Satellite Patrols

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 11 months ago

The tactical brother of the highly strategic Field Manual FM 3-24 has been released, entitled Tactics in Counterinsurgency, FM 3-24.2.  There are certain Milblogs that are known as the beer drinkers in the outer room, raucous and loud.  You know who they are.  Then there are the more sophisticated guys smoking cigars and drinking Bourbon in a more secluded room.  The Captain’s Journal likes to think of itself in the later category.  From time to time the loud boys break into the back room and want to throw down, and we can do that too.  But soon enough we go back to our high brow thoughts and pedantic ways while we draw on a Macanudo.

But our grunt ties come through all of the time, truth be told.  We just can’t hide it.  That’s why we are more of a logistics, weapons and tactics blog rather than a strategy blog, and we secretly break into the outer room to throw down with the boys from time to time.  And so FM 3-24.2 interests us much more than its predecessor, all things being equal.

There will be many opportunities to mine the depths of this magnificent document, and so don’t hold it against us that we start with a seeming random bit of detail.  Satellite patrols.

The field manual says (page 166, Section 5-216):

All units must know the overall route and if possible, left and right boundaries. Both the base unit and the satellite units move in ways to confuse the enemy as to the patrol’s actual axis of advance.  Standard movement techniques are still used. Satellites move away from the base unit for limited periods  of time to inspect potential ambush sites, dead spaces, parallel roads, or other assigned missions. The time  that the satellite is separated from the base unit should be prescribed by the patrol leader prior to departure.

It’s a wonderful and effective tactic, the notion of smaller units connected to the larger unit patrolling in diagonal, circular and perpendicular patterns to the main unit, all with the intention of providing force protection for not only the larger unit but itself and the other smaller units as well by confusing the enemy as to the axis of advance.

I have long known about this tactic, as well as some of the finer details not shown or discussed here, but been reluctant to discuss it over the blog since it was unknown whether this should be considered FOUO, OPSEC or something that otherwise shouldn’t be divulged to the enemy.

Think I’m paranoid?  In Marines, Taliban, Tactics Techniques and Procedures, using a Powerpoint presentation I obtained from Michael Yon, I outlined a number of lessons learned from Marine Recon battling the Taliban in highly conventional fights recently in Afghanistan with close to Battalion-sized units of enemy, from their understanding of the use of combined arms, to interlocking fields of fire, to fire discipline, massing forces and other problematic issues stemming from the fact that the Taliban are more skilled than the insurgents in Iraq.  The presentation also had a discussion of Marine tactics to counter the Taliban, some of which had been highly successful.

No sooner did this post go up than I received a note from the Marine officer in Afghanistan (a Small Wars Council member as am I) who authored the presentation.  This officer complained about the release of the document and its presence on this web site, saying that not all Taliban are as skilled as these were and the presence of the presentation on this web site could lead to the education of other Taliban.

Sure, if they had access to electricity, a laptop, Powerpoint and the time to read it, along with a total absence of communication with their colleagues to teach them about these tactics.  Not likely.  But the officer hung his hat on the fact that the document was FOUO, which in reality means that whomever released it in Afghanistan should have been the target of this officer’s complaint, not me.  The term FOUO means nothing to me, since I am the official owner and founder of this web site.

So what do the readers think?  What about revealing the tactics of the Taliban and our counter-tactics, and satellite patrols as applied in urban areas?  Problematic, or not?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On March 21, 2009 at 10:18 am, WOTN said:


    Yes, the person who released the information should be checked, but when a well-meaning website learns that they have inadvertantly posted information that could be detrimental to our troops, they should check themselves.

    The enemy does have power, computers, and internet. They are not technological idiots. If you don’t believe this, watch the video they posted of the Operation Red Wing mission. A video posted on the internet (i.e. they have access to not only video cameras, but computers, and the internet) in which they remove the harddrive of a SeAL computer that was destroyed and have it working on another computer in minutes.

    Underestimating the enemy will get good guys killed.

    FOUO means For OFFICIAL Use Only, not for owner use.

    One must consider the potential results of their words. Sure, one can *prove* how smart they are, how great a researcher they are, but is it more important to prove one’s intelligence, or more important that the good guys win? If one puts Our Troops in danger, have they improved security or decreased it?

  2. On March 21, 2009 at 12:57 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Interesting comment. Actually, I believe that Michael Yon, whose site would have gotten thousands more hits than mine did and who released this first, got this through official channels and the doc happened NOT to be changed to reflect the fact that it was deemed able to be released.

    Nonetheless, which is it that you consider to be problematic? Me linking a document that had already been released and seen thousands of times before I got to it, or an official field manual telling the enemy how we do satellite patrols?

  3. On March 24, 2009 at 4:22 pm, WOTN said:

    It is problematic when journalists or bloggers feel entitled to publish strategies, tactics, or security shortfalls, the publication of which can cost American lives.

    It is problematic that they may then justify it by saying “somebody gave it to me.”

    It is problematic when they may then justify it by saying “somebody else is doing the same thing.”

    It is problematic that when the author of the work states his objection to the publication of the work for sake of the lives of Our young Marines, that his objection is dismissed and published.

    One must consider what is most important to them, proving their abilities and intelligence to find information, or keeping Our Troops safe?

    Or one can attempt to deny any responsibility because it is unlikely there will ever be demonstrated a direct link between the information provided and the resulting deaths.

    But there are cause and effect relationships. It took little time for a false report fed to Time Magazine by AQ to result in the deaths of Muslims around the world and court martials of Marines operating in Haditha. AQ uses the internet prolifically for intelligence gathering as well as other purposes. The cause and effect are more readily identifiable in the Haditha case, even if the Magazine and its “journalists” are not being held accountable for the deaths caused by their words.

