Lessons Learned: Infantry Squad Tactics in Military Operations in
Urban Terrain during Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah, Iraq
an unclassified After Action Report compiled by four junior
Marine Non-Commissioned Officers on 15 March 2005 to assist in
the training and survival of troops in urban combat operations
Historically speaking, military operations in urban terrain
(MOUT) have created casualty figures that are extraordinary
compared to similar operations conductedin different types of
environments. The casualties in MOUT present a significant
challenge to small unit leaders. Casualties hit Marine infantry
squads and fire teams extremely hard because generally speaking
they were already under the table of organization (T/O)
Some squads in 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5) commenced the
assault on the Jolan with only six Marines. It is the small unit
leaders' duty to accomplish the mission with the least amount of
casualties possible. In order for small unit leaders to complete
the above task they need tactics and techniques that will prevent
Section 1 of the Scout/Sniper Platoon has attacked and cleared
buildings with all the line companies in 3/5. The authors have
observed nearly all the squads in the battalion and have "rolled
in the stack" with many of them.
This is an experience which few in the battalion have. Knowing
this, the authors believe it is their duty to consolidate their
observations, produce a comprehensive evaluation of squad tactics
and techniques, and pass it onto the squad leaders. The authors'
intent is to give the squad leaders options in combat. It is by
no means a "bible," but it is a guideline. All the tactics and
techniques have been proven in combat by one squad or another.
Section 1 does not take any credit for the information contained
within. The information was learned through the blood of the
infantry squads in 3/5.
The entire evaluation has one underlying theme: Accomplish the
mission with the least amount of casualties possible.
Terrain and Enemy:
The city of Fallujah, Iraq is unlike any city in which Marines
have trained for. The layout of the city is random. Zoning
distinguishing between residential, business, and industrial is
non existent. An infantry squad could be clearing a house and
next door may be clearing a slaughterhouse or furniture wood
The streets are narrow and are generally lined by walls. The
walls channelize the squad and do not allow for standard
immediate action drills when contact is made. This has not been
an issue because the majority of contact is not made in the
streets, but in the houses.
The houses are densely packed in blocks. The houses touch or
almost touch the adjacent houses to the sides and rear. This
enables the insurgents to escape the view of Marine overwatch
positions. The houses also are all made of brick with a thick
covering of mortar overtop. In almost every house a fragmentation
grenade can be used without fragments coming through the walls.
Each room can be fragged individually.
Almost all houses have an enclosed courtyard. Upon entry into the
courtyard, there is usually an outhouse large enough for one man.
The rooftops as well as a large first story window overlook the
courtyard. Generally, all the windows in the house are barred and
covered with blinds or cardboard restricting visibility into the
The exterior doors of the houses are both metal and wood. The
wood doors usually have a metal gate over top on the outside of
the house forming two barriers to breach. The doors have two to
three locking points. Some doors are even barricaded from the
inside to prevent entry. There are generally two to three
entrances to the house. The entrances are the front, the kitchen,
and the side or rear.
The interior doors are also made of metal and wood. The
differences between the interior and exterior doors are the
strength and durability of the doors. Interior doors only have
one locking point and most of them can be kicked in. All doors
inside and outside of the house are usually locked and must be
The layout of all the houses is generally the same. Initial entry
in the front door leads to a small room with two interior doors.
The two doors are the entrance to two adjacent open seating
rooms. The size of the rooms varies according to the size of the
house. At the end of the sitting rooms are interior doors that
open up into a central hallway.
The central hallway is where all the first floor rooms lead and
it contains the ladderwell to the second deck. The second deck
will contain more rooms and an exit to the middle roof top. The
middle roof top will have an exterior ladderwell leading up to
the highest rooftop.
The two types of insurgents that the squads are engaging will be
labeled the Guerrillas and the Martyrs in this evaluation. The
Guerrillas are classified by the following principles:
Their purpose is to kill many Marines quickly and then evade.
They DO NOT want to die. Dying is an acceptable risk to the
Guerrillas, but their intention is to live and fight another day.
