This article originally appeared in the 30 January 2003 Issue of Close Quarter Combat Magazine (Issue 15). It is used here with their permission. 

The “War on Terrorism” Has No Front Lines

For the first time in history, American policemen have been pitted against foreign soldiers.  SWAT and Security Teams don’t have the luxury of resorting to overwhelming force.  To protect noncombatants, they must depend on surprise.  This article will discuss what police departments can do to help them prepare. First, one must take an hard look at the status quo.  Because big-city SWAT teams get a lot of real-life experience, most are quite proficient at what they do.  Still, up until now, their opposition has been relatively unskilled at urban warfare.  There are ways of defending buildings that are so effective as to necessarily be omitted here.  Security teams also get plenty of practice at preventing the traditional kinds of intrusion.  But there are saboteurs in this world who are so skilled as to be able to sneak through triple-concertina barbed wire and wide-awake sentries.  If those sentries are equipped with thermal imagining, the saboteurs have only to wait for heavy fog or rain.

Most American police departments pattern their SWAT and Security Team instruction after U.S. military training.  We would not have won WWII, if there had not been American units with high levels of individual and small-unit skill.  But, sadly Korea and Vietnam did not turn out as well.  In essence, the U.S. military has never had a way to add to its corporate knowledge what riflemen and squad leaders learn.  As a result, our officially endorsed small-unit tactics have lagged behind those of other nations.  Every German squad participating in the Spring Offensives of 1918 had a way to covertly penetrate Allied lines.  The technique was so strong that the majority of defenders never even knew they were under ground attack.  God help us if the terrorists ever discover the method. 

More recently, the assault squads and sapper teams of a third-world nation were able to destroy so many of our strategic assets that Congress got tired of funding the war.  How did tiny units manage to do that much damage?  Their activities went largely unnoticed because the destruction was made to look like accidents or lucky mortar hits.  To fully understand the current threat and how to meet it, police departments must study the Eastern way of war. 

Asian (and German) military commanders employ a different thought process than our own.  They are “bottom-up,” holistic thinkers who have much less difficulty decentralizing control.  They focus more on the training of individual riflemen and squads, than on large units.  Those riflemen and squads get advanced training in close-range combat and constant practice at tactical-decision making.  While the U.S. recruit gets punished for making a mistake, a German recruit recently got punished for not showing enough initiative.  In the Eastern World, every Private gets schooled on the strategic goals of his organization so that he can either contribute or get out of the way.

Asians and Germans (and potentially everyone in between) also know how to fight in a way that is difficult to predict.  They understand how Americans think and appear to base much of their technique on the yin/yang antithesis.  After the Easterner shows his Western opponent what he wants him to see, he waits for that opponent to make the first move and then does the exact opposite of what the opponent would do under similar circumstances.  In other words, the Easterner routinely practices the “false face” and art of delay.  At his disposal are a myriad of deceptions based on the ancient 36 Stratagems.  With respect to the events of 9/11, some of these ruses are quite chilling.  What has been called “asymmetric” warfare really isn’t.  It is simply well-thought-out technique that has been disseminated as guidelines rather than doctrine.  Then, under decentralized control, every unit does something slightly different.  Until the pronounced trends in enemy small-unit technique were disclosed by Phantom Soldier:  The Enemy’s Answer to U.S. Firepower in August of last year, American troops were entering combat with very little idea of how their enemy counterpart would fight.

Asians (and those who follow the same “maneuver” or “common-sense” approach to war) will also capture their opponent’s attention with “ordinary” forces while beating him with “extraordinary forces.”  Those extraordinary forces are, for the most part, solitary assault squads and sapper teams.  Published in late 1998, One More Bridge to Cross:  Lowering the Cost of War describes how to defend against both threats.  To fare well in the expanding “War on Terrorism,” policemen will need advanced infantry skills with which to generate more surprise.  To provide the required support, many departments may have to switch over to the less traditional, “bottom-up” way of training and operating described in this book.

As a point of departure, S.W.A.T. teams can use the surprise-enhanced but doctrinally correct techniques in The Last Hundred Yards:  The NCO’s Contribution to Warfare.  First published in 1997, this book is only available to U.S. military veterans and through Posterity Press at 252-354-5493 or

(About the Author — After two infantry tours in Vietnam, John Poole worked as an agent with the Illinois Bureau of Investigation in Chicago from 1970 to 1972.  Upon retirement from the Marine Corps in 1993, he established Posterity Enterprises ( — an organization dedicated to helping U.S. units to adopt advanced small-unit infantry technique.  So far, he has has written three books and conducted multiday training sessions for 31 battalions, 8 schools, and 1 special warfare group).

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