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Chapter 11

Route and Area Clearance

The ability to move forces and material to any point in an AO is basic to combat power and often decides the outcome of combat operations. Maneuver relies on the availability of LOC within an AO; and during OOTW, clear LOC is essential to the movement of forces. Units must conduct route and area clearance to ensure that LOC enables safe passage of combat, combat support (CS), and CSS organizations. Clearance operations are best-suited for rear-area and stability support operations.


Route clearance is a combined arms operation. Units must clear LOC of obstacles and enemy activity that disrupt battlefield circulation.


The principles of breaching operations (Chapter 9) apply to the development and execution of the route-clearance mission. The breaching tenets (intelligence, fundamentals, organization, mass, and synchronization) should be the basis for planning.


Incorporating the IPB and METT-T factors into route-clearance operations will enable units to predict what the enemy will do and where it will do it. The IPB and the EBA offer ideal methods for establishing a SITEMP. After the S2 and the engineer identify the most probable threat sites, the S2 designates them as NAIs. These NAIs are the focus of the reconnaissance effort. Engineers work in concert with other reconnaissance assets to confirm the presence or absence of ambushes, UXO, and minefields. The information gathered from the IPB and the reconnaissance effort determines the method and the type of route clearance necessary. It also helps the commander determine any outside resources (EOD, SOF) that he may need.


SOSR may not be executed, but it is planned as it is in breaching operations. Units must be prepared to execute SOSR fundamentals as necessary.


Task organization for a route clearance is similar to the task organization for a deliberate breach. The clearance company team is organized into breach, support, and assault forces. The breach force conducts clearing operations, the support force isolates the area being cleared, and the assault force performs security functions beyond the clearance site (traffic control points) and assists the breach force in disengagement, as required. Table 11-1 shows a sample task organization for a route clearance.

Table 11-1. Sample task organization for a route clearance

Team Support Force Assault Force Breach Force
  • Mechanized infantry platoon with dismount capability
  • Armor platoon
  • Mechanized infantry platoon
  • Engineer squad
  • Mortar section
  • Medical team (two ambulances)
  • PSYOP team
  • FIST
  • MP element
  • Engineer platoon with organic vehicles
  • Armor platoon with plows and rollers
  • Two infantry platoons (light)
  • Bradley platoon with dismount capability
  • Engineer squad
  • 60-mm mortar section
  • Medical team (two ambulances)
  • PSYOP team
  • Forward observer
  • MP element
  • Engineer platoon with organic vehicles
  • Armor platoon with plows and rollers
  • Two infantry platoons (light)
  • AT/MP section with M60/MK19 mix
  • 60-mm mortar section
  • Medical team (two ambulances)
  • PSYOP team
  • Forward observer
  • MP element
  • Engineer squad (+)
  • Infantry platoon (light)
  • AT/MP section with M60/MK19 mix


Sufficient maneuver and engineer assets must be allocated to the clearance company team. The length and the width of the route and the type of clearance to be conducted determine the size of the sweep team. Clearing a Class A military road with the deliberate sweep technique requires at least two engineer squads due to the total lane width to be cleared and the requirement for the rotation of mine-detector operators. Depending on the type of sweep operations, the commander can expect a 50 percent loss of sweep assets. Normally, as in breaching, a 50 percent redundancy of engineer assets should be allocated to the sweep team.


All aspects of synchronization should be implemented when planning route clearance. It is especially important that rehearsals be conducted at the combined arms level. Rehearsals should include--

  • Reaction to enemy contact.
  • Reaction to an ambush.
  • Communications exercise.
  • Fire support (obscuration smoke, immediate suppression fires, critical friendly zones for counterfire radar, and no-fire area around the clearance site).
  • CSS (maneuver, casualty evacuation, marking materials, and demolitions resupply).


