Friday, October 17, 2008

Military History and Warfare: Counter-insurgency: Urban Operations

Counterinsurgency, Urban Operations and Lessons Learned

Urban operations are an increasing aspect of modern day conflicts. Urban operations are also essential because of the many considerations that result in the decision to conduct an urban operation, for instance; Political considerations, Psychological considerations, Operational Considerations, Potential Center of gravity. The 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah conflict reflects at least two of the above considerations, as does the decision of US Forces to seize Kabul and Kandahar early in the Afghan war.

If one assumes that doctrine is the key element of training and that this training is the key to a unit's ability to execute an operation, and successful execution in turn results in a succession of operational successes, and even perhaps a decisive strategic success, then there are two predominate themes that are linked.
First the basic tactic’s techniques and procedures (TTP’s) remain unchanged: these are to Suppress, Breach, Attack/Assault and Defend. Second, a defender and attacker make critical assumptions about the population when they make the decision to conduct urban operations. This decision and the size of the force to use are directly dependent on the commander’s mission analysis. The operation is then conducted by a number of units; the key factor being each squad, platoon and company and how well trained they are to conduct urban operations; the training is derived from an understanding of doctrine and an emphasis placed on that doctrine.
Three key failures across the spectrum of urban operations include:

· Complacency
· A lack of specialization of units and Techniques, Tactics and Procedures or (Drills)
· Refugee’s and Internally Displaced Persons.

Cities are resilient and infrastructure generally continues to operate despite conflict. The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli conflict demonstrates that urban combat is still crucial and will be a center of gravity that will disrupt operations and affect political and operational considerations. An analysis of urban operations between WW II and 1998 for urban operations in Stalingrad, Aachen, Manilla, Hue, Singapore, Beirut, Mogadishu, Grozny and Sarajevo, reveals a number of themes and lessons learned. These themes and lessons that are recurrent include:
· Complacency of your enemies resolve – Stalingrad, Mogadishu, Grozny (Iraq)
· Overestimating your ability
· No contingency planning –Stalingrad, Grozny
· Destruction/turning the city into rubble - Stalingrad, Aachen, Grozny
· Coalition soldiers operationally weak - Stalingrad, Hue, Mogadishu (Iraq and Afghanistan)
· Casualty rates high
· Misuse of armor- Stalingrad, Grozny,
· Chicanery/Deception/Ruses (Tactical) Seek to devise tactics and methods that put your opponent at a disadvantage
· AdHoc Task Organization (Small mobile teams work best) (3 x 25 man teams) squad composition is also changed NO COMPOSITE UNITS
· Improvisation of weapons and tactics (hugging techniques, weapon for multiple uses, ie RPG’s or Recoiless Rifles)
· Infantry team re-