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Posted on Nov 9, 2012 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 078 – Lightning Strike: The Combat Raid

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

Lightning Strike
The Combat Raid

“Audacity is nearly always right, gambling nearly always wrong.”

Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart

Our last article completed our comprehensive discussion on security operations. During the mini-series, we began with a primer on security operations to set the conditions. Following that, we detailed the three main types of security operations – the screen, the guard, and the cover. Each of these operations can be instrumental in setting the conditions for a unit to achieve its mission in an offense or defense. As we highlighted, each of these types has varying capabilities that must be understood by the commander.


One of the subjects we have wanted to dissect for some time is the raid. We thought this would be a great time for it. Just the mention of the raid puts electricity in the air. Throughout warfare, there have been many successful executed raids which provided huge benefits militarily and politically. Vice versa, a failed raid can be a momentum changer that can change the course of a war. It is clearly the proverbial high risk/high reward operation. During our treatment of the raid, we tell some war stories, look at famous raids in history, and discuss the planning, preparation, and execution of a raid. We have much to cover so LET’S MOVE OUT!


WINTER 1985. The patrol moved out at dusk and humped all night long. It was zero two-hundred hours; they’d been walking through the desert for seven hours en-route to the patrol base. It was already cold, but the desert temperature dropped even more as night fell, but no one felt it. The ingress, packing full gear warmed us up. Now the hard work began.

The patrol leader had a quick and quiet huddle with his leaders to review the security plan. He would be departing with the Security team to scout out the target and emplace surveillance. The mission brief had included a sketch of the compound along with a folder that had a picture of the pilot being held captive. The sketch was simple; one small building, two shacks believed to be where the guards were sleeping, and three guard-posts. The site was obviously a way point since security was poor—only a strand of concertina and no bunkers or foxholes.

Forty-five minutes later, the commander returned with his personal security team and the squad leaders. The Security Team Leader was in place and he was slowly maneuvering his Observation Posts into place. The leader’s recon confirmed the intel; three guys on watch and lights on in the small building where it was apparent that the hostage was being held. It was now zero two forty-five. The mission would go down in forty five minutes barring a compromise or some other unexpected event.

Once the Recon Leader reported his element in place, the Security Team Leader launched his element. His team included three snipers and three machine gunners toting SAW’s. The snipers would take down the guards at zero three-thirty and the SAW gunners would fire on anyone moving into or out of the mini-desert compound / safe house.

Once the support team was in place, the assault team moved into its pre-planned assault position where they waited for the sound of sniper fire to initiate the rescue. The wire wouldn’t be a problem. They’d rush the small building, dropping off teams to cover the shacks. The team entering the building would call out the pilot’s name and tell him to drop to the floor after which time the assault team would open fire. Luckily, we could see the hostage sitting in a chair though the window.

At zero three-thirty, the snipers opened up dropping all three of the roving guards. The assault team swung into action before the bodies hit the ground. They called out the hostage’s name than opened fire while the rest of the team opened up on the shacks. They swept the room and found three dead guards and one slightly disoriented pilot. The support team prepared to hit anyone coming in or going out of the objective area.

The assault team withdrew first, followed by the over-watch team. They tossed smoke grenades over their shoulders on the way out to disorient any potential pursuers. Once they cleared the wire, a designated team member popped a pen flare signaling the support team to open fire on the objective to fix any survivors. Within minutes, the support team withdrew followed by the OP’s. The platoon picked up their rucksacks at the Probable Line of Deployment (PLD) and passed right through the Objective Rally Point (ORP), rapidly transitioning to their exfiltration. It was a pretty good raid—the hostage came out unscathed and at least three bad guys had been dropped; all in less than 25 minutes.

No, this wasn’t Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, or anywhere else you imagined. It was Fort Bliss, Texas, and the mission was a Ranger School Patrol. The bullets were blanks and the ‘raiders’ were students. The mission was long, hard, and executed to precision. It’s at military schools where raids are transformed from abstract studies to real world execution, albeit bloodless.

