires detailed information such as size, weapons, and equipment available to the enemy force.

In a Point Ambush, soldiers deploy to attack an enemy in a single kill zone.

In an Area Ambush, soldiers deploy in two or more related point ambushes.

Formation Ambushes seem to be the more common in Law Enforcement.

In the L-shaped Ambush, the assaulters form the long leg parallel to the enemy's direction of movement along the kill zone. The support element forms the short leg at one end of the kill zone and at a right angle to the assault element. This provides both flanking (long leg) and enfilading fire (short leg) against the enemy. The L-shaped ambush can be used at a sharp turn in a road, trail, or stream. It should not be used where the short leg would have to cross a straight road or trail.

Another formation known as a linear formation allows the ambushers to deploy parallel to the enemy's route. This formation can be used in close terrain that restricts the target's ability to maneuver against the ambushers, or in open terrain, provides a means of keeping the target in the kill zone.

Other ambushing terminology to be concerned about are (8) far and (9) near.

In a Far Ambush the ambusher's position is greater than 50-yards from the target. So far, we haven't seen many of this type of ambush used against law enforcement, but in our world, 25-yard ambushes are not uncommon or unheard of.

In a Near Ambush the ambusher's position is within 50-yards for the military. In law enforcement, it can be as close as arm;s length or the distance from a closet to a front door (confined space). Under these conditions, accuracy is not as critical for the ambusher; volume of fire will have the desired effect.

Hopefully, by now you have a good understanding of what an ambush is. Now, let's relate this to law enforcement. I personally don't see us being caught in L-shape or linear type of ambushes as described above. I could be wrong, but I believe we can expect to be ambushed, but in a different manner.

In the past we have been ambushed while seated in the vehicle, in a restaurant while seated, walking a foot beat, or in a mall while shopping. We have had officers ambushed while walking to their house. So far the number of ambushers has been one or two people.

A new type of ambush occurred early this year in a gentlemen's club on the border with Mexico. Unknown to many in law enforcement, a number of officers were attending a bachelor's party when a live grenade was rolled into the club. Fortunately, the grenade did not detonate, or multiple casualties would have occurred. Throwing grenades into police stations and then following up with high volume automatic weapons fire to finish off the survivors is SOP for the drug cartels in Mexico.

We have not experienced what a trained squad or platoon sized unit could do against us, and I hope we do not. However, that is what it would take to conduct most of the ambushes we have described. Yes, clearly understand the different types of ambushes, but recognize what we will get caught up in will be one or two persons using some modified form of the ambushes we have been talking about.

I believe we will see our vehicles attacked at close quarters using a point attack at a time and location where we cannot drive away or escape. This would be a combination of point and near ambush. Another type of ambush might occur while the officer is walking, a near ambush with a rifle or handgun and the element of surprise on the ambusher's side for a very short time. But if executed with violence and speed of action, all the attacker(s) need is less than a second to affect a successful near ambush.

My other concern is an area ambush where we walk or run into a predetermined kill zone while responding to another situation (like an active shooter) and we are flanked by one or two people who know we are coming and the terrain we must cross.

So what is our concern? In my opinion, the ambushes we can expect to see are point, or single line coming directly at us, like being seated in a car in traffic. (Remember what happened outside the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia on January 25, 1993?) An area ambush will hit us from our flanks while responding to another situation like an active shooter. A deliberate ambush may be waiting in a closet covering an area where we will be coming through (like and apartment doorway, as in Oakland) and firing upon us as we enter the kill zone or laying in wait from a concealed position waiting for us to close and open fire.

So, as we get into vehicles, specifically our patrol vehicles, what can we expect? First, remember our patrol vehicles are not armored, if anything they are bullet magnets! Whether moving or in a static position, if your vehicle is hit with small arms fire from any direction you are already lucky that you haven't been hit. If you are moving, try to drive through or in some cases push through the kill zone. Most likely you will be caught in a position where you cannot move, like heavy traffic, parked or just getting in, or stopped at a red light. Always leave at least one vehicle's length between you and the car in front of you. It may give you enough space to drive around or push through an ambush.

Consider what is on the inside of the average patrol unit: a cage, large computer and communications console, possibly a gun rack center aisle or overhead. Also, go bags, extra lights, baton stuffed in the seat and the list goes on. Here is the question, if you are ambushed and the attack is coming from the driver's side and you cannot drive through, how are you going to react and get out of the vehicle? The answer most would agree on is to bail out the passenger side, but how can we? We must get out of our seat belt, and if we try to go out the passenger side we will get hung up on the computer and other equipment, etc. Time is not on our side and we need to get out fast, and we may have to get out in the line of fire.

Understanding vehicle dynamics and shooting from inside and around a vehicle, getting out , using the vehicle for limited cover while getting away from the vehicle sounds complicated, but it is not. Yes, I do recommend this training which is often referred to as Armed Vehicle Operations (AVOPS). I know, we are lucky if we get to shoot qualification once or twice a year, but it doesn't change the fact you need to research and understand vehicle dynamics, shooting through the windshield inside the vehicle, how to release the seat belt rapidly without getting tangled in it, bailing out rapidly and creating distance and cover, and so on.

When preparing to drive, be sure you inspect your vehicle carefully; tires to mirrors, trunk, lights, etc. Look inside for what belongs and what doesn't belong. Check the engine to be sure you are at peak operational readiness. When seated, check your mirrors and be concerned about blind spots around your vehicle. Adding convex mirrors to the regular mirrors may eliminate that blind spot.

Consider placing your seat beside the B-pillar thus giving yourself some protection from a rolling drive by attack. However, we still need to be able to control and apply the brakes and accelerator carefully, this may dictate the adjustment. Practice releasing the seat belt rapidly and opening the door from the inside and getting out. Also hunker down and see how low you can get just in case you are shot at and trying to drive out of the ambush and still be able to control the vehicle from that position. Incoming rounds have a way of making your body conform to available cover, but it is always better to have a plan and practice before the rounds come through your windshield!

When stopped in traffic be alert, start checking the rear view, sides and front and try to give yourself a good interval from the car in front of you.

International Training, Inc. shoots up a lot of vehicles in our Executive Protection courses, Military courses, and Law Enforcement tactical courses, and especially our Counter Ambushing course. I can tell you without a doubt that if your car is not armored that the standard 9mm, 40 S&W, 45 ACP, 357 (Both Magnum and SIG),.223, .308, rifled slug can penetrate windows, trunks, roofs, and doors of a standard police vehicle and kill you. Yes, they can be deflected, but don't count on it.

What you should put more faith and effort into is your own tactics for avoiding and/or reacting to ambushes. In the second part of this article, that will be the focus of the discussion. Until then, stay safe!

About the Author

Bank Miller

Bank Miller is the Director of Law Enforcement and Civilian Training at International Training, Inc. located in Dilley, Texas. Mr. Miller was the Chief Firearms Instructor for all DEA Firearms and Tactical Training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia before he became the Director of Training at the SIG Arms Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. Recently, Mr. Miller was the Director of the Action Target Academy prior to taking active role in advancing the law enforcement programs at ITI, Inc. Mr. Miller brings over 28 years of Federal, local, and military law enforcement experience including weapons and tactical training to his instruction. He can be reached at [email protected].

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