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The complete tactical guide to pursuit of an enemy during combat operations (tactical and offense series).

Soldiers tactical movement across terrain


A pursuit differs from the exploitation in that its primary function is to complete the destruction of the targeted enemy force. Army doctrine regards a pursuit as an offensive task. Pursuit operations begin when an enemy force attempts to conduct retrograde operations. At that point, it becomes most vulnerable to the loss of internal cohesion and complete destruction. An aggressively executed pursuit leaves the enemy trapped, unprepared, and unable to defend, faced with the options of surrendering or complete destruction. Pursuits include the rapid shifting of units, continuous day and night movements, hasty attacks, containment of bypassed enemy forces, large numbers of prisoners, and a willingness to forego some synchronization to maintain contact with and pressure on a fleeing enemy. Pursuits require swift maneuver and attacks by forces to strike the enemy’s most vulnerable areas. A successful pursuit requires flexible forces, initiative by commanders at all echelons, and a high tempo during execution.


5-1. The enemy may conduct a retrograde when successful friendly offensive actions have shattered the enemy’s defense. In addition, the enemy may deliberately conduct a retrograde when—

  • Reacting to a threat of envelopment.
  • Adjusting battlefield dispositions to meet changing situations.
  • Attempting to draw the friendly force into fire sacks, kill zones, or engagement areas.
  • Planning to employ weapons of mass destruction.

5-2. Modern military information systems give brigade combat teams (BCTs) the ability to leverage external Service, joint, and interagency intelligence assets to determine if the enemy is conducting a retrograde. When faced with enemy attempts to break contact, BCTs and maneuver battalions act to maintain contact until a division or corps commander directs them to initiate a pursuit operation.

5-3. Unlike an exploitation, which may focus on seizing key or decisive terrain instead of the enemy force, the pursuit always focuses on completing the destruction of fleeing enemy forces by destroying their ability and will to resist. This is seldom accomplished by directly pushing back the hostile forces on their lines of communication (LOCs). The commander in a pursuit tries to combine direct pressure against the retreating forces with an enveloping or encircling maneuver to place friendly troops across the enemy’s lines of retreat. This fixes the enemy in positions where the enemy force can be defeated in detail. If it becomes apparent that enemy resistance has broken down entirely and the enemy is fleeing the battlefield, any other offensive task can transition to a pursuit.

5-4. Conducting a pursuit is a prudent risk. Once the pursuit begins, the commander maintains contact with the enemy and pursues retreating enemy forces without further orders. The commander maintains the pursuit as long as the enemy appears disorganized and friendly forces continue to advance. Like exploitation, pursuit tests the audacity and endurance of Soldiers and leaders. In both operations, the attacker risks becoming disorganized. Extraordinary physical and mental effort is necessary to sustain the pursuit, transition to other operations, and translate tactical success into operational or strategic victory.

5-5. The commander must be aware of any approaching culmination point. Enemy forces are usually falling back on their supply bases, and potentially on fresh units, while friendly forces become less effective as they expend resources faster than they can be replaced. Reasons to stop the pursuit include the presence of fresh enemy forces, greatly increased resistance, fatigue, dwindling supplies, diversion of friendly units to security missions, increased need to conduct immediate civil security and civil control tasks, and the need to contain bypassed enemy units. The unit staff should have developed a decision support template that depicts decision points, timelines associated with the movement of forces and the flow of the operation, and other key items of information required before the unit reaches that culmination point.

5-6. Those plan, prepare, and execute concepts introduced previously continue to apply during a pursuit. The assessment concepts described in ADRP 5-0 also apply. The commander modifies them as necessary to account for the specific existing mission variables of mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations (METT-TC).


5-7. Normally, the commander does not organize specifically for pursuit operations ahead of time, although the unit staff may plan for a pursuit mission as a branch or sequel to the current order. Therefore, the commander must be flexible to react when the situation presents itself. Subordinate elements are made as self-sufficient as resources will permit. The commander’s maneuver and sustainment forces continue their ongoing activities, while the commander readjusts priorities to better support the pursuit. The commander requests and acquires additional support from higher headquarters in accordance with the mission variables of METT-TC. For most pursuits, the commander assigns subordinate forces security, direct-pressure, encircling, follow and support, and reserve missions. The commander can assign available airborne or air assault units the encircling mission because of their ability to conduct vertical envelopments. Given sufficient resources, there can be more than one force assigned the encirclement mission. The subordinate unit assigned the follow and support mission polices the battlefield to prevent the dissipation of the combat power of the unit assigned the direct-pressure mission. Appendix B addresses the duties of a follow and support force. The reserve allows the commander to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities or respond to enemy counterattacks.