The purpose of breaching is to project combat power to the farside of an obstacle, and breaching usually occurs under enemy fire. Route-clearance operations focus on opening and maintaining LOC to ensure the safe passage of combat, CS, and CSS organizations. Like breaching, route-clearance operations require extensive BOS coordination. The following planning considerations should be used by brigade and battalion TFs when planning route-clearance operations:


  • Identify choke points, bridges, tunnels, critical road junctions, and other built-up areas. These are the most suspect areas for obstacle emplacement. However, depending on the enemy's overall mission, it may not always emplace obstacles at these locations. This is especially true if the enemy's goal is to psychologically disrupt our convoys.
  • Maintain a situation map with a graphics overlay that reflects the most current intelligence information.
  • Maintain an incident map with a graphics overlay to facilitate a pattern analysis.
  • Maintain a threat order-of-battle database, such as how the enemy will disrupt unit LOC.
  • Develop a detailed R&S plan that incorporates modern battlefield techniques and systems, such as ground sensors, forward-looking airborne radar, and satellite images. As a minimum--

  • Coordinate for UAV support, if available.
    Develop infiltration routes to support recon and security at likely enemy ambush sites.
    Develop an estimate of impact to civilians on the battlefield (COBs). COBs include local nationals, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), and private volunteer organizations (PVOs).
    Conduct a daily flight over the area to provide up-to-the-minute intelligence. When available, coordinate ASTAMIDS coverage.
    Coordinate with the USAF to periodically check the route (for example, using an AC-130 Specter gunship).
  • Provide an intelligence update to company team leaders before departure. This should be in the form of a 1:50,000 enemy SITEMP overlay (confirmed and suspected/templated).
  • Establish liaison with the host nation, NGOs, and SOF.


  • Provide personnel for TCPs.
  • Clear and secure flanks (at least 100 meters) and the farside of suspected and known obstacle locations.
  • Close the route to US-controlled traffic during route-clearance operations to minimize the target presented to enemy forces.
  • Identify and clear potential sniper positions before beginning obstacle reduction or clearance.
  • Provide security for the cleared route.
  • Give operational control (OPCON) of aviation assets to the route-clearance commander for clearance-support missions.
  • Plan the building of static security points along the cleared route to reduce the probability of reseeding.

Fire Support

  • Plan smoke for templated locations.
  • Position mortars to ensure continuous coverage of the operation (move and set up with the support force).
  • Prepare fires within the tactical rules of engagement.
  • Ensure that the route-clearance team has a FIST coordinator. The clearance commander should locate the FIST element well forward in the order of march.
  • Designate obstacle clearance sites as critical friendly zones for counterfire radar and no-fire areas.


1. Priority targets shift in conjunction with company team movement on the main supply route (MSR).

2. Clearance of fires is the responsibility of the maneuver commander of the sector where the target is located.

3. Adequate Q-36 radar coverage is necessary for deliberate sweep operations.


  • Provide detailed OBSTINTEL on minefields. It must include the--

  • Description of mines or explosive devices most likely encountered.
    Composition and pattern of obstacle(s).
    Enemy actions or techniques used during obstacle emplacement.
  • Conduct deliberate sweep operations 100 meters past the obstacle or suspected threat.
  • Report, clear, and mark mines, obstacles, and explosive devices to facilitate unimpeded movement.
  • Ensure that lane marking meets the standards outlined in Chapter 10 and that materials and techniques are standard throughout the route.
  • Consider including road repair equipment and material as part of the sweep element (for example, a 5-ton dump truck filled with soil and an ACE to spread the soil).
  • Keep all radios, electronic equipment, and aviation assets at a safe distance during reduction operations.
  • Block uncleared roads and trails that branch from the route being cleared. This protects units from inadvertently traveling an uncleared route.
  • Debrief the chain of command and the TF S2 on the location, the composition, and the orientation of all obstacles cleared and encountered. This assists the S2 and the engineer in IPB/EBA pattern analysis.

Air-Defense Artillery

  • Consider the possibility of an air attack.
  • Use the following passive air-defense measures:

  • Eliminate glare by using mud, tape, cardboard, or camouflage nets to cover headlights, mirrors, and portions of windshields.
    Reduce dust clouds by reducing speed.
    Plan routes that offer natural concealment.
    Use air guards.
  • Increase the distance between vehicles.
  • Incorporate Stinger missile teams into the support force.