The tactics used are classic Guerilla warfare. The Guerrillas
will engage Marines only on terrain of their choosing when they
have tactical advantage.
After contact is made the Guerrillas will disengage and evade.
Their evasion route normally is out of sight of Marine overwatch
The Martyrs are classified by the following principles:
The Martyrs' purpose is to kill as many Marines as possible
before they are killed. Time does not have any significance. The
Martyrs want to die by the hands of Marines. The final outcome of
their actions results in dead Marines as well as their death.
Their tactics directly reflect their purpose. The Martyrs will
make fortified fighting positions in houses and wait. Marines
will come, they will fight, and they will die in place.
Both the Guerrillas and Martyrs employ the same weapons. The
weapons used are mostly small arms, grenades, and rocket
propelled grenades (RPG's). The Martyrs have used heavy machine
guns and anti air machine guns, unfortunately, with good effects.
The battle positions and tactics that they both employ are
somewhat similar. The major differences between the two are the
egress route and the fortifications. Guerrillas have an evasion
plan, while the martyrs do not. The Guerrillas normally do not
have fortified positions.
Marines have been engaged from mouse holes within the house,
Guerrillas shooting down from the rooftops when they are moving
into the courtyard, Guerrillas and Martyrs shooting and throwing
grenades down the ladderwells, in second deck rooms that are
fortified or blacked out, and upon breaching of interior doors.
Martyrs have emplaced machine gun positions in rooms facing down
the long axis of hallways.
The egress routes the Guerrillas use are preplanned and well
rehearsed. They move in groups and withdrawal perpendicular to
Marines' forward line of troops (FLOT). Their movement is through
windows of houses, down back alleys, and from roof to roof (only
when obscured from Marine overwatch positions). The routes
minimize exposure in the streets. Escape routes do not cross
streets that run perpendicular to the FLOT, only parallel. This
is done because Marine snipers during 2nd Battalion/1st Marines'
(2/1) attack last April devastated the insurgents when attempting
to cross those streets. If contact is made with Guerrillas and
the block is not isolated on all four sides then their chance of
escape increases exponentially. Isolation of the block is
absolutely necessary in order to prevent any "squirters."
Overall, the enemy has adapted their tactics and techniques in
order to maximize their strong points and hit Marines when they
are the most vulnerable. They have learned from 2/1's attack last
April. This is common sense, but it must be said in order that
Marines realize the enemy they are fighting is somewhat
intelligent. In MOUT it only takes a minuscule amount of
intelligence in order to create massive amounts of casualties.
During house to house detailed clearing attacks, squads must
minimize exposure in the streets. The streets, especially in
Fallujah, can become a death trap if a squad is engaged. The
squad should run from house to house in a stack with all elements
(security, assault, and supporting) in their appropriate
position. In the street the stack should be slightly staggered
like a tight tactical column. The Marines should have some
dispersion, and the pace of the running should not be so fast
that the Marines are uncontrolled and not maintaining all around
security. As soon as the point man/one man reaches the courtyard
breach the stack should close the gaps of dispersion and swiftly
move to accomplish their tasks.
All danger areas while on the move must be covered. Security must
be three dimensional and all around. Each Marine in the stack
looks to the Marines to his front, assesses danger areas that are
not covered, and then covers one of them. If every Marine does
this then all danger areas will be covered.
Top Down versus Bottom Up Assaults:
An infantry squad can assault structures using two different
methods. Traditionally, the top down assault is taught as being
the most ideal method for clearing a structure. Realistically,
this may not be the best option for the infantry squad. Below are
the advantages and disadvantages of both top down and bottom up
Surprising the enemy by moving from the top down may throw the
enemy off balance. The enemy's defenses may not be prepared for a
top down assault and the squad could overwhelm the enemy rapidly.
The squad has more momentum when moving down the ladderwells.
If the squad knows that the enemy is inside, the roof can be
breached in order that grenades and explosives could be dropped
on top of the enemy.
The enemy's egress routes are greatly reduced because the squad
can isolate the house by holding security on the back alleys and
the front of the house from the roof.