5-8. There are two options in conducting a pursuit; each involves assigning a subordinate the mission of maintaining direct-pressure on the rearward moving enemy force. The first is a frontal pursuit that employs only direct-pressure. The second is a combination that uses one subordinate element to maintain direct-pressure and one or more other subordinate forces to encircling the retrograding enemy. The combination pursuit is generally more effective. Either the subordinate applying direct-pressure or the subordinate conducting the encirclement can be conducting the decisive operation in a combination pursuit.



5-9. In a frontal pursuit, the commander employs only a single force to maintain direct-pressure on the retrograding enemy by conducting operations along the same retrograde routes used by that enemy. (See figure 5-1.) The commander chooses this option in two situations. The first is when a subordinate force with a sufficient mobility advantage to get behind a retrograding enemy force cannot be created. The second is when the commander cannot provide enough resources to the force conducting the encirclement to allow that force to survive and sustain itself until linkup with the direct-pressure force can be achieved. Either situation can occur because of restrictive terrain or because an enemy withdraws in a disciplined, cohesive formation and still has significant available combat power.


5-10. In the pursuit, the most decisive effects result from combining a direct pressure force and an encircling force. The direct pressure force is a force employed in a pursuit operation that orients on the enemy main body to prevent enemy disengagement or defensive reconstitution prior to envelopment by the encircling force. It normally conducts a series of attacks to slow the enemy’s retirement by forcing the enemy to stand and fight. (See figure 5-2.) In the combination pursuit, the force providing direct-pressure initiates a frontal pursuit immediately on discovering the enemy’s initiation of a retrograde operation. This slows the tempo of the enemy’s withdrawal (or fixes the enemy force in its current position if possible), and may destroy the enemy’s rear security force. The direct-pressure force’s actions help to set the conditions necessary for the success of the force conducting the encircling operation by maintaining constant pressure. The encircling force is, in pursuit operations, the force which maneuvers to the rear or flank of the enemy to block the enemy’s escape so that the enemy can be destroyed between the direct pressure force and encircling force. This force advances or flies along routes parallel to the enemy’s line of retreat. If the encircling force cannot outdistance the enemy to cut the enemy off, the encircling force may also attack the flank of a retreating enemy. The force conducting the encircling operation conducts an envelopment or a turning movement to position itself where it can block the enemy’s escape and trap the enemy between the two forces, which leads to complete annihilation of the enemy.


Figure 5-2. Combination pursuit

5-11. The force providing direct-pressure conducts hasty attacks to maintain contact and apply unrelenting pressure until it destroys the enemy force. The force applying direct-pressure prevents enemy disengagement and subsequent reconstitution of the enemy’s defense and inflicts maximum casualties. It forces the enemy to deploy frequently in an attempt to delay the advance of the force applying direct-pressure and restricts the enemy’s ability to disengage and rapidly move away. The force applying direct-pressure must be at least as mobile as the enemy. Armored and Stryker units are ideally suited to this role in open terrain, but the commander can employ light infantry forces, if the enemy is also foot-mobile and the terrain prevents the use of more tactically mobile forces. The force applying direct-pressure organizes itself to conduct a movement to contact and must be able to conduct a series of hasty attacks. It must be powerful enough to defeat enemy rear guard actions and maintain pressure on the enemy’s main body.