Combat Service Support

  • Ensure that clearance operations are supported by a logistical/combat health support (CHS) package from the brigade support area.
  • Plan for air and ground evacuation of casualties. The preferred evacuation method is by air; the routine method is by ground.

  • Conduct an air-mission brief with air ambulance assets, to include pickup zones and markers. Rehearse procedures for evacuation requests.
    Ensure that the medical team consists of one or two ambulances. Locate the medical team with the support force.
    Identify the ambulance exchange point along the route to be cleared.
  • Ensure that all personnel wear flak vests or IBASIC (Figure 11-1).

Figure 11-1. IBASIC

  • Ensure that all vehicles have tow cables in the front and the rear for extraction purposes.
  • Ensure that all vehicles carrying troops have hardening (sandbags on floors and sides).
  • Provide MP and explosive-sniffing dogs to help in clearance and provide security for convoys during and after clearing operations.

Command and Control

NOTE: The company team commander is required to operate on three separate frequencies--battalion command network, company team command network, and fire-support network.

  • Designate, recognize, and include minefield indicators (Chapter 10) as part of company team rehearsals.
  • Designate a reserve force (at least platoon-size) that is mechanized or air-assault capable.
  • Ensure that proper rehearsals are planned and conducted according to FM 90-13-1. As a minimum, the clearance force should rehearse actions on the obstacle, actions on enemy contact, casualty evacuation, and the control of COBs.
  • Ensure that the tasked unit has a clear understanding of the mission, intent, and end state. For example, the clearing unit commander should understand that his unit must clear the road width, including the shoulders, and secure the route.
  • Assign clearance responsibilities to brigade and battalion assets.
  • Ensure that the maneuver commander/TF S3--

  • Controls the movement of all personnel and equipment along the route (travel authorization is coordinated through the S4).
    Prepares a mine risk assessment of the mission before issuing the OPORD. (An example of a mine risk assessment is shown in Appendix F.)
    Tracks the status of routes (red, amber, green) in the TF sector, based on the amount of time since the route was cleared and the intelligence and enemy situations.
    Tracks the progress of the clearance operation and integrates it into the maneuver and CSS plans.
    Determines the route length, using clearly definable start and end points.
    Sets priorities for the route-clearance element.
    Coordinates with adjacent units, the host nation, NGOs, PVOs, and SOF.

Special Operations

  • Ensure that psychological operations (PSYOP)/civil affairs (CA) support the counterintelligence effort by conducting civilian interviews.
  • Direct civilians along the MSR to the displaced-personnel holding areas or along the routes that the brigade has indicated for use.
  • Employ PSYOP/CA teams forward to disperse civilians and provide traffic management to isolate the route during clearance operations.


A brigade or battalion TF normally conducts clearance-in-zone operations. To clear a route, the battalion TF focuses a company team as the main effort on the proposed MSR. Table 11-1 shows a sample task organization for a route clearance.

Support Force

This force is comprised of two maneuver platoons and the maneuver company team XO. The support force provides flank security, rear security, and protection to the breach force. It neutralizes hostile forces encountered by the company team. In rugged terrain or highly mined areas, moving the assault force on the flanks would be too risky. Aviation assets can provide flank security while ground forces provide rear security. The assault force also searches for suspected off-route mines.

Assault Force

This force is comprised of a maneuver platoon, an engineer squad, a mortar section, a medical team, a PSYOP team, an EOD team (or one that is on call), and a forward observer. The assault force's mission is the same as in a breaching operation (Chapter 9).

Breach Force

This force is comprised of a maneuver platoon (including the commander) and an engineer platoon (minus). The breach force sweeps the route and reduces mine and explosive threats. It is further task-organized into sweep teams.

A sweep team is a trained detection team that searches for mines and explosive devices. The organization of the sweep team depends on the type of sweep mission and the length, the width, and the surface composition (pavement, gravel, dirt) of the road to be swept. A platoon-size element can normally clear a 6-meter-wide path, and a squad-size element can normally clear a 2-meter-wide path. If the route is wider or time does not permit multiple passes of the route, additional engineer assets are required. Table 11-2 outlines personnel and equipment requirements for a sweep team.

