How do troops react to an ambush when they can't see the enemy?

What is the most effective way to respond when the enemy has spotted you, but you can't find them?

How do troops react to an ambush when they can't see the enemy?

Spc. John Cruz with the 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, guards the perimeter of his unit's are of operations at the Hohenfels Training Area, Germany, for Combined Resolve VII on Sep. 3, 2016. Combined Resolve VII is a 7th Army Training Command, U.S. Army Europe-directed exercise taking place at the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels Training Areas, Aug. 8 to Sept. 15, 2016. The exercise is designed to train the Army's regionally allocated forces to the U.S. European Command. Combined Resolve VII includes more than 3,500 participants from 16 NATO and European partner nations. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. David J. Overson, 301st Public Affairs Detachment)

By Military1 Staff

A question posted recently on Quora asked, "How do US troops react to an ambush when they can't spot the enemy?" Check out these answers and keep the discussion going. Add your own thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Randy Rogers, retired veteran

There are two types of ambushes (generically speaking) that soldiers train to react against - the near ambush and the far ambush. The key in each case is to MOVE MOVE MOVE!

In a near ambush, you are likely to either see your enemy or at least recognize where the fire is coming from and that it is close to you - in this case you train to charge into the ambush, getting out of the kill zone, disrupting the ambush, and fighting your way to either destroying the enemy or getting to safety (at which time you move to a pre-established rally point to regroup and continue your mission).

What you describe is more than likely a far ambush. In this case you react by simply moving out of the kill zone as fast as possible to a rally point (at least one terrain feature away) and regroup.

If you are outside the kill zone, in either case, you establish security and engage/maneuver on the enemy to assist those in the kill zone. You see a lot of this with remote or trigger detonated IED ambushes on vehicle convoys, as often there are only 1-2 vehicles hit and no direct fire afterwards, but this is dangerous because it only takes 1 sniper covering an IED ambush to make a bad situation tragic.


Damien Leimback, USAF/Army veteran

There are two types of ambush: Near side and far side.

A near side ambush is one that is within hand grenade range. There is only one response to a near side ambush, assault through. This means you charge the enemy. Why not? They are so close, if you try to run you will be easily shot. If you sit still or duck behind cover, you will either be killed by grenades, or pinned by fire and killed when they flank you. This will take about 30 seconds. You do not have time to call for help. So the only option is to rush the attackers and hope some of you make it to their line. When your only option is certain death huddled in a corner, or risk death by attacking, the answer is clear.

A far side ambush is a little trickier. First you get cover, because you are beyond hand grenade range. Then, your squad leaders, assuming they are competent, will direct the heavy weapons (if they aren't already) to provide suppressive fire and disrupt the ambush. If the enemy is not interested in a brawl and only likes hit and runs, they will probably break contact fairly quickly. You can choose to pursue or not, realizing that they may be trying to get you to pursue to draw you into a bigger ambush, or a minefield, or whatever.

If the enemy is interested in a fight, you can get the HW teams going, get the DM to trade shots with them to keep their attention as you try to call in CAS or artillery. If that's not possible, you start to maneuver your teams to flank them and destroy them.


Bob Mayer, veteran

In Ranger school, the proper response to an ambush is drilled into students’ heads day after day, because it goes against your instinct to charge into an ambush. Repetition is the key to this. Do it right every day and sooner or later it will become the right habit, usually replacing a bad one.

Your patrol is walking along a trail and suddenly you are fired upon from the right. Your fear wants you to jump in the convenient ditch to the left—to avoid the ambush.

However, if the ambush is set up correctly—that ditch is mined and YOU’LL DIE if you do that.

In life, avoiding problems by running from them doesn’t solve the problem.

Your next fear-driven instinct is to just hit the ground. Stay where you’re at and do nothing. Except you’re in the kill zone and if you stay there, well, YOU’LL GET KILLED.

We all want to ignore problems. Because that’s the inherent nature of a problem. But ignoring your greatest problem will keep you in the kill zone and the result is inevitable.

The third thing you want to do is run forward or back on the trail to get out of the kill zone-- escape.

Except, if the ambush is done right, the heaviest weapons are firing on either end of the kill zone. And YOU’LL DIE.

We want to avoid problems by going back to the past or imaging it will get better in the future even if we don’t change anything.

The correct solution is the hardest choice because it requires courage: you must conquer your fear, turn right and assault into the ambushing force. It is the best way to not only survive, but WIN. To tackle problems, you must face them.