(U//FOUO) U.S. Army Small-Unit Operations in Afghanistan Handbook


  • 132 pages
  • For Official Use Only
  • June 2009


The purpose of this handbook is to assist small-unit leaders and Soldiers as they prepare to deploy to and conduct actual operations in Afghanistan. These operations are different from operations in Iraq in several ways. Soldiers and small-unit leaders will face unique difficulties and challenges when operating in the very distinct and disparate provinces of Afghanistan. The average enemy fighter in Afghanistan has been fighting continuously for the last 30 years. As a nation, the people of Afghanistan have been fighting for thousands of years. It should come as no surprise that the enemy has developed very effective tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to combat a technologically superior enemy that relies on armored vehicles and helicopters for transport and logistical support. The situation is further exacerbated by separate and distinct ethnic groups, high rates of illiteracy, micro-societies with unique languages and cultures, and tribal/warlord allegiances that have no direct links to national policies or international agreements. Each small unit and its leaders must be prepared to conduct operations unique to its assigned mission and area of operations (AO).

An analysis of comments and insights from small-unit leaders who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom consistently highlights several areas of emphasis and two central and recurring themes. The areas of emphasis include command and control (C2), Soldier physical fitness, marksmanship, front-line medical procedures, integration and employment of fires and joint fires, mounted and dismounted battle drills, protection, and engagement. The central and recurring themes in small-unit operations in Afghanistan are simple. Units and leaders must get back to the basics; basic doctrinal fundamentals must be applied to all operations, and standards must be rigidly enforced.

Soldiers and small-unit leaders must be prepared to provide effective C2. At the small-unit level, leaders must thoroughly, deliberately, and precisely plan and rehearse C2 procedures and systems they will employ. Due to great distances, rugged and variable terrain, and extreme altitudes and weather, C2 must be proactive, reliable, and redundant. Small-unit leaders must establish, conduct, and enforce detailed troop-leading procedures and precombat checks and inspections of personnel and equipment prior to every mission.

Every Soldier and leader must be physically fit and mentally tough. The extremes of operating in Afghanistan (the climate, terrain, combat tasks, and stress) demand even greater emphasis on being in the best physical shape possible. Soldiers in good shape are better able to handle the fatigue and stress brought on by the rigors of daily tasks. Fatigue is also a major reason Soldiers become complacent in a combat zone; complacency significantly increases a Soldier’s risk of becoming a casualty. Leaders cannot function effectively if they are not physically ready to “keep up” with their Soldiers.

Small units operating in the Afghan theater continue to stress the importance of individual marksmanship skills. Every Soldier, regardless of rank or duty position, must be able to place well-aimed, sustained, effective, and lethal fires using his individual weapon or any individual or crew-served weapon assigned to the unit. Many small units are identifying and training Soldiers as long-range or squad-designated marksmen. Finally, because of the possibility of engaging the enemy in villages or other developed areas, units must be prepared to conduct close-quarters marksmanship and reflexive fire.

Small-unit leaders in Afghanistan will be required to employ several medical treatment assets and options. Leaders must know what assets are available, what training and equipment is required, and how to plan for and integrate these assets into all missions and operations. As many Soldiers as possible must be qualified as combat lifesavers or, if possible, emergency medical technicians. Immediate medical attention saves lives and preserves combat power. The terrain and distances involved in small-unit operations in Afghanistan can complicate and protract
medical evacuation (MEDEVAC). Small units must be skilled in casualty care to compensate for the possible longer time periods between the request for and the arrival of MEDEVAC assets. Additionally, all Soldiers must understand and be prepared to conduct both casualty evacuations and MEDEVACs to include calling for aircraft.

Small units conducting combat operations in Afghanistan face unique challenges in the area of fires. The varied and rugged geography combined with the very limited and circuitous ground transportation network and extremely experienced and adaptive enemy necessitate the dispersion of small units over large areas. The same conditions that necessitate this dispersion make protection of the dispersed units difficult. Weather and terrain can negatively influence quick reaction forces fires, aerial fires, and air resupply. The decentralized and dispersed nature of ongoing
operations makes the employment of fires a critical component that small units must carefully plan, integrate, rehearse, and execute in all operations.

In Afghanistan, small units are subject to almost constant contact and engagement with hostile forces. Whether conducting operations from a forward operations base, a combat outpost, a joint security station, a village or urban area, or while moving, the small unit must be prepared and ready to encounter, engage, defeat, or destroy hostile forces. Therefore, small units must develop standing operating procedures or battle drills for both mounted and dismounted engagements with the enemy. Units must be able to react to hostile fire, ambushes, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from both mounted and dismounted formations. Additionally, due to possible engagements in villages and developed areas, small units must be able to conduct close-quarters combat and room-clearing drills as necessary. Enhanced tactical protection is an absolute necessity to conserve and protect Soldiers, operations bases, and equipment. The enormous strain that emerging security requirements are placing on available forces makes it imperative that small-unit leaders understand protection as it applies at the tactical level and leverage available technologies to enhance protection. Leaders must understand and incorporate the fundamentals of protection into all static and moving operations. All units must be proficient in the fundamentals of patrolling. A terrain and historical analysis of each AO will increase protection, as the enemy often uses the same locations and tactics for repetitive ambush and IED attacks.

Small-unit leaders must weigh and understand key principles in planning and conducting engagements. Key concepts include understanding the relationship between the patrol and the commander’s priority intelligence requirements, talking points, interpreter use, and staying in the unit’s and leader’s lane. Small-unit commanders and leaders in an engagement are often the ones most in need of interpreters, but they often do not know how to use them effectively.

The central, recurring themes of getting back to basics and enforcing standards are critical to small-unit mission successes in Afghanistan. This handbook is interspersed with current TTP as well as observations, insights, and lessons from theater. However, its base content is drawn largely from existing, time-proven, and doctrinal concepts which transcend theaters and conflicts. While not new, these principles have been arranged in a single, pocket-sized document tailored for use by small-unit leaders and Soldiers in the Afghanistan theater of operations.

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