Jihad: More Than an Eight Second Ride

Viewpoints on the Global War on Terror from a Home on the Range.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

John Holschen's Al Qaeda Training Tape Review

The below is a review of one of the Al Qaeda training tapes by John Holschen, director of InSights Training Center, one of the premier tactical training schools in the nation.

John Holschen
07 August 2002

Al Qaeda Training Tape Review

The following document is a review and analysis of an Al Qaeda tape that I wrote in May 2002. The original version of this document was posted to our instructor development group on 20 May, 2002. The final version was posted to the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers and the InSights Training Center discussion groups on 5 June, 2002. My objective is to encourage the widest possible distribution and discussion of this information among those that may benefit from it.

This analysis has been quoted in current and/or pending editions of: “World Net Daily” http://wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=28819; “Strategy Page” http://www.strategypage.com/articles/tapes/default.asp; “The Tactical Edge”, the Journal of the National Tactical Officers Association; “The Trainer”, the Journal of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers and in several state and federal law enforcement intelligence bulletins.

Shortly after the initial distribution of this document I was contacted by a number of federal, state and local governmental agencies who asked permission to use my work in various intelligence and training products. In each case, I gave the requested permission with the condition that attribution (including my contact information) be included whenever my material was used.

I have three primary reasons for making this request:
1. To insure that the information has maximum value to the analysts and end-users, it is necessary to identify the source of the information in some fashion. Without this identification, information becomes distorted as it passes through the intelligence cycle of one agency and is then forwarded to a second or a third agency. It quickly becomes impossible to determine if the intelligence bulletin you have just received is new information or a product that is referring to something that you have already seen.
2. I would like to be available to the consumers of this information if they have any questions or comments about my analysis (and of what constitutes an effective response to the threat.)
3. I believe that an ethical man should acknowledge the work of another when making use of it. Whether through intellectual or physical efforts, the expenditure of a mans' energy is of value. He can choose to sell that value to an employer for a wage, or he can choose to sell the products of his labor. If he should choose, in the interest of the common good; to give freely either his time, energy or products it is inappropriate for another man to pass on those efforts as his own.

It has been brought to my attention that there are a number of un-attributed and/or mis-attributed copies of my analysis being circulated. If you have received a copy of this document without the copyright and attribution information, (or if you have forwarded such a document); I would greatly appreciate your help in informing the sender (or receiver) of the actual source of this work. Please forward this correspondence to anyone who may have received an un-attributed or mis-attributed copy of my “Al Qaeda Training Tape Review”.

Thank you,

Stay Safe, Stay Vigilant

John Holschen
Insights Training Center, Inc

05 June, 2002,
By John Holschen, InSights Training Center.

I recently had the opportunity to conduct a detailed review of a captured Al Qaeda training tape.

My impressions:

The tape was apparently produced for Al Qaeda internal use and did not appear to be an external propaganda production.

The tape showed Al Qaeda operatives engaging in a number of training exercises including small arms firing ranges, live-fire room entry, and numerous mixed live-fire/role-player type of scenarios.

Scenarios included: Assassinations, Kidnappings, Bombings, and Small unit raids on various types of targets. The training depicted in these scenarios was clearly for export according to an intelligence expert that commented on the tape. "None of these training scenarios depicts the type of fighting that Al Qaeda engages in within Afghanistan."

Detailed planning, diagramming and walk-through's followed by live-fire exercises were the norm.

There were many role-playing, scenario type training exercises.

The role players made aggressive moves simulating resistance at various points throughout the scenarios. All such resistance was met with immediate and brutal countermeasures by the terrorists. There was no presumed compliance on the part of the terrorists.

The effort to produce detail and realism in training was impressive.

These people are using extremely effective training methods!

The following actions were seen REPEATEDLY and ROUTINELY throughout the training exercises:

1. Use of standard military small unit tactics with multiple elements. (Assault, Security and Support elements)

2. Coordination with sub-elements via hand-held FM radios.

3. Use of pick-up trucks by the assault element to conduct raids/assassinations (shooters concealed in bed of truck).
4. Use of Motorcycles by the security element (as well as in the historical role as a shooting platform for drive by shootings/assassinations.)

5. Use of explosives upon withdrawal from the objective.

6. Use of vehicle horn to signal withdrawal (and initiation of explosives.)

7. Detailed planning and rehearsal of all actions.

8. Exercise of prisoner handling procedures. From initial contact, to search and control, to execution of prisoners. Role players could be heard begging (in English) not to be killed. Terrorists practiced commands in English also.

9. Multiple man room entries. Typically one or two, 2-man teams that assumed a back to back position near the center of the room.

10. Distraction devices used prior to room entry. These were fuse-lit devices (possibly improvised for training?)

11. Multiple breach points into structures and into individual rooms.

12. All scenarios were practiced live-fire; including those that involved role players. Paper targets and role players were interspersed in the same scenarios. (The terrorists showed good muzzle awareness and control.)

The weapons handling was NOT haphazard. All terrorist operatives carried and fired their weapons using the same techniques.

Some specific weapons handling idiosyncrasies are:

1. Handguns were carried in high ready.

2. Long guns (AK variants) were carried and fired rotated 90 degrees (ejection port up)

Specific scenarios included:

1. Targeting of law enforcement officers in ambush/assassinations. Faked disabled vehicle with shooters concealed in trunk of car or bed of truck. When the officer stops his vehicle behind the “disabled vehicle” the assault is initiated by the driver blowing the vehicle horn. Target was first engaged with rifle fire from the vehicle, terrorists then debussed to administer “coup de grace” at close range. An explosive device was thrown into the LE vehicle on exfiltration. This was one of a number of scenarios that were shown first as a diagram and explanation, then progressing to dry fire walk through and finally to a live-fire exercise. Target location was shown as a 6 lane divided highway with the terrorist vehicle located just prior to the exit/cloverleaf (to allow multiple exfiltration routes and security overview.) There aren't any such highways in Afghanistan and damn few in the Middle East. In one iteration of this scenario the security/overwatch element was exercised firing on possible responding LEOs.

