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18 December 2012
All tracking begins with a start point. Start points can be found in many ways.
The Israelis create track traps in soft soil that are impossible to cross without leaving spoor. Israeli forces make heavy use of trackers.
Zoologists create similar track traps when trying to locate elusive animals. They follow the spoor. Spoor has various definitions. For use here, spoor is any and all sign made by animal, man, or machine.
Many nocturnal animals are rarely if ever seen. Scientists will find a suitable water hole, and they might use a rake to prep the soil. At sunrise they check for spoor.
As a passive security measure, track traps may be used around homes or businesses. US Border patrol uses track traps. Singaporeans use tracking daily.
Every base defense force in Afghanistan should know where their natural traps are. When possible, they should create traps for daily patrol. Quick sweeps by helicopter or ground forces can be done as a sidebar to other missions.
Helicopters can reset the track traps using rotor wash. They must be careful for emplacement of Chinese cannons, which are made by digging a hole, emplacing a charge, and putting rocks on top.
Chinese cannons can shoot down helicopters or jets even high in the sky. Areas dotted with Chinese cannons can make formidable air defense for little investment in time and other resources. Trackers should be able to spot many emplacements of Chinese cannons.
Using Chinese cannons, the enemy can put tons of rocks high in the sky for minutes on end and over a wide area. We have no defenses other than tactics and courage against this sky-IED.
If there are no natural track traps, we can haul sand and make them. A retired Green Beret and Delta Force man who read this in advance said they used a kind of popcorn-like material that contained a chemical that emitted an infrared signature. When someone cracked the popcorn at night, they tracked an IR signature.
Start points occur at all crime scenes. In combat, when an attack unfolds, such as an ambush or raid, the areas are furnished with massive spoor. Shell casings. Gear. Blood. Disturbance. It reeks of flame and man. Sometimes it is still smoking. A tracker can read it by Braille.
When our Harrier squadron was mostly wiped out in Helmand a few months ago, and the attackers were killed (one captured), our people had their shoes and smoking craters as start points.
On a moonless night, the enemy breached perimeter defenses and destroyed our jets. This was a made-for-Hollywood beginning to what could have been a vicious trackback and destruction or capture of facilitators.
We have the gear to track at night. A Wolfpack could have backtracked miles in an hour.
I know the area. It was impossible for the enemy to hide spoor. The Camp Bastion area is wide open for miles around.
Backtracking (passive) can be as important as active (forward) tracking. Bets are on that other enemy support personnel were still at the layup. A leader of the attack was hit long after, in a village that was on a predictable route.
Some trackers cast for spoor on foot, ATV, horseback, and often by helicopter. Motorbikes are great because they are fast, and slightly harder to hit with IEDs. Using IR headlights, bikes are good for night, but that takes practice.
One problem with IEDs is merely speed. When you are on foot, the enemy has more time to predict your route and to get the IEDs ahead. Afghans are good at encirclement with IEDs and ambushes.
Sometimes they try to pin the unit with a diversion ambush so they have time for IEDs. These will be fresh and hasty, and should be easily spotted. The IEDs that they put in months in advance are our tough luck. They are less likely to work, but hard to see.
In Rhodesia, enemies often attacked farms. The reaction forces were fast, so they could use the helicopters to get to the start point. Trackers would cast and fix a cone of travel, allowing the commanders to use tactical prediction to box the enemy. They killed thousands, often by using CT (combat trackers, or tracking).
Constant practice of basic skills and drills are essential for this type of combat. CTs frequently make hasty ambushes and get into close contact. This makes the basics especially important.
The US often fights farmers. Farmers are keenly tuned into their environments, and their fields make natural track traps, and they go to the fields every day. Many farmers make boobytraps. They use shotguns with tripwires to ward off pigs and predators, making some farms natural danger areas in war and peace.
Their wealth is often in their livestock. Cattle naturally wander off and so the kids track and bring them back. They naturally cast for spoor every day.
Tracking provides intelligence.
Snipers—the rare real ones—will tell you that most of their work has nothing to do with shooting people. Snipers are always on reconnaissance.
The end result is that snipers can kill more enemy with their eyes and radio than with the rifle. Tracking is parallel. Any sniper who has not taken serious tracking training is at best a half-trained sniper.
Given the danger that sniper teams themselves can be tracked up and taken down, it is gross negligence to deploy snipers who are not skilled combat trackers.
After attacks, spoor is massive. Other than scheduling attacks during storms, there is little anyone can do to cover their trail when they are quickly leaving.
As an anti-tracking technique, we learned in the Army to take advantage of storms to move or to attack an enemy base.
In addition to hiding your tracks, the storm covers your sound and scent. The enemy tends to duck out of the rain. In Afghanistan, when the storms came, I kept my boots on even while at big bases.
The enemy, or you and me, cannot completely hide spoor even during bright daylight with a gratuity of time. They often move at night, making it impossible to hide spoor, other than by selecting routes or conditions that mitigate creation or discovery.