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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

Support/Reserve Element
The last element to discuss is the reserve or support element. Since cordon and search operations involve finding hostile forces hiding in the open within the population anything is likely to happen. It is the support/reserve element that provides the commander flexibility to deal with the unknown. The exact composition of this element is directly related to its anticipated tasks. Possible missions may include dealing with an angry crowd that threatens the outer cordon or reinforcing the search element in handling detainees. As a consequence, the support element must be prepared for just about anything. Every member of the support/reserve element must be familiar with the other elements’ roles and functions during a cordon and search. Proper rehearsals are the key to ensure mission readiness.


One the most important aspects to conducting a cordon and search is to have a contingency plan if contact is made during the operation. All cordon and search operations should be prepared to transition to hasty attack. Again, careful considerations as to direct-fire plans among the elements are imperative to avoid friendly fire. The use of indirect fires and/or close air support need just as careful planning and consideration. Planners need to cautiously consider their approach into the search area as well as the withdraw routes.


AFV discourages unwanted visitorsIf it’s a military operation there are likely to be phases: cordon and search is no different! Below you will find the typical phases of a cordon and search operation, some of which may be conducted in conjunction with one another.

Phase 1: Planning – It all starts with a plan! Planning for a cordon and search is no different than in any other operation. A commander and his staff will conduct a thorough mission analysis. The objective is to achieve a complete understanding of your force, the enemy, and the terrain and weather. With this understanding, a commander can develop feasible courses of action and then select one to execute. What is extremely critical during planning is to explore "what if" and discuss contingencies. Another factor to consider is that your planning timeline can also be very short: Remember you are receiving time-sensitive intelligence, so you may have to execute the mission pretty quickly.

Phase 2: Recon – As in any operation, prior recon is good! However, you must weigh this with the potential for giving away your intent to your enemy. For example, it is probably not sound for you to recon an area you have not been seen in before. This is a red flag to the enemy that something may be happening here in the near future.

Phase 3: Maneuver to Objective – Just as in every operation, you must get to the objective in good shape mentally and physically to execute the decisive operation (the search). Timing is paramount in this phase. A commander must ensure the maneuver between the security and the search/assault elements is synchronized. Certainly, you do not want your search/assault elements getting to the objective before the security elements set up the cordons. Conversely, if the security elements begin setting up the cordons too far ahead of the maneuver of the search/assault, you may very well lose surprise and even compromise the operation.

Phase 4: Cordon (Isolate) the Objective – We cannot stress enough the importance of isolation in any urban operation. As discussed earlier, isolation within the context of a cordon and search operation is achieved when an outer and inner cordon of the search area is established. A commander may elect to establish the cordons simultaneously or one after the other. In either case, the commander must ensure he utilizes a sufficient number of Soldiers to make the cordons effective. The commander who assigns all his Soldiers to the search/assault elements will fail. Establishing the cordons is critical and it requires Soldiers.

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1 Comment

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