Operational Studies is unique in that it is an academic research and assessment team with real-world operational and training capabilities. OS military studies are focused on conflict and post-conflict military and security operations, stabilization, counter insurgency, counterintelligence, force protection, security sector reform, contractor inter-operability in the battle space, and most aspects of special operations training. OS law enforcement studies are focused on homeland and maritime security, counter terrorism, hostage rescue, tactical operations, and modern LE teaching and training methodology. OS TextBW

Operational Studies is involved in a number of studies related to on-going operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and has supported STTU with lecture materials delivered to various audiences at the US Department of Defense, USMC, coalition military commands, and defense/aid contractor symposiums in Washington, DC.

Mark Lonsdale NoorMohammad Shilman 2008

Mark Lonsdale in Northeastern Afghanistan and border with Pakistan in 2008

Operational Studies Director, Mark Lonsdale, was cleared by CENTCOM and CJTF82 to conduct research in Afghanistan on COIN issues related to how insurgents and terrorists supported their operations through criminal activity. This research was also supported by the US Army War College, PKSOI, and formed the basis for a Masters thesis at the Department of Criminal Research.

Following on from this and several other trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, Mark was invited to present his findings to various military commands, intelligence personnel, and units spinning up for deployment.


The Specialized Tactical Training Unit is the training branch of Operational Studies. Founded in 1981, STTU has earned a reputation for progressive, effective, reality-based training. However, what separates STTU from the other training groups is an uncompromising drive to keep the in-house training materials current and on the cutting edge.


Mark Lonsdale doing counter insurgency (COIN) research with Afghan Border Police in 2008 


  • STABILITY & SECURITY / SASO – Security & Stabilization Operations
  • SECURITY SECTOR REFORM / SSR – Training of regional police, military, and border security forces
  • COUNTER INSURGENCY / COIN and the criminal components of insurgency
  • PSC / PSD OPERATIONS – Inter-operability of PMCs in the battle space and high risk environment security
  • IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN – Cultural engagement teams (CET); human terrain teams (HTT); female engagement teams (FET)
  • TRAINING DEVELOPMENT – Regional and mission specific training

2003 Mark-Lonsdale Afghanistan

Operational Studies and STTU Director, Mark Lonsdale, in Northern Afghanistan, 2003  

Operational Studies can be contracted to perform studies and assessments in conflict and post-conflict war zones, and to conduct security assessments for governmental and non-governmental organizations. Work hand in glove with Operational Studies, STTU can take OS findings and integrate them into real-world training programs for military, police and contractors. STTU also provides High Risk Environment Security Training (HEST) for personnel required to work in problematic areas of the globe.

For additional information, contact the STTU/OS director at STTUOperations@gmail.com

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OPERATIONAL READINESS – Will you be ready on Game Day?

By Mark V. Lonsdale

      Over the years I have worked and trained with numerous teams tasked with a variety of public safety needs ranging from SWAT and high risk warrants to search & rescue and underwater recovery. Many of these teams had specialized equipment, impressive vehicles, and numerous team members, all claiming to be “ready to respond” to the community’s needs. Unfortunately, on all too many occasions, when we ran actual or simulated call-outs, I witnessed disappointing results with both teams and individuals whose readiness was less than acceptable or professional.


Some of the problems that contributed to this lack of readiness have included:

  • An inability to contact team members in an expedient manner
  • Individuals not carrying or checking their pagers or cell phones (back when we all carried pagers)
  • Equipment that was not pre-packaged for rapid deployment
  • Vehicles that would not start, flat batteries, or they could not find the keys
  • Critical pieces of equipment that were down for maintenance with no redundancy (extras)
  • Equipment that was rusted and corroded because of no structured preventive maintenance program (PMP)
  • Radios and lights with dead batteries
  • Night Vision Equipment that was inoperable
  • Gas masks with no replacement filters
  • Weapons that were not zeroed
  • Team members not thoroughly trained for the type of mission
  • Individuals with substandard clothing for the weather conditions
  • Individuals who had forgotten critical pieces of personal kit
  • Individuals in a poor state of personal fitness
  • Drivers getting lost en route to an incident or target location
  • Helicopter pilots inserting teams into the wrong grid reference
  • Commanders lacking tactical training and the qualifications to run an incident command center (ICS)
  • A general inability to make an effective response plan
  • Teams and CP on different frequencies
  • Snipers completely missing the target because of poor ability, incorrect scope settings, or changes in ammunition without re-zeroing
  • A need to depend on personal cellular phones because agency radios did not work or batteries were flat

So what does it mean to be operationally ready?

When an individual becomes involved in public safety, whether it is fire, rescue, or tactical response, he or she is assuming a significant responsibility to the response team, the agency, and to the general public. The individual must be ready to respond in a professional and efficient manner which entails more than just a cool uniform and a bag of new equipment. Operational readiness requires a commitment to personal fitness, regular training, minimum skills standards, equipment maintenance, and a positive attitude towards being accessible and available for a call-out.

Similarly, a tactical team bears a significant responsibility to respond quickly and effectively to protect life. Team readiness encompasses several key areas beginning with the readiness of every individual on the team, then flowing down through administration, transportation, maintenance, operational procedures, communications, logistics, leadership, and command & control. To cover all these in detail would fill an entire book, but some of the more common problems that hinder a team’s ability to respond in a professional manner should be mentioned.


US SAR team on a mission in Taiwan searching for a missing American student

Individual Responsibilities

Even though the LE agency bears the responsibility to select only qualified members for the team, the individual member must also shoulder the responsibility of being an asset and not a liability on operations. This begins with maintaining a high level of personal health and fitness – including eating healthy, exercising regularly, getting adequate rest, and avoiding cigarettes and excessive alcohol. A team member who is in poor physical condition and/or a regular drinker cannot be depended upon to respond quickly, physically or mentally prepared to save lives.

Whether using pagers or cell phones the individual must make himself available and accessible, plus have a mechanism to be removed from the call-out roster when no available.

Upon joining a tactical team, each member is issued many thousands of dollars worth of mission-essential clothing and equipment that must be maintained. The clothing and equipment becomes the responsibility of the user but it does not end there. The individual must gain proficiency with every piece of equipment and then maintain it in a high state of readiness. On several occasions I have witnessed team members rooting around in their bags, packs, and cars looking for a piece of critical equipment that they had forgotten or misplaced. This can be avoided only through the use of mission-essential checklists and go-bags that are inventoried, packed, and ready to deploy. After each training session or operational deployment, all equipment must be cleaned, dried, checked for function and packed ready for the next call-out. Damaged equipment must be repaired and missing or broken items must be immediately replaced.

Personal readiness and equipment readiness is both a state-of-mind and a state-of-being. Every piece of equipment should be considered “life support” and be treated accordingly. Taking pride in one’s fitness, training, equipment and its readiness is the mark of a true professional.

Team Responsibilities

When an agency or group identifies the need for a special response team they must first ensure that they have the budget and personnel to support such a capability. For an agency to form a SWAT team when they do not have a pool of fit and motivated officers or the budget to equip them would be foolish. To attempt to maintain this team without adequate training would be frustrating; and to launch this team lacking the necessary safety equipment and training would be negligent.

The agency has the responsibility to provide teams with the best personal safety equipment and mission-essential tools and weapons to do their job in a safe and professional manner. However, equipment is of little use without professional training to a nationally recognized standard.

MP5 Training

The two individuals who bear the greatest practical responsibility on a team are the Team Leader and the Training Officer, since it is their job to ensure all members are proficient in every aspect of the team’s tasking. Unlike good equipment, which is a non-recurring cost, good training is the single biggest recurring cost for rescue and tactical teams. This cost may be compounded by the fact that many teams, such as New York’s ESU, are multi-mission tasked requiring additional training in everything from tactical operations to diving to high angle rescue.

Multi-mission teams incur a significant expense and commitment to both training and equipment. Every officer or deputy may be a SWAT trained officer cross-trained in Tac-Med, mountain rescue, helicopter rescue, and diving recovery operations. Similarly, even a basic mountain rescue team must be trained and equipped for emergency medicine, technical rope rescue, wilderness search, swift water rescue, snow and ice techniques, avalanche rescue, glacier travel, and crevasse rescue.

Even with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding, tactical teams frequently find themselves strapped for time and funds for professional training, often taking two years just to cycle through all the necessary training modules. Each operator must be trained in handgun, shotgun, submachine gun, patrol rifle, close quarter shooting, breaching, entry tactics, room clearing, distraction/stun munitions, gas deployment, baton and defensive tactics, operational scouting and planning, sniper and counter sniper, tactical communications, emergency medicine, rappelling, helicopter deployment, Immediate Action drills, officer down rescue drills, hostage rescue, IED/booby-trap identification, camouflage and concealment, vehicle ambush, bus and train assault, aircraft take-down, rural operations, maritime operations, witness and dignitary protection, and the list goes on.

Shield tactics 2

Active shooter response has added an additional element of speed and response time, requiring a high level of individual and team readiness

    Another area that is all too often neglected in both rescue and tactical response is vehicle maintenance. This begins with personally owned vehicles (POV) that cannot be relied upon to make it to the headquarters when called upon. Personal transportation should be late model vehicles that are reliable, well maintained, and kept gassed above half a tank. Tires should also be in good shape, correctly inflated and all fluid levels routinely checked and maintained. If local conditions include dirt roads or snow in winter then team members should seriously consider opting for personal four-wheel drive vehicles.

Team trucks and vehicles are even more of a problem since they are often not driven on a regular basis. When needed, batteries are found to be dead, tire pressures are low, trailer hitches are rusted and seized, spare tires are missing, and there is a general deterioration of condition. In reality, a vehicle that is driven regularly and maintained is often in better shape mechanically than the response vehicle that is used infrequently.

To get passed this problem, team members must be assigned to maintain the vehicles, start and drive them on a regular basis to keep the fluids circulating, and to keep the vehicles gassed and serviced. The same is true for all other equipment such as compressors, generators, lighting systems, navigational equipment, radios, special weapons, diving equipment, boats and any equipment that comes in contacts with salt water in particular.

To wrap this up, no one wants to be the chump who is a liability to the team, and nobody wants to be on a team that comes off looking unprofessional when the call comes down. Special response teams are often the elite of an agency eating up a significant portion of the agency’s training and equipment budget. To earn that status and budget, the team only has to do one thing – to come through as the professionals they are expected to be.