2. Residential assassination. Innocuous looking person (weapon concealed) knocks on door of residence. Stands in view of peephole and answers questions from resident through closed door. When the resident opens his door the terrorist draws and fires, emptying his weapon into the victim.

3. Assassination on golf course. Target was on the green (at the pin/flag.) A Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) was fired at a vehicle adjacent to the green (VIP security element?) to initiate the hit. The target was then engaged with rifle fire.

4. Two and four-man live-fire room entry (2-man back to back technique) with target discrimination (shoot/no shoot targets).

5. Raid on compound (Kidnapping). One person taken. Initiation was when the Guard Shack was taken out with grenades. The primary target building was engaged with an RPG. Primary target building was entered through multiple breach points (through explosive breach of wall and through windows.) Exfiltration was by truck with motorcycle security element in overwatch positions.

6. Drive up kidnapping of target walking down the street.

7. Use of tunnels/storm drains/sewers for infiltration and exfiltration during raids.

8. Rappelling from roof of building to make entry on upper floors was shown on more than one occasion.

9. Motorcycle drive-by target practice. Shooter stands up on rear pegs and extends arms over driver. Excellent muzzle awareness and control.

10. Grenades thrown into second story windows by motorcycle drive-bys.

11. Attack on a VIP convoy as it was departing a venue. This attack was preceded by a
pedestrian stepping in front of one of the vehicles in the VIP motorcade and faking being struck by the vehicle. When the motorcade paused to deal with the “injured” pedestrian the attack was initiated. (In another segment the terrorist where shown studying vehicle-mounted protective detail procedures.)

MULTIPLE SCENARIOS/EXERCISES involved raids on buildings with a large number of occupants (school or office building?)

These raids followed a standard pattern:

1. Covert/surreptitious entry into the building and movement to initial points.
(Rifles hidden on persons and in bags/cases carried into building.)

2. Initiation with extreme violence of action. Any resisters are shot.

3. Immediate positive control and search of prisoners. Any resisters, or anyone they don’t like the look of, are shot.

4. Segregation of prisoners into manageable groups. (Explosives were displayed to gain psychological dominance over prisoners.)

5. Movement of selected prisoners in small groups to the roof where terrorists posture and make statements for the press/cameras.

6. Prisoners executed one-by-one in front of the press/cameras.

7. All scenarios involving prisoners ended in the execution of the prisoners, and none included a plan for exfiltration of the terrorists. They plan to kill the prisoners and to die in place.

The major take home lesson here is that although the enemy is known to be seeking the ability and opportunity to use weapons of mass destruction, and of an unconventional nature, such as hijacked airliners; they are also spending a lot of time training to carry
out attacks the old-fashioned way – attacks executed by small groups of dedicated personnel equipped with little more than small arms.

There is information to the effect that the “perfect day” as seen by Al Qaeda would combine attacks designed to produce the maximum number of casualties with attacks that would give them the opportunity to get “face time” on the news channels to deliver their rhetoric. For maximum effect these attacks would take place nearly simultaneously at multiple geographically separate locations.

We need to address, in training and in personal preparation, the differences between a typical criminal victimization and a terrorist incident in terms of early recognition and appropriate response. I.E. The typical bank robbery vs. finding yourself in the middle of a terrorist attack on a “financial institution” (as per the recent FBI warning.)

If you find yourself in the middle of one of these attacks, there will not be time for the SWAT team to intervene on your behalf. Compliance will buy you only a very little time. If you are identified as a potential problem to the terrorists you will be shot! (They are training to spot Law Enforcement, Security, and Corrections Officers as well as armed citizens.) If by feigned compliance, you make it through the first cut, you can expect to be physically restrained and then controlled with threats to the rest of your group and to the other groups. "We will blow up the women and children in the next room if any of you do not do exactly as we say!" Your ultimate fate, if you do not resist, is to be ritually executed in front of the television cameras.

In my opinion the best time to act is most likely to be at the initiation of the attack. Once the terrorists are consolidating on the objective it will be very difficult to take effective action. You must plan on providing effective resistance at the first opportunity! Shoot, move and communicate. Seek cover; use your weapon as required. Attempt to acquire a better weapon system at the first opportunity (do you know how to place an AK into operation?)

Keep in mind that before any terrorist action there are many opportunities to interrupt their cycle by detecting their pre-mission activities. This is where we all can be of assistance. Pay attention to what is going on around you as you go about your daily business. Investigate and report any unusual or suspicious activity that you observe (note vehicle make and model, license plate number, personnel descriptions etc.)

To answer some common questions about the video:
1. I do not have a copy of the video.
2. The video is in possession of the appropriate agencies at the federal level and will hopefully be distributed via that route in the not-to-distant future.
3. The source of the video is not making it directly available to ANYONE at this time.
4. The video that I reviewed was not shown on CNN.
5. The CNN video segment on “Training” showed AQ operators that were executing far less sophisticated attacks, with a considerably lower standard of performance. Like watching a High School football team compared to an NFL team. (This is consistent with how Al Qaeda selects and trains it operators.)

John Holschen
Insights Training Center, Inc


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