Use a Plan and ACE it - how to evolve situational awareness

This story was submitted by a german Air Force officer with a large scale of Force Protection experience resulting from the German engagements in Asian and African missions and multinational (NATO) deployments in Afghanistan and the Balkan’s.

When I was deployed the last time to AFG (ISAF) as the Force Protection Commander of Mazar-e Sharif airfield I deployed with the question: “what will be the improvement in the villages around the airfield in the last two years, as I left MeS airfield?”. The two JOC battle captains tried hard to explain me the so-called progress, but I can´t notice a big step. What I really missed in this moment was a clear statement of the overall situation of the afghan villagers (in the sense of: religion, schools, who is the major, who is the political leader, where do they live from, what kind of military and police units are responsible …) and their main problems. Additionally I asked the question, why in some parts of our AOR (20 clicks x 25 clicks) the threat level is so enormously high with IED attacks and in other parts not mentionable and where we are invited to marriages.

So I established a responsibility for each of my patrol leaders to take care (in every means) of one AFG village. Usually they are NCO´s and they stay for four until six months in AFG and spent their time with patrolling the fields for 80 % of their deployment time - heading back after one year. We created a village folder and used different layers on a map for the different aspects.

What I tried to do is, establish a pattern baseline around the base, with clear responsibilities, a information line structure, a patrol report memory and a map of non- and governmental, religious and military authorities etc. in our area of interest.

On the other hand, me and a small team of experts taught them, how to read or detect minor changes in the environment to prevent attacks when engaging the danger zone and I ordered the battle captains to make use of a Red Team for the patrol and sweep plans. This Red Team consists of Norwegians, Swedish, German SOF and intel soldiers and an afghan born but german airforce infantry man. The first patrol and sweep plans were changed in average three times until we could say: its sounds like a plan. What I learned quickly, was, that this plan has to have an Alternate plan, a Contingency plan and an Evacuating plan. The assessment of the Red Team and the learning process was outstanding. As time goes by, we were able to establish a baseline security “feeling” and measure it by using a five scale area accessibility (situation controllable/yet/ prevalent/ not prevalent/ not controllable).

Some months later two of my platoons were attacked 10 clicks far of our base in the danger zone by a small Taliban commando about 330 yards in front of a village. After responding fire the patrol leader decided to follow them and catch them quickly by sweeping the village. He wanted to surround the village as soon as possible with a diminished platoon and send the other one -supported by cover fire and sharpshooters- for the sweep (one of the main tasks for experienced infantry). The patrol leader has got his ok from me and they started with a quick survey of the baseline.

What they found out, was that the all-the-time-present shepherd’s and the birds weren’t there, they heard some barking dogs in the surrounding area and some of the villagers flee south. So the patrol leader decided to use a handheld UAV to have a look into the village (and the cover fire positions on higher hill tops). To cut a long story short: the cover fire positions were manned by enemy forces, the village was prepared for a deadly U form ambush by roundabout 35 bad guys with RPG´s and some of them were waiting as a reserve some 100 yards east with the typical with-yellow Toyota Jeeps or cabs. As I was sitting in my TOC and looking surprised at the transmission of this live stream, I realized that they have learned our tactics very well. The patrol leader decided to ask for urgent CAS on the positions of the hills and their reserve force. Finally he marks his position with green fog and changed his plan to the Evacuating plan. He used the time frame of the CAS attack to regroup, to cordon the area and to reinforce with the reserve infantry unit using his Contingency plan. They caught 7 wounded and 15 suspects which was a great day for the boys.

  • Use a plan and ACE it
  • Focus on your aim, but don´t let yourself be attracted by quick wins or red herrings
  • Use your ACE to win the game
  • Reflect the after action with the (team) leaders
  • Change your habits (tactics)
  • Look at the baseline and evolve your situational awareness