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How to approach a surprise militia checkpoint

Techniques for mitigating danger in unstable or hostile territory when in a vehicle approaching an informal militia checkpoint or roadblock, as taught by sometime members of the 22nd Special Air Service regiment

You are driving in a vehicle in a country with low rule of law standards, either in a city or in a rural area: the principles are the same. In such countries, checkpoints are frequent; members of the military will stop vehicles more or less at random to ensure that their papers and permissions are in order. These, official checkpoints, are relatively straightforward, provided that they are manned by genuine police officers or genuine members of the military.


Provided you have proper business in that country (and you should not be driving a vehicle around in any country where you do not have proper business being there), a checkpoint is usually a fairly minor matter. The law enforcement officials likely just wave you on, seeing you are foreigners; or they stop you and check your papers, and they may try to extract a bribe from you for some imagined infraction, which you may or may not pay depending on your skill at haggling, your ability at name dropping the correct names of senior politicians, military officials or police chiefs, and the like.


In the very worst case scenario, for example where you are present on behalf of the United Nations and the country's relations with the UN have suddenly deteriorated, you may be temporarily detained. There will be a diplomatic incident, you will be well treated, and within a few days, all being well, you will be freed.


The situation with irregular militias is altogether different. With these road blocks, some gentlemen have borrowed some military uniforms and some assault rifles from somewhere, and maybe they have placed a cemented pole or even a vehicle across the road that you have to drive around to be on your way. It may not be clear who, if anyone, these militias report to. They probably don't report to anybody who is on your side. They don't much care for diplomatic incidents, and they don't have a habit of treating their hostages nicely. They may not know how to secure the safety catches on their weapons either, having never received any formal training in using them.


Roadblocks or checkpoints of this kind are common in countries suffering from civil conflict. They are very dangerous indeed, and they must be treated as a matter of life or death. You may think you know the politics of local uncentralised militias, but it is always vastly more complex than you imagine, and the decision what to do with a group of foreigners in an expensive vehicle may turn upon the discretion of a single militia chief. That person may or may not be rational, sane or humane. You may be lucky if you escape an interaction with an informal militia losing every piece of money and item of value you own, including the car. More likely, you will become an indefinite hostage of a militia group for an indefinite period of time while various unlikely militants-cum-aspirant politicians struggle with one-another in negotiations over what to do with you.


You may or may not leave the scenario alive. You may become a hostage for an extended period of time in the most abysmal imaginable conditions, that would make a prison cell look luxurious. You may end up being beheaded with a knife and your execution video'd and broadcast on the internet.


Therefore when you acquire the view that a militia roadblock is ahead, you need to act immediately.


The most obvious thing to do is to slam on the brakes; put the car into reverse gear; and execute a fast three point turn. If colleagues have semi-automatic or automatic weapons, they can engage in cover fire while the driver executes the manoeuvre. Obviously this can only be undertaken safely if the nature of the road block is foreseen beyond the likely range of the weapons of the militia: let us say 200m to 300m, if the militias are not well trained. Otherwise the militias are very likely to start effective firing, faced with this manoeuvre.


Assuming that the nature of the danger is not ascertained until within range of the militias' weapons, the best advice is to decelerate the car down to 20 miles per hour, well in advance of the checkpoint, and to approach the checkpoint in second gear at 20 miles per hour. At the usual time, indicate to the effect that you are pulling over.


However you do not pull over, unless it is propitious to engage a member of the militia with the vehicle's chassis; the speed of 20 miles per hour is maintained in second gear as the vehicle, continuing to indicate, drives straight through the checkpoint, if appropriate seeking collision with a militia member but without veering from a straight line along the road. As soon as the checkpoint is passed, the accelerator pedal is rapidly but smoothly applied to the floor to accelerate the vehicle away from the checkpoint at the highest possible rate, moving up through the gears in the usual way. The occupants of the vehicle may give cover fire from the rear if they have suitable firearms to hand and the circumstances seem appropriate. But it may not be necessary. The militia members will be so stunned by the breakthrough that they will scatter; the vehicle should be beyond range by the time the militia members regroup.


Precisely the strange tactics are employed where the road is blocked, either with a pole cemented in concrete at one end or with a vehicle, save for one modification. The speed of 20 miles per hour in second gear is maintained while the vehicle is directed towards the less heavy axle of the stationary vehicle or other impediment blocking the role. Even in a small moving vehicle, this will be enough to cause the impediment to spin upon its heavier axis, leaving the road free to proceed. One then accelerates through the gears, if appropriate with rear cover fire, as before.


This approach causes surprisingly little damage to the moving vehicle that, having traversed the checkpoint, should be able to continue its journey to its original destination without requiring mechanical works.


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