We all live for that call, and we all want to be there on game-day, so it is important to ensure that you are the professional that you aspire to be. The best way to do that is to maintain a professional level of readiness, including a high degree of personal fitness; quality, well-maintained weapons and equipment; above average skills through frequent and realistic training; and being available and accessible on short notice. Now go check your gear, pack your go-bags, carry your cell phone, hit the gym, and wait for the call.


STTU Books4

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Concealed Carry Training

By Mark V. Lonsdale, Director, STTU

With all these psycho mass shooters and active shooting events in public places, more and more people are opting to carry concealed, or are looking into the process. This paper will look at the responsibilities that come with carrying a concealed weapon (CCW).

First, learn the local laws and the laws of any states you plan on visiting. Some states have reciprocity and some do not. Some states allow open carry or concealed carry, but only for residents. Others allow open carry but only for individuals holding a concealed weapons permit. Some require that you tell a law enforcement officer immediately if pulled over for a traffic violation. Then, states like CA do not allow open carry, even if you have a state CCW. Conclusion – do your homework.

These would be considered concealed carry fails. 

Next, get training, and more than just the 8 to 16 hours required by the state. Get basic, intermediate, and advanced reality-based handgun training from a professional. Not from some retail assistant who has never trained professionally; and even prior military does not make someone a competent weapons instructor (he may have been an admin type who shot once every few years, and only when he had to). I have worked with Army officers who had not shot their M9 Berettas in 4 years. Even an NRA instructor certificate means the individual has had only 5 days training but probably no real world skills or experience. If he or she is an NRA instructor and former law enforcement, that carries more credibility. Certificates are close to meaningless but real-world experience and years of teaching are what you are looking for. Solution – do your homework, talk to people who know, and check the instructor’s credentials – your life may depend on it.

The few public State CCW classes that I have attended in various States were seriously lacking and only designed to make sure the participants don’t shoot themselves, the person standing to their right and left, and to hit a man-sized target at 3 to 5 yards. These programs usually shoot one box of ammo, are not designed to improve your shooting, definitely do not address tactics in the home, workplace or parking lot, and not one taught drawing from concealed carry. In fact, most did not utilize holsters and had participants beginning with the gun on the bench or in the hand. In two classes there were individuals who needed assistance loading and unloading their pistols, but no one ever failed the course. Scary!! You still need the State approved certificate, but this is why you need to look elsewhere for professional training including how to carry concealed and shooting from concealed carry under stress.

More on Concealed Carry:

If you can legally carry concealed in a State that does not have an open carry provision, you need to keep that handgun concealed. This can be a challenge for people who have never had professional training and have not perfected concealed carry through years of practice.

The problem arises when a member of the public sees your handgun because your shirt rode up or hooked on the grips getting out of the car. And this doesn’t even address all the times permitted guns have been dropped in public because of poor holster design, or left in public bathrooms because of inexperience. If someone reports seeing your gun, you could be arrested for anything up to an including brandishing a firearm. (A CCW does not cover you for open carry in some States).

As an example of how serious this is – a guy working at a local gun shop wanted to see one of my heavy competition rifles so I invited him to walk out to my truck to see it. He was carrying openly in the gun shop but told me he could not walk out to the parking lot, even though my truck was only 7 yards from the front door. So I suggested he untuck his shirt to cover his Glock. He said he couldn’t do that either since he didn’t have a CCW. The lesson learned is that he knew the law and was sticking to it.  He was only able to legally carry on private property.

Also be sure that anti-gun liberals would like nothing better than to cause a scene and ruin your day. So be sure to invest in quality concealment (IWB) holsters specifically molded for your handgun, and then adjust your clothing choices when carrying concealed. For example, if you wear an XL shirt, purchase XXL or even XXXL to ensure no “printing” of the gun.

Outside the waist band holsters can be more comfortable to carry, but they require a loose jacket or shirt for successful concealment. Left is a SIG 228/229 in a Safariland paddle holster; right is a Wilson CQB .45 in a leather pancake holster. 

For women, there are lots of purses and handbags designed specifically for concealed carry, but that same purse or handbag is also the target of purse snatches. If they grab the bag, they have not only disarmed you, they have also armed themselves.


Inside the belt or waistband holsters offer better concealment since they mold closer to the body. Left is a Wilson CQB .45 in a Blackhawk holster; right is a SIG 228 in a Galco holster. Both guns have rust proof finishes to protect them from sweat. 

Glock 19 with a light mount in a Kydex holster set up for outside the belt. This holster can be worn outside the belt or inside the belt by unscrewing the belt loops and switching them to the other side. 


More important than having a CCW and going strapped, is getting training, practicing regularly (monthly), and constantly practicing situational awareness for potential threats. All too many CCW permit holders have little to no training apart from the minimal State requirements. They not only have no law enforcement or military training, but they may have never been in a stressful situation, survived a mugging, or taken full-contact martial arts training. This leaves them prone to freezing in a deadly encounter.

There are four parts to defensive firearms training:

  1. Basic safety and manipulation which usually takes at least 1-2 days of training. The more repetitions of safely loading, unloading, shooting, and drawing from a holster, the better the participant will retain what they learn. Most training should be on man-sized targets, IPSC/IDPA type targets, but “dot drills” are also useful when working on accuracy and trigger control. Remember, the goal is not to turn out a combat shooter but a safe gun owner who is not a hazard to himself or the community. The participants should leave the class confident in their safe gun handling and not afraid of the pistol. If a participant is so stressed that he or she is struggling to follow even simple instructions after 2 days, then they should be recycled for more training and individual attention. (Round count: at least 300 to 400 for the 2 days)
  2. Basic tactical handgun training with a big focus on trigger finger and muzzle control while moving, drawing, engaging multiple targets, reloading, and reholstering. This is still low speed training following the crawl, walk, run principals – with the running being more of a quick, balanced walk. But stress can be added through time limits, ball and dummy drills, shoot / no shoot targets, verbal commands, and targets hidden behind barricades. The ideal for this type of training is 4 days, shooting 400 – 600 rounds. As the drills become more advanced, the shooters usually shoot less and focus more on tactics and use of cover. They will also be running shooting drills one at a time, as opposed to all on a line of 10 to 20 shooters. This gives them the opportunity to learn from watch other individuals run the drills.
  3. Reality-based training is tailored to the participants, law enforcement, military, security, or the general public. It can also be modified to suit the work environment of the participants, for example, at home, at work, retail sales, working at night, backpacking and rural encounters, boat owners and maritime, etc. The key thing is that the participants recognize situations that they could be in and learn to negotiate the situational challenges. These could include recognizing the threat, creating space, reacting to a lunge, blocking, drawing, firing at close quarters; or it may involve being carjacked, robbed at knife or gunpoint, being in a store or bank when it is being robbed, or reacting to a mass shooter in a school, workplace, or supermarket.
  4. Periodic refresher training is usually a one or two day program designed to maintain and reinforce perishable skills. Graduates could also attend one or two days of the previous programs so that they can cherry pick what they want to work on.


  • Learn the State CCW laws
  • Get the required State training certificate
  • Get professional defensive handgun training
  • Train periodically to maintain perishable skills
  • Support the 2nd Amendment and Right to Carry


The author carrying openly (left) and concealed (right) in Iraq in 2004. A loose fitting shirt worked well to conceal a full sized handgun and two extra magazines.  

Posted in CCW, Concealed carry, Contractor Security, Defensive pistol, Firearms, Handgun training, STTU, STTU Training | Leave a comment

Sniper Overwatch & Gaming the Wind

By Mark V. Lonsdale, STTU

This paper came out of a discussion at an Applied Ballistics Seminar concerning the challenges of shooting in mountain environments and dealing with variable winds.

Drawing on considerable experience in mountain terrain and in Afghanistan, and having lectured on the effects of terrain and weather on military operations, this discussion will focus on how military snipers can minimize the effects of wind to improve their first round hit probability.

Mark Lonsdale Northern Alliance

Mark Lonsdale (center) in Northern Afghanistan – early 2003 

First, let’s look at the basic requirements for a sniper hide or final firing position (FFP):

  1. There needs to be a suitable, unobserved infiltration route to the hide
  2. The hide site needs to offer good concealment 360 degrees, but primarily from the target location
  3. There needs to be suitable security positions and minimal potential for compromise from locals or goat herders
  4. The shooting position should provide a suitable field of observation
  5. There should be a suitable field of fire that encompasses the target location and surrounding alleys and structures
  6. If the mission is overwatch, then the sniper position should also have a clear view of the assault teams’ approach lanes
  7. The shooting position should be as comfortable as practicable, and allow the team to communicate without compromising their position
  8. On multi-day operations, the snipers should work to continually improve the concealment and comfort of the hide site
  9. There should be unobserved exfiltration routes to the RV or extraction point; or allow for the snipers to move down to link up with the assault force for extraction

There are more, and hasty overwatch shooting positions are a different animal, but these are enough for this discussion.

The Long Shot:

In environments such as Afghanistan and Iraq, there is not only the opportunity for long shots, there is also the necessity. Where, traditionally, sniper were able to dominate out to 800 meters with their 7.62mm/.308 Win rifles, as soon as they entered the Afghan theater of operations in 2001/2002, it became evident that the harder hitting .300 Win Mag and .338 Lapua Mag were superior weapons systems for long range shooting (1,000+m). These heavier high BC bullets not only extended the effective range of the snipers, they also bucked the wind and had a fraction of the wind deflection.

20190621 AX-AICS

Mk13 Mod7 clone built on a Stiller’s MK13 300 WinMag action but with a Bartlein Heavy Palma profile barrel

This longer range shooting, from 800 out to 1,600+ meters, also required better ballistics, ballistic solvers such as Applied Ballistics, and wind/weather meters such as the Kestrel 5700 Elite. Without these advanced technologies, the probability of a first round hit was very low.

