Infantry Drills

FM 3-21.8 – Chapter 7 – Section VI – Special Purpose Attacks


7-117.  When the company commander directs it, the platoon conducts a special attack. The commander bases his decision on the factors of METT-TC. Special purpose attacks are subordinate forms of an attack and they include—

– Ambush.

– Raid.

– Counterattack.

– Spoiling attack.

– Feint.

– Demonstration.

7-118.  As forms of the attack, they share many of the same planning, preparation, and execution considerations of the offense. Feints and demonstrations are also associated with military deception operations.


7-119.  An ambush is a form of attack by fire or other destructive means from concealed positions on a moving or temporarily halted enemy. It may take the form of an assault to close with and destroy the enemy, or be an attack by fire only. An ambush does not require ground to be seized or held. Ambushes are generally executed to reduce the enemy force’s overall combat effectiveness. Destruction is the primary reason for conducting an ambush. Other reasons to conduct ambushes are to harass the enemy, capture the enemy, destroy or capture enemy equipment, and gain information about the enemy. Ambushes are classified by category (deliberate or hasty), formation (linear or L-shaped), and type (point, area, or antiarmor). The platoon leader uses a combination of category, type, and formation for developing his ambush plan.  See Chapter 9 for greater detail on ambushes.

Operational Considerations

7-120.  The execution of an ambush is offensive in nature. However, the platoon may be directed to conduct an ambush during offensive or defensive operations. The platoon must take all necessary precautions to ensure that it is not detected during movement to or preparation of the ambush site. The platoon also must have a secure route of withdrawal following the ambush. An ambush normally consists of the following actions:

– Tactical movement to the objective rally point (ORP).

– Reconnaissance of the ambush site.

– Establishment of the ambush security site.

– Preparation of the ambush site.

– Execution of the ambush.

– Withdrawal.

Task Organization

7-121.  The Infantry platoon is normally task-organized into assault, support, and security elements for execution of the ambush.

Assault Element

7-122.  The assault element executes the ambush. It may employ an attack by fire, an assault, or a combination of those techniques to destroy the ambushed enemy force. The assault element generally consists of a rifle squad. The platoon leader is normally located with the assault element.

Support Element

7-123.  The support element fixes the enemy force to prevent it from moving out of the kill zone, which allows the assault element to conduct the ambush. The support element generally uses direct fires in this role, but it may be responsible for calling indirect fires to further fix the ambushed enemy force. The support element generally consists of the weapons squad. The platoon sergeant is normally located with the support element.

Security Element

7-124.  The security element provides protection and early warning to the assault and support elements, and secures the objective rally point. It isolates the ambush site both to prevent the ambushed enemy force from moving out of the ambush site and to prevent enemy rescue elements from reaching the ambush site. The security element may also be responsible for securing the platoon’s withdrawal route. The security element generally consists of a rifle squad.


7-125.  The platoon leader’s key planning considerations for any ambush include the following:

– Cover the entire kill zone (engagement area) by fire.

– Use existing terrain features (rocks or fallen trees, for example) or reinforcing obstacles (Claymores or other mines) orienting into the kill zone to keep the enemy in the kill zone.

– Determine how to emplace reinforcing obstacles on the far side of the kill zone.

– Protect the assault and support elements with mines, Claymores, or explosives.

– Use the security element to isolate the kill zone.

– Establish rear security behind the assault element.

– Assault into the kill zone to search dead and wounded, to assemble prisoners, and to collect equipment. The assault element must be able to move quickly on its own through the ambush site protective obstacles.

– Time the actions of all elements of the platoon to prevent the loss of surprise.


NOTE:  When manning an ambush for long periods of time, the platoon leader may use only one squad to conduct the entire ambush, rotating squads over time. The platoon leader must consider the factors of METT-TC and must especially consider the company commander’s intent and guidance.


7-126.  The leader determines the category of ambush through an analysis of the factors of METT-TC. Typically, the two most important factors are time and enemy.


7-127.  A deliberate ambush is a planned offensive action conducted against a specific target for a specific purpose at a predetermined location. When planning a deliberate ambush, the leader requires detailed information on the—

– Size and composition of the targeted enemy unit.

– Weapons and equipment available to the enemy.

– Enemy’s route and direction of movement.

– Times that the targeted enemy unit will reach or pass specified points along the route.


7-128.  The platoon (or squad) conducts a hasty ambush when it makes visual contact with an enemy force and has time to establish an ambush without being detected. The conduct of the hasty ambush should represent the execution of disciplined initiative within the parameters of the commander’s intent. The actions for a hasty ambush should be established in a unit SOP and rehearsed so Soldiers know what to do on the leader’s signal.


7-129.  The platoon leader considers the factors of METT-TC to determine the required formation.


7-130.  In an ambush using a linear formation, the assault and support elements deploy parallel to the enemy’s route. This position forces the enemy on the long axis of the kill zone, and subjects the enemy to flanking fire. The linear formation can be used in close terrain that restricts the enemy’s ability to maneuver against the platoon, or in open terrain (provided a means of keeping the enemy in the kill zone can be effected).


7-131.  In an L-shaped ambush the assault element forms the long leg parallel to the enemy’s direction of movement along the kill zone. The support element forms the short leg at one end of and at a right angle to the assault element. This provides both flanking (long leg) and enfilading (short leg) fires against the enemy. The L-shaped ambush can be used at a sharp bend in a road, trail, or stream. It should not be used where the short leg would have to cross a straight road or trail. The platoon leader must consider the other factors of METT-TC before opting for the L-shaped formation. Special attention must be placed on sectors of fire and SDZ of weapons because of the risk of fratricide when conducting an L-shaped ambush.