5-12. The force conducting the encirclement is the force that maneuvers to the rear or flank of the enemy to block the enemy’s escape, so that the enemy can be destroyed between the force applying direct pressure and the force conducting the encirclement. The force conducting the encirclement advances or flies along routes parallel to the enemy’s line of retreat. If the force conducting the encirclement cannot outdistance the enemy to cut the retrograding enemy off, that encircling force may also attack the flank of a retreating enemy. The mobility of the force conducting the encirclement must be equal—preferably superior—to the withdrawing enemy. If there is no inherent mobility differential, the commander must create one. This differential can also result from the force applying direct-pressure to force the enemy to deploy. The commander can also enhance, and sometimes create, this mobility advantage by conducting countermobility operations against the enemy, specifically targeting locations, such as choke points or bridges, that will hinder the fleeing enemy’s withdrawal. Armored, air assault, and airborne forces are well suited for this encircling mission. Attack helicopters are also effective when used as part of this encircling force. The force conducting the encirclement must be strong enough to defend itself from the enemy’s main body and slow or fix the enemy until the friendly force applying direct-pressure force can combine with the encircling force to destroy the enemy. It must be capable of mounting a hasty defense without placing itself at risk of annihilation. The force conducting the encirclement must be self-contained, since it normally operates out of supporting range of friendly indirect-fire systems. Therefore, it frequently has additional supporting artillery attached. The primary mission of this encircling force is to prevent the enemy’s escape by trapping the enemy between the encircling force and the direct-pressure force. The commander can assign other missions to the force conducting the encirclement, such as—

  • Destroying enemy weapons of mass destruction and their delivery means.
  • Linking up with airborne or air assault forces in their airheads.
  • Reporting terrain conditions and other combat information beyond that normally addressed in the unit standing operating procedures.

The commander can assign the encirclement mission, wholly or in part, to available airborne or air assault units because their vertical envelopment capabilities allow friendly forces to be inserted deeper into enemy-controlled territory than ground units. The time required to plan amphibious and airborne operations and stage air- and sealift platforms airlift impacts the usefulness of airborne forces in small-scale pursuit operations.

5-13. Forces assigned direct-pressure and encircling missions require engineer support to create lanes through obstacles, which enables them to move rapidly and continuously. The commander should place combat engineers well forward in unit movement formations to quickly breach any obstacles that cannot be bypassed. Engineers accompanying the encircling force must also be prepared to conduct countermobility and survivability tasks.


5-14. The commander uses control measures to retain tactical options to converge on the most important axis or to redirect the pursuit effort on a new axis. These control measures should be flexible and capable of rapid adjustments to reflect changing conditions. In assigning control measures for a pursuit, subordinate commanders are given as much freedom of action as possible, consistent with security and maintenance of command integrity. This flexibility is also necessary when engaging advancing enemy reserves or counterattack forces.

5-15. The commander employs centralized planning and decentralized execution during a pursuit. The commander balances the need to prevent fratricide and friendly fire incidents with the need to allow subordinates to take advantage of fleeting opportunities in a pursuit with rapidly moving forces and a rapidly changing situation. The commander designates an area of operations (AO) for each maneuver unit involved in the pursuit. The commander establishes few control measures for the direct-pressure force other than phase lines and checkpoints during a pursuit. The commander uses phase lines to designate a forward and rearward boundary for the direct-pressure force. The forward boundary relieves the direct-pressure force of any responsibility beyond the forward boundary. It also gives the higher headquarters flexibility to coordinate with the encircling force and address enemy elements located beyond that forward boundary. The rear boundary becomes the boundary between the direct-pressure force and the follow and support force.

5-16. If the force conducting the encirclement is a ground element, the control measures are almost identical to those used during an envelopment. The commander must designate a route, an axis of advance, or an AO adjacent to that of the force providing direct-pressure on the retrograding enemy to allow the force conducting the encirclement force to move parallel to and eventually get ahead of the fleeing enemy force. The commander can designate a terrain objective as a guide for the encircling force. (See objective HAWKE in figure 5-3.) However, the commander may change this objective rapidly and frequently, based on the progress of the encircling force and the enemy. The objective should be a terrain feature that provides the encircling force good, defensible terrain that the enemy cannot easily bypass. The commander often selects choke points, such as defiles and bridges, as objectives for the encircling force.

