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Army Magazine >> Army Magazine Archive >> ARMY Magazine - December 2002 >> Search: Mission Essential Task For a 21st Century Conflict Email this... Email    Print this Print

Search: Mission Essential Task For a 21st Century Conflict

This year marks the fourth year of stability and support operations for the U.S. Army in Kosovo. The current U.S. contingent to the Kosovo Force (KFOR) comes mostly from 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized). Many of the soldiers assigned to Multinational Brigade East (MNB-E) are in the midst of their second deployment to Kosovo. The conditions, however, have greatly changed since 1999. Interethnic violence has decreased dramatically and local ethnic armed entities have grown more adept at hiding weapons and ordnance.

Upon arrival in Kosovo this past May, U.S. maneuver battalions began conducting cordon and search operations with very limited success. We planned and executed our cordon operations precisely as we had trained to do them when preparing in Central Europe, but were not getting worthwhile finds in actual practice. Meanwhile, the battalions of other nations enjoyed a great deal of success in their cordon and search operations. It quickly became apparent that we were not adequately trained to conduct the search portion of a cordon and search mission. In June of this year, we had the opportunity to conduct joint cordon and search operations in our sector with a British battalion. During the operation, U.S. forces did not find a single item of contraband while our British allies enjoyed a great deal of success. After the operation was completed, we had the opportunity to discuss our search challenges with a British Engineer major named Nick Mifsud. We were surprised to learn that the British army runs a National Search Center (NSC) in Chatham, England, has a formal search task organization and that every soldier in every British maneuver battalion has received search training. Maj. Mifsud offered to assist us in developing a search training program for our brigade, and we jumped at the opportunity.

We began our search training by hosting a combined arms search conference at Camp Bondsteel, Germany. Representatives from the MNB-E headquarters and all maneuver battalions received a comprehensive presentation from the British-run Multinational Brigade Center chief of staff, G-2, the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and search unit, military police (MP), Royal Engineers, and a battle group operations officer. The British covered the legal basis for searches in Kosovo, search task organization, search training programs in the British army, the use of reconnaissance and intelligence assets, the technical aspects of search, search history and theory, and the overall planning process for a successful search. The conference ended with a static display by an infantry all arms search team, a Royal Engineer search team (high risk), and a Royal Engineer specialist search team (working in confined spaces). From a fiber optic tool designed for an infantryman to peer into walls to ground-penetrating radar used by Royal Engineers, the equipment exhibit displayed an impressive array of high-tech tools and simple, yet effective, hand tools. All of our U.S. battalion leaders bought into the validity of the concept of a systematic approach to conducting search operations and were eager to begin training.

The development of search techniques in the U.K. corresponds to their 30 years of experience combating terrorism in Northern Ireland and in England itself. Today, the British army conducts training in search techniques at their National Search Center, which tailors courses for soldiers based on the threat. In general, there are four levels of search training in the British army. The highest level of training is called high-risk search training. This training is confined to specialized Royal Engineer units, such as working in confined spaces teams. The next lower level of training is the unit search advisor (USA) training, which consists of a two-week course taught at the NSC in England. Each maneuver regiment (U.S. battalion equivalent) has one man trained to be a USA. In the British army, the USA is a company first sergeant or sergeant major. The third level of training is the all arms search team (AAST). AAST training is also conducted at the NSC, but can be exported by means of a mobile training team (MTT). Each company in a British army maneuver regiment contains one squad that has received all arms search training. The fourth and final level of search training is called search awareness training. All soldiers in British maneuver units receive search awareness training.

Since we were already in the second month of our deployment and the training was expensive, we decided to modify the British model within our own task organization and develop a training plan that suited our immediate needs. We decided to send a leader from each of our three maneuver battalions and our MP battalion to the unit search advisors course. In addition, we coordinated for an all arms search team MTT to come to Kosovo and train one squad from each of our maneuver battalions as well as a squad from our MP battalion.