  4. On March 24, 2009 at 4:25 pm, WOTN said:

    And while we can get a rough idea of how many Muslims were killed in the protests, we can never know how many other Iraqi civilians and American Troops were killed by the fueling of flames of hatred, motivated directly out of the false report of Time Magazine.

  5. On March 24, 2009 at 4:35 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Well, your perspective is still interesting, but we need to pull this thread some more.

    The only thing you really know about my motivation for discussing Taliban tactics is what I said about them. I stated that both Michael Yon and I believed that this report deserved as wide a distribution as possible. I still believe that, and the purpose was to communicate things that oftentimes either the Army or Marines don’t, even with an AKO account.

    I have in fact had discussions with others in the military who have told me they had not seen this elsewhere and would not have if it had not been for this site. Mission accomplished.

    As for the enemy and their mining web sites like this one for information, that dog won’t hunt. Squad rushes have been around as long as the infantry billet. Combined arms, interlocking fields of fire, and so on, are all well worn and well established tactics that the Taliban have proven they know all about. They have both seen them first hand and done them as well. Reminding our boys that they need to recall and rehearse their SOI and MCT is important, not undermining the mission or endangering the troops.

    On the other hand, there is a relatively new tactic developed for urban warfare, that of the satellite patrol. I stated that I had been reluctant to discuss it because of the sensitive nature of my knowledge of it. That was, until it came out in an official field manual by the Army/Marines.

    So which is truly divulging sensitive information? Discussing squad rushes and combined arms with Marines, or telling the enemy how we conduct our satellite patrols? That question is still unanswered.

    Finally, in order to perform analysis and advocacy, weaknesses in strategy and tactics MUST be discussed. That’s the mission of, for example, the Small Wars Journal and other such sites, and I see no reason why this site can’t do similar things, albeit on a smaller scale.

  6. On March 25, 2009 at 1:48 am, WOTN said:

    If you cannot understand the danger to our Troops that posting sensitive information causes, there is no need to continue the conversation. Frankly, your motivation could be as pure as the driven snow, but if its information that should not be published, it doesn’t matter your motivation, nor your justification.

    Remember Haditha. And for your next research project, Google “OPSEC.”

    Perhaps, when you complete your research of that, you’ll find a desire to post it to Yon, SWC and others that have become your justification for the things you post.

    I am in the fortunate position of not being able to confirm nor deny the correctness of your information, but I’m glad to know that Bagram can now access your site (as of March 10th). It’s good for them to know what the enemy may be accessing.

    This conversation is over.

  7. On March 25, 2009 at 9:55 am, Herschel Smith said:

    I only addressed the issue of motivation because you brought it up. You changed the subject and now say that it is irrelevant. If so, why did you bring it up in the first place?

    I think you have a double standard. I have drawn your criticism for discussing squad rushes. I think your real criticism needs to be directed towards the one place you didn’t send it: Leavenworth.

    So why did they discuss satellite patrols in a field manual, and why, after bringing it up in the post and every comment on this thread, have you studiously avoided addressing this issue? I want you to turn your criticism towards them, and only after you have fully addressed it with their chain of command will I continue to discuss the post Yon and I made.

    In fact, I don’t think either Leavenworth of I are guilty of the things you are charging, but I insist you go through the Army chain of command to bring down the Field Manual first, and then we can go to work again on your issues with me.

  8. On March 28, 2009 at 1:03 am, Eric said:

    Well gee whiz, you mean the enemy might know some OPSEC things that only keeps the public in the dark? In battle, each side sees what the other is doing or figures it out afterward. Its always the ability to implement your strategy with the better soldiers against the side that can’t.

    We discuss how AQI is bringing its lessons learned to the Afghan/Pak theater, so what might they talk about besides IEDS?

    Well, how about the way the Merkins secured Baghdad. Need to stop the swarm of sectarian bombings, put up the jersey barriers and severely restrict unmonitored movement. Worked, didn’t it? Now if only the bad guys adapt to it and can do it here on a small scale and fast enoguh will there be a problem that will require another adjustment in tactics.

    So what is the converse of that in attack mode? Freedom of movement is essential to tactical success and you don’t even have to be a warrior to understand the concept. You think a VHS of say a “Bridge Too Far” or “Operation Market Garden” would’ve been a nice lesson for the mujs taking on Soviet armored columns? Or how a little light reading of the Battle of Bastogne? In those cases, panzergrenadiers and bazooka teams keep hitting the lead tanks of XXX Corps and XLVII Panzer Corps on restricted roads, stopping them cold for unbearable delays and turkey shoots. Forty years later and RPGs, bingo!

    Who could sit through one viewing of “The Last of the Mohicans” where the Brits march out of Fort William-Henry without screaming “flankers you fools, flankers!” But any infantryman today watching that movie didn’t forget that lesson which was learned over 250 years ago.

    When our enemies can pull off the triple envelopment, which we had down pat 60 years ago, then I’ll worry.

  9. On December 30, 2010 at 2:12 am, DC said:

    I love FOUO. Look it up. FOUO relates to 9 specific categories of information that cannot be released under FOIA. Did you know that the location of wells cannot be released to the public due to FOUO?

    If the info is classified then it is CLASSIFIED. FOUO has been used as “near-classified” and that label does not exist. The DoD has regs about FOUO and different commands have policy regarding FOUO.

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You are currently reading "Satellite Patrols", entry #2512 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Satellite Patrols,Weapons and Tactics and was published March 19th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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