Kicking off a little “CQB’ controversy

Ok, here is some food for thought and discussion that may well kick of some good comments! I have a ‘pet peeve’ that I will take the opportunity to air here. It’s about ‘CQB’ and what I see being taught out there. I am not a retired SWAT SME (subject matter expert) with a CQB school so I feel free to air my opinion. Depending on the venue/forum that I have raised this in, I have had varied results. ‘Tacticool’ venues populated by such SWAT types tend to react badly in defense of their empire. I have posted some quotes below by enlightened types who ‘get it’:


Anon Quote 1:‘CQB is a “SME” empire built on police tactics entirely inappropriate for conventional operations in populated areas.’


Anon Quote 2: ‘I’ve been concerned as an outside observer for some time about what could be called the “law enforcement-ization” of military tactics and operations, honestly. Started, IMO, soon after 2001 when people started talking about military personnel “arresting” terrorists. CQB grew from hostage rescue techniques and LE stuff and soon become the “cool guys” method for urban operations. The fact that it wasn’t appropriate for that wide of a focus escaped many. It just goes to show that we don’t always learn the right lessons, or understand how to correctly apply those that we do learn.’


Anon Quote 3: ‘The Marine Corps learned the flaws of our TTPs in the urban/residential fights along the Euphrates, and in wholesale amounts during Fallujah 2.0. I cannot remember the title, but a group of infantrymen from 3d Bn 5th Marines wrote an excellent AAR of their fight, and it was eye-opening.’


Anon Quote 4: ‘The title is: Lessons Learned: Infantry Squad Tactics in Military Operations in Urban Terrain During Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah, Iraq. One of their conclusions is you if you know somebody bad is actually in the building, you bring it down around their ears with tanks or artillery as you said. The Russians learned the same thing long ago. Each of their city fighting battle groups preferably had a great big direct fire weapon attached. American cops basically do the same thing. If you know there will be a fight if you go in, you don’t. You gas ’em out or wait them out, active shooters excepted. Same thing with cell extractions in prisons. You don’t. You gas ’em out.’
Anon Quote 5: ‘CQB is bascially to confimrmthat there are no bad guys in a building, just to clear it.’


CQB = “Close Quarter Battle”

The issue, with my raising and questioning of the definition, seemed to be that since 9/11 certain high Tier CT units have been training extensively in urban CQB, as a sub-unit tactical activity of the larger MOUT/FIBUA picture, which has concentrated on a lot of kill/capture missions into urban or structure environments. This has spread into the wider army and civilian culture and it seemed to me that a lot of people out there think that warfare is just about room clearing (I exaggerate).

I asked the question of whether CQB is purely synonymous with urban operations, or whether CQB can be “close combat” in other environments. This is where the controversy was. Yes, urban CQB involves specific drills for room entry and clearance and all the rest, that is a given, but does that mean that is all CQB is? It is a semantics question, I know. I remember doing “CQB” on Jungle lanes.

Yes, you will not use urban CQB drill in, for instance, the Jungle. But you may be doing another type of CQB. Or is it just “close combat”? It appears that CQB has become, in the eyes of the primary CT practitioners, simply urban tactical operations.

The other side to this was my observation that due to current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a lot of raid type search/capture/clear missions have gone on, including by conventional troops,  I felt we may be losing our way a little on what high intensity urban/MOUT is about. I felt that we have been applying techniques that are more suited for “permissive” environments or “semi-permissive” ones, which then carries over to kinetic completely non-permissive battlefields.

What do I mean by this? Primarily entry drills. Even the US Army small unit tactics smart book, when discussing urban entry drills, describes it as I originally learned it in the British Army; splitting the breach fire team into two man teams and moving to the breach site under cover of ground/fire support before breaching and securing the entry point with two man teams, to be rapidly exploited into the building. What do we see all the time? “SWAT” style stacking at the breach, which is usually a door.

High intensity MOUT/FIBUA involves avoiding breaching and entering via the doors if at all possible. Without going into all of it here, the basics are that a higher level entry is preferred, and via another route such as a mouse hole etc.

So, to recap: There are two strands here:

1. Is “CQB” simply an urban activity, involving entry and room clearance?
2. Have we become “too SWAT” with our building entry drills and have we forgotten how to conduct ourselves in high intensity urban operations.

An observation that I have as a British born naturalized American is that a lot of the training is very “stylized” in the US. This includes room entry, where it is all about practicing specific drills for entering and clearing the corners, dominating positions etc. The way I remember it, entering a room is a highly violent activity that is likely to result in a close encounter or just as likely a full pile into the floor after tripping over an item of furniture while getting shot at! I am wary of “stylizing” the training too much. I hope my point comes across as intended. I think you have to have good basic practiced drills, go left, go right, cover the room etc, but real rooms are full of stuff, and it can rapidly become a cluster in there. You have to be flexible and ready to adapt.  Also, nothing beats aggression: ‘Speed, Aggression and Surprise’

 to overcome friction and realities of the situation encountered inside the room.