A raid is a rapid assault of an objective in order to achieve a very specific purpose. These purposes are extremely varied and could include:

– Rescuing prisoners or hostages
– Destroying a key command and control node
– Capturing key equipment
– Destroying a critical logistical node (warehouses, ammunition caches, etc…)
– Obtaining vital information that can set the conditions for future operations
– Destroying communications and locations
– Destruction of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological sites
– Destroy a weapons delivery platform
– Destroying intelligence centers
– Destruction of infrastructure (energy producing locations, irrigation systems etc…)
– Destroy transportation nodes (runways, ports, rail)
– Destruction of key buildings, bridges, dams, etc…)
– Destroy bomb and IED factories
– Destroy enemy safe havens
– Kill or capture enemy high value targets
– Disrupting enemy plans
– As part of a deception operations

As you can see, a raid can have a huge impact on operations – present and future. It can have tactical, operational, and of course, strategic implications. Raids are a common part of combat operations. The goal is not to take and hold anything. Typically, the target is behind enemy lines and the goal is to destroy a critical capability or sire or to rescue prisoners or hostages

Principles of Raids
The principles of raids throughout history are very consistent. They are:

  • Precise intelligence
  • Stealthiness
  • Surprise
  • Rapid violent action
  • A quick withdrawal once the intended effect is achieved

A Quick Look at Famous Raids in History
As most are aware, history is filled with raids, both successful and unsuccessful. Some of the more famous ones include:


The Trenton Raid. On 26 December, 1776, George Washington led the Continental Army across the Delaware River to launch a dead of night, Christmas Eve, surprise attack on a Hessian garrison in Trenton, New Jersey.

Grierson’s Raid. From 17 April to 2 May, 1863, the Union Cavalry conducted an extended raid behind Confederate lines on order of Ulysses S. Grant to divert enemy attention away from his main attack on Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The Raid on Zeebrugge. On 23 April, 1918, the Allied Navy initiated a daring naval assault on the Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend in order to neutralize them as German U-boat bases.


The Doolittle Raid. On 18 April 1942, the US launched its first air raid on the Japanese home islands proving they were not immune from the war and providing a significant morale boost back home.

The Dieppe Raid. On 19 August, 1942, the Allies conducted an attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe along the northern coast of France to disrupt German naval activity within the English Channel.

The Cabanatuan Raid. On 30 January, 1945, elements of the 6th Ranger Battalion executed a desperate rescue of Allied Prisoners of War (POWs) and civilians held in a Japanese camp near Cabanatuan City, in the Philippines.


The SÆ¡n Tây Raid. On 21 November, 1970 the US forces in Vietnam launched a POW rescue attempt of prisoners held in a camp in North Vietnam—the raid failed since the prisoners had, by chance, been moved just before the raid was launched.

The Raid on Entebbe. On 4 July 1976, a hostage rescue carried out by commandos of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

Operation Chavín de Huántar. On 22 April 1997, Peruvian Special Forces, aided by US Southern Command in Panama, executed a daring hostage rescue of diplomats being held by terrorists at the Japanese Embassy in Peru.

Operation Neptune Spear. On 2 May 2011, US Special Forces launched a raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, believed to be Osama bin Laden’s hideout – it was.

The above missions were raids. They were short duration, violent, targeted attacks that were followed up by a planned withdrawal. The purpose of a raid is to get in quietly and quickly; do whatever damage needs to be done; then get out quickly before the enemy can hit you back. You go in; hit the specified targets; and get out having usually accomplished an operational or strategic objective. You don’t execute a raid with the intention of holding the target or fighting extensively on the objective. Raids are sucker punches and they are most effective when the opponent is knocked out without getting an opportunity to strike back.

Raids are quick, decisive, and they should come as a total surprise to the enemy. They are demoralizing to the enemy when they work. Raids can be equally devastating when they fail. All we need to do is look back at what happened when Desert One was hit by a sand storm in Iran. That failure helped Jimmy Carter lose his job; forced the Goldwater Nichols Reform; and led to the creation of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), unifying the service’s Special Forces into a cohesive and reinforcing force. It was politically devastating in the short run; although the consolidation of the service Special Forces under SOCOM was immensely beneficial in the long run.

Raids don’t just happen. They are typically executed in hostile territory and require excellent intelligence, detailed planning, and extensive rehearsal. It is a strike operation conducted behind enemy lines against strategic objectives, targets of high tactical value, time-sensitive targets, or key personnel and facilities in enemy rear areas. Raids normally involve a swift penetration of hostile territory to confuse the enemy or destroy installations. Specially trained units can conduct deep penetration raids when given the required insertion assets.

Strategic raids are directed by the National Command Authority, the President or the Secretary of Defense, and are usually conducted under the control of a Combatant Commander or a Joint Task Force Commander. Operational raids are usually directed by a Combatant Commander or a Joint Task Force Commander and are conducted directly under the control of a corps commander.