Once the squad makes entry and contact is made, pulling out of
the structure is extremely difficult. This limits the options for
the squad leader on how to engage the enemy. The structure must
be flooded and Marines have to go overtop of casualties in order
to kill the enemy. Momentum must not be lost. Marines have been
left behind in houses because the momentum was lost.
If the squad decides to break contact they are moving opposite of
their momentum and more casualties will result.
Marine squads may not have enough Marines to effectively flood
If casualties are taken they are nearly impossible to pull up the
ladderwell with all their gear and a limp body. This is another
reason why the structure must be flooded.
The casualties will not receive immediate first aid because the
entire squad must be committed to neutralization of the threat.
The swiftness of medical attention may mean the difference
between life and death.
The squad leader has a slew of options when contact is made. The
structure does not have to be flooded.
Momentum can be maintained in assaulting or breaking contact and
the squad leader can switch rapidly from one to the other
The structure can be cleared with fewer Marines because the
clearing is more controlled and smooth, whereas top down is
always in high gear.
Casualties can be pulled out faster and easier simply because
gravity is working for the squad.
The squad is moving into the enemy's defenses. It is easy for the
enemy to hold the second deck and ladderwell.
The squad is slow moving up the ladderwell which makes it harder
to maintain momentum.
The enemy has the ability to escape by using its preplanned
Overall, there should not be a standard assault method. Rather
the squad leader should understand the advantages and
disadvantages of each, assess each structure quickly, make a
decision on which method to employ, and then take actions that
maximize its advantages while minimizing its disadvantages.
Footholds are extremely important. By establishing footholds the
squad establishes strongpoints during the assault that can be
used for consolidation, coordination, base of fire positions,
rally points, and casualty collection points. The squad must move
from one foothold to another, never stopping until each foothold
The succession of footholds that the squad establishes will be
different when assaulting from either the top down or the bottom
up. The following footholds should be seized in this order when
assaulting from the top down:
The inside top deck
Each individual lower level to the bottom deck
The footholds seized when assaulting from the bottom up are in
the reverse order. They are the following:
The front courtyard
The first two seating rooms
The central hallway
Each successive upper deck with its respective rooftop
At each individual foothold the squad can consolidate and
coordinate its further clearing of the structure. If contact is
made the footholds can be used to establish a base of fire in
order to assault or break contact. When breaking contact they are
used as rally points in order for the squad and fire team leaders
to get accountability of all their Marines. The squad will bound
back through each foothold. A foothold can also be used as a
casualty collection point.
Types of Entry:
During the assault on a structure there are three different
tactics that the squad can use for entry into the structure. The
three types of entry are dynamic, stealth, and subdued. The
dynamic entry is violently aggressive from start to finish. The
commands are verbal and yelled. The squads lead by fire placing
one or two rounds in every door that is closed or window that is
blacked out. Fragmentation grenades, stun grenades, and
flashbangs are used. At night, surefire flashlights are employed
in order to clear. The movement of the squad is swift and
overwhelming for the enemy inside.
The stealth entry is exactly the opposite of the dynamic entry.
The squad breaches quietly, moves slowly, speaks only in
whispers, and listens for any movement within the house. There is
extreme emphasis placed on initiative based tactics (IBT). During
night clearing, night vision goggles and PE Q 2's are used
instead of surefire flashlights. The stealth entry confuses the
enemy on exactly where the squad is in clearing the house and
allows the squad to maintain the element of surprise.
Subdued entry is a combination of the two previous types. The
squad moves quietly until they encounter a room. Upon entry into
the room, Marines are violently aggressive. After the room is
cleared, the Marines switch back to the stealth method of entry.
This type of entry allows the squad leader to control the rate of
clearing while maintaining some element of surprise.
It is important to note that squad leaders must vary the type of
entry. The squad must constantly mask its movement through every
form of deception that may confuse the enemy inside the building
or room. It is up to the entire squad to use its imagination and
vary their entry tactics and techniques as much as possible. The
objective is to keep the enemy off balance and not allow him to
get into the squad's rhythm.
There are three types of breaching that were used in Fallujah.
The types of breaching are mechanical, ballistic, and explosive.