First Round Hit Probability:

Long range shooting draws on all of the skills of the sniper team while pushing the limits of their equipment. A high probability first round hit requires the following:

  1. An accurate rifle with rugged, high quality, high magnification optics
  2. Consistent match-grade ammunition with heavy, high BC bullets
  3. The ability to accurately range the distance to the target
  4. The tools and experience to adjust the firing solution for changing environmental conditions
  5. The ability and experience to accurately read the wind and calculate the appropriate adjustment or hold-off
  6. ….and just a little bit of luck in erratic windy conditions

The two most common causes of misses at longer ranges are mis-reading the range and mis-reading the wind. With the introduction of compact, accurate laser rangefinders, and the move away from milling targets, the problems related to ranging the target have all but been eliminated. This leaves just wind to contend with.


Compact Terrapin X Laser Rangefinder 

No military sniper would expect a first round hit at over 1,000 meters, in unfamiliar terrain, and in cross winds gusting 15 to 25 mph. In fact, many would not risk the shot and opt to wait for better conditions – thus the need for patience and not just wishful thinking (pray and spray). Any of you who have trained or hunted in the desert or mountains will know that this usually necessitates going for the shot in the early morning or last light when winds tend to drop off to near zero.

Advanced Planning:

So this is where planning the overwatch position or sniper hide site comes into play. Again, using Afghanistan as our case study, the entire sniper element needs to become amateur meteorologists and serious students of the local weather, weather patterns, prevailing winds, and the daily changes in wind direction and strength. Just as all snipers keep data log books on their rifles and dope, they also need to begin a separate log book to track daily weather, temperature, humidity, density altitude, and winds in their area of operation (AO).

Note: Even for extreme long range shooting competitions, I begin collecting local wind and weather data days before a major match. Using Raton, NM, as an example, the temperature can swing as much as 30-40 degrees F from morning to early afternoon, and the density altitude can change as much as 3,500 feet in the same period. Apart from the effects on exterior ballistics, the temperature swings also affect ammunition as much as 30+/- feet per second.  

While still State-side and before deploying to an AO, the sniper team can begin compiling data from open sources on the internet. These can include access to weather sites, tourism guides, and topographical maps. Websites used by mountain climbers, global trekkers, and pilots are particularly useful since weather has a significant impact on their travels.

Immediately following the tragic events of 9-11-2001, I was invited to give a presentation on Afghanistan to Force Recon Marines at Camp Pendleton. Even though most of the material presented on terrain and weather was open source information, the Recon Marines commented that it was better than what they were receiving from in-house military sources. But an interesting side-bar, immediately following 9-11, I had visited several major bookshops in Los Angeles to check out any new books or maps on Afghanistan, but the sellers said that FBI agents had come in and bought up everything on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The lesson here is don’t neglect open source research.

Author at USMC MWTC with Force Recon platoon the night before 9-11-2001

At the military level, the sniper team should study reports not only from the teams currently deployed in that AO, but from teams that were deployed at the same time, and in the same location, the previous year. The goal is to identify the daily wind and weather changes which can be dramatic in arid and mountainous environments such as Afghanistan.  Flying into Bagram (north of Kabul), the team will already be at 4,895’ MSL, and the surrounding mountains go up to 15,000 feet. So on any given day, a sniper team could be operating in a large town in a valley or hunting bad guys in the mountains at much higher elevations.

One of the more useful tools for advanced planning, to better understanding prevailing winds, is aeronautical charts. Anyone who has had any pilot training will know that airfields and air strips are laid out into the prevailing winds, so aeronautical charts actually diagram these airfields. If an airfield or air strip is designated 270, this means that planes will approach from the east and land with a compass heading of 270 (west) since the prevailing wind will be out of the west (270). If the wind switches 180 degrees later in the day, then the landing runway will be designated 90.

Aeronautical charts showing the airfield directions at Jalalabad and Kabul Afghanistan, plus the height of the surrounding peaks in thousands of feet. 

In mountainous areas where airfields are usually in a valley, such as Jalalabad (1,840’ MSL), the wind is invariably channeled down the valley, so the airfield will also follow the direction of the valley. In the case of Jalalabad, the valley and the airfield run NW to SE (309 / 129 degrees). So once the sniper team knows the prevailing wind in the entire valley, they can plan for a shooting position that puts the wind behind them (6 o’clock) or ahead (12 o’clock). By doing this they will not be dealing with a challenging crosswind.

The disadvantage of having the wind behind the sniper is that noise and smell travels on the wind. If the range is 800m+ then this is probably not a concern, but animals downwind may pick up the scent. The advantage of being up wind for the snipers is that when the enemy is looking towards the snipers’ hide, they would be looking into the wind which could cause their eyes to water or blow dust in their eyes. Most people, including local guards, will generally turn their backs to the wind.

In addition to the wind, the location of the sun is also a concern. If a sniper sets up before dawn facing east, he will have the sun in his eyes at sunrise. Similarly, if he sets up facing west for an evening shot when the wind drops off, he may be facing into the setting sun when it comes time to take the shot. Anyone who has shot on a range that faces into the sun when it is low in the sky knows just how difficult it can be to see the target clearly. The flare in the scope can completely obscure the target.

Wind Indicators:

Part of daily life in a farming village community, which includes most of Afghanistan, is that cooking is done on open fires, even inside the house. So just before first light the sniper team will see smoke coming from the mud hut chimneys. An excellent wind indicator.

Images illustrate smoke and dust in Afghanistan on overwatch. 

Even though much of Afghanistan is dry and barren, and all the trees have been cut down for firewood, if the village is near a river there will be standing crops or poppy fields that will be sensitive to even light winds. In the mountain communities, perched on the sides of hills, it is a safe assumption that the wind will be channeled through the valleys and ravines.

Next to a village there will often be a cemetery marked by green and colored flags and banners on tall poles. Another excellent wind indicator.

Strong winds and dust storms kept the helicopters ground in Kandahar so we couldn’t leave the wire in Spin Boldak. 

One of the benefits to snipers in Afghanistan and Iraq is the ubiquitous dust. Even though dust is the curse of the infantryman and detrimental to a lot of sensitive equipment, for snipers it offers a great wind indicator. The indicators of wind direction and strength from dust include vehicles going down a road or highway. The dust kicked up by the tires provides a very clear indication of wind direction and can be seen from considerable distance. But even villagers walk, children playing, or goats being herded kick up enough dust to call the wind direction.

One major problem with dust, and the not infrequent dust storms, is the restricted visibility generally grounds all helicopters. When MEDEVAC and C-SAR helicopters can’t fly, troops are usually not permitted to go outside the wire since there may be no option for medical evacuation in remote areas.

Shooting in the Wind:

Scenario #1: The sniper is looking at the side of a ridgeline with the wind coming from his 6 o’clock position (tail wind). If he is scoping targets up on the face of the ridgeline, he needs to know that the tail wind will turn into an up-draft when it hits the mountains, therefore he can expect that his shots could go high. Similarly, when the wind is coming from the opposite side of the ridgeline (12 o’clock), it will come over the ridge and then run down slope causing a down-draft.

FCSA Targets

FCSA 1.5 mile ELR match in Raton, NM, is excellent practice at shooting from a 1,000 yards out to 2,650 yards while dealing with mountain wind conditions. On this day we had a 6 o’clock wind at the shooting position that was hitting the base of the ridge line and causing a noticeable updraft.

Scenario #2: The sniper team has been asked to set up overwatch on a small village for a direct action (DA) or cordon & search operation scheduled for first light. Looking at the terrain the sniper team notes that there are rocky outcrops to the south and east of the village. The village sits in a valley that runs almost north-south. From this, there is a high probability that the prevailing wind will be up the valley as the day heats up, and down valley in the cooling evening. So since the wind will either be out of the north or out of the south, it is logical to set up overwatch on the rock outcrop to the south so as to avoid dealing with a changeable crosswind.

Scenario #3: The sniper element is tasked with taking out a specific high value target (HVT) and given considerable latitude in their mission planning. This is the ideal opportunity to select a position that avoids potentially high crosswinds even if the selected shooting position increases the range. Adding 200-300 meters to the shot is much easier to adjust for than shooting in gusting 10-15 mph crosswinds.  It is preferable to take a 1,200m shot with a tail wind than a 900m shot with a gusting crosswind.


The study of wind and mastering shooting in wind is a lifelong endeavor – especially crosswind shooting. So anything the shooter can do to minimize the effect of the wind will improve first round hit probability.

While sniper teams will not always have the option of adjusting their overwatch position to offset the effects of the wind, it should still be considered when working to improve first round hit probability. In some locations, the mission requirements may take precedence, in that it may be more important that the snipers can see the assault team approach lanes, or spot squirters coming out the back of the building or village. In these cases, it pays to be as close to the target location as possible to offset any potential wind deflection.

For the hunter, there are advantages to swinging wide around a hunting area so that he or she can hunt into the wind (up wind). The mistake of hunting down wind is that the hunter’s scent noise of movement is carried on the breeze and will alert any animals in the area. Walking into an area with the wind coming from the left or right almost guarantees that a shot may have to be taken in a crosswind. So the value of hunting with the wind in your face should be obvious, especially in open terrain where a long shot may be the only shot.

Alpine Operations Mark V Lonsdale

ALPINE OPERATIONS was picked up by 10th Special Forces Group, out of Ft. Carson, CO, as a textbook in 2001. Contains considerable information on mountain weather and sniper operations. 


Having worked with US and coalition forces in support of OEF and OIF and being a ranked extreme long shooter, the author is available for long range rifle training or wind & terrain briefs on Afghanistan.  


Mark Lonsdale in Spin Boldak, Afg – 2008

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Jumping with US Marine Force Recon

Photo essay by Mark V. Lonsdale

With U.S. Marines of Force Recon platoon at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC), Bridgeport, CA

5thPlatoon-1stForce Mark Lonsdale

Marines preparing for a night static line jump into MWTC

Pre-jump inspections. Main parachute on the back; reserve in front; and rucksack slung below

ReconJump Mark Lonsdale

Force Recon Marine rigged for night static line jump (photo by Mark V. Lonsdale)

MV Recon150 Mark Lonsdale

This night exercise was planned for 10 Sept 2001, the night before the tragic events of 9-11. Little did we know how much our lives would be changed for the next 10 years with  deployments into Afghanistan within weeks.

