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This part of the manual provides overall guidance for conducting counteroperations by US forces. The types of breaching and clearing operations conducted, the tasks performed, and the equipment required are described in detail. Responsibilities and planning considerations are outlined for each operation.

Chapter 9

Countermine Operations

Countermine operations are undertaken to breach or clear a minefield. All the tasks fall under breaching or clearing operations and include detecting, reporting, reducing, proofing, and marking.



The term obstacle is used often in this chapter because the same breaching and clearing operations are used for minefields and other obstacles. For the purpose of this manual, breaching and clearing tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) focus solely on minefields.


Reduction is the act or actions taken against an obstacle that diminishes its original effect. For example, creating a lane in a minefield would yield a reduction of the minefield obstacle.


Breaching is the employment of TTP to project combat power to the far side of an obstacle. It is a synchronized combined arms operation that is under the control of the maneuver commander.


Area clearance is the total elimination or neutralization of an obstacle or portions of an obstacle. Clearing operations are not conducted under fire. They are usually performed by follow-on engineer forces after a breaching operation or anytime in a friendly AO where an obstacle is a hazard or hinders movement.


Route clearance is the removal of mines along preexisting roads and trails.


Mine neutralization occurs when a mine is rendered incapable of firing on passage of a target. The mine may still be dangerous to handle.


Proofing is done by passing a mine roller or other mine-resistant vehicle through a lane as the lead vehicle. It verifies that a lane is free of mines.


Demining is the complete removal of all mines and UXO within a geopolitical boundary after hostilities cease.


Breaching is a synchronized combined arms operation that is under the control of the maneuver commander. FM 90-13-1 provides combined arms commanders and staffs with doctrine TTP that are needed to successfully overcome obstacles. Breaching operations make maneuver possible in the face of enemy obstacle efforts. Since obstacles may be encountered anywhere, maneuver forces integrate breaching operations into all movement plans.

When possible, enemy minefields are bypassed to maintain the momentum and conserve critical countermobility assets. However, when making the decision to bypass rather than breach, consider the likelihood of friendly units being channelized into kill zones. Bypassing is done by maneuvering around a minefield or, if aviation assets are available, moving over the minefield. When maneuvering around an obstacle, attempt to locate a portion of the force in overwatch positions to cover the bypass of the main element. Even when the decision is made to conduct a breach, scouts should continue to reconnoiter for bypass routes.

The first step in understanding breaching operations is to know the obstacle breaching theory. Knowing the theory behind breaching operations equips the engineer and the maneuver commander with fundamentals that are needed to integrate breach into the tactical planning, preparation, and execution of an operation.

Successful breaching operations are characterized by the application of the following tenets of breaching:


In any operation where enemy obstacles interfere with friendly maneuver, obstacle intelligence (OBSTINTEL) becomes a priority intelligence requirement (PIR). Finding enemy obstacles or seeing enemy obstacle activity validates and refines the S2's picture of the battlefield. OBSTINTEL helps determine enemy intentions, plans, and strength. The force engineer is the unit's expert on enemy countermobility, and he assists the S2 in templating enemy obstacles and analyzing OBSTINTEL.

When collecting OBSTINTEL, reconnaissance is a combined arms activity that includes engineers. An engineer squad moves with scouts or the patrol and conducts dismounted reconnaissance of templated or discovered obstacles. Additional information on reconnaissance can be found in FM 5-170. Reconnaissance teams gather the following OBSTINTEL information from the reconnaissance:

  • Minefield location. Plot the perimeter location on a large-scale map and refer to recognizable landmarks.
  • Perimeter description. Describe how the perimeter is fenced. If it is unfenced, describe how it is marked. If it is unmarked, show how it was recognized.
  • Nuisance mines. If you discover a nuisance mine forward of the minefield's outer edge, remember, there may be others. Assembly areas might also be mined.
  • Types of mines. Indicate whether mines are AT or AP or have unknown fuses (self-neutralized or SD). If possible, recover specimens of unknown or new mines and note the details.
  • Details of any other devices. Describe booby traps, trip wires, and flares.
  • Laying method. Indicate whether mines are buried or surface-laid.
  • Density and pattern. Include the mine spacing and the number of mine rows; estimate the mine density based on this information.
  • Minefield depth. Provide the distance between strips or rows and describe markers.
  • Safe lanes and gaps. Plot the location of suspected safe lanes and gaps and describe their markings.
  • Ground conditions. Include information on general ground conditions.
  • Other obstacles. Plot the location and the construction of other obstacles.
  • Enemy defenses. Describe the enemy's location and size. Include the location of enemy direct-fire weapons.

NOTE: Engineers engaged in reconnaissance for OBSTINTEL should rarely, if ever, be used to reduce obstacles during the reconnaissance.

Each reconnaissance team commander submits a detailed OBSTINTEL report to the next higher headquarters when the reconnaissance is complete. A sample OBSTINTEL report is shown in Figure 9-1.

Figure 9-1. Sample OBSTINTEL report


Suppress, obscure, secure, and reduce (SOSR) are the breaching fundamentals that must be applied to ensure success when breaching against a defending enemy. This TTP will always apply but may vary based on specific situations.


Suppression is the focus of all available fires on enemy personnel, weapons, and equipment to prevent effective fires on friendly forces. The purpose of suppression is to protect forces who are reducing the obstacle and maneuvering through it and to soften the enemy's initial foothold.


Obscuration hampers enemy observation and target acquisition, and it conceals friendly activities and movement. Obscuration smoke deployed on or near the enemy position minimizes the enemy's vision.


The force secures the breaching site to prevent the enemy from interfering with reduction and to prevent the enemy's passage through lanes created during reduction. In general, enemy tactical obstacles are secured by fires, and protective obstacles are secured by force.


Reduction means creating lanes through or over the obstacle to allow passage of the attacking force. The lanes must be sufficient to allow the force to cross and accomplish the mission. (Table 9-1 provides information on lane widths.) The unit reducing the minefield marks the minefield and lane locations and reports their conditions to higher headquarters.

Table 9-1. Lane widths

Lane Width Remarks
Assault footpath 1 meter Allows passage of dismounted troops so that they may continue an attack or secure the far side of a minefield while vehicle lanes are being breached
Initial lane 4.5 meters Allows passage of breaching and assault forces (initial lanes are widened and marked as soon as the tactical situation allows)
Intermediate lane 4.5 meters Upgrades sign posting and further defines exit markers
Full lane 10 meters Allows passage of two-way traffic


The commander organizes the force to accomplish SOSR breaching fundamentals quickly and effectively. This requires him to organize support, breach, and assault forces with the necessary assets to accomplish their missions.

Support Force

The support force is primarily responsible for eliminating the enemy's ability to interfere with the breaching operation. It must isolate the battlefield with fires and suppress enemy fires that are covering the breach location. This involves massive direct and indirect fire to destroy enemy vehicles and personnel who are able to bring fire on the breach force.

Breach Force

The breach force creates lanes that enable the assault force to pass through the obstacle and continue the attack. It is also responsible for marking lanes (length and entry points) to speed passage of assault and follow-on forces. The breach force is a combined arms force. It includes engineers, breaching assets, and enough maneuver force to provide local security. The breach force must be able to deploy and begin reducing the obstacle as soon as enemy fires have been suppressed. It must be capable of creating a minimum of one lane for each assaulting company or two lanes for an assaulting TF. At a minimum, the lanes must be marked and their locations and conditions reported to higher headquarters and follow-on units as prescribed in the unit's SOP. The commander should expect a 50 percent loss of mobility assets in close combat.

Assault Force

The assault force destroys or dislodges the enemy on the far side of the obstacle. It secures the far side by physical occupation in most breaching operations. The assault force may be tasked to assist the support force with suppression while the breach force reduces the obstacle. The assault force must be sufficient in size to seize objectives that eliminate fires on the breaching site.


Breaching is conducted by rapidly applying concentrated force at a designated point to crack the obstacle and rupture the defense. Massed combat power is directed against an enemy weakness. Smoke and terrain help isolate the enemy force that is under attack. The commander also masses engineers and breaching equipment to reduce the obstacle. The breach force is organized and equipped to use several different reduction techniques in case the primary technique fails (a key vehicle is destroyed or casualties render dismounted engineers ineffective). Additional reduction assets are present to handle the unexpected (50 percent over the requirement are normally positioned with the breach force).


Breaching operations require precise synchronization of the SOSR breaching fundamentals by support, breach, and assault forces. Failure to synchronize effective suppression and obscuration with reduction and assault can result in rapid, devastating losses of friendly troops in the obstacle or the enemy's fire sack. The commander cannot adequately synchronize his force's application of combat power in the short time available to him when he encounters an obstacle. The number of decisions that he must make while under fire in an unclear situation will rapidly overwhelm him. Even with a force trained to execute a combined arms breach, synchronizing all the necessary tasks remains a complex, difficult process. The commander uses the following principles to ensure synchronization through proper planning and force preparation:

  • Detailed reverse planning.
  • Clear subunit instructions.
  • Effective C 2 .
  • A well-rehearsed force.


Clearing is the total elimination or neutralization of mines from an area. It is not usually conducted under enemy fire, but it can be conducted by engineers during war or after hostilities as part of nation assistance.

A limited clearing operation can be conducted by follow-on engineers after the breaching force has reduced the minefield and secured the area. Engineers initially improve existing breach lanes by widening and marking them, and they also clear and mark new lanes through the minefield. The clearing operation supports the continued passage of forces.

A clearing operation is also conducted to eliminate all the mines in a minefield (previously identified, reported, and marked in a friendly AO) that hinders mobility or is a hazard to friendly forces.


Lane clearance is more deliberate than lane breaching and normally takes longer. Follow-on engineers upgrade breach lanes to improve existing lanes through minefields and to create new lanes. This clearing operation is intended to further reduce the minefield so that follow-on units can pass through it quickly.

The breach force that initially reduced the obstacle and marked the lanes turns over the lanes to follow-on engineers. Follow-on engineers can expect lane widths of 4.5 meters. The total number of lanes depends on the size of the lead assault force. Two to four assault lanes are normal if the lead unit was brigade-size.

If forces continue to pass through existing lanes while further reduction and clearance is conducted, follow-on engineers first begin reducing new lanes. At a minimum, two lanes are required for an assaulting TF and one lane is required for an assaulting company/team.

A limited amount of mechanical breaching assets is available for clearing operations. Follow-on engineers will probably not have tank-mounted mine-clearing blades (MCBs) or mine-clearing rollers (MCRs). The main mechanical clearing asset is an armored dozer with a mine rake. Mine-clearing line charges (MICLICs) are used if available. Engineers conducting clearing operations--

  • Ensure that lanes are a minimum of 100 meters apart.
  • Reduce additional lanes by using the equipment and techniques outlined in Chapter 10.
  • Widen lanes to 10 meters to allow two-way traffic.
  • Mark breach lanes by using the original marking system or the division SOP. (Marking procedures are outlined in Chapter 10.)
  • Emplace entrance, exit, and left and right lane markers to provide day and night capability.

Traffic control is critical during lane reduction and when shifting lanes to improve existing lanes. Engineers conducting reduction and clearance may also provide guides at the lanes. Control procedures are outlined in FM 90-13-1.

To eliminate the danger of forces entering the minefield adjacent to lanes, the minefield is marked with fencing (barbwire or concertina) and mine markers. Marking is emplaced across the front, on both sides, between lanes, and to the left and right of the crossing site as far out as practical.

Engineers may also help remove damaged vehicles from minefield lanes. Recovery vehicles should be available near lanes for this purpose.


Clearing operations are done when engineers receive a mission to clear an area of mines or to clear a specific minefield in a friendly AO. The minefield was reported and may already be marked on all sides. The worst case would be if the minefield was reported but not marked and its limits were unknown. The engineer unit receiving the mission bases plans on available information and prepares equipment based on the estimate. Detailed techniques and procedures for area and route clearance operations are outlined in Chapter 11.

Actions at the minefield begin with a thorough reconnaissance to identify the minefield limits and the types of mines. This is a time-consuming process that is hazardous to shortcut. Identified limits are marked with an expedient system of single-strand barbwire or concertina. In this situation, since all mines must be destroyed, the unit takes a systematic approach to clearing mines. The procedure depends on the types of mines and whether the mines are buried or surface-laid.

If mines are magnetic- or seismic-fused, mechanical assets are used. Pressure mines can be destroyed by using hand-emplaced explosives. When a manual procedure is used, eliminate trip wires on AP mines with grapnel hooks before moving forward to detect mines.

Using the manual procedure, engineers visually detect mines or detect them with mine detectors and probes. They also mark mines for destruction by explosives. Chapter 11 contains information on minesweeping procedures.

After the mines are destroyed, engineers proof used lanes and routes to ensure that all the mines were eliminated. This is done by using a mine roller or another blast-resistant device. Proofing is discussed further in Chapter 10.


Demining is the complete removal of all mines and UXO to safeguard the civilian population within a geopolitical boundary after hostilities cease. It is an extremely manpower- and time-intensive operation and is normally contracted. Although not a formal Army mission or function, engineers and SOFs may provide special expertise in training demining organizations, acting as advisors, and taking the lead in providing clearance equipment or techniques that can be useful in demining operations. Demining TTP are outlined in TC 31-34.

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