How do our enemies stage ambushes without hitting anybody?

I’ve been wondering something about the war videos I’ve seen online.

I’ve seen a number of videos where Afghani or Iraqi insurgents stage ambushes on American forces without killing or even wounding anybody. The Americans are typically out in the open somewhere when the insurgents open fire, hitting nobody. The Americans then take cover, return fire, and often call in air strikes or artillery, or attack with their own heavy weapons such as mortars and Javelin missiles.

How is possible for the insurgents to not hit anybody at the beginning of an ambush? I can understand that it’s hard to get hits after the combat has started, when the Americans are hiding behind cover and laying down suppressive fire. But at the beginning, the Americans are out in the open, and the insurgents have all the time in the world to aim carefully and at least get off one good shot. It amazes me that they can’t do this, that a whole group of fighters can’t get one hit on a group of soldiers in the open.

Why is this? The only 3 reasons I can think of are:

  1. Their rifles are very bad or not sighted in
  2. They’re incompetent shooters
  3. They’re firing from long range, more than a few hundred yards away.

They can’t aim for shit.

All of the above. Well, most of their rifles are probably fine (surplus AK’s and AK clones) but they have not had the benefit of rigorous military training, if they’ve had any at all.

Picking off targets from hundreds of yards away is actually pretty hard and requires a lot of practice. Most of the time, these guys just wait until an opportune moment and start firing randomly in a certain direction.

I suspect #3 is a big one. If they were any closer, they’d be putting themselves at too great a risk — except in very favorable conditions, they can’t escape easily unless their enemy is confused. In a straight-up fight where each side knows where the other is, they aren’t going to fare very well, so they need it to be quick. Fire off a few shots and hope you hit, then skedaddle.

Aren’t they in armored vehicles?

They don’t call it spray and pray for nothing.

It’s especially diffcult when you have to point toward Mecca.

As others have said, it is actually difficult to consistently hit a target several hundred meters away with a battle rifle, especially if the target is moving. And American troops are sufficiently trained that once they hear an attack, instead of panicking and ineffectually firing back or scattering, they move to defensive positions, so once the attackers have lost their original initiative they’re substantially disadvantaged even before artillery or air strikes can be brought to bear. In Afghanistan, the mujahadeen are accustomed to guerilla fighting. These kind of hit and fade tactics are effective against static encampments or ill-trained troops, but against a forced trained to react they are largely ineffectual.


You’re speaking from experience, IIRC.

Yes. From being shot at by Afghanis and from trying to teach the Afghan National Army to shoot. They are horrible. Aiming is not a familiar concept at all. They actually think we shoot accurately because of our superior weapons. It blows their minds when I take one of their shitty weapons and put all the rounds in a tight group on a paper target. Decades of combat experience does them no good when they’ve never been taught to shoot properly. No matter what weapon system they carry, all they do is just kind of point in the general direction and fire away. Unfortunately, sometimes they are lucky. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Really? Because according to my training, the first thing you do in an ambush situation is move to *offensive *positions, and start advancing on your attacker (or if that’s impossible, seek better ground elsewhere). If someone is ambushing you, that means he has the better position, and THAT means you should strive to take that position from him. Staying in the spot you were ambushed is almost always a stupid idea when dealing with even a minimally competent ambusher - although that may not apply to Afghanistan.

Real life != Halo / Call of Duty. As others have said, it’s actually hard to hit stuff.

I think “defensive position” in this case simply means you take appropriate cover if possible. I’ve never been in the military, but I know at least some soldiers in the U.S. Army are trained to counter attack as rapidly as possible when ambushed.

First, you move to cover and regroup, examine the situation, and decide how to kill them. THEN take action and offensive maneuvers.

Or, for us 82nd types: “Move toward the sound of gunfire and destroy the enemy.”

Yep, all of the above. An AK is actually fairly accurate at medium range, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.

You two have to decide if we’re talking about a “near” ambush or a “far” ambush. You are both correct depending on the proximity of the enemy. Unless specified otherwise, when I hear “ambush” I am thinking “near ambush” because that is the classic idea of an ambush. In that situation, Alessan is correct. Immediately return fire on the enemy. Take cover if available, but don’t waste time looking for it. Get to your grenades and throw all that you have. Then, once they explode, violently advance on the enemy. We call this, “Battle Drill 4”.
YoDoc appears to be thinking of a far ambush. And even then seems a little off to me. A far ambush would be handled (by those 82nd Types) as a Battle Drill 2 followed immediately by a Battle Drill 1 or if completely over-matched, a Battle Drill 3. This would involve immediately returning fire to gain fire superiority while seeking cover/concealment–not “regrouping”. Not sure where he got that from. I don’t know of any type of contact where your first action involves moving to cover to regroup. Well… maybe indirect fire.

ETA: After writing it out, I don’t think YoDoc is even partially correct.

My infantry battle drill days are many years ago, but IMO …

Open terrain seems to be the norm in that theater. It’s tough to arrange a near ambush in those conditions. And our guys try real hard to avoid advancing through narrow defilades.

So the bad guys set up a far ambush. Which works IF they have the discipline to properly sort out who’s gonna shoot which particular enemy, AND they have the discipline to wait until the target group is well into the planned engagement zone, AND they have the discipline to aim.

It seems they lack all 3.
Funny enough, in aerial combat there are analogous concerns. And we’ve seen a pretty universal inability of our enemies to handle the basics. Ya gotta be able to skate to play hockey, much less win.

this boggles my mind.
Those tribesmen in the Afghan mountains live with their rifles as part of everyday life.Anybody who uses a tool everyday develops some level of proficiency. Don’t they ever hunt for food? If you’re expected to bring meat home to your family, that’s pretty good motivation to learn to shoot accurately.
Don’t they ever sit around a campfire with their buddies, and just for fun, see who can shoot a target? (the way in American rural areas people take pot shots at street signs, just for fun. )
If nothing else, I would guess that being a good marksman would boost your social standing in the tribe.

Outside of combat situations, are the individual Afghani gunmen incapable of hitting a deer? (or whatever ). Don’t they care? When a father gives his son his first AK-47, doesn’t he care about showing the son how to use it, and then engage in a little father/son fun of a target shooting contest ?
It doesn’t take formal training to hold still, carefully look thru the gun sights, and point at the target.
What does require training is to fight as a unit, to decide tactics in advance (who’s in charge of the squad, who runs in which direction, who fires when, etc.) Stuff I practiced in the army.
So , in the stressful situation of combat, a well-trained group of soldiers can beat a poorly trained group of ambushers.
But I’m amazed that the ambushers are incompetent as individuals, and don’t know how to aim at a paper target.

Traditional Afghan riflemen valued marksmanship chappachula. Most of them are now dead.

The answer to all questions is no. The primary source of meat is domesticated goat, not game animals.

From the people I’ve talked with who have been stationed in Afghanistan and have worked with the Afghan people, the average level of technical literacy is shockingly low. One diesel engine tech who was trying to train Afghans in basic engine maintenance described his students as being “like cavemen”, literally praying over an engine to fix it or engaging in cargo cult-like repetition. They also don’t grasp small unit tactics, as their tradional way of fighting is single fire team ambushes without coordination, which is why US efforts to train the Afghans into an effective fighting force along modern lines is a complete failure, as witnessed during Operation Anaconda. However, for a guerilla force that is more intent upon causing disruption than doing significant damage, these tactics are effective.


I would like to point out that deer and goats don’t shoot back.
This will have an effect on your accuracy.