Our four initial trainees departed for the unit search advisers course in England in early July. The USA course trains company and battalion leadership to plan and coordinate searches. A trained unit search advisor is charged by his commanding officer to develop a plan, request additional resources, compile intelligence and reconnaissance data, and ultimately brief the concept of the operation for a search. The British army typically uses company first sergeants and battalion sergeants major in this role. Because of the high optempo of ongoing operations, we were not able to send these key people and instead substituted solid junior NCOs and a lieutenant. Regardless, the investment in training paid off.

The newly trained USAs returned from England just in time to take part in the all arms search team phase of our search training program. The personnel of the AAST are the primary searchers in a search operation. The team searches until they find an item and then calls in the appropriate agency, EOD or MP, while maintaining meticulous documentation using premade forms. They can support their own company mission or be task-organized to support battalion or brigade level missions. During the AAST training, 10 instructors from the British National Search Center deployed to Kosovo and instructed four U.S. squads in the fundamentals of the five basic search missions: three offensive searches -- occupied building search, area search, vehicle and personnel search -- and two defensive searches -- venue and route search. The two-week course consisted of one week of classroom instruction and practical exercises at Camp Bondsteel and a second week of operational missions. During the week of operational missions, the instructors guided the students through planning and execution of actual search missions in-sector.

During the operational week of AAST training, we observed immediate positive results. The first major operation occurred in Task Force (TF) 1-18 sector and was a superb example of how to conduct searches. The mission, an occupied building and area search, consisted of 23 houses in a small village suspected of hiding weapons and ammunition. The company sector was temporarily under the command and control of a British company that was taking part in a KFOR mission called Rapid Guardian. Because of the large number of houses to be searched, TF 1-18 requested and received the four American AASTs in addition to five British, Swedish and Norwegian teams that were already in their task organization. With only one common communication net, the company first sergeant directed nine search teams during an eight-hour operation. He was able to distribute female searchers, military working dogs, EOD teams, and special equipment that the U.S. teams did not possess. From a company command post, called an incident control point, with a handheld radio and a vector map of numbered buildings, the first sergeant kept the search moving with minimal effort. During the search, the U.S. teams found the most weapons and ammunition and discovered items of intelligence value.

Subsequent missions during the second week of AAST training included an area search of former Serb fighting positions, a series of vehicle checkpoints along a suspected smuggling route, a venue search of an election polling station and multiple occupied building searches. At the end of the two-week course, all the soldiers left with a feeling of accomplishment and knew that they were now better trained and equipped to systematically conduct safe and effective searches.

In the AAR from the course, the NCOs and soldiers commented that had they known earlier what they know now, they would have discovered more weapons, ammunition and items of intelligence value during searches prior to the training. One infantryman stated, "This training will help me perform my peacekeeping mission better. However, the skills I learned, how to clear a room, perform a route search, and search personnel, are also skills that I can use in warfighting. Now I have more confidence than before."

From the MNB-E standpoint, the results of the search training have been impressive. Since the completion of the search training program, we have had ample opportunity to employ our new capability and have enjoyed more success. Our TF commanders now routinely request all arms search teams for missions. We have also identified a few shortcomings. Our teams lack many of the basic tools that a British all arms search team possesses. Items such as optics that can be inserted into walls, ground-penetrating radar and special tools for accessing hard to reach areas of a building are standard equipment in a British AAST. By contrast, our AASTs are equipped only with a kit of tools formed from common basic issue items. In addition, we do not possess the high-risk search capability that the British have in their Royal Engineer search teams. Shortcomings aside, MNB-E has improved both its peacekeeping and warfighting abilities as all arms search teams and unit search advisors have taken their skills back to their companies and battalions to train additional soldiers in the systematic approach to conducting search operations.

In this 21st century of terrorism and nonstate actors, search will become an increasingly valuable tool. We have had firsthand experience of the importance of search training in Kosovo, have read about the significant search operations occurring daily in Afghanistan and assume that search will play an important role in any post-conflict operations that might occur in Iraq. We hope that our solution to our search training deficiencies can provide a blueprint for other units to use in developing better search capability.

CAPT. CHRISTOPHER SIMPSON is deputy assistant brigade engineer, Multinational Brigade-East. MAJ. JAMES MATHESON is deputy G-3, Multinational Brigade-East.