V-Shaped Ambush

7-132.  The V-shaped ambush assault elements are placed along both sides of the enemy route so they form a V. Take extreme care to ensure neither group fires into the other. This formation subjects the enemy to both enfilading and interlocking fire.


7-133.  The company commander, following an analysis of the factors of METT-TC, determines the type of ambush that the platoon will employ.

Conducting an area ambush

7-134.  An area ambush (more than one point ambush) is not conducted by a unit smaller than a platoon. This ambush works best where enemy movement is restricted. Once the platoon is prepared, the area ambush is conducted the same as a point ambush. The dominating feature of an area ambush is the amount of synchronization between the separate point ambushes.

7-135.  Area ambushes require more planning and control to execute successfully. Surprise is more difficult to achieve simply because of the unit’s dispersion in the AO. Having more than one ambush site increases the likelihood of being detected by the enemy or civilians. This major disadvantage is offset by the increased flexibility and sophistication available to the leader.


7-136.  Point ambushes are set at the most ideal location to inflict damage on the enemy. Such ambushes must be able to handle being hit by the enemy force from more than one direction. The ambush site should enable the unit to execute an ambush in two or three main directions. The other directions must be covered by security that gives early warning of enemy attack.


7-137.  A raid is a limited-objective form of an attack, usually small-scale, involving swift penetration of hostile territory to secure information, confuse the enemy, or destroy installations. A raid always ends with a planned withdrawal to a friendly location upon completion of the mission. The platoon can conduct an independent raid in support of the battalion or higher headquarters operation, or it can participate as part of the company in a series of raids. Rifle squads do not execute raids; they participate in a platoon raids.

Operational Considerations

7-138.  The platoon may conduct a raid to accomplish a number of missions, including the following:

– Capture prisoners.

– Destroy specific command, control, and or communications locations.

– Destroy logistical areas.

– Obtain information concerning enemy locations, dispositions, strengths, intentions, or methods of operation.

– Confuse the enemy or disrupt his plans.

– Seize contraband.

Task Organization

7-139.  The task organization of the raiding element is determined by the purpose of the operation. However, the raiding force normally consists of the following elements:

– Support element (support by fire).

– Assault element (with the essential task of the mission).

– Breach element (if required to reduce enemy obstacles).

– Isolation/security element.

Conduct of the Raid

7-140.  The main differences between a raid and other special purpose attacks are the limited objectives of the raid and the associated withdrawal following completion. However, the sequence of platoon actions for a raid is very similar to those for an ambush. Additionally, the assault element of the platoon may have to conduct a breach of a protective obstacle (if a breach element has not been designated). Raids may be conducted in daylight or darkness, within or beyond the supporting distances of the parent unit. When the enemy location to be raided is beyond supporting distances of friendly lines, the raiding party operates as a separate element. An objective, usually very specific in nature, is assigned to orient the raiding unit (Figure 7-9). During the withdrawal, the attacking element should use a route different from that used to conduct the raid itself.

Figure 7-9. Platoon raid.


7-141.  The counterattack is a form of attack by part or all of a friendly defending element against an enemy attacking force. The general objective of a counterattack is to deny the enemy his goal of attacking. This attack by defensive elements regains the initiative or denies the enemy success with his attack. The platoon may conduct a counterattack as a lightly committed element within a company or as the battalion reserve. Counterattacks afford the friendly defender the opportunity to create favorable conditions for the commitment of combat power. The platoon counterattacks after the enemy begins his attack, reveals his main effort, or creates an assailable flank. As part of a higher headquarters, the platoon conducts the counterattack much like other attacks. However, the platoon leader must synchronize the execution of his counterattack within the overall defensive effort. The platoon should rehearse the counterattack and prepare the ground to be traversed, paying close attention to friendly unit locations, obstacles, and engagement areas.


7-142.  A spoiling attack is a form of attack that preempts or seriously impairs an enemy attack while the enemy is in the process of planning or preparing to attack. The purpose of a spoiling attack is to disrupt the enemy’s offensive capabilities and timelines, destroy his personnel and equipment, and gain additional time for the defending element to prepare positions. The purpose is not to secure terrain or other physical objectives. A commander (company or battalion) may direct a platoon to conduct a spoiling attack during friendly defensive preparations to strike the enemy while he is in assembly areas or attack positions where he is preparing offensive operations. The platoon leader plans for a spoiling attack as he does for other attacks.


7-143.  A feint is a form of attack used to deceive the enemy as to the location and time of the actual operation. Feints attempt to induce the enemy to move reserves and shift his fire support to locations where they cannot immediately impact the actual operation. When directed to conduct a feint, the platoon seeks direct fire or contact with the enemy, but avoids decisive engagement. The commander (company or battalion) will assign the platoon an objective limited in size or scope. The planning, preparation, and execution considerations are the same as for other forms of attack. The enemy must be convinced that the feint is the actual attack.


7-144.  A demonstration is a form of attack designed to deceive the enemy as to the location or time of the actual operation by a display of force. Demonstrations attempt to deceive the enemy and induce him to move reserves and shift his fire support to locations where they cannot immediately impact the actual operation. When directed to conduct a demonstration, the platoon does not seek to make contact with the enemy. The planning, preparation, and execution considerations are the same as for other forms of attack. It must appear to be an actual impending attack.

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