Academic journal article Military Review

Urban Warfare: A Soldier's View

Academic journal article Military Review

Urban Warfare: A Soldier's View

Article excerpt

THE AMERICAN DEFENSE establishment has grown up in a big-war culture where big threats were met with big-ticket programs. Yet, throughout the Cold War era in Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere real soldiers were compelled to fight unpleasantly real wars against enemies who watched the battles carefully. These enemies learned with each combat encounter that the surest way to gain advantage is to negate American big-war technologies by moving the fight into complex terrain such as jungles, mountains, and most recently, cities. The enemy's plan is simple and effective: lure American forces into terrain where Information-Age knowledge, speed, and precision give way to the more traditional warfighting advantages of mass, will, patience, and the willingness to die.

These enemies realize they will never effectively develop, integrate, and employ sophisticated weapons systems. A tradition of tribalism within Islamic militaries impedes their ability to create large, cohesive, well-bonded, structurally sound fighting organizations. They are willing to accept that they can best achieve success against the United States by fighting in small, relatively untrained groups using Industrial-Age weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and assault rifles.

In Somalia, Lebanon, and Iraq, the enemy also learned that America's vulnerable center of gravity is dead American soldiers. Thus, killing Americans has gravitated from merely a means to an end to an end itself, and the most efficient killing ground is in cities, where urban clutter allows the enemy to hide. Familiar terrain, the presence of supporting populations, and a useful infrastructure gives the enemy the advantage of sanctuary in the midst of the occupying power, an advantage impossible to achieve in open terrain. He can literally hide in plain sight and become indistinguishable from the indigenous urban masses that shield, protect, and sustain him.

Recent experience also suggests urban warfare will challenge the American military for many decades to come. The complexity of the challenge will only grow as cities in developing countries (the Middle East in particular) continue to gather in the poor and disaffected. Removed from traditional cultural, religious, and social bonds that hold their aggression in check, restless young males will add more human kindling to the growing fires of urban, fundamentalist insurgencies.

A city is the greatest challenge to any tactical force. In cities the red zone--the space separating friendly from enemy forces--compresses. The zone is often thousands of meters in open battle, but only tens of meters in the urban maze of densely aggregated buildings, streets, and back alleys. The traditional advantages of fighting outside the red zone disappear as cities compel soldiers to fight the enemy close. The compartmented nature of the urban jungle fragments forces. Short lines of sight limit the effective ranges of organic weapons and allow the enemy to "hug" U.S. forces, obviating the effective use of precision-guided weapons launched from aerial platforms. Compartmented urban terrain lessens to a significant degree the advantages of superior situational awareness and electronic-communications dominance.

Soldiers and Marines fight and occasionally die in brutal, close, and intimate tactical combat in cities, and every tactical action has strategic consequences. Each time a soldier or Marine dies, the United States loses another bit of strategic initiative, and probabilities for success diminish. Each soldier's death raises public clamor to bring U.S. soldiers and Marines home. Only a fool would conclude the enemy is unaware of these connections.

If dead soldiers are America's most vulnerable center of gravity, putting aside for a moment the humanitarian aspects of the issue, it seems obvious the welfare of our soldiers should be the number-one priority for defense planners and policymakers. …

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