5-17. The commander establishes a boundary or a restrictive fire line between the force conducting the encirclement and the force exerting direct-pressure before the encircling force reaches its objective. Other fire support coordination measures (FSCMs) around the area currently occupied by the force conducting the encirclement are established to relieve it of unnecessary fire support coordination responsibilities. The overall commander directs security operations beyond the encircling force, allowing it to engage the withdrawing enemy without devoting resources to flank and rear security. The overall commander establishes additional control measures to control the convergence of both elements of the friendly force, such as restrictive fire lines, phase lines, and contact points.


Figure 5-3. Pursuit control measures


5-18. The commander anticipates an enemy retrograde operation as either a branch or a sequel to the plan. The plan should identify possible direct-pressure, encircling, follow and support, and reserve forces and issue on-order or be-prepared missions to these forces. The commander should employ the maximum number of available maneuver forces in the pursuit. The commander bases the details of the plan on the enemy’s anticipated actions, the combat formation of the attacking troops, and the amount of planning time available. The commander also considers—

  • Possible routes the enemy might use to conduct retrograde operations.
  • Availability of reconnaissance and surveillance assets to detect enemy forces and acquire targets in depth.
  • Scheme of movement and maneuver. (While combat forces will maneuver during the conduct of a pursuit, some echelon sustainment elements will be moving.)
  • Availability and condition of pursuit routes.
  • Availability of forces to keep the pressure on the enemy force until its destruction is complete.
  • Critical terrain features.
  • Use of reconnaissance and security forces.
  • Allocation of precision-guided munitions and aviation support.
  • Availability of functional and multifunctional support and sustainment resources.

Pursuit planning must address the possibility of defending temporarily during operational pauses while making preparations to continue the pursuit or to consolidate gains. However, the use of an operational pause generally results in the abandonment of the pursuit because the enemy is able to use that time to organize a coherent defense.

5-19. The commander must specifically address how to detect the enemy retrograde operations; otherwise, the enemy may succeed in breaking contact. The commander relies on active reconnaissance, an understanding of enemy tactics, and knowledge of the current tactical situation. The commander must watch for signs that indicate the enemy is preparing to conduct a retrograde, such as when the enemy—

  • Lacks the capability to maintain the current position or cohesion.
  • Conducts limited local counterattacks.
  • Intensifies reconnaissance and intelligence efforts.
  • Increases the amount of rearward movements and changes the type of elements conducting them, especially by fire support and reserves.
  • Prepares facilities, installations, equipment, and supply stock-piles for demolition and destruction.
  • Decreases fire in intensity and effectiveness through the AO.
  • Increases fires in one or more individual sectors of the front, which does not appear to be in accordance with the developing situation, and at a time when the amount of defensive fires seems to be decreasing.

The presence or absence of any of these signs may not necessarily indicate the start of a retrograde operation. The enemy could be attempting to draw friendly forces into an ambush or setting up a counterattack as part of the defense. The decision of when to start a pursuit is part of the art of tactics.

5-20. When the commander initiates a pursuit, the commander often creates the force conducting the encirclement from uncommitted or reserve elements. Normally, these forces do not have allocated fire support assets. The commander must plan how to redistribute fire support assets to properly support these encircling forces. Attack helicopters and close air support are well suited to support the force conducting the encirclement.

5-21. Engineer mobility and countermobility assets are instrumental in sustaining the rate of advance and hindering the enemy’s withdrawal. Engineers prepare the route of advance and support the lateral dispersion of units transitioning to the pursuit and the movement of the reserve. During the pursuit, the commander must plan for engineers to provide assault bridging and emergency road repairs to sustain the tempo of the pursuit. The commander also plans to use engineer assets to block any bypassed enemy’s withdrawal routes by using antitank and command-operated mines, demolitions, and obstacles.

5-22. Sustainment units should plan for increased demand for fuel and maintenance as the tempo of operations increases. In the pursuit, priority for sustainment normally goes to units having the greatest success. Sustainment planners need to anticipate success since the depth of the pursuit depends on the capability of sustainment assets to support the operation. The sustainment elements supporting the pursuing force should be as mobile as possible. Sustainment planners are particularly concerned with supporting the encircling force, such as providing casualty evacuation over possibly unsecured LOCs. The commander may need aerial resupply or heavily guarded convoys to support this force. Security for sustainment convoys and LOCs are major planning considerations.

