The General Chaos of Navigating Traffic in a Warzone

first published on March 25, 2018 by

The general chaos of navigating traffic in a warzone is something that most veterans of the Global War on Terror can speak on. Most often, when people think of war they imagine scenes from their favorite World War Two films where chaos, confusion, and bravery reign supreme. The reality of war looks quite a bit different than the portrayal Hollywood makes of it. Even the mundane task of getting through traffic is amplified 10x when you are forced to do it while waiting for an ambush.

Traffic 1

Let’s face the facts. Most people in Iraq and Afghanistan have absolutely no idea how to drive. Traffic laws are extremely relaxed, or completely non-existent throughout most of both countries, because their law enforcement teams are to pre-occupied with defending their districts from the constant threat of terrorism to write up traffic violations. As a result of this, you will often see children under the age of 12 operating motor vehicles during heavy traffic hours, and most other drivers are simply driving based off of their own situational awareness. Sometimes that situational awareness is on-point and the drivers are great, other times that situational awareness is the equivalent of a high-school girl who just got a text from her BFF.

During the Global War on Terror, often coalition troops were put into situations where they were forced to convoy through heavy traffic. Heavy traffic in Iraq or Afghanistan is not like heavy traffic in Los Angeles or New York City. Take all of the worst drivers you have ever met, and put them into one person, then you will have the equal representation of an Iraqi 10-year-old driving his grandmother to the souk, next to 100 other drivers who have no idea what is happening around them. Now, on top of this, pile on the constant threat to coalition troops from roadside bombs and ambushes, then you will have some kind of an understanding of what this experience was like.

traffic 2

It is important to remember that in both of these theaters of war, the enemy dressed and acted like the local civilian population. One moment a shop keeper could be sweeping in front of his store as your convoy drives by, and the next he can be firing an RPG at the tail end of your convoy. For this reason, most coalition troops adopted the mindset of “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” In traffic, there was no exceptions made to this ethos, and most troops in a convoy showed that aggressive nature. Being a normal aggressive driver was not good enough on the streets of Baghdad, where movement equaled life.

When i see videos like the one below, it immediately brings me back to locations like downtown Lashkargah and al-Karmah. Trying to keep your convoy together while avoiding the need for kinetic escalation of force was a delicate balance that was only pulled off successfully by well practiced and experienced convoys teams. The drivers of the gun trucks in these convoys almost had to speak to each other telepathically while weaving in and out of the madness. Meanwhile, the vehicle commanders and turret gunners were constantly playing the game of communication in order to avoid incidents, roadside bombs, and ambushes.