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Infantry are soldiers who fight primarily on foot with small arms in organized military units, though they may be transported to the battlefield by horses, ships, automobiles, skis, or other means.
The most important role of the infantry has been as the primary force of an army. It is the infantry which ultimately decides whether ground was held or taken, and it is the presence of infantry that assures control of territory. While the tactics of employment in battle have changed, the basic missions of the infantry have not.
Attack operations are the most basic role of the infantry, and along with defense, form the two primary stances of the infantry on the battlefield. Traditionally, in an open battle, or meeting engagement, two armies would maneuver to contact, at which point they would form up their infantry and other units opposite each other. Then one or both would advance and attempt to defeat the enemy force. The goal of an attack remains the same: to advance into an enemy-held objective and dislodge the enemy, thereby establishing control of the objective. Attacks are often feared by the infantry conducting them due to the high number of casualties suffered while advancing under enemy fire. Successful attacks rely on sufficient force, preparative reconnaissance and bombardment, and retention of unit cohesion throughout the attack.
Defense operations are the natural counter to attacks, in which the mission is to hold an objective and defeat enemy forces attempting to dislodge the defender. Defensive posture offers many advantages to the infantry, including the ability to use terrain and constructed fortifications to advantage and the reduced exposure to enemy fire compared with advancing forces. Effective defense relies on minimizing losses to enemy fire, breaking the enemy's cohesion before their advance is completed, and preventing enemy penetration of defensive positions.
Patrol is the most common infantry mission. Full scale attacks and defensive efforts are occasional, but patrols are constant. Patrols consist of small groups of infantry moving about in areas of possible enemy activity to discern enemy deployments and ambush enemy patrols. Patrols are used not only on the front-lines, but in rear areas where enemy infiltration or insurgencies are possible.
Pursuit is a role that the infantry often assumes. The objective of pursuit operations is the destruction of enemy forces which are not capable of effectively engaging friendly units before they can build their strength to the point where they are effective. Infantry traditionally have been the main force to overrun these units in the past, and in modern combat are used to pursue enemy forces in constricted terrain (urban areas in particular), where faster forces, such as armored vehicles are incapable of going or would be exposed to ambush.
Escort consists of protecting other units from ambush, particularly from other infantry. This is one of the most important roles for the modern infantry, in particular when operating along side armored vehicles. In this capacity, infantry essentially conducts patrol on the move, scouring terrain which may hide enemy infantry waiting to ambush friendly vehicles, and identifying enemy strong points for attack by the heavier units.
Maneuver operations consume much of an infantry unit's time. Infantry, like all combat units, are often maneuvered to meet battlefield needs, and often must do so under enemy attack. The infantry must maintain their cohesion and readiness during the move to ensure their usefulness when they reach their objective. Traditionally, infantry have relied on their own legs for mobility, but modern infantry often uses trucks and armored vehicles for transport.
Reserve assignments for infantry units involve deployment behind the front, although patrol and security operations are usually maintained in case of enemy infiltration. This is usually the best time for infantry units to integrate replacements into units and to maintain equipment. Additionally, soldiers can be rested and general readiness should improve. However, the unit must be ready for deployment at any point.
Construction can be undertaken either in reserve or on the front, but consists of using infantry troops as labor for construction of field positions, roads, bridges, airfields, and all other manner of structures. The infantry is often given this assignment due to the quantity of men within the unit, although it can lessen a unit's morale and limit the unit's ability to maintain readiness and perform other missions.
'Base Defense' is where infantry units are tasked to protect certain areas like command posts or airbases. Units assigned to this job usaly have a large amount of military police attached to them for control of checkpoints and prisons.