5-23. The commander uses all available sustainment assets to provide essential support to the force pursuing the enemy. The pursuit plan must result in a force prepared to conduct wide-ranging operations using all available maneuver assets throughout the AO to complete the destruction and morale collapse of the enemy force.


5-24. The goal of a pursuit is to destroy the withdrawing enemy. This generally occurs because of trapping the enemy between the forces conducting direct-pressure and encirclement operations or a major geographic barrier—such as an unfordable river—followed by the enemy’s defeat in detail. The commander’s timeliness in deciding to initiate a pursuit is critical to its success. If the enemy begins a retrograde undetected, the enemy avoids the constant pressure that results in disrupting that operation. The commander expects the enemy forces to conduct retrograde operations at times advantageous to them— usually at night or during bad weather.

5-25. A pursuit is often conducted as a series of encirclements in which successive portions of the fleeing enemy are intercepted, cut off from outside support, and captured or destroyed. (FM 3-90-2 addresses the tactics associated with the conduct of encirclement operations.) The force exerting direct pressure on the retrograding enemy conducts a series of hasty attacks to destroy that enemy’s rear security force, maintain constant pressure on the enemy’s main body, and slow the enemy’s withdrawal. At every opportunity, the force exerting direct pressure fixes, disrupts, and destroys enemy elements, provided such actions do not interfere with its primary mission of maintaining constant pressure on the enemy’s main body. The force exerting direct pressure can bypass large enemy forces, if it can hand them off to follow and support units, or if they do not pose a significant risk to the capability of the force applying direct-pressure to maintain that direct pressure on the retrograding enemy main body.

5-26. As soon as the commander designates a unit to conduct the encirclement and directs its actions, the force moves as swiftly as possible by the most advantageous routes to cut off the enemy’s retreat. If that unit cannot move farther and faster than the enemy to achieve the encirclement, it attacks the enemy’s main body on one of its flanks. When this occurs, the overall commander should constitute and dispatch a new element to conduct an encirclement of the retrograding enemy force.


5-27. This article discusses the execution of a pursuit. It uses the five steps introduced in chapter 4 for illustrative purposes only. In practice these steps will overlap. The first three steps are normally shaping operations. Maneuver completes the destruction of the retrograding enemy and is the decisive operation in a pursuit. Follow through involves either a branch or a sequel to the pursuit.

Gain and Maintain Enemy Contact

5-28. At the first indication of an enemy retrograde, the BCT or lower-echelon commander who discovers the enemy’s rearward movement acts to maintain contact with the enemy across a wide area without waiting for orders from higher headquarters. This ensures that the enemy does not break contact and conduct an orderly retirement. These forces in contact constitute the nucleus of the direct-pressure force. As the situation permits, they reform into a movement column with reconnaissance and security elements in the lead and, if necessary, to the flank.

5-29. During a pursuit, the intelligence effort is intensive. Reconnaissance and surveillance elements concentrate on all routes the enemy could use when conducting a retrograde operation. These elements provide information on the disposition of retreating enemy formations and on the forward movement of reserves as the pursuit develops. The tactical situation during a pursuit may become obscure because of its potential depth. Much of the combat information needed during a pursuit is located behind the fleeing enemy force. Therefore, air reconnaissance, backed by technical intelligence systems, is vital to the overall reconnaissance effort. It can determine—

  • The beginning of the rearward movement of enemy sustainment forces.
  • The composition of retrograding forces and their direction of movement.
  • The composition and direction of enemy reserve forces moving forward.
  • The nature of obstacles and intermediate defensive positions.

Information about fresh enemy reserves and prepared positions is vital at the stage when a pursuit force may be approaching a culminating point; it may be the basis for terminating the pursuit.

5-30. The primary mission of the encircling force’s reconnaissance and surveillance assets is to find routes for the encircling force to allow it to move behind withdrawing enemy units and establish blocking positions. This mission may force these assets to operate outside the supporting range of the main body, as they try to maneuver behind the retrograding enemy force. The encircling force avoids combat, when possible, until it reaches its assigned objective area. However, en route to its objective, it overruns any small enemy positions while bypassing larger enemy units. Forward security elements of the encircling force conduct activities to prevent the enemy from interfering with the forward movement of the encircling force’s main body. These security elements move rapidly along all available roads or routes and overrun or bypass small enemy pockets of resistance. If they encounter strongly held enemy positions, they attempt to find routes around or through these positions. The encircling force can then avoid these enemy positions and occupy blocking positions before withdrawing enemy forces can reach them. If necessary, the encircling force organizes a hasty defense behind the enemy to block the enemy’ retreat.

