October 20, 2020
  • 11:08 am The Warning Order – Preparing For Operations
  • 12:40 pm 3 Essential Elements Of A Combat Patrol
  • 9:46 am Five Tips For Using The 1/3-2/3 Rule
  • 2:20 pm How to Report Sightings of Enemy Combatants
  • 10:42 pm Drawing Forces Into Collateral Damage
3 elements of a combat patrol in Afghanistan

When it comes to planning any combat patrol, there are three essential elements.  These are the main elements that are necessary to accomplish any mission.

  • Assault
  • Support
  • Security

There are other elements that may be introduced, but these three are essential.  And they’re just as important today as they were a generation ago.  But the way they are being implemented is changing quickly and will have a huge impact on 4th generational warfare.

Let’s take a look at how these elements were traditionally set up.


The assault element is the key component of a combat patrol and the element that will define success on the battlefield.  This element may also be referred to as the maneuver element or the main effort in higher level planning.

In the mission statement of an operations order, there should always be an object that identifies the purpose of the mission itself.  This will often follow the phrase “in order to” (IOT).  The assault element is the element that ensures the ultimate goal is accomplished.


The supporting element can provide a variety of supporting aspects, but is traditionally seen as the support by fire element of a patrol.  This element may also provide direct support in other facets such as breaching or holding cleared areas during urban operations.

Support elements typically play a key role in the accomplishment of the objectives of the assault element, but are not expected to be the element accomplishing the primary task.


The security element generally has the thankless task of watching everyone’s back.

The Traditional Approach

Let’s take a look at how this would traditionally look given in an ambush.

Mission: 2nd platoon conducts ambush vicinity grid XD 1234 5678 IOT kill or capture enemy combatants along route 1.

As you can see in the image below, 2nd platoon has established an L-shaped ambush.  The security element has various positions providing rear and flank security for the rest of the patrol.  The support (by fire) element is positioned to funnel all of their fires onto the kills zone.  And the assault element is positioned to quickly sweep across the objective and detain any survivors once the killing phase of the ambush is complete.

L-shaped ambush diagram

As you can see there are a lot of pieces, and thus a lot of people needed to accomplish an ambush.  And ambushes are not the only type of operation that requires these elements.  Every type of combat patrol essentially needs these 3 elements.

How Things Are Changing

Look to movies to see creative examples of how things are changing.  While not always based on reality, they provide creative perspectives on these elements.

One of my favorite examples is the National Treasure series.  Nicholas Cage is the one-man assault element throughout all of their patriotic exploits.  Diane Kruger serves as the support element for most of their operations.  And poor Riley gets stuck with pulling security from a van across the street.

It is a bit fantastic, but technology is changing the way we operate.  Once upon a time, trip flares and soda cans were used as early warning devices.  Now we have digital cameras that can alert us to movement.  We can also get specialized support from remote-controlled robots.

The types of combat patrols we run are also changing.  Traffic control points are replacing ambushes while drone attacks replace raids.  We haven’t completely lost the traditional skills, but technology is changing the battlefield and you can expect me to refer back to this article as we dig deeper into the 4th generation of warfare.

Jason Crawford

With 12 years as an Infantryman in the United States Army, Jason has served in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He has served in positions from Rifleman to Platoon Sergeant, and as an Observer/Controller. During his time in the Army, he received the Ranger Tab, Airborne and Pathfinder Badges, a Bronze Star Medal for service and more. After leaving the Army, Jason served as a WPS contractor in Baghdad for 2 years and now has a bachelor's degree in Web Design and Development.