In the first part of this piece we surmised that there was no part of the country in which road travel was safe and that the key risk is from groups of young men armed with small arms, bladed or improvised weapons, loosely organised around a leader who operate from late afternoon to early morning and whom (except in cases of targeted attacks) generally did not discriminate in their victim selection. To understand the process of bandit attacks we broke the sequence down into an 11 or 13 phase operation
- Target selection
- The Approach.
- Set up
- The Attack
- Negotiation (for kidnapping)
- Handover (for kidnapping)
There are many possible solutions to this problem but as part of the debate we will provide a hypothetical solution to tackle this crime using minimum manpower and resource.
Factors and Assumptions
To solve the immediate problems of insecurity on the road we will consider a hypothetical stretch of road between 2 towns plagued by bandits, who ambush vehicles in order to rob, rape, kill and abduct. The road is between two major towns, with difficult hilly, wooded terrain on both sides, various sparsely populated villages.
From the previous assessment a commander can derive the following factors
- The bandits are lightly armed
- The bandits are highly mobile
- The bandits will use force to achieve their objectives and to defend themselves but are motivated by reward and wishe to live to fight another day
- The bandits speed of manoeuvre is limited by the terrain and their transportation options (foot, motorcycle, motor vehicle)
- The bandits must come to the road in order to acquire targets
- Friendly forces do not understand the terrain as well as the bandits
- Friendly forces will be better trained and equipped than the bandits
- Friendly forces will have superior mobility on roads and inferior mobility off road
Based on these factors the commander can make the following assumptions:
- The bandits will fight and flee, therefore, friendly forces must always manoeuvre to cut them off
- The bandits will be mobile and unpredictable so friendly forces must be mobile and unpredictable
- The bandits will have better knowledge of the area so friendly forces must use all methods to familiarise themselves with it
- Friendly forces must be able to react quickly and aggressively to any bandit attack
- Bandits are tied to the road for their victims and loot so friendly forces must make access dominate the road and its immediate environs
Concept of Operations
The commander can then make a plan dividing his given battlespace into 3 zones
- Near zone: the road
- Middle zone: the ground surrounding the road up to a given natural feature such as a hill, river, village etc
- Far zone: bandit camps and ground beyond what would be defined as middle
Near Zone: consists of the road itself as it is the main target of the bandits and needs to be defended.
The main objectives of this zone should be to:
- Deny bandits freedom of movement
- Deny easy approach to the road
- Reassure the public
- Provide an rapid response capability
To do this friendly forces will need a fixed and mobile component.
Fixed Component: should consist of checkpoints varying in size from large company sized units of over 100 personnel to small section/ squad sized checkpoints . To be successful these checkpoints should have the following:
- Manpower: enough men to conduct local patrols/ respond to an attack, depending on the size of the outpost a commander should have enough men to guard the base, mount patrols with enough men to spare as a reserve.
- Patrol vehicles: the outposts should have enough vehicles and/ or motorcycles to transport at least a third of its strength at the same time.
- Strong Field defences: with reinforced walls and properly sighted fighting positions, a watchtower for overwatch and security, clear fields of fire created by proper siting or clearing grass and trees up to at least 300m on either sized of the road around positions and where practicable, this practice continued along the length of the road.
- Secure communications: so that outposts can communicate with each other, with their sub units on patrol and with their superiors
- Ammunition and stores: outposts should hold enough stores and ammunition to be able to defend and sustain themselves for a few days in order to reduce the logistic burden
The spread of the checkpoints should appear random but have a defined pattern based on a through map appreciation and be placed at choke points such as bridges, junctions, vulnerable points such as slopes, bends etc, areas with easy access to the hinterland.
Each checkpoint should mount localised foot and vehicle patrols in a given area around their checkpoint and also be expected to respond to attacks on motorists in that area or other neighbouring checkpoints.
Mobile Component: should consist of vehicle patrols along the length of the road. These patrol constantly day and night, mounting surprise Vehicle Check points (VCPs), moving off the road to observation points or just driving up and down the road. The constant movement is meant to serve as a deterrent to bandits who will never be quite sure where the vehicle patrol is as well as provide reassurance to motorists. This zone aims to disrupt the Approach, Set up, Obstacle, Initiation, Attack and Extraction phases of the bandit attack.
Middle Zone: this is an area that lies between the road itself and key natural features, such as hills, rivers and other landmarks. It can extend as far as is operationally necessary from 5km to 50km but deconflicted from the checkpoints. Security forces would conduct mounted and dismounted patrols in and around this zone. Familiarising themselves with local inhabitants, villagers etc and thus gathering information, interdicting bandits and restricting their freedom of movement.
Local knowledge can be improved by recruiting local hunters, loggers etc who are familiar with the local geography and languages. These patrol will move constantly in the area surrounding the road, only coming onto it to be inserted or extracted. Patrol durations could be as short as a few hours to as long as several weeks. This aims to disrupt the Approach, Extraction, Assembly and Storage phases of the bandits operations.
Far Zone: within this zone friendly forces identify, target and destroy bandit camps, using information gathered from ISR platforms, human intelligence, information from prisoners and patrols. A specialised force will be used to conduct strikes on these camps, inserting using any means available such as foot, helicopters, boats, motorcycles or vehicles. This disrupts the Observation, Target selection, Assembly, Storage phases.
By exploiting information from captured prisoners, released hostages; criminal investigation and prosecutions using special courts to rapidly try captured bandits could also be used to neutralise the threat and demonstrate to people that justice is being done..
To prevent surviving bandits from simply moving to a less contested area to continue their activities, the areas bordering the area of operations should also be prepared to step up efforts in anticipation of a crime increasing as the security forces score more successes.
This is merely a hypothetical example, not specifically a solution and thus contains many holes in its execution, however it is an example of one way in which Highway banditry can be tackled using resources which already exist within the country, without the need for expensive imported equipment and consultants