Disrupt the Enemy

5-31. Keeping the enemy from reconstituting an effective defense is critical to success. Constant pressure by direct-pressure forces and echelon fire support systems disrupts and weakens the enemy. The commander uses fires to keep pressure on the enemy. The enemy commander must not be allowed to freely adjust dispositions to counter the actions of the friendly force. Artillery fire and air strikes harass and disrupt the enemy’s attempts to move engaged forces to the rear or bring previously uncommitted forces into action. In a pursuit, decisive operations may include the ground maneuver of the direct-pressure or the encircling force. Fire support targets in a pursuit include fires on enemy columns and troop or vehicle concentrations at road junctions, defiles, bridges, and river crossings. They may also be used to repulse enemy counterattacks, destroy or delay enemy reserves, and destroy the enemy’s fire support systems. The commander conducts electronic warfare against the enemy’s command and control (C2) system as an integral part of this disruption process, concentrating on destroying or degrading the enemy’s capability to reconstitute and synchronize an effective defense.

Fix the Enemy

5-32. Using movement and fire or the threat of fires, the commander fixes a withdrawing enemy. If the direct-pressure force disrupts the enemy’s C2 system, the enemy’s ability to counter friendly efforts is significantly degraded, and the goal of fixing the enemy is much easier to accomplish.

5-33. The enemy force will attempt to use its reserves to restore the integrity of the defense or prevent the withdrawing enemy force from being overrun. Fixing enemy reserves is essential to the pursuit’s success and is normally the focus of echelon shaping operations. The direct-pressure force fixes enemy reserves in place or slows them down so that they remain outside supporting distance until the withdrawing enemy force is completely annihilated.


5-34. During the conduct of pursuit operations, the overall commander of the pursuit normally combines the actions of a subordinate conducting a frontal pursuit to provide direct pressure on the retrograding enemy with the actions of a second subordinate attempting to encircle that same retrograding enemy. The force providing direct pressure advances in a column formation as quickly as possible. After a successful penetration of a defending enemy, existing gaps between the different elements of the force and the apply direct-pressure force are likely to increase. Aware of the vulnerability of open flanks in this situation, the overall commander must deploy other elements with a reserve mission where they can respond to flank dangers. The overall commander does not expect a uniform rate of advance on all axes. Some columns may move rapidly, while others are still engaged in penetrating the enemy’s rear guard defensive positions or meeting enemy counterattacks.

5-35. The actions of the force applying direct pressure should facilitate the commitment of another force moving parallel to the rearward-moving enemy and attempting to encircle that enemy. The depth of the pursuit depends on the size of the forces involved. It takes a division-level or higher commander to make the decision to initiate a pursuit because of the resources necessary to conduct a pursuit. The commander directing the initiation of a pursuit informs that individual’s higher commander of this intention. This allows even greater resources to be devoted to the pursuit and avoids desynchronizing the higher headquarters’ major operation or campaign.

5-36. The force providing direct pressure normally tasks its forward subordinate element to provide an advance guard to prevent the enemy from ambushing its main body and to overrun or bypass small enemy forces. This advance guard moves on multiple avenues of advance. If it encounters enemy units beyond its capacity to defeat, it conducts actions on contact to develop the situation. The commander of the force providing direct pressure uses combat information provided by these actions on contact to guide the main body of the force providing direct pressure to a position of advantage where it can seriously degrade or destroy the retrograding enemy force. These actions of the force providing direct pressure may or may not be in conjunction with the actions of any encircling force.

5-37. The overall pursuit commander does everything possible to place a force behind a retrograding enemy to encircle and trap the bulk of that enemy force between the encircling force and the force providing direct pressure. The force providing direct pressure maintains enough pressure on the retrograding enemy force so that the encircling force can envelop it. To envelop the enemy, the force providing the direct-pressure force must be strong enough to overcome any enemy rear guard before the enemy’s main body can complete its retrograde and reestablish a coherent defense. Once in its objectives, the force conducting the encirclement defends or attacks as necessary, responding to the enemy’s actions and those of the force providing direct pressure to complete the enemy’s geographic isolation.

