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The US military spends a great deal of time teaching soldiers "SWAT [special weapons and tactics] tactics" like stacking" and other police techniques for clearing buildings for use in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the "duck walk," or what we used to call the "Groucho (Marx) walk" and "squaring" your body to the enemy are taught.


I think this training is based on some faulty assumptions. I served on a tactical team during my police career. Even then, I made myself unpopular for being critical of some of the tactics that police tactical teams use.


All police tactics are based on the assumption that the adversary is a criminal. This is only appropriate for police.


Unlike soldiers, the vast majority of criminal offenders have not made an ideological commitment to advance their criminal enterprise in the face of odds that make death or severe injury a likelihood. In short, a criminal will almost always surrender to police as soon as he sees that his chance of escape is unlikely, and his chance of death or serious injury is likely.


SWAT tactics are successful because the sight of a "stack" of police officers entering his home is a sign to a criminal suspect that he cannot get away without risk of injury. It also implies that the criminal will be treated humanely and allowed to surrender. The criminal also knows that he will face a justice system where he has a fair chance of being released, while resisting the SWAT team practically guarantees a high chance of being hurt. Finally, the criminal knows that prison is a cost of doing business in his chosen profession and that, among his peers, he will suffer no loss of prestige and he will not suffer (in their eyes) a loss of honor by being arrested.


Our troops will face enemy soldiers, though. In Iraq and Afghanistan the enemy are irregulars; there is no doubt that they have an ideological commitment to their cause, which implies a willingness to risk death in the effort to kill our troops.


IF there is an enemy soldier (including irregulars) in a house when American troops "stack" outside to clear it, that soldier is probably there by choice, and our tactics should assume that he is willing to fight it out. Typical SWAT tactics, like those being taught to our troops, are completely inadequate to meet such a challenge.


There is a stark example of the likely outcome when SWAT tactics meet a man who is committed to fight: the March shootout in Oakland. In that case, I am confident that the police officers were well trained and that they were executing their tactics flawlessly. You can't say that they didn't expect Lovelle Mixon to be armed and dangerous. They also had to assume, since he'd already shot down two officers, that Mixon was committed to the fight. The only logical conclusion, for me, is that classic SWAT tactics failed these officers.


Soldiers are not criminals and their motivations are vastly different. A committed soldier will devastate a SWAT team every time.


During one spirited discussion, I told my fellow tactical team members, "You'd better not use these tactics if you ever come to MY house. I've got an M1 [Garand] loaded with 8 rounds of AP [armor-piercing] in my bedroom.

You'll probably get me. But there will be a half dozen police funerals when it's over!”


Our military can't stand four to six casualties every time they clear a building with enemy soldiers inside! Our military should abandon tactics that were developed to be used against civil criminals.


We should develop standing operating procedures (SOPs) that require non-combatants to evacuate a building and assume that anyone who remains is a committed soldier.


R. E. Thornton



Police-type "stacking" on a building containing jihadists is asking to get a lot of good soldiers put away.


These ideological twits have proven on multiple occasions that they are more than willing to go to Allah if they can take a few infidels with them. All they need is one martyr in the building with a goodly supply of Semtex, a trigger and an igniter. He can wait until our soldiers make their massed entry, and then press the switch, taking them all with him. If you're trying to save hostages inside the building, then use the flashbangs generously. But if you don't really give a shit, blow the place to hell and interrogate any survivors. We never made massed entries on search-and-destroy missions inside towns in Viet Nam. We'd cover the building with a lot of firepower, and have a couple of designated breakers to go in, preferably on multiple entry points.





I was just talking to a friend of mine (retired SWAT officer, Houston PD) a couple of days ago. It was right after the shootings of the SWAT officers in California.


The military teaching SWAT tactics to use in war zones is like asking police officers to use military tactics in police situations. Totally different for the reasons Thornton listed. He is right that most police suspects will give up when they know they are outnumbered and surrounded. It is completely different when it comes to soldiers or, more likely, terrorists who are holed up in a building or structure of some sort, in a war zone. For the sake of losing soldiers’ lives, I would agree that the use of SWAT tactics is a big waste of time and training.


In my police career of 25 years, I flew over numerous SWAT scenes providing air support and never once witnessed an actual shooting by SWAT to take out a barricaded suspect. The suspects would always give up when confronted. The shootings they did take part in were after they entered the house or business location with an entry team, and this after many hours of negotiating with the suspect to no avail. Of course, as you know better than most, the military never gets that luxury of being able to negotiate 99 percent of the time. With the mind set of terrorists today, soldiers know they will have to shoot it out. A good example is when the Army surrounded Saddam's sons, and the ensuing fight that followed. If the Army would have used the police SWAT tactics, no telling how many of our guys would have been killed.


Roy Repasky




Here is my perspective based on two tours in Iraq, and you know what I was doing for a living at that time.


The SWAT tactics that special operations forces use are similar to law enforcement techniques, with some important differences.


1. There are typically a lot more Special Forces (SF) going in the building than there are police on a raid. That is especially true when we are doing it with the indigenous security forces.


2. SF typically conducts explosive breaches, though not always. An explosive breach gives the raiders a tremendous advantage.


3. Our targets are intelligence-driven. We know who we are after. Admittedly, this is not the case for the infantry when they are clearing large areas (such as a Fallujah situation). If we think we are going to get a fight, we don't generally attack using these tactics. Medium and heavy machinegun fire, AT-4 and LAW rockets, and 40mm grenades into the building are standard fare before anyone goes in. If a tank is handy, a 120mm tank main gun round is even better. AC-130 gunship fire and/or 500–2,000lb bombs are the best of all.


4. If we get unexpected resistance, generally we withdraw and pursue the approach described in paragraph 3.


5. Finally, we are not under the same rules of engagement that police are. We shoot (a lot) at the first indication of resistance.


So a Special Forces raid does not look like a U.S. police raid in many regards. The SWAT tactics are sound in the context I describe above. The one caveat I must add is that if you become predictable using these tactics (or any other), you tend to run in to somebody who has studied your methods and come up with some nasty surprises for you. I saw that happen more than once to certain units and it cost them the lives of some of their men.


Name withheld


The author is a former senior special operations officer. – Ed.



There is NO EXCUSE for endangering the lives of soldiers in combat by expecting or requiring them to conduct themselves as police officers. I believe we have lost soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of this very reasoning by our leadership. The same is true for the absurdity of using our military to TRAIN people how to be police officers. Policing and soldiering are not the same . . . especially in combat. I have done both. If I had soldiered as a police officer, I would have killed a lot of criminal suspects. If I had policed in Vietnam, I would have been killed...end of story.





I recall the time I came from an atmosphere of intense infantry tactics straight into police tactics. When we came upon a barricaded felon situation, my response involved grenades, dispersed troops and the same philosophy Mr. Thornton espouses. I was pretty well laughed at. For one thing, the brass had absolutely no idea what a grenade will do. For another, they really didn't want to offend anyone.


Wiley Clapp