The Size of a Raid
The size of the raiding force is determined by a detailed analysis of the mission, enemy, troops, terrain/weather, time available and civil considerations (METT-TC) to prepare for the operation. The unit committed to the ground phase of the raid mission should be kept as small as possible. Small units are more able to achieve surprise and move quickly on the objective. Larger units require more coordination to move. The raiding force can be as small as a platoon or as large as a battalion or regiment, but the latter are exceptions to the rule. The raid force is tailored to complete the mission quickly, violently, with as few casualties as possible. The latter seems obvious, but casualties during a raid can have massive consequences as we saw during the Mogadishu Raid in 1983. Medical evacuation during a raid often is limited to on site triage by combat lifesavers and self-extraction by the raid force. The size of the raid force may be affected by the addition of specially trained personnel needed for the mission such as linguists or demolitions experts.

Raiders may be equipped with special munitions, communications, weapons, and demolitions in order to effectively and efficiently execute their assigned tasks. Raids normally occur in enemy territory, far away from friendly forces, so the force must be equipped to handle whatever challenges arise with the tools they carry. They usually cannot rely on much in the way of external reinforcement or support.


The Conduct of a Raid
Raids have five associated actions which are each instrumental in success. These actions are not necessarily totally sequential and may overlap during execution. The actions are:

Ingress to the Target: The raiding force insertion or infiltration into the objective area.

Isolation of the Target: While on site, the objective area must be sealed off from outside enemy support or reinforcement on the ground or through the air.

Suppress or Fix Enemy near the Target Area: Any enemy forces at or near the objective are overcome by surprise, precision fires, and violent attack using all available firepower for shock effect.

Assault the Objective: The mission is accomplished quickly before any surviving enemy can recover or be reinforced by external threats who are responding to the attack.

Rapid and Orderly Egress: The raiding force quickly withdraws from the objective area and is extracted by whatever means have been pre-arranged

Planning the Raid
Raids leave little room for error. Planning, preparation, and rehearsal are critical. If you cut corners here, you will pay for it on the objective. That is if you even get to the objective. The goal is for every member of the raiding force to know the exact enemy disposition and routine while also knowing his job and the job of his teammates on the objective. This takes time and attention to detail.

Maximum use of intelligence. The gathering and dissemination of information must be continuous and provided to the raid force even while en route to the target area. As we all know, things change by the minute and you can’t execute on old information. To ensure mission accomplishment, a unit must be kept informed of the latest enemy developments in the objective area to prevent being surprised themselves.

Plan development. The reverse planning sequence and the planning steps are followed in the plan development. The patrol initiates the raid No Later Than time specified in the order, surprises the enemy, assaults the objective, and accomplishes its assigned mission within the commander’s intent. The patrol does not become decisively engaged en route to the objective.

Coordination. Coordination is through the operational headquarters with friendly units (such as higher and supporting Army or joint headquarters, intelligence agencies) for fire, reconnaissance and surveillance support, special equipment, and personnel and logistical support. Since support is likely to be from remote locations and is often executed by units that are not habitually in support of the raiding unit, coordination beforehand is critical. Both the raiders and their support must prearrange the timing, signals and code words for the initiation and termination of support.

Rehearsals. We can’t over emphasize the criticality of rehearsals. An experienced raid unit will build terrain models for talk throughs and will build full scale models to walk through and run through. Rehearsals validate all aspects of planning for the raid and ensure precision in execution. They allow changes to be made in the plan before it is carried out.


Timing of a Raid
A successful raid is launched at an unexpected time or place by forces taking advantage of darkness and other periods of limited visibility. Raiders move over terrain that the enemy considers impassable. Raiders avoid detection through stealth and by employing proper movement techniques. They use skillful camouflage and concealment techniques to include taking advantage of natural cover of the terrain. They also use sophisticated equipment to detect and avoid enemy forces.

Timing of the operation is as precise as possible; emplacement of security, initiation of suppressing of fires, and execution of the assault and withdrawal. Raiders use all available support as needed whether organic and nonorganic. They employ special weapons such as shaped breaching charges, smart bombs, and artillery sited by laser target designators.

Once on the objective, actions are executed quickly, violently, and precisely. Audacity focuses all available combat power at the decisive time and place. Once the desired effects are achieved, the raiders disengage as quickly as possible, leaving the enemy in and around the objective dazed. The withdrawal is a moment of vulnerability and must by swiftly executed using planned routes, deception and covering suppressive and fixing fires.