Mechanical breaching of the exterior walls of the courtyard or
gate was mostly done by amphibious assault vehicles (AAV's),
tanks, D 9 bulldozers, or HMMWV's. Sledgehammers and hooligans
were used to breach both the metal and wooden doors of the house,
but this was and is not the preferred method for breaching.
Sledgehammers and hooligans are slow and they require the
breacher to stand in front of the door being breach. Obviously,
standing in front of the door allows the enemy to engage the
breacher through the door.
Ballistic breaching was used mostly on exposed pad locks. Both
M16A4's and shotguns were used. The M16A4's were employed because
there was not enough shotgun ammunition for the amount of locks
that had to be breached. They were fairly effective on first
round breaching of pad locks if the round was placed near the
center. The M203 was also used for breaching. Squads would breach
doors of houses that were 50 to 100 meters in front of their
position with the M203. It worked extremely well on the exterior
The last type of breaching employed was explosive. A multitude of
charges were used in order to breach walls, gates, exterior
doors, and interior doors. Some of these will be discussed later
in this evaluation.
An important principle in breaching that was learned is the
Marine making entry is NEVER the breacher. The breacher should
always fall in the back of the stack and never go in first.
Marines have died because they followed there own breach.
Speed is the most significant factor in all types of breaching.
If one method of breaching is not working then the breacher must
quickly transition to a different type. Standing in front of a
door and beating it with a sledgehammer for ten minutes is
unacceptable. The breacher must be able to employ different
methods. The squad leader must ensure that the breacher has the
necessary equipment and explosives for each method. Every time
the squad is stalled because of a breach it is placed in a
vulnerable position. Breaching swiftly and effectively is
necessary in order for the squad to maintain momentum.
Movement of the Squad within the Structure:
Within the structure the squad should move from one foothold to
another. The initial foothold is established by the security
element. The security element rolls into the courtyard or rooftop
and clears every room on the outside. The assault element
proceeds directly to an entry point to prepare for the breach.
The support element falls in trace and makes the breach.
After the breach is made the assault element makes entry and
clears the first two sitting rooms simultaneously by splitting
the stack or clears the entire top deck. The support element will
assist the assault element by peeling off and clearing rooms or
breaching any doors. Security will be left at the courtyard or
rooftop foothold in order to isolate the structure and secure the
squad's egress route. Security can be maintained by only two
Marines. The rest of the security element will fall in the stack.
After the initial foothold in the structure the stack will
consolidate and then advance and clear to the next foothold. The
succession will continue until the entire structure is cleared.
At all times the squad will move by using IBT and adhere to its
principles which will be addressed later. No Marine should make
an uncovered move. The squad should move at a pace that is swift,
but controlled, exercising "tactical patience."
Actions upon Enemy Contact:
The squad leader's options for actions upon enemy contact vary
according to where the squad is in its clearing and whether any
casualties have been taken. In any contact, the squad and squad
leader have two priorities. The two priorities are eliminating
the immediate threat and pulling out any casualties. More often
than not, the two priorities are connected because in MOUT the
enemy is usually close (within feet) and the enemy fire has
wounded a Marine.
If contact is made in the courtyard or rooftop the squad should
break contact, isolate the house or block, and call in supporting
arms (tanks, tracks, etc.). There is no reason to place Marines
into the building until it is thoroughly prepped.
If contact is made in the house then the squad leader must
quickly evaluate the situation and decide the best course of
action. Generally, the squad leader has the following three
Breaking contact is more of an option during the bottom up
assault because of the difficulties in changing the momentum
during the top down assault. If casualties are taken or the enemy
resistance is strong then this may be the best action for the
squad leader to take. Upon breaking contact the squad will bound
from one foothold to another getting accountability of all
Marines and ensuring that no Marine is left behind.
When leaving the house the squad can place a satchel charge or
another explosive device in order to bring down the house or burn
the enemy out.
Flood the House:
Squad leaders may choose to flood the house with Marines if a
casualty is taken during the top down assault or if the enemy
threat is not significant. Casualties cannot be dragged up the
stairs quickly, therefore, Marines must neutralize or suppress
the threat in order to extract the casualties. In some situations
the only way to do this may be to flood the house.
