Urban Operations - Meeting the Challenges

By Wojdakowski, Walter | Infantry, March/April 2008 | Go to article overview

Urban Operations - Meeting the Challenges


Wojdakowski, Walter, Infantry


Combat has always presented complex and varied conditions to the warfighter. Of all the types of combat faced by today's infantry, few are as challenging as the urban fight. The last half of the 20th century has seen increased urbanization around the globe. Millions of people have moved into the cities and shantytowns. As civilians have moved to the cities, the guerillas and insurgents have chosen the urban environment in which to base their operations. U.S. and coalition forces have invested significant resources in perfecting command and control systems; precise, lethal firepower; logistical support systems; and the tactics to win the urban fight; and our enemies have been diligent in trying to adapt tactics that will mitigate these advantages. Operating in and around urban areas creates complex, short range engagements, restricts mobility and observation, and increases the potential for civilian casualties. With this in mind, our infantrymen are constantly adapting and must constantly evaluate courses of action. In this Commandant's Note, I want to discuss the challenges of urban operations and the need for training, innovation and a continued combined arms approach as we prosecute the global war on terrorism (GWOT).

For well over 200 years and on battlefields around the world, the U.S. Army has conducted complex combat and non-combat operations in urban terrain. Today, in the urban areas of Afghanistan and Iraq, our infantrymen have continued adapting and perfecting the way they close with and defeat the enemy. The current GWOT fight continues this long tradition of U.S. infantrymen fighting amid the challenges of often unfamiliar terrain and a vulnerable civil population.

Much of the experience gleaned from World War II resulted in the first urban operations field manual "Combat in Fortified Areas," published in 1951 which offers valuable lessons to this day. In recent years our urban operations doctrine has evolved in two major areas. First, although some tactical situations may require systematic clearing of an urban area, today's infantry strives to avoid such a costly approach, seeking instead to attack key points of enemy strength or weakness focusing on centers of gravity and decisive points. This approach to urban warfare requires infantrymen to stay situationally aware, move rapidly, apply precision firepower, and maintain a complete understanding of the environment, including the disposition of noncombatants and enemy forces.

Unable to match our firepower our enemies increasingly seek asymmetric options to offset our advantages. Irregular warfare often takes the form of an insurgency and relies heavily on the support of the indigenous population. Our Soldiers must recognize the interdependent nature of the terrain, the enemy infrastructure, and the people.

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