9.10.01 Mark Lonsdale


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Jumping Freefall Camera to Evaluate Jumpers

JumpingCamera KeithWollard-Mark-Lonsdale

Mark Lonsdale in black, jumping camera with a former Navy SEAL and Leap Frog team member over Perris Valley, CA

JumpingCamera Mark-Lonsdale

Mark Lonsdale jumping a 35mm Nikon and a 6mm digital Sony video camera  (1993)

JumpingCamera Mark-V-Lonsdale

Freefall cameraman, Mark Lonsdale, flying a 35mm Nikon SLR and a Sony 6mm digital cam-corder

Keith-Woulard Tracking

Tracking for the pin, and then tracking for target


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Testing High Altitude HALO/HAHO Military Parachute Rigs

Prior to high altitude jumps, all pilots and jumpers must go through training and assessment by an aero-medical high altitude physiology unit, plus make successful chamber runs to altitude


Mark Lonsdale pre-jump from 30,000 feet. Jumpers will pre-breathe oxygen prior to climbing to altitude and then go on oxygen for the freefall from 30,000 feet to a breathable altitude


Jumps from 12,500′ without oxygen, and then 24,000 and 30,000 feet on oxygen (Mark Lonsdale)


Mark Lonsdale jumping the Mach III Alpha from 24,000 and 30,000 feet; oxygen pack on the left hip


Mark Lonsdale under canopy testing the Mach III Alpha military freefall (MFF) rig


Mark Lonsdale landing the Mach III Alpha on target

Mark-Lonsdale Mach-III-Alpha

Mark Lonsdale post jump with the Mach III Alpha


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Convoy Security – Iraq & Afghanistan

The following paper is based on the author’s observations and experience in Afghanistan and Iraq as a military adviser and DoD security contractor from 2002 through 2008, while staying abreast of current operations and incidents through 2017.  

 CONVOY SECURITY In Semi-permissive War Zones (Iraq & Afghanistan)

 By Mark V. Lonsdale, Director 

 Copyright © 2007/2018


With approximately 160,000 US troops committed to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and an even larger number of civilian contractors (estimated at 180,000+), the demand for logistical support is massive. While some military supplies are flown in to US controlled air bases, the vast majority comes by ship, and then overland by truck. On any given day, thousands of tons of essential food, fuel, ammunition, reconstruction materials, and support equipment are on the road and on the move in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, one of the main supply routes (MSR) is from Quetta, Pakistan westward into Kandahar and north to Kabul through some of the most dangerous real estate in that region. Convoys are also moving in and out of Kabul to support a myriad of reconstruction projects and military bases in the far flung reaches of the rural and border areas.

In Iraq, one of the main supply routes comes out of Kuwait, north through An Nasiryah to Baghdad, and from there further north up to Kirkuk and Mosul. Apart from the military’s voracious appetite for fuel and ammunition, the numerous forward operating bases (FOB) must be kept supplied with everything from food and drink to rolls of toilet paper and batteries. The base exchanges must also be kept supplied with all the modern conveniences and luxury items that US military personnel have come to expect – candy, cookies, magazines, souvenirs, toiletries, CDs, and the latest in electronic cameras, laptops, I-pods, and DVD players.

In addition to official military and KBR movements, there are hundreds of additional convoy operations requiring thousands of trucks to support the civilian reconstruction efforts. While most reconstruction projects are Department of Defense (DoD) or Department of State (DoS) funded, the actual projects are run by major US corporations. To further complicate matters, these major prime contractors will utilize a host of sub-contractors who in turn sub-contract smaller construction and support companies to fulfill various components of the prime contract – all of whom are moving on wheels and on very dangerous roads.

These convoys loaded with vital supplies are the very life-blood of the military and the reconstruction effort. They are also large, relatively slow moving targets for the Iraqi insurgents, al-Qaeda terrorists, and local criminals.  Where protective security details (PSD) protecting diplomats and businessmen operate primarily in economic centers close to military bases, convoy escort teams (CET) often find themselves hundreds of miles from city centers and very exposed. Fortunately, the insurgents are also very much out in the open in these areas making them easier to spot and kill.

This brings us to the current situation on the ground which is quite unique in the history of post-conflict occupation and counter insurgency warfare. Even though lessons can be learned from other models such as World War II, Vietnam, Bosnia and Kosovo, the military, reconstruction companies, and security providers are now confronted with a number of quite unique problems.

For one, security providers have been obligated to provide security in what could be considered an active war zone. The missions that security providers are being tasked with in Iraq and Afghanistan were traditionally handled by the military with armored vehicles and heavy weapons supported by quick reaction forces (QRF) and close air support (CAS). Further more, as major corporations compete for the lucrative multi-billion dollar contracts to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, the sheer volume of security providers running around in armored SUVs is unprecedented in the history of post-war reconstruction efforts.

To meet the government, military and private sector’s growing demands for security services, security providers have been forced to violate the most basic tenants of security by establishing predictable patterns on high profile movements. On any given day moving on the MSRs, dozens of PSDs and CETs are channeled into predictable choke-points, at the International Zone (but still referred to as the Green Zone), Camp Victory, the Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), Abu Ghuraib warehouse complex, Taji Military Training Camp (co-located with Camp Cooke logistics base), Balad and Anaconda to the north, and on all the major arteries to points further a field such as Al Asad air base out west, in the heart of insurgent dominated Al Anbar province.

This level of predictability creates numerous targets of opportunity for the insurgents and a situation that would under normal circumstances be considered unacceptable in the security industry.  One of the first rules of security states that if intelligence indicates that a location is dangerous, simply avoid it. Unfortunately this is not possible in Iraq or Afghanistan. Logistical support must be maintained and supplies delivered, so running convoys on the MSRs becomes an unavoidable hazard.

Looking at the classic “Military Model” for convoy escort the army utilizes lorries and tractor-trailer units designed for military use, driven by trained soldiers and Marines, supported by multiple armored escort vehicles armed with heavy machineguns (7.62mm and .50 caliber) and MK19 40mm grenade launchers. The military also has the option of shutting down major highways and creating exclusion zones, or saturating a high-risk area with additional fighting patrols or calling in close air support.

However, many of these tactical options are not available to the contractor or private security provider. While KBR’s logistic convoys carrying critical military supplies are protected by armored military escort units, this protection is not extended to the thousands of other convoy movements traveling on the same roads and under the same conditions.  Many reconstruction convoys of 30 to 100 trucks run with little more than three to five lightly armored SUVs and a handful of armed civilian contractors.


Iraq and Afghanistan are definitely not permissive environments but they can be considered semi-permissive environments in that a significant amount of productive work can be achieved, even though contractors do not have total freedom of movement. Civilian contractors know that it is unwise to leave the security of the military bases or secured compounds such as the Green Zone, Palestine and Sheraton Hotels, and Camp Victory without an armed escort and in armored vehicles.

Even with PSDs, elevated threat levels will periodically make movement between specific locations inadvisable. Sound intelligence and an understanding of the current situation should always drive the operational side of the security effort and ground movements. However the situation on the ground can change rapidly making it all but impossible to stay abreast of emerging threats.

Very few companies have the OP-CON or communications infra-structure to identify changes in the threat or traffic choke points though out Iraq or Afghanistan; and then get that time-sensitive information out to their PSDs and CETs on the fly.

After the fall of Baghdad, when US troops were welcomed by the Iraqi people, a massive reconstruction process was launched by the DoD, DoS, USAID, and Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), support by several major US construction entities.  This was done under the assumption that the peace would hold and the Iraqis would become willing participants in the reconstruction process.

However, as a direct result of civil unrest, ethnic and religious rivalry, and rampant criminal activity, the peace did not last and US military personnel, coalition troops, and foreign contractors became the targets of insurgent and criminal attacks. These attacks were backed by former Saddam loyalists, Fedayeen guerrillas and foreign jihadis; and soon spread to acts of intimidation and violence targeted at Iraqi civilians supporting the reconstruction effort.

The early attacks ranged from direct small arms fire (SAF), to indirect fire rocket and mortar attacks, to roadside IEDs. This then escalated to vehicle-borne car and truck bombs (VBIEDs) driven by suicidal fanatics. Many of the less effective attacks were perpetrated by young, unemployed men paid by former Ba’ath Party Saddam loyalists. The more sophisticated military-type attacks were executed by guerrilla-trained Fedayeen Saddam and foreign Jihadis financed and trained by Wahabbi and Al Qaeda type movements.

As of late March 2004, spurred by the killing and mutilation of four Blackwater contract security personnel in Falloujah, the violence in Iraq rose to a new level. Military and civilian contractors came under frequent attack from not only Saddam loyalists and insurgents, but also radicalized Shi’a militias and religious fundamentalists.

The FOB where the author was working as a DoD security contractor came under 220+ mortar and rocket attacks between March and June 2004, and several Iraqi workers were killed coming to work or driving home.

As the US Marines prepared to enter Falloujah in early April, insurgents launched pre-emptive strikes against US forces in the neighboring town of Ramadi; and simultaneously, the Shi’a militias loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr (aka Mooky) initiated attacks from Sadr City in eastern Baghdad all the way south to Najaf and Karbala. This situation continued to deteriorate as Sadr offered rewards for the killing or capture of coalition soldiers.


Before attempting to develop convoy protection procedures or attack counter-measures, it is important to first appreciate the challenges involved in running convoy operations in semi-permissive war zones.

Challenges include:

  1. Large slow moving convoys
  2. Unarmored trucks, lorries, tractor-trailer units and fuel tankers
  3. Poorly trained drivers often from third world countries (US KBR drivers excluded)
  4. Movement on highways and major supply routes (MSR)
  5. Predictable points of origin in Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan, Iran, etc
  6. Convoys channeled into known military bases, logistic distribution points, warehouse complexes, and reconstruction projects
  7. Wide ranging movement in isolated areas
  8. Limited access to military support or Quick Reaction Forces (QRF)
  9. Thriving criminal activity in which the drivers may be complicit
  10. Drivers communicating with or sympathetic to the insurgents
  11. Well established insurgent attack methodologies
  12. Poor road conditions and traffic jams
  13. Military activity in the AO restricting convoy movements
  14. Being fired upon by US and coalition forces
  15. Security providers and CET teams of marginal capability
  16. An over dependence on local nationals (LN) and third country nationals (TCN) for convoy escort duty.
  17. Poor communications networks

These are in addition to the more mundane administrative challenges:

  1. Drivers who do not speak English
  2. Drivers lacking sufficient documentation
  3. Delays crossing border checkpoints
  4. Corrupt customs officials
  5. Logistics companies making errors in paper work
  6. Vehicles running out of fuel, breaking down or becoming lost
  7. Drivers refusing to drive along specific routes
  8. Departure or turn around delayed by loading logistics
  9. Delays at military vehicle checkpoints (VCP)
  10. The inability of LNs and TCNs to enter US military bases
  11. Security providers lacking the correct badges (CAC, MNF-I, ISAF)
  12. Uncooperative bureaucrats at all levels of the supply chain

The only light in all this gloom was the establishment of Logistics Movement Coordination Center (LMCC) in Baghdad, and ISAF cooperation in Afghanistan.


