Conduct After Capture – It’s a New World Out There

For most military personnel, conduct after capture training comes down to an annual lecture on the Geneva Conventions and a quick reminder on what you’re allowed to tell the enemy: name, rank, number and date of birth. There’s always been a need for some units to get more specialized training though. Special forces, intelligence gatherers and pilots are a lot more likely to find themselves deep in enemy territory or in the hands of terrorist groups, and experience in both Gulf wars, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan has helped refine this to meet the needs of modern combat.

If you fall into the hands of a group like the Taliban, the normal rules don’t apply. You’re not going to find yourself in a prison camp, with daily parades, work details for enlisted men, Red Cross parcels and an escape committee. Instead it’s likely you’ll be badly treated, pressured to denounce your government and nation, and made the unwilling star of a series of propaganda videos. Your treatment, and possible release, will be used as bargaining chips to pressure policymakers and public opinion. Worst of all your fate is uncertain; you might be released or rescued by special forces. Worst case you might be murdered. What’s not very likely is that you’ll be held humanely until the war ends, then sent home. Capture by an irregular or terrorist group is no joke, and for the last few decades it’s been one of the worst nightmares of any military professional.

Muath al-KasasbehWell, now we can look back on the Taliban or Saddam loyalists almost with affection, because a few months of being preached at in an Afghan goat pen seems like five-star treatment compared to what our latest enemies might do. The world is already getting used to ISIS beheading videos, but the recent burning alive of F-16 pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh raised things to a whole new level of horror and made one thing very clear: Islamic State are utter barbarians whose behaviour is not limited by any standards we’d recognise as human.

Right now there isn’t a lot of direct western military involvement against ISIS but we do have aircrew, special forces and increasing numbers of advisers in the region. I also wouldn’t rule out a larger deployment in the near future. There’s not much public appetite for another Middle East war but if the locals can’t stamp out this fascist aberrance, we’re going to have to. ISIS cannot be allowed to exist, and the chances are US and allied military force is going to be needed at some point. And that raises the question of what to do if you’re at risk of capture.

This is where it gets surreal. The Taliban aren’t very rational by our standards, but they do have goals they’re working towards, and their actions reflect that. This means the Taliban can be negotiated with. ISIS can’t. Their objective is a totally unrealistic fantasy and their only plan for achieving it is through an ever-tightening spiral of barbarity. They’re not going to demand anything reasonable in exchange for your life and they’re far beyond listening to sense. The brutal fact is that if you fall into their hands, you’re not coming home.

That has implications for military planners and commanders at all levels. Operations that normally look like an acceptable risk – small unit patrolling, one-ship helo moves – may be too risky. We can’t afford to have a situation where half a dozen men and women end up being surrounded, overwhelmed and used in some new piece of caveman theatre. Mutual support and instantly available overwhelming fire support are must-haves now, not options; any unit at risk of being over-run needs to be able to blast its way clear or have significant reinforcements get to them within minutes. Keeping our troops out of the enemy’s hands needs to be even more of a priority than before, because now captives aren’t just lost to us; they’re a powerful propaganda weapon in the hands of psychopaths. We need to make sure any encounter with ISIS is backed by the numbers and firepower to make it completely one-sided, and prioritize UAV strikes and depth fires at every opportunity rather than risking small units in close combat. The alternative is we start issuing last man/last bullet orders, and I don’t think anyone wants to see that happening.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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3 thoughts on “Conduct After Capture – It’s a New World Out There

  1. My First Cousin, the late Col. Nick Rowe, helped to develop the U.S. Army’s, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, & Escape School at Camp McCall, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Much of the training was based upon his autobiography, “Five Years To Freedom” that details how he survived as a prisoner of the Viet Cong in the Me Cong Delta of South Vietnam and ultimately escaped. The SERE school is now required training for U.S. Special Operators in an expanded format and is also used by the other services to a lesser extent for their personnel that may be subject to capture. .

  2. I attended the SERE Level B School started by Nick Rowe. The difference in this course from the “C” Level course was a longer time span (4 weeks) and emphasis on the “Escape and “Survive” part of the word “SERE”. The graded final FTX included carrying a hand made rucksack with PRC 77 radio, handmade knife, and 1 poncho, in November, for 9 days. We moved in small evasion teams of 4 men, only at night, and laid up in Hide sites during the day. We covered many miles and were tracked the whole time. You ate what you found. The last 3 days were spent alone a “hold up site” to get graded on gathering food. I lost 2 guys in my evasion team FTX , a Navy SEAL and a Para Rescue guy. I lost 20 lbs and carried my rucksack to Bennigans in Fayetteville, NC after we were released after crossing friendly lines.

  3. AS in Rudyard Kipling’s poem about British soldiers in Afghanastan: “When the women come out ,save the last bullet,,,,,,,

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