Hold the Last Foothold and Clear by Fire:
Footholds are strongpoints where the squad can fight from. At the
foothold Marines can return fire, throw grenades, and use
explosive devices to neutralize the enemy. After the enemy has
been damaged the squad can move in and clear the house. If the
roof top is the foothold the squad is holding, then the roof
could be breached by a directional charge. Grenades or incendiary
devices can be thrown into the structure flushing out the enemy.
CASUALTIES MUST NEVER BE LEFT BEHIND! The squad leader must
ensure that every Marine moves with a buddy. Each buddy is
responsible for pulling the other out of the fight if he goes
down. The squad leader and fire team leaders must have
accountability for all their Marines at all times. There is no
excuse for Marines being left behind in a building while the
squad pulls out.
Organization of the Squad:
Some squad leaders in the battalion split their squads in two and
assigned different sectors to the two different parts. They did
this to move faster through the houses because they were tasked
with clearing a lane that may have contained up to fifty or sixty
houses. Although this worked and the squads moved faster through
their assigned sector it is not the best employment of their
squad. The following reasons are given on why splitting the squad
is not advisable:
If the squad contained twelve Marines and is split in two that
leaves two teams of six Marines. Clearing a structure with six
Marines, even though the house is small, is extremely risky. If a
buddy team of two Marines got hit and went down there would not
be enough Marines to provide covering fire while pulling the
casualties out. Critical seconds would be wasted waiting for the
other team of the squad to come in the house and support the
extraction of the casualties. The chances of wounded Marines
getting left behind increases exponentially. If contact is made
by both teams simultaneously then the squad could be cut down in
a piecemeal fashion within a matter of seconds before other
squads could even move to reinforce.
When the squad leader organizes his squad he must think about
enemy contact always. Squads must not be split in order to
increase the speed of clearing. Commanders should not put stress
on the squad leaders to clear at a speed that would force the
squad leaders to split their squad. Tactical patience must be
exercised at every level.
The squad should be organized by using the traditional three
elements of assault, support, and security. The amount of Marines
contained within each element will vary according to the squad's
number of Marines, the skills and abilities that each individual
Marine possess, and the weapons systems that each Marine employs
(M249 SAW, M203, and ACOG scoped M16A4's).
The assault element must contain no SAW's if that is possible. A
SAW gunner must never clear rooms. The assault element should
contain the most number of Marines because every room must be
cleared with two Marines. The support element will supplement the
assault by falling in the stack and peeling off to clear rooms.
Support should include any engineers or assaultman attached to
the squad. A SAW gunner should be included in this section in
order to provide massive firepower in the house if contact is
made. The corpsman is also located in support because he can use
his shotgun to breach as well as provide quick medical attention
to casualties. The support section will fall in the stack behind
the assault element to assist in any way.
Security should contain the other remaining SAW's in the squad.
The security element is responsible for clearing and securing the
courtyard or rooftop foothold prior to the assault element moving
to the entry point. When assault and support make entry into the
structure, two Marines are left behind to isolate the house
(rooftop) and secure the squad's entry point.
The rest of the Marines will fall in the stack behind the support
section. The security Marines will hold security on all danger
areas (mostly the stairs) when the assault and support are
clearing each foothold.
Squad leaders must appoint each fire team leader as an element
leader. There are no longer fire teams, only assault, support,
and security sections. Each element leader will maintain
accountability for his section. It is easier for the squad to
maintain this organization until the attack is completed and then
the traditional four Marine fire team can be reinstated. The
squad leader should emphasize unity of command and succession of
command should the squad leader become a casualty.
Inter-squad communication between the Marines in the stack is
both verbal and visual. Simple, clear, and universal language
should be used. Universal language is words and phrases that are
standardized so every Marine understands the other. Words and
phrases such as, "Hold right, clear left," and, "Frag out."
The one man should describe to the stack what he is seeing. In
other words, the one man verbally paints the picture for the
stack behind. Marines in the stack should be listening not
talking. Talking should be kept to a minimum.