The more dangers regions of Iraq and Afghanistan have turned to classic counter-insurgency guerrilla warfare with relatively small numbers of insurgents and fundamentalists utilizing five primary methods of attack.

  1. Small arms fire (SAF) with rifles (AK47s, AKMs, AK74s) and light machineguns (RPK, RPD, PKM). These are usually hit and run type attacks or linear ambushes allowing the shooters to melt back into their neighborhoods.
  2. Attacks on buildings and vehicles with RPGs (rocket propelled grenades). Fortunately a significant percentage miss the target or fail to detonate.
  3. Mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and roadside booby-traps. Definitely one of the biggest problems in Iraq with the shrapnel from improvised artillery shells proving to be devastating.
  4. Indirect fire mortar and rocket attacks, often from 3 – 5km with 60- 82mm mortars, but in some instances from distances of up to 18km with old 122 mm and 127mm rockets.
  5. Vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) driven by suicide bombers, frequently directed at military and police checkpoints or recruit depots but also at PSD and CET teams. A VBIED can also be the precursor for a SAF ambush.

Of these, the IEDs pose the greatest threat when moving about in vehicles, while mortar and rocket attacks pose the greatest risk to FOBs. Roadside IED attacks have become a depressingly routine part of life in Iraq with multiple attacks on various MSRs every day.

RPGs are also quite prolific in post-war Iraq so are often used in attacks on vehicles and convoys. One only has to look to CNN or FOX to see the effect of an RPG hit on a fuel tanker or truck. The RPG-7 is a reloadable, simple to operate, shoulder-fire weapon that can be loaded and fired by one man. The RPG launches an armored-piercing projectile with an effective range of 300 meters on moving targets, 500 meters on static targets, and has a burn-out range of just over 900 meters. Fortunately, the insurgents have not demonstrated any high degree of proficiency or accuracy with these weapons but they do occasionally score a hit with tragic consequences.

In addition to direct attacks, insurgents and fundamentalists have engaged in numerous kidnappings of Iraqi citizens, foreign coalition workers, soldiers and truck drivers. In some instances the victims have been killed; in some they have been released; and in one the victim was able to escape to safety.


Many of the attacks launched by both the insurgents and the fundamentalists are planned attacks but their victims are often random targets of opportunity. Although the terrorists’ greatest animosity is directed towards US and coalition occupation troops, the military presents a more difficult target to hit than the police and civilian population. This includes civilian convoys and private security contractors.

Attacks continue against the Green Zone, military convoys and military bases, which are usually considered hardened targets, but the most devastating attacks are launched against softer targets such as police stations, recruitment centers, marketplaces, government officials, government offices, NGO buildings, and convoys.

The chance of being attacked when moving between points in Baghdad or Kabul is as much a matter of chance as design. The same is true for any of the major MSRs that run through “Indian country.” IEDs are often placed and ambushes staged for the first or most suitable target of opportunity to come down the road. However, the two roads in Iraq that get hit with regularity are Route Irish between the Green Zone and BIAP, and Route Tampa, the MSR that runs from the Kuwait border north through Baghdad, then up through Balad, Samarra, Tikrit, Baiji and Mosul, then finally to the Turkish border at Zakuh. Large convoys also run south down the same route every day.  In Afghanistan, things get interesting when convoys push down through Ghazni and Zabul into Kandahar and Helmand province.

The obvious problem for the convoys and CETs is that once they leave their point of origin, it does not take a rocket scientist to calculate where and when they will be passing any given point on the MSR. In addition, as a convoy passes through one area, an insurgent – what the Brits call a “dicker” – can call ahead to his cohorts waiting in ambush or preparing the IED.  To further compound the problem of predictability, a convoy running out to make a delivery in the morning, will often return down the same route in the late afternoon or evening.


The attack on the Blackwater CET in March 2004 was a rude awakening for many security contractors, not just Blackwater management. In this instance the CET was reportedly sent out under manned, under gunned, in soft-skinned vehicles, and without a route reconnaissance team. (This incident is still under investigation and litigation) The Marine commander responsible for this military area of operation (AO) was also unaware of the contractors’ movement and route so was not well positioned to mount a QRF. The results were a tragic loss of life (one a close friend of the author) and an immediate re-evaluation of all PSD / CET SOPs and movements.

In this case there is no indication that the team or their convoy was selectively targeted by the insurgents. It was in all likelihood a case of the attackers setting an ambush in an ideal location, such as a chokepoint, congested area, checkpoint or overpass, and this team unfortunately driving into the kill zone.  In this and several other cases, it can be noted that the modified civilian SUVs used for escort are simply not up to the level of concentrated fire or method of attack they are exposed to.  It could be argued that the Blackwater team was slaughtered because the other vehicles in the convoy were unable to come to their assistance, but in all likelihood they were killed by the initial burst of fire or overpressure from an RPG. (Blackwater has since developed a purpose-built armored vehicle called the Grizzly)

Other companies have been hit even harder than Blackwater losing over a dozen security contractors and drivers in each ambush. However, after all such cases, the PSCs have continued to run operations in the face of an on-going insurgent campaign. Even if the location and timing of a specific attack is unknown, the threat has been identified and accepted, as is the case with all CET operations in Iraq. So where standard security doctrine is based on risk avoidance, Iraq and Afghanistan have driven security providers into a policy of risk acceptance. For some private security companies (PSC) the level of acceptable risk is higher than for others and has become known euphemistically as “pain tolerance”.

This then raises the question or whether the current security tactics, procedures and equipment are sufficient to meet the identified and accepted threat. Obviously even armored SUVs are not designed to survive a direct coordinated attack with military-grade weaponry.

So with risk acceptance comes the obligation by the security providers to supply their PSDs, CETs and clients with the best of service and equipment at all levels to meet the identified threat. Since the threat is military-grade attacks, the defensive measures must be equally robust. The ever changing nature of the threat may also require an equally flexible approach to tactics and methodology.


In addition to the military model, there are basically three tactical philosophies or methodologies at play with security companies currently running convoy escort operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.


  1. In the early days of reconstruction in Iraq – late 2003 thru early 2004 – many PSCs were running ultra-low key “Low Profile model” CETs utilizing locally purchased SUVs, soft-skinned vehicles, and even taxis driven by local drivers. It must be understood that this approach was not just a tactical decision but also a fiscal one. Many of these new start-up companies simply did not have the financial resource to invest in a fleet of new armored vehicles and gun trucks at $150,000 a piece so were running “guerrilla security operations”. However, while benefiting from very low profile movements in unobtrusive vehicles on PSD operations around Baghdad and Kabul, they were less successful at high profile convoy operations.
  2. At the other end of the spectrum are the high-profile movements with multiple armored SUVs and gun trucks, usually large American Chevy Suburbans, Ford Expeditions and Excursions, or heavy duty pick-up trucks. The drivers and shooters are all fully kitted with visible plate body armor, load-bearing equipment, additional ammunition, FBG stun grenades, and automatic weapons – mostly M4s, AK47s or SAWs (squad automatic weapons). This is the “US Model” that is common with US governmental and military PSDs and CETs but quickly became the norm for their British counterparts.  The tactical advantage that these teams derive from this approach is not only overwhelming firepower but also a certain deterrent factor. This would be the case where one or two insurgents may opt not to attack a large “fighting formation” when they can wait for an easier and softer target.
  3. The third methodology is the “Corporate Model” which falls between these first two. Security companies whose core competence was in western executive protection and risk management were employing a somewhat low-profile approach while still driving identifiable up-armored fleet SUVs. The PSDs and CETs were armed but not obviously so and the companies’ weapons policies were more restrictive. Pistols and rifles were kept concealed and security personnel wore lighter armor and no visible load-bearing vests. This equated to less ammunition, less fighting capability, but a more “politically correct” image. This approach could be considered “semi-tactical”. Unfortunately it has neither the deterrence of full para-military firepower nor the safety of totally “low profile” movements.
  4. The forth approach that was not being utilized by private security in 2004 through 2006 was the “Military Model” which would require up-armored Humvees, light armored vehicles (LAVs), or APCs equipped with crew-served weapons systems such as the GPMG, M240G, MK19 and the M2 BMG .50 caliber. This model has been used by private security in Afghanistan and has been considered by several security contractors in Iraq – particularly for convoy escort duty in remote areas. This is the only model that offers immediate and aggressive counter-force and suppressive fire for an ambush break-contact drill.


The antithesis of good tactics and sound military war fighting doctrine would be corporate image and social responsibility. Western security companies tend to cultivate a corporate image of impeccable professionalism and expertise in the fields of high-end risk management and international security. They have also gone to great lengths to distance themselves from any association with private military corporations (PMCs) and para-military operations such as Executive Outcome (EO) and Sandline, even though both demonstrated considerable capability in support of stabilization efforts in Africa.

British companies in particular established themselves as the foremost respected organizations in the international security field, earning this reputation through detailed and professional intelligence collection, threat analysis and identification, and risk avoidance.  Unfortunately elevated risk is a part of daily life in Iraq and Afghanistan that realistically cannot be avoided, only minimized.

If security companies were to be true to the concept of risk avoidance, they would simply advise their clients not to come to Iraq. But in the current context, reconstruction operations have moved past that point or option. A few PSCs brought to Iraq very professional operations with first-class personnel and equipment, along with communications, intelligence and logistical support. But was there room for improvement? The answer must always be most definitely! As the situation and threats change on the ground, security equipment and procedures must also change.

The CET model that was being run in early 2004, for example, of two or three vehicles with a driver and a shooter in each was grossly inadequate falling far short of the requirements to secure even a small convoy of even 10 trucks. Yet in 2005 PSCs were still running CETs that were little more than a vehicle in front to lead the way and a follow vehicle to keep the convoy closed up or spot any break-downs.