Table 11-2. Personnel and equipment requirements for a sweep team

Personnel Support Personnel Equipment
  • Mine-detector operators
  • Probers/markers
  • Radio operator
  • Demolition teams
  • Medics
  • Vehicle operator
  • One panel marker
  • Operational map with required maneuver graphics
  • Four smoke grenades (minimum)
  • Six mine detectors (includes three backups) and extra batteries
  • Two grappling hooks with 60 meters of rope each
  • One demolition kit or bag for each demolition man
  • Six probes
  • Mine marking material

Platoon-Size Sweep Team

The normal configuration for a platoon-size sweep team is twelve soldiers in a modified column (Figure 11-2). The platoon leader supervises the entire operation. This configuration is best suited for sweeping routes in friendly territory that is not under constant surveillance.

Figure 11-2. Platoon-size sweep team

Soldiers 1, 2, and 3 (mine-detector operators) lead the sweep team in echelon. Each sweep team covers 2 meters of front, and sweep teams are spaced 30 meters apart to prevent fatalities from accidental detonation by other mine-detector operators. If required, a fourth mine-detector operator can be added to the detection column.

Soldiers 4 (NCOIC) and 5 (prober/marker) follow 30 meters behind the last mine-detector operator (Soldier 3) and are centered in the cleared lane. The prober/marker is responsible for marking the cleared lane on both sides.

Soldiers 6 (radio operator) and 7 (demolition man) follow 10 meters behind Soldiers 4 and 5 and are centered in the cleared lane.

Soldiers 8, 9, 10 (relief mine-detector operators), 11 (relief prober/marker), and 12 (reserve demolition man) follow 30 meters behind Soldiers 6 and 7. If a fourth mine-detector operator is added to the column, an additional relief mine-detector operator must also be added.

The remaining platoon members help the support force or act as a reserve force, as required. They should first be integrated into the sweep team as a relief element and then moved forward as needed.

Squad-Size Sweep Team

The normal configuration for a squad-size sweep team is seven soldiers in a modified column (Figure 11-3). The squad leader supervises the entire sweep operation. This configuration is designed for sweeping routes in friendly territory that is not under constant surveillance.

Figure 11-3. Squad-size sweep team

Soldier 1 (mine-detector operator) leads the sweep team and covers a 2-meter-wide path.

Soldiers 2 (NCOIC) and 3 (prober/marker) follow 30 meters behind Soldier 1 and are centered in the cleared lane. The prober/marker is responsible for marking the cleared lane on both sides.

Soldiers 4 (radio operator) and 5 (demolition man) follow 10 meters behind Soldiers 2 and 3 and are centered in the cleared lane.

Soldiers 6 (relief mine-detector operator) and 7 (relief prober/marker) follow 30 meters behind Soldiers 4 and 5. If the squad cannot use seven team members, the relief prober/marker position can be eliminated from the formation.

The engineer platoon can configure the platoon into squad-size sweep teams and place them in echelon (Figure 11-4).

Figure 11-4. Sweep teams in echelon


The information gathered from the IPB and the reconnaissance effort determines the method and the type of route clearance to conduct. The determination is based on the situation, the time available, the threat level, and available assets.

During OOTW, it is recommended that former warring faction (FWF) engineer-equivalent clearance teams precede US forces clearance teams within the FWF's AO. Do not assume that FWF clearance teams will be thorough in their clearance operation. Treat the route as unsafe until US or allied force clearance teams have proofed the route to confirm that it is cleared.


There are three methods of route clearance--linear, combat, and combined. The method employed depends on the situation, the time available, and the clearance assets available. The maneuver force should always establish static security positions at critical locations following the completion of route clearance.

Linear Clearance

In linear clearance (Figure 11-5), sweep and security teams begin route clearance at Point A and complete it at Point B. This method provides the best assurance of route coverage. Although this is an effective method, it is not the most secure method in a high-threat environment. It is also time-intensive and constrains the maneuver commander's flexibility.

