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Posted on Apr 23, 2008 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101: 026. Cordon and Search Operations

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

“A Deadly Game of Hide and Seek”

Whether you grew up in a city or suburbia, the game of hide and seek is a common experience that most of us can relate to. Today, a variant of hide and seek called cordon and search is played daily throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. However, there are two clear differences in this variant. First, it is obviously not a game. Second, the ramifications for winning and losing have much more serious consequences.

Saddam's hiding place

“Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.”


L. Paul Bremer (U.S. administrator in Iraq) announcing to the world the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Perhaps the most famous cordon and search operation conducted to date in Iraq was the ultimate capture of Saddam Hussein. Working on intelligence received 24 hours earlier, Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division with Special Forces Operators conducted OPERATION RED DAWN on December 14, 2003. About 60 Soldiers cordoned off an area of roughly two square miles to enable the preponderance of forces to search for Hussein. After initially coming up empty handed, forces researched the farm. Finally, Hussein was discovered hiding in an eight-foot-deep, camouflaged spider hole. OPERATION RED DAWN was a success!

In this month’s article we will focus upon the cordon and search operation. For this topic, we asked a good friend of ours, Tim McKane to assist us in this discussion. Tim is a retired infantry officer and one of the most respected instructors at the Army’s Command and General Staff College. Tim brings two key qualities to this article. First, he truly understands the subject matter and second, he is a loyal reader of Armchair General magazine and Web site! As a group we will focus on the following: the purpose of cordon and search, organizing for success, phases of the operation, and finally some keys to success.

House search in the war on terror Cordon and search operations have become one of most frequent operations in the Global War on Terror. This type of combat operation involves isolating the target area and searching suspected buildings to capture or destroy possible insurgents and/or contraband. A cordon and search may also be thought of as a movement to contact, a raid, a deliberate attack, or as area reconnaissance, based on the accuracy of intelligence.

Why is the cordon and search used so frequently in Iraq and Afghanistan? The key reason is that in this complex environment it has proven to be an effective means to seize key materials that an enemy may utilize or to seize personnel. Materials could include weapons caches, explosives, contraband, evidence or intelligence. Personnel normally fall into the categories of insurgents, sympathizers, or criminals. Cordon and search may also be conducted for other reasons, perhaps as a show of force or to demonstrate to the local populace that the government and not the insurgents have control of the area.

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1 Comment

  1. This was an outstanding help to my classes on CS. Thanks for publishing this peice.