A number of PSCs also applied the tried and proven methodologies for corporate security in a permissive environment to security operations in a more high threat semi-permissive war zone.  They followed the time-proven security doctrine of intelligence collection and risk analysis, and when the threat indicated, shutting down all movements for the safety of the client or convoy.

While this philosophy and methodology cannot be faulted from a risk management standpoint, especially where the client absolutely does not want their employees or drivers injured, kidnapped or killed. However, it became evident that several contractors and clients working in Iraq were willing to raise their threshold for risk (pain tolerance) to have more freedom of movement and in an effort to become more productive.

In some cases, it has been noted by reconstruction contractors that a risk avoidance policy and refusal to run PSDs and CETs when the threat level warrants, has been considered a hindrance to the client’s work output and movements. However, it must also be noted that these same clients may be somewhat uninformed as to the actual threat and dynamics at play. They focus only on their immediate needs without considering the very real risks that intelligence may have identified.

It has been observed that the construction clients and logistics companies appeared not to care how risky it was to make a convoy run. Their focus was on their contractual obligations to deliver goods with less regard for the trucks or drivers. Their thinking was more fiscal which clouded the decision process and flew contrary to sound security thinking. Never-the-less, they were willing to go with any security provider who was willing to make the run, even if that provider did not have the intelligence and communications resources of a professional PSC – and even if that security provider’s CETs were enjoying a run of success derived more from luck than planning.


Where most security providers accept the risk of movements in this current high threat environment, other PSCs continue to employ their time-honored philosophy of risk avoidance. But again, it must be noted that risk avoidance in an insurgent war zone is all but impossible if movements are designed to support an acceptable level of productive work for the clients.

PSCs may lose ground with clients when they shut down CET movements while other provider’s make successful runs at the same time and on the same MSRs. Granted, a big part of a successful run is luck, especially when the movement is made oblivious to elevated threat indicators and lacking sound intelligence. Since statistically the probability of an attack on a specific convoy, on any specific road, at any specific time, is low, these more aggressive teams end up earning a reputation as being gutsy not foolhardy (in the eyes of the client).

However, the laws of probability can also work against a security provider. The bigger the footprint, the more numerous the convoys, and the greater the number of CET runs, the higher the probability that one of these teams will be unlucky. This is not a product of poor planning or bad tactics, but simply bad luck when a convoy drives into an opportunistic ambush or IED attack.


Instead of risk avoidance, the working model for other companies in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to be risk acceptance & risk identification, and then an attempt to adapt their tactics to suit the mission. This is done by either venturing out in full battle mode with the most powerful vehicles and weapons available, or by going low profile and trying to slip through unnoticed. Both these tactics have obvious strengths and weaknesses.

Even the best armored SUV is still vulnerable to RPG and IED attacks, but the weight and power may carry them thru the kill zone to get the vehicle off the X. But this does not help the large, unarmored trucks and unprotected drivers in the convoy. Heavily armored SUVs also deny the opportunity for return fire or aggressive counter-force except for ramming – thus the birth of the armored gun truck for CET operations. With an exposed heavy machinegun in an armored box in the back of the pick-up, the gunner can now engage 360 degrees and has an elevated position of advantage (even though still exposed to hostile fire)

Those traveling in low profile mode are extremely vulnerable if their cover is blown or they are caught in heavy traffic. The heavy low-slung sedans, while they may handle better on the open road, are just not suited to curb jumping, ramming or going off-road in exigent circumstance. The armor in local vehicles is also of unknown origin and quality.

On the personnel side, going in with a CET that is kitted-up for a fight with full body armor,  state-of-the-art weapons, multiple accessible magazines, and stun grenades, is not only preferable to the shooters, it also gives the convoy drivers a greater sense of security. This “look and feeling” of security cannot be underestimated when dealing with a clients’ perception and sense of well being. Some clients have been sold on the heavy “US model” that they have seen around town with companies such as Blackwater, and there are times when this model is the more preferred option.

Again, and at the other end of the spectrum, utilizing local Iraqi drivers and shooters has both benefits and risks. The benefits being that they can drive around without drawing attention, they know the streets, can run route reconnaissance, and may be less likely to be attacked. The risks lie in their basic lack of training and experience and the potential for betrayal. If this model is to be used, then thorough vetting and training is essential.

There has also been observed considerable disparity in the kit issued by various PSCs to their CET security personnel. Where LNs or TCNs may be issued an old AK47 and a few magazines, more professional western teams will have state-of-the-art level IV body armor, modern M4 weapons, SAWs, and load-bearing vests chocked with magazines, radios, GPS, and grenades.

Training is another issue. It would be unheard of in the military special operations community to send operators into a hostile environment without the opportunity to zero and become familiar with their personal weapons; or to be told to procure weapons locally. When some PSC personnel rotate back in country, they may often be issued different weapons to the ones they carried on their previous deployment. This highlights the need for a professional approach to weapons and equipment, and the need for permanent range facilities for formal and informal weekly test-firing, zeroing and training.


One of the fundamental principals of tactical operations is flexibility – and applies equally to CET security operations. This includes flexibility in equipment load, flexibility in manning, flexibility in mobility, flexibility in tactics, and most important of all, flexibility in thinking. However, some PSCs in Iraq appear to be following one institutionalized doctrinal approach to security operations in general. If this approach or model is based on corporate security operations in a permissive environment, it is definitely not the best model for Iraq and Afghanistan.

After the first attacks in late 2003, PSC personnel were quick to realize that 9mm primary weapons such as the MP5 were inadequate in an open ambush scenario; a lesson that had to be re-learned from the SAS Regiment’s experience in Northern Ireland. This necessitated the adoption of AK47s which was a significant departure from the western corporate image. Similarly, other aspects of the low-key corporate security model were found to be not applicable to operations in Iraq.

A good example of this was where most of the security providers were running a minimum of 5-vehicle CETs, others were still running 2-vehicle movements. A 2-vehicle CET would be the minimum in any routine operation in the US or Europe, but Iraq is considerably more risky than routine. Having two or three additional heavily armed vehicles is essential for fighting, blocking and ramming, to shield the trucks and drivers, to supply cover-fire for a break-contact drill, or a cross-deck hot extraction.

The best argument against 2 or 3-vehicle CET operations is where one CET vehicle is disabled in an ambush. Do the remaining CET vehicles come to the assistance of the disabled vehicle or is their primary mission to shepherd the convoy out of the kill zone. There needs to be a sufficient number of CET vehicles to do both. At least one can assist the disabled vehicle by laying down cover-fire while pushing, towing or cross-decking; while the other three can keep the convoy moving off the X.

PSCs need to adopt a tactical and flexible approach to CET operations to best match the changing threat and to meet the needs of the client. Where in some circumstance a low profile 5-vehicle CET may be appropriate, in others, a 6 or 10-vehicle CET with full war-fighting load and gun trucks may be the wiser choice.

This comes back to one of the most basic principles of tactical planning – matching the force to the mission. If the force is too big it becomes slow and vulnerable; but if it is too small it is not able to defend itself or even break contact with a determined enemy.

There are a number of factors that should be considered in the manning for convoy escort operations, to include:

  1. Number of trucks, lorries & overall length of convoy (With a minimal 100-meter spacing a 30-truck convoy with CETs will extend over two miles)
  2. Relative value of the load (Do the bad guys want the contraband, particularly loads such as fuel or cigarettes?)
  3. Vulnerability of the loads (example: fuel tankers)
  4. Length of the planned movement (Two hours or two days)
  5. Experience of the truck drivers (can they drive fast and stay on route?)
  6. Prior corruption issues with drivers
  7. Armament of the CET vehicles (Heavier machineguns can cover larger arcs of fire and longer ranges)
  8. Experience of the CET security personnel (Less experienced teams should be augmented by more vehicles and operators)
  9. Time of day and predictability of the convoy run
  10. Frequency and timing of attacks on specific MSRs (Routes Irish and Tampa)
  11. Prior threats or attacks directed against a specific company’s trucks
  12. Inter-tribal rivalry derived from running trucks and drivers from one region through a rival group’s area
  13. Road conditions and choke points
  14. Proximity to FOBs and availability of a military QRF in a timely manner
  15. CASEVAC options
  16. Current Intelligence & Threat Assessments

In implementing this type of approach, the protection package may be flexible, but the basic equipment, weapons and contact drills remain standardized. However, when stepping up to this next level of CET operations, it may require additional in-country training to bring all the individual operators up to speed. Major US contractors are running their PSD personnel through theater-specific training before deploying to Iraq. The British companies are also making their in-country training more robust to match the elevated threats. However, few run training for CET teams since it was not a contract requirement.

There is a collateral advantage to more robust CET operations and that is confidence for the actual team members. Virtually everyone working PSD and CET is former military or SWAT so has had the experience of kitting up in full war-fighting load for an operation. There is a routine and ritual that brings the team together and creates the right mindset for the impending risky operation. This same ritual and behavior pattern has been observed with several PSD/CET teams in Iraq as they kit up for a hazardous run. It has also been observed that the clients and truck drivers are not only fascinated by this pre-deployment ritual, they appear to gain assurance from knowing they are traveling under the protection of professional war-fighters and not just bodyguards.


There is however a number of practical and fiscal hurdles that needs to be negotiated when moving to more flexible force packaging. The first practical consideration is the need for a tactical operations center (TOC) that is above and beyond a routine business communication and coordination center. A CET TOC would require that the operations manager have a number of resources on-hand or on stand-by for deployment. Only by having these people and vehicles on immediate stand-by can the operations manager match the security to the threat in an often rapidly changing environment. This would require some form of ready room or holding area from which CET teams and QRFs could be launched.

On the fiscal level, this more flexible force packaging creates problems in pricing and billing the client. The cost of a specific convoy movement would be unpredictable since the CET security package would be selected just before the operation based on best intelligence and the operations manager’s judgment. In some cases the client would receive a 5-vehicle CET with 10 operators, but on others, an 8-vehicle CET with 24 operators (usually a mix of internationals, TCNs and LNs).

So even though this may be the optimum method it may be impractical for fiscally conservative clients unless a contract or memorandum of understanding (MOU) is in place that allows the PSC operations manager to ratchet up the security package when specific conditions were in place. The most basic of these is a ratio of convoy trucks to CET vehicles, for example one in five – for every 5 lorries there is a CET vehicle imbedded in the convoy. So as the client adds trucks, the PSC is authorized to add CET teams.