As in any tactical operation, you most organize your unit for success. In a raid, you will usually break your force into four elements. Each element is organized and equipped to do a specific part of the overall mission. Let’s discuss each of these elements below (Please refer to the above diagram):

­– The command group controls movement to, actions at the objective, and the withdrawal from the objective. This unit normally consists of the ground commander, other subordinate leaders in the raid organization, and communications to support these leaders.

– The security element is certainly critical to success. The organization is determined by a variety of things. These include the mission of the raid force, size and type of enemy force, its mobility, terrain and avenues of approach into the area, and the time needed to seal off the objective area. The element can perform numerous tasks. They include the following:

  • Secure the Objective Release Point (ORP) for the Assault Element.
  • Provide early warning of enemy action to other team members.
  • Block avenues of approach into the objective areas.
  • Prevent enemy escape from the objective.
  • Provide overwatch for the Assault Element at the objective.
  • Provide suppressive fires for the withdrawal of the Assault Element.
  • Provide short-range air defense.

­– The support element provides the heavy volume of fire needed to neutralize the objective. Because fires from this unit are violent and devastating, they must be closely controlled to ensure the precision needed. On order or as planned, fires are lifted and shifted to cover the maneuver of the assault element by suppressing enemy fire from the objective or aerial fires. The support element may also be given specific locations to cover by fire in support of the security element if an enemy quick-reaction force moves toward the objective area. These may include routes into and out of the objective site, key terrain features, or installations adjacent to the main objective. Once the assault has been completed, or on order from the raid force commander, the support element displaces to the next planned position. Organization of the support element is determined by the following:

  • Size of the objective, the geography of surrounding area, and the enemy threat (to include air) in the area. This element should be able to neutralize the objective (when supported by air or naval gunfire) and to lift or shift fires either when the assault is launched or when ordered by the raid force commander.
  • Mission of the assault unit.
  • Suitable firing positions.
  • Size and nature of the enemy force in the objective area and those enemy forces capable of reinforcement at the objective.
  • Fire support from other units (air strikes, naval gunfire, and surface-to-surface missiles, and artillery fire).


– The assault element seizes and secures the objective and protects demolition teams, search teams, prisoner-of-war teams, or other teams.

* The organization of the assault element is always tailored to the mission. Each target area must be examined carefully. To assault, seize, and destroy an installation, position, or equipment, the assault element could be organized into one or more assault teams. The element’s mission is to overcome resistance and secure the objective and to destroy the installation or equipment. Other specialized teams may also be needed. For example, sniper teams could be needed to remove key sentries. To capture prisoners, liberate personnel, and seize or destroy equipment, the assault element could be organized into assault teams, prisoner teams, search teams, medical teams, demolition teams, or breach teams.
(b) To destroy a point target or installation in a heavily defended area where the USAF cannot get close en to be effective; the assault element might be organized with one small team equipped with laser target designators. From covered and concealed positions, members of the team could then provide guidance for USAF delivery of laser-guided munitions from a safe distance.

Raids are key tools in the commander’s bag of tricks. They can restore confidence and bolster morale as they did at Trenton (Washington) and Tokyo (Doolittle). They can set the stage for a larger operation such as the attack helicopter raid that destroyed Iraqi border ADA thus opening the door for the launch of the air war that initiated Operation Desert Storm. Raids can have global political impact such as the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden. Successful raids are executed by professional, well trained, troops that are extensively rehearsed in the execution of a detailed plan. Raids are also double edged swords—a botched raid can lead to seriously negative consequences.

Plan your raid well. What if the plan to death. The idea is to foresee as many of the pitfalls as possible and plan against them. Practice really does make perfect so; rehearse—rehearse—rehearse! When executed correctly; they’ll never see you coming or going. All they’ll see is the ruins you leave behind.


  1. I prefer the description of tactics in the language of a veteran who describes his own experiences.

    A recapitulation of US tactics, with their pompous jargon, is not helpful.

    US doctrine is not the best as their continued defeat by foreign forces exemplifies.

    The US military has adopted the payment of bribes to enemies instead of trying to beat them. See their recent manual: MONEY AS A WEAPON.

  2. Nice detail information.

  3. Most famous raids..? Perhaps it’s not as famous as some, but the March 1863 raid by Confederate Captain John Singleton Mosby in which he penetrated far inside Union lines to capture LTG Edwin Stoughton, two captains, 30 enlisted men, and 58 horses without firing a shot, certainly deserves mention.

    Indeed, Mosby’s exploits in general deserve mention.