Though characterized as assured mobility assets, tasked with enabling freedom of maneuver, route clearance elements often accomplish the exact opposite. While clearance and related C-IED missions cannot work effectively when employed in isolation of broader maneuver efforts, determining how to align such different roles can be difficult. This coordination of effort is generally acknowledged as essential on the contemporary battlefield, but due to the clashing operational priorities of each mission, it is challenging to align these efforts at the tactical level. Because of this, we regularly find the two missions executed independently of one another.
In general, clearance is conducted at a slow pace with deliberate focus that can work in direct opposition to the speed on which maneuver operations rely to move to and from objectives. Personnel from both communities have countless stories describing how the other negatively impacted their mission. Clearance personnel regularly reference the impatient unit that blew past their RCP only to take an IED strike a quarter mile down the road. Likewise, maneuver units are quick to describe missed hit times and roads blocked by massive, lumbering clearance vehicles. The end result is that while strategic leaders preach aligned effort, in execution the two are commonly detached. Clearance units are confined to regularly scheduled passes along the most frequently traveled routes so maneuver elements either misperceive moves along these routes as administrative, due to the frequency of route clearance, or they attempt to avoid the routes all together. In either case, the two elements aren’t leveraging each other and can even act as operational impediments.
That said, it’s important to recognize that not only is it possible for clearance and maneuver units work in synchronization, it’s essential if each is to achieve maximum effectiveness. Clearance efforts are most valuable when they clear for a specific purpose, and maneuver elements are most effective when they can prioritize actions on the objective rather than the movement to get there.
Methods May Vary
As mentioned, speed and mobility are essential to maneuver units, as they allow these units to dictate conditions on their objective. Movement to an objective needs to happen quickly and without disruption in order to control time, dictate locations, enable surprise, etc. The effect of a raid is significantly reduced, or even negated, if the maneuver unit’s movement to the target is disrupted. Similarly, sitting on target (or anywhere along the way for that matter) is counterproductive at best and deadly at worst. Maneuver units must be able to maneuver. If clearance elements cannot enable that movement, or if they restrict it, then maneuver will find a way around.
Conversely, clearance elements are restricted to linear movements and require deliberate, purposeful engagement with both known and suspected targets to ensure the safety of those they support. Route clearance assets anticipate catastrophic engagement, but they also work exhaustively to prevent it, so the time taken to ensure a site is clear is of secondary importance to that confirmation. This can mean hours spent sitting on target, identifying and reducing a threat, halting forward momentum until areas are cleared.
From Asset to Obstacles
Recognizing that there is little value in an assured mobility asset that limits freedom of maneuver, leaders must consider how to best align relatively contradictory efforts. This requires precision application of clearance elements by identifying and prioritizing threat areas, while closely synchronized interaction. Maneuver units can’t afford to sit behind a route clearance element for miles as they approach an assault site. Such conventional employment of clearance units reduces the effectiveness of the maneuver force, aiding enemy early-warning networks and decreasing maneuver momentum. Creative leaders can apply clearance assets in ways that enable maneuver without slowing them down, but leaders must be open to employing clearance units with versatility and avoiding ham-handed mandates that restrict adaptive applications of resourcing and executing clearance.
Involved mission planning between maneuver and clearance units is essential to sustain momentum without increasing risk.
How can clearance and maneuver units work together to ensure efficient coordination when they operate under competing priorities?
- Communication: Clear communication between maneuver and clearance elements is essential to ensure unencumbered coordination of effort. This communication is required to align timing on missions, ensuring that maneuver elements can pass safely through high threat areas as soon as they are cleared but they are not constrained when moving through low threat areas.
- Collaboration: Mutually sharing information benefits both route clearance and maneuver assets, with one often informing the other of details like the frequency and likelihood of IED emplacement as well as methods and threat composition. This shared knowledge enables both elements in the effective execution of their mission, but it also encourages the insertion of unique perspective into planning and the leveraging of nonstandard tactics, essential when combatting a threat as dynamic as an IED.
- Innovation: Tactical innovation from collaborative planning may be as simple as an RCP using maneuver elements to over-watch likely emplacement areas to flush out triggermen or as sophisticated as a maneuver element using an RCP to feign a maneuver effort away from actual operations. Either way, thinking outside of the box forces the enemy to anticipate and prevents clearance units from becoming a mobility obstacle.
Both efficiency and effectiveness are reduced when route clearance and maneuver assets operate independently from one another, but the ease of independently planning and executing missions has made this practice become routine. Speed competes with caution, so it’s easy for prioritized maneuver efforts to become frustrated when objectives need to be met and clearance units are obstruct progress. This leads to maneuver assets choosing to either bypass clearance elements or choose different routes all together. On the other hand, when route clearance units operate alongside their maneuver brethren, encouraging adaptability and versatility, they more readily fill their role as true mobility enablers.