Another option that is being under utilized in Iraq and Afghanistan is helicopter supported operations. In both the construction and the security industries in the United States and other countries, helicopters have become a regular and daily part of operations. Clients landing at major airports are routinely moved to corporate centers or job sites by helicopter, by-passing both traffic congestion and ground threats. Aircraft are also used for site surveys and pipeline inspections.

Helicopters or fixed wing aircraft could be used in Iraq and Afghanistan for route reconnaissance, traffic reports, aerial surveillance of high-risk areas, as gun ships in the event of an attack, and CASEVAC in the aftermath. But again, this creates issues with cost, maintenance and the risks associated with flying in military airspace – all beyond the scope of this paper.


The threat levels in Iraq, and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan, have increased considerably since 2004, and can be expected to continue to increase in the immediate future. Even though the latest surge appears to be having some traction in Baghdad, Iraq and Afghanistan will not become safe permissive environments for foreign contractors any time soon. While some contractors enjoy the security of the Green Zone and US military FOBs, the convoy operators are doomed to be out on the highways presenting very attractive targets to the insurgents.

While STTU and Operational Studies have developed a number of effective tactics, techniques, and procedures for convoy escort and PSD operations in high risk environments, they cannot be presented in this paper which will be circulated in open forum.  It is sufficient to say that professional convoy security is a combination of good intelligence, effective long range communications, well equipped personnel and vehicles, rigorous training, and an aggressive, rehearsed counter-force capability when all else fails. Reconstruction contractors, security providers and logistics companies should also ensure that their truck drivers have the necessary training and personal protective equipment (PPE) to maximize their survivability in the inevitable attacks.

– Mark V. Lonsdale Copyright © OS 2007/2o18

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Military & Law Enforcement Train-the-Trainer

By Mark V. Lonsdale


STTU was one of the first training organizations to develop law enforcement and military train-the-trainer programs based on modern educational methodologies, human performance, and sports physiology. OPERATIONAL STUDIES supports STTU’s train-the-trainer programs with continual research into adult learning and teaching, high performance athlete development and coaching, sports kinesiology, biomechanics, courseware development, and best practices in risk management.

After trainees have completed selected STTU programs, train-the-trainer programs can take them to the next level as instructors and instructor-trainers. Apart from possessing demonstration quality skills, the Instructor has many obligations to meet when teaching, among which is the shaping of proper behaviors until conditioning and transfer of learning occurs.

Instructor candidates are taught to employ all phases of teaching and to stimulate learning, reinforce responses, and to motivate and guide students through the learning process. They are also taught to take into consideration individual physical factors affecting learning, and to develop effective course structures. Efficient and effective use of training time is stressed in all programs and safety is paramount, particularly in live-fire, CQB, HRT, and reality-based training evolutions.

STTU educational development and train-the-trainer programs are designed to improve the instructional capabilities and communications skills of law enforcement and military officers and trainers. These programs are recommended for educators, physical fitness trainers, coaches, weapons & tactics instructors, training facility managers, operational briefers, and range safety officers.

STTU Books3

Each train-the-trainer program is customized to suit the operational and training requirements of the host agency or command. Topics covered in these programs can include:

  • Principles of Adult Learning
  • Principles of Decision-based Learning
  • Laws of Teaching
  • Instructional Methodologies
  • Teaching Technical & Tactical Skills
  • Effective use of Training Aids
  • Obligations of the Instructor
  • Student & Trainee Assessments

Training Program & Courseware Development

  • Effective PowerPoint Presentation Development
  • Training Program Management
  • Training Policies & Procedures
  • Minimum Operating Standards
  • Risk Management
  • Reality-based Training Development
  • Shooting Range Management
  • Mission-specific Training Development
  • Human Performance in Adverse Environments
  • Warrior Development
  • Post-training Assessments & Validation
  • Methods of Individual & Group Testing
  • Record Keeping
  • Instructor Development Certifications (Multi-level program)
  • Instructor Certification
  • Instructor-Trainer Certification
  • Course Director Certification

While staying true to the established principles of learning such as stimulus, response, reinforcement and motivation, OS and STTU stress the importance of repetition in training to condition the trainees and achieve a positive change in behavior. This requires a constant process of teaching, trial, feedback, practice, reinforcement, practice (as many times as necessary), constructive critique, and finally conditioned response. OS and STTU are also strong proponents of decision-based learning and guided discovery – a process of building on past experience, knowing that optimum learning occurs when students are able to apply past learning to a new situation. Decision-based learning ensures that the trainees are mentally engaged in the learning and training process.

All Train-the-Trainer programs are taught by Mark Lonsdale, Director of STTU and Operational Studies; an educator, trainer, law enforcement and military advisor, firearms instructor, and nationally certified judo coach. After 30 years for running STTU training programs and teaching instructor development at the university level, Mark Lonsdale has amassed considerable experience in teaching and training methodology. However, what separates STTU’s training development programs from conventional teaching is the experience that only comes from training hundreds of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, US law enforcement officers and federal agents. This experience has been further enhanced by work with coalition forces in Europe and the Middle East, and law enforcement agencies in Eastern Europe and Asia.

For additional information contact the STTU Training Director at STTUOperations@gmail.com


All Contents © 2012/2017 Operational Studies / STTU

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Physical Security & VBIED Blast Protection

The following paper was written by Mark Lonsdale while serving as a senior security consultant on a Department of Defense contract at a combined US/Iraqi military base north of Baghdad in early 2004.  This is also the period when the four Blackwater contractors, one a close friend of Lonsdale’s, were killed in Falluja and the Iraqi insurgency began a significant upward surge.

A General Guidance for Military Commanders tasked with Force Protection and FOB Security Operations

By Mark V. Lonsdale


The purpose of this paper is to offer some guidance to military commanders and security managers on how to best protect their bases and facilities from insurgent attack. Keep in mind that security is seldom ideal, and even less so when restricted by budget and the limited availability of resources. Security counter measures can be further compromised by the terrain, the physical limitations of the base or work site, or lack of support at the command or appropriations level.

This paper is not intended as a criticism or even critique of any specific command or location, but merely as an academic discussion of the subject from a tactical perspective.

Mark-Lonsdale Iraq Gen-Paul-Eaton

Mark Lonsdale (left) with General Paul Eaton, Combined Military Assistance Training Team (CMATT) – Iraq 2004


Since the successful terrorist bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut (1983) killing over 240 Marines, and then the US Embassy Annex (1984), US military and governmental facilities have come under regular attack by suicide bombers and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). The dramatic destruction of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995 also served to further validate the viability of this form of attack.

In late 2003 and early 2004 these same terrorist tactics and vehicle bombs were used against US and collation bases in Iraq, along with police stations, recruitment centers, civil defense units and NGO facilities. Particularly hard hit was the CPA and checkpoints around the Green Zone; and although these vehicle bombs had not penetrated the outer defenses, they caused significant casualties, disrupted operations, had an adverse affect on morale, and emboldened the anti-coalition forces (ACF) to attempt even more audacious attacks.

As a direct result of these attacks, US military commanders and base security managers were forced to re-evaluate their base security procedures and perimeter defenses. Unfortunately, neither of these subjects had been widely taught within the military system or disseminated in an easy to understand format. Hopefully this paper will help fill some of that void.

However, it must also be understood, and to quote the old adage, “that the best defense is a strong offense.”  For base security this equates to aggressive patrolling outside the wire to deny the enemy access to the perimeter or the opportunity to observe the location and security procedures.


Although actual security counter measures can be quite complex, they generally conform to one or more of the five basic principles of Physical Security.

These are:

  • DENY

The first principle is to deter an attack by the appearance of a robust security program and substantial physical barriers. Deterrence also comes from an aggressive defensive posture, an alert security force, vehicle checkpoints, vehicles searches, guard towers, lighting, visible weapons positions, and fighting patrols pushing out from the immediate perimeter.

The next principle is to deny access through physical barriers and guard forces. The types of physical barriers include trenches, fences, concertina wire, razor ribbon, Hesco baskets, and Jersey and Alaskan concrete barriers. In the absence of construction resources, a professional guard force can be positioned to deny access. There is however a direct but inverse correlation between physical security and the security guard force. The fewer the physical barriers, the greater the guard force required to secure the same area.

Early detection of an attempted intrusion or breach is critical to an effective fighting response. This is achieved through open ground, standoff, cleared areas, and alert perimeter security personnel. This can be augmented with electronic alarm systems, motion detectors, motion sensitive cameras, guard dogs, trip flares and other noise or light generating devices. At night, the guard force will require either perimeter lighting or NODs to detect an intrusion.

To detect explosive devices or VBIEDs requires a team of specially trained personnel and K-9s certified in IED / explosive identification and detection

When the physical barriers cannot stop an attack, they should at least be positioned to delay the enemy approach. Delay is achieved through the use of physical barriers such as trenches, fences, concertina wire, razor ribbon, Hescos, Jersey barriers or any improvised device that will slow or hinder the enemy’s movement. The delaying barriers should give the guard force the time and opportunity to engage the enemy with effective fire, and for the QRF to reinforce the breach.

Where the Rules of Engagement allow for aggressive counter force, the intent will be to destroy the enemy with whatever weapons are available.

Last “D” is deceased – and that is the end result if fundamental security protocols are not followed. Lives may be needlessly lost for lack of command initiative and/or logistical support.


The three essentials for an effective perimeter system are clear ground, physical barriers and an alert guard force.

Without going into too greater detail, a typical external perimeter for a military or governmental facility would consist of the following physical features with security over-watch.

  1. Clear terrain outside the perimeter to the maximum range possible
  2. Signs outside the perimeter warning the public of the danger of approaching the outer fences and forbidding any form of photography of the installation.
  3. Trenches and/or concertina barbed wire to impede and discourage approach to the outer fence
  4. An outer fence usually constructed of 3- to 4-meter chain-link fence topped with triple strand barbed wire and razor ribbon.
  5. Inner physical barriers such as concrete Jersey Barriers to prevent vehicles crashing through the fence. If a public road passes along the outside of the perimeter fence, then concrete crash barriers should be placed along the shoulder of the road to prevent vehicles veering off the road and into the fence.
  6. Perimeter lighting controlled from the guard towers and/or a central location
  7. An outer perimeter vehicle patrol road just inside the outer fence
  8. Fifty to one hundred meters of clear ground
  9. An inner perimeter fence similar to the outer perimeter fence
  10. Guard towers positioned every 200 meters with mutually supporting over-watch and intersecting fire. Towers should be at least 4 meters high to the floor of the tower and offer adequate protection to the guard force from incoming fire and the elements. Towers should also be connected with either hard-wire comms or RF (VHF) communications.
  11. Running inside the line of towers should be an additional access road and possibly indirect fire / bomb shelters if the threat warrants.