It appears that many of those whom I tried to raise this issue with for discussion, are in fact embedded in the “industry” as SMEs – a quick website check got me that info. Mainly retired police/SWAT types with some military experience. Defending empires I guess.

I have never claimed to be “CQB” SME. I have certainly “done” CQB, and trained others, but a lot of it was called it urban operations, MOUT/FIBUA and room clearing. A search of the internet and sites like youtube is Interesting: very stylized drills that are not really appropriate and work well in empty kill house type rooms. When watching the way people are trained, I can’t help but notice that they seem to almost ignore the center of the room, give it a quick glance, in favor of concentrating on “dominating” the corners.

I was originally in the British Army. In the Parachute Regiment we were considered very good at FIBUA. The British SAS is considered the premier “CQB” hostage rescue outfit and has been since the Iranian Embassy siege in 1982. If you look at some of the completely open source youtube videos of veterans showing somewhat outdated tactics, they don’t do anything like the current US CQB teaching.

Example: they will enter the room, one goes left, one right, but only so far to clear the “fatal funnel” and get out of the way of the door. They will then engage targets in the room and the third guy will come in as back up. The fourth man will do security in the corridor (assuming they are acting as a somewhat independently moving team and don’t have another teams coming behind, and that they are going back out into the corridor as they clear multiple rooms).

As to high intensity FIBUA, a little summary: We were well trained at it, up to Company and Battalion level. Feeding into buildings and breaching through to avoid the outside and open spaces. It’s all about link men and coordination! Back down to the tactical level, for any kind of normal residential type rooms, we would assault with two men, closely backed up by the rest of the team. Grenade goes in (not all the time, would use too many), one assaulter goes left, one goes right. Cover the room with fire. Fire into available cover if the tactical situation calls for it. Make sure the room is clear. Call room clear and indentify exits from the room for the section commander so when he entered he could rapidly make a plan to push the next assault team through into the next space. Repeat.

Buildings are defended and not easy to get through. The full gamut of OBUA defensive tactics would be used to foil assault teams. Houses could be full of wire, rooms with furniture. No stairs, just as examples. Ladders and breaking tools would be carried, similarly to the way we carried assault ladders for urban movement recently in Helmand, when you need to patrol over the maze of alleyways and urban compound type terrain. Those mud compound walls are so strong that you need a bar mine type charge to breach them.


This is not a Brit bashing at US tactics. I know that the real US tactics are very close to UK for MOUT/FIBUA. With our current “SWAT Team” focus we seem to have forgotten that?


The ‘So What’:

Re: “CQB” ‘black art tactics’ (sarcasm), neither the police nor the military do, would, or should, use them when there are actual armed and ready bad guys inside a structure, unless you are conducting Tier 1 DA.

So: CQB room entry and clearing drills are best utilized simply to confirm that a room(s) is/are clear, with the potential for bad guys in there but not really considered high threat. Unless as pointed out you are Tier 1 DA and have no choice, but are super high speed anyway, and will usually use a shock tactic such as a flash bang/grenade to gain initiative from the defender when making entry.

So: infantry need to be trained for high intensity MOUT/OBUA ‘just in case’ or indeed as we always say, in order to train for the worst case: “train hard fight easy”. But in reality we will seek alternative means within the rules of engagement to destroy or neutralize enemy combatants prior to “clearing” those structures. We want to avoid dynamic building and room entry in high intensity conflict where the bad guys are alive and tip top inside there, if we can. And if we do go in, and we don’t have a tank gun or thermo baric weapon in direct support, we would rather go in through the roof or a mouse hole or some such alternative to the front door.

Interestingly, when buildings are damaged and we include tunnels, rat runs etc, then we can’t really do the urban specific “CQB” SME room entry drills, because rooms/buildings have been rearranged by fire. So, then it becomes close combat or “non-SME taught” CQB which comes full circle back to my original point: if urban room clearing type CQB is the totality of all CQB, or whether other close combat is CQB also, with urban CQB being simply a specific sub-set.

We also need to think seriously about getting back to a point where we train infantry to do the real high intensity breach and room/building clearance drills, rather than the current norm “SWAT type”, as laid out in publications such as the small unit tactics smart book (US). I recall that BritMil had a battalion in Berlin during the cold war the exclusively trained in FIBUA high intensity tactics.

Food for thought and discussion….