Figure 11-5. Linear clearance method

Combat Clearance

Whereas linear clearance focuses on a specific route, combat clearance (Figure 11-6) focuses on specific points along a route. As mentioned previously, IPB and EBA can identify areas for likely mine and ambush locations. These areas become NAIs or objectives for combat clearance missions. The combat clearance method divides a route into sections according to the number of suspected high-threat areas. Once the sweep element (maneuver and engineer forces) secures and sweeps these areas, the route is considered clear. Combat forces can patrol the route from these objectives to ensure that the route is secure, and if necessary, the sweep element can sweep the surrounding area if a minefield is found. Following the seizure of these objectives, the commander must assume a moderate risk that the S2 and the force engineer have identified all high-threat areas and that the route is clear of mines. Combat clearance is ideal for dismounted (light) forces since it provides the maximum use of surprise and concealment.

Figure 11-6. Combat clearance method

Combined Clearance

This method combines the complete clearance capabilities of the linear clearance method with the security and surprise elements of the combat clearance method. Combined clearance is a two-phase, force-intensive operation and may require a battalion-size effort, depending on the length of the route. First, identify high-threat areas through IPB/EBA and target them as NAIs and/or objectives to secure. Then, clear obstacles and enemy forces before the movement of sweep elements. The sweep team moves down the road and clears any obstacles missed or not identified during the planning process. The main advantage of this method is that the TF commander has immediately secured MSRs, allowing him to push out (expand forces out past the secured area and secure additional areas) and find the enemy with a degree of confidence that follow-on forces will be much safer.


There are two types of sweep operations--deliberate and hasty. Deliberate and hasty clearance operations can be modified to meet the time and equipment limitations of the TF, but the commander assumes greater risk when the clearance type is modified.


A deliberate sweep (Figure 11-7) is very thorough and includes a complete sweep of the entire road (shoulders, culverts, ditches, and bridges). It is the most time-consuming sweep operation and relies on electronic (primary) and visual (secondary) detection systems.

Figure 11-7. Deliberate route clearance

The platoon sweep team (Figure 11-2) is dismounted to focus its attention on the entire length of the route. The support force (company-size) secures at least 100 meters on the flanks and 100 meters forward to clear possible enemy direct-fire systems and overwatching elements in front of the breach force. This not only allows the breach force to focus solely on the route but also clears the area of off-route and command-detonated mines.

If enemy contact is made, the support force fixes the threat while the assault force reacts. The sweep teams withdraw to a location that provides concealment and/or security. Mechanical detection provides a third means of detection and is the method used to proof the route after the sweep team has passed through the area. The deliberate sweep includes a route reconnaissance and looks at all areas of a route, including bypasses. The deliberate sweep focuses on thoroughness rather than speed. This method is very slow and tedious and should only be used when time is not a factor; 80 to 100 meters can be covered per hour.


A hasty sweep (Figure 11-8) consists of visual inspection, physical search or probing, and the use of mine detectors. It is the fastest, most risky method and is suited for an armored or mechanized team. It relies primarily upon visual detection (thermal sights or the naked eye) for minefield identification. The breach force looks for mines, wire, and other minefield indicators. The road surface, culverts, ditches, and bridges are inspected and searched. Visual detection is accompanied by a mechanical proofing system. Electronic mine detectors are used by sweep teams to check all suspected areas.

Figure 11-8. Hasty route clearance

The support force includes a maneuver platoon that provides overwatching fire and/or security. Actions upon enemy contact are the same as in a deliberate sweep. The primary objective of this technique is speed, moving approximately 3 to 5 kph. This method is extremely similar to the instride breach method when encountering minefields.

The sweep team focuses on identifying immediate risks to traffic, neutralizing those risks, and continuing on with the mission. A hasty sweep is used during the combat clearance method to validate the areas that were not deliberately cleared by the sweep team. It is also used if the METT-T analysis does not permit a deliberate sweep or if the need for a road to be opened is urgent. Time and distance factors may be imposed. A light force may not have an MCR system but can conduct the same sweep method with an improvised roller system, or the force can use a sandbagged, 5-ton truck moving backwards as a last-resort method. Using MCRs or their equivalent is absolutely imperative due to the high risk of encountering a minefield. The mine rake or plow is not a satisfactory substitute because it destroys road surfaces.

Continue Chapter 11

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