After Clearing Continuing Actions:
After the structure has been cleared the squad must immediately
conduct the detailed search of the house for weapons. The search
must be quick but thorough leaving nothing untouched. Weapons
were found in every conceivable place, underneath couches in the
cushions, in between piled up blankets, etc.
Another continuing action would be to render the interior and
exterior doors unable to close. This will help if the structure
needs to be re-cleared later. Marines will use their creativity
to think of ingenious ways to accomplish this task.
Mission or Time Priority:
In detailed clearing attacks, time should never be the priority.
Marines should never be rushed because they become sloppy and are
forced to create shortcuts in order to accomplish the mission
under the time restraints. This does not mean that the squads
shouldn't be pushed. This means that a realistic timeline for the
attack should be made; a timeline that takes into account the
overwhelming task of clearing multiple blocks of houses that may
contain platoon sized elements of insurgents.
Individual Techniques and Tactics:
Training is continuous, whether in a combat zone or not. The
responsibility of the squad leader is to ensure his squad is
combat ready. The individual Marines in his squad must be
continuously trained otherwise the Marines will lose proficiency
in MOUT skills learned through experience during the attack.
Training does not have to be physical, it can be verbal. The most
effective training in this environment is for the squad leader to
sit down with his squad and talk. The squad should run through
combat scenarios and have individual Marines tell the squad what
their jobs are and how they will do it. Communication between
Marines can be practiced by talking through universal language,
such as, "Open door right, closed door left," or, "Peel right,"
and telling each other what is meant.
All Marines must exercise initiative during combat. Squad leaders
must design training techniques in order to stress initiative.
Marines must be able to look around, assess what his squad or
partner is doing, feed off it, and act in order to support them.
Initiative based training is paramount.
Constructive criticism should be encouraged. Every Marine
debriefs each other, telling good and bad observations. The squad
leader will also be critiqued by his Marines in an appropriate
fashion. The criticism is not meant to undermine the squad
leaders' authority. It is to allow the squad leader to instruct
the Marines on why he chose to run the squad the way he did.
Young Marines will gain knowledge about squad tactics that they
may never have figured out if the squad leader did not tell them.
It will prepare them for leadership billets. It will also give
them confidence in their squad leader because they will trust him
and his knowledge.
Techniques that individual Marines need to be taught and
practiced are the following:
Pieing off all danger areas. Even before entry into a room as
many danger areas as possible should be pied off leaving only one
or two corners that need to be cleared. Don't blindly rush into a
room, especially if the door is open.
Using the buddy system. Two Marines always peel off the stack,
Picking up uncovered danger areas, including when opening doors
to furniture when it can fit a man inside.
Clearing obstacles, such as furniture.
Prepping rooms with grenades.
If the room is too small for two Marines or not enough Marines
are clearing the house to hold security on all the danger areas,
the two-man turns around and covers the rear of the Marine
clearing the room.
Moving stealthily through a structure even with broken glass on
Making a stealth entry with NVG's and PEQ2's.
Making breaching charges and placing them on the locking points
of different types of doors.
These are just some of the techniques that need to be practiced
and passed on to younger Marines.
Initiative based tactics (IBT) should be taught. There are four
rules of IBT. They are the following:
Cover all immediate danger areas.
Eliminate all threats.
Protect your buddy.
There are no mistakes. Every Marine feeds off each other and
picks up the slack for the other. Go with it.
Every Marine needs to understand and memorize the rules governing
IBT. These rules should not only apply to MOUT, but all small
unit infantry engagements. Rule number four must be pounded into
the squad. There are no mistakes when clearing a structure in
combat, only actions that result in situations; situations that
Marines must adapt to, improvise, and overcome in a matter of
Throughout contemporary American military history there has not
been any opponent that could not be overwhelmed by American
supporting arms. The United States Marine Corps has historically
been an innovator with the employment of supporting arms. The
Marine Corps created the concept of close air support (CAS) in
Haiti during the Banana Wars, helicopter envelopment in Korea,
and the combined arms team portrayed in the modern Marine Air
Ground Task Force (MAGTF).