 In general, tower guards, sentries, and soldiers manning checkpoints should be rotated or relieved every four hours. After four hours the level of alertness drops off sharply, particularly in hot climates and inclement weather.

The perimeter security towers and positions should be toured and inspected periodically by officers and senior NCOs during each shift. A Quick Reaction Force (QRF) should be on stand-by for an immediate response to any location on the perimeter.


Security gates into high threat areas, or sites the terrorists would consider high value targets, are in fact not a single gate but rather a system of physical barriers and man-power. The three essentials for an effective security gate system are early observation of approaching traffic, approach distance, physical barriers and alert guards.

The guard force must be able to observe the approach of an enemy or vehicle at some distance, in excess of 300 meters, to be able to track and evaluate the vehicles approach and intent. This requires that the gate be sited with consideration to terrain, clear fields of observation, and unobstructed fields of fire.

If a vehicle(s) demonstrates its hostile intent by ignoring warnings or accelerating, then the guard force will have time to take appropriate counter measures. These counter measures will range from securing gates, activating caltrops, to engaging the vehicle and driver with heavy weapons fire (.50 cal, MK 19, M240B, or Sniper).

If the vehicle(s) explodes, it should be at sufficient distance to cause minimal injury or loss of life.

There are a number of physical barriers that can be incorporated into a security gate beginning with some form of obstacle to slow approaching vehicles. The entire security gate operation should also be encircled by some form of security fence, usually 2-3 meter chain-link topped with barbed wire and/or razor ribbon.

Substantial heavy obstacles such as concrete Jersey barriers, sections of large-diameter concrete pipe, or earth filled drums should be used to slow the flow of traffic by being placed in zigzag patterns or chicanes. The spacing on these obstacles will vary depending on the size of vehicles processed through the gate, but in general, a vehicle should be forced to slow to no more than 5 mph (7 kph).

Various forms of tire-shredding devices or caltrops can also be used to deter fast approaching vehicles, and all areas designed to slow vehicles should be covered by at least one and preferably two machinegun (MG) weapons stations.

If drop-bar or swing-bar type security gates are to be used, then a steel cable should be run through the pipe. This can then be secured to a large concrete block of steel pipe set in concrete to make the gate more impenetrable. In the absence of a drop-bar gate, the cable alone can be used as long as it can be securely anchored at both ends.

At the beginning of the approach lane, and at regular intervals down the road, there should be signage in both English and the local language warning drivers and pedestrians of the speed limit and consequences of violating the posted rules. WARNING! SLOW! “Lethal Force is Authorized!”

The most critical component of any security gate operation is the guard force. These need to be alert professional soldiers, MPs or contractors with specialized training in gate operations and security procedures. They also need to be seasoned NCOs with the ability to be polite but assertive when necessary.

Guard posts and guard towers need to be sited so that they can identify approaching vehicles and have early recognition of a threat. This early recognition is critical if they are to have the time to activate counter measures, secure barriers or engage with effective fire.

A running man can cover 50 meters in six or seven seconds, and a vehicle traveling at 30 mph (44 feet per second / 15 meters per second) will cover 100 meters in 6 – 7 seconds. This is very little time for a guard to identify the threat and react to it. This also illustrates the importance of having several hundred meters of visible run-up to any guard gate.

Guard towers should be sited so they have a clear view of the surrounding area and unobstructed fields of fire. Crew-served weapons should also be positioned to over-watch all guard posts, approaches, vehicle check-points (VCP) and search areas. Optimally, two weapons systems should be placed at right-angles with intersecting and supporting fire on areas of high threat such as initial check-points and inspection areas.  Approaching drivers should feel intimidated by the firepower that can be brought into play if required.

In addition to suitable weapons systems, the guards in the guard towers and fixed positions should be issued range cards that give pre-measured distances to all visible landmarks. They should also be given the opportunity to test fire and zero their weapons under realistic range conditions that replicate the security towers.

At night the guard towers should be equipped with night observation devices (NODs) and weapons should have night weapons sights. As with iron sights and day-optics, it is essential that the night sights have also been zeroed to the weapons system.


Car and Truck bombs (VBIEDs) have posed a significant threat to the US military since the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut. They have also been successfully employed against targets such as the Oklahoma City Federal Building, the World Trade Center (1993), and more recently Kobar Towers.

Since deploying to Iraq in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom, VBIEDs have been successfully used against the entrances to the Green Zone, various police and military installations, government buildings, and most US military bases.

The obvious danger with VBIEDs is that they carry significant amounts of explosive ranging from 100 to 2,000 pounds, and that stopping a fast moving vehicle before it penetrates the security cordon is no easy matter.

The two primary types of explosive devices built into vehicles are military munitions and homemade explosives. The military munitions often consist of assorted 155mm artillery shells or mortar bombs primed with some form of C-4 or Semtex-type plastic explosive. This type of device may create a smaller blast since the over all explosive weight is smaller, but the high velocity fragmentation from the shell casings is deadly.

The non-military ordnance and home-made devices are often composed of some form of “fertilizer bomb” utilizing ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (AMFO). These are cheap to make and have already been found in Iraq in 300 to 500 pound devices. These large devices derive their devastating power from the fact that AMFO is a slower velocity explosive but generates incredible pushing power. Unlike military explosives which have high brisance and dissipate energy quickly, fertilizer bombs are similar to those used in quarrying and designed to move large amounts of earth. The shockwave will travel further and cause significant structural damage, so counter measures and blast barriers must be proportionately more robust.

There are a number of forces at play with a VBIED, most of which are quite deadly. The first is the initial blast and resulting shock wave that can knock down structures and cause massive overpressure injuries. Accompanying the blast wave is the high velocity primary fragmentation either from the device itself or shrapnel packed around the device.

A blast will also create secondary fragmentation from any of the surrounding structures to include concrete, glass, metal and rocks. The next concern is fall-out and fragmentation from the explosion that will be returning to earth at terminal velocity for several seconds after the initial blast. This necessitates overhead protection for the guard force.

Finally there are the risks of sympathetic detonation of surrounding vehicles as their gas tanks ignite; ammunition cooking off in damaged military vehicles; additional flammable substances that may be on trucks in the vicinity; or ammunition storage points or fuel farms that may have been the primary target of the attack.

When dealing with VBIEDs, the first security principal is to get the vehicle slowed down and stopped some distance from the initial US military checkpoint. The aim is to create as much distance as possible between a potential explosion and the US or coalition forces. If the driver becomes nervous and blows his load, then the loss of life should be limited to the two to four soldiers or local police at the initial checkpoint. A brutal but sad reality.

There should be at least three to four vehicle stops or checkpoints within the security system:

  1. Initial ID check to make sure the car or truck is supposed to be entering the camp and the driver is who he says he is.
  2. Vehicle search by Iraqi soldiers, police or civil defense
  3. Vehicle search by US or coalition soldiers or security contractors
  4. Detailed inspection of the vehicle’s load if required.

Explosives trained K-9s should be utilized during the first or second phases of the search process, but unfortunately, since the K-9 handlers are usually US soldiers or contract force protection specialist, the K-9s are not utilized until the vehicle has reached the third or forth checkpoint within the security zone.

If the suicide driver makes the decision to run the checkpoint with the hope of causing greater destruction, then the physical barriers should be sufficient to stop the vehicle; guards should have the time and appropriate weapons systems to engage the vehicle and driver with effective fire; and the surrounding berms, Hescos, Jersy and Alaskan barriers (T walls) should contain the blast resulting in minimal damage or loss of life.


Although alert and professional, US soldiers and Marines do not receive formal training in security gate operations during their basic training.

Programs need to be instituted to give soldiers the basic procedures for security gate operations, vehicle search procedure, ID check procedures, checkpoint interview techniques, IED identification, reaction to suspicious vehicles or individuals, tower operations, rules of engagement, and post-blast reaction drills.

This type of training can be coordinated through the Military Police, S-2 shop, Air Force force-protection instructors, or civilian contractors.


There are two factors that continue to create significant weakness in perimeter and gate security operations – flow rate and training. International airports are a good example of these problems that almost everyone has seen and experienced.

First, the airport must process high volumes of passengers and baggage in a timely manner. For example, 400 individuals, 800 pieces of hull baggage, and an equal number of carry-on pieces need to be processed for each international 747 flight in less than two hours.

Similarly, on a military base or FOB, 2,000 – 4,000 visitors and workers must be processed each day, along with several hundred non-military vehicles.

The sheer volume that must be processed precludes any expectations of a detailed search of all vehicles, or computer database background review of drivers and visiting individuals.

The second problem is the lack of a professionally trained guard force. The slovenly minimum wage security worker has become an all too familiar sight at US airports, and while our soldiers have a professional appearance, they have not received intense training in security operations, IED identification, terrorist methodology, smuggling and concealment methods, or individual interview and vetting.

These two issues – flow rate and lack of training – create significant opportunities for terrorists to capitalize on the weakness in base defenses.

Finally, and on a more military level, a base will always be vulnerable to attack if the area around the base is not heavily patrolled. Fighting patrols need to be operating 24/7 out to the maximum range of the enemy’s weapons – for example, 3,000 – 5,000 meters for indirect fire weapons such as the mortar.

These patrols need to be augmented with HUMINT collection efforts, covert OPs, sniper operations, night ambushes, and surprise vehicle checkpoints. In this manner, and with this level of aggressive counter measures, the terrorists and insurgents will be forced to move on up the road to softer targets.

Copyright © 2007/2017

Mark Lonsdale Iraq 2004

Mark Lonsdale doing a bomb damage assessment after a rocket strike at Taji Military Base in Iraq – 2004


For military and security advisory services, Mark Lonsdale can be contacted directly at STTUOperations@gmail.com

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