5-38. A pursuing force must not give an enemy force time to reorganize for an all-around defense after it is encircled. If the enemy forms a perimeter, the pursuing commander must repeatedly split it into smaller elements until the encircled enemy force is destroyed. If time is not critical, the commander can keep the encirclement closed, defeat enemy breakout attempts, and weaken the enemy by fires alone. The commander can greatly accelerate the collapse of a large, encircled enemy force by using psychological operations, precision-guided weapons, and improved conventional munitions in mass. (FM 3-90-2 describes the tactics associated with the reduction of an encircled enemy force.) If the resulting encirclement does not destroy the retrograding enemy force, the commander conducts additional pursuit operations until the enemy is destroyed.


5-39. Once the commander initiates a pursuit, it is continued until a higher commander terminates the pursuit. Conditions under which a higher commander may terminate a pursuit include the following:

  • The pursuing force annihilates or captures the enemy and resistance ceases.
  • The pursuing force fixes the enemy for follow-on forces.
  • The higher commander makes an assessment that the pursuing force is about to reach a culminating point.

5-40. A commander often transitions from a pursuit into other types of offensive and defensive actions. If the enemy attempts to reorganize, forces conducting a pursuit execute hasty attacks. They conduct an exploitation to capitalize on the success of these attacks and then move back into pursuit. Forces conducting a pursuit may also transition into a defense, if the pursuing force reaches a culminating point. This usually occurs when the enemy introduces strong reinforcements to prepare for a counteroffensive. If the pursuit is totally successful and the enemy is destroyed, the pursuing force may need to transition to a focus on the conduct of stability tasks. (See ADRP 3-07.)


5-41. The transition to retrograde operations by unconventional enemies may make it more difficult for tactical units to engage, capture, or kill enemy fighters during the conduct of pursuit operations in other than major combat operations. Successful pursuit of unconventional enemies in these situations relies on maintaining contact through surveillance assets, patrols, and host nation security forces. Since dispersing unconventional forces usually use preplanned routes of withdrawal, or if pressed simply scatter and try to blend into the local civilian population to rally later at a pre-designated point, any pursuit must be undertaken immediately both on the ground and in the air. Boundaries should not prevent the pursuit of unconventional forces into an adjacent unit’s area of operations. Operations orders or other means of coordination should provide for this contingency.

5-42. Tactical leaders must recognize the potential for unconventional enemies to conduct a baited ambush during their retrograde operations. Critical to mitigating risk to friendly forces during a pursuit is maintaining one of the eight forms of contact—direct; indirect; nonhostile or civilian; obstacle; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN); aerial; visual; and electronic—and positioning of adjacent units. These adjacent units may include aviation, host nation security forces, surveillance assets, other ground forces, and quick response forces (QRFs).

5-43. Unconventional enemies may establish base camps and conduct cross-border operations from countries adjacent to the host country. They take advantage of an international boundary to launch operations or to evade pursuit. Commanders operating in border areas must respect the sanctity of international boundaries. However, they can conduct combat operations against the insurgent force once the unconventional enemy force crosses back over the border. Ambush patrols and area ambushes are excellent means of dealing with unconventional enemy forces who try to use an international border as a sanctuary.

5-44. Unconventional enemies should know that every ambush they execute may result in rapid, violent, and relentless pursuit by friendly forces. Such action, executed automatically as a matter of first priority, is most important to the overall effort to reduce the effectiveness and frequency of ambushes by unconventional enemies. First, it ensures an early relief of the ambushed unit; second, it increases the possibility of friendly forces making contact with the ambush party before it disperses; third, it reduces the time available to the unconventional enemy to destroy the ambushed forces and to loot vehicles; and, finally, successful pursuit operations will improve the morale of friendly units while having a corresponding opposite effect upon unconventional enemy forces. Commanders must initiate pursuits of ambush forces with the least possible delay, with only that degree of caution required to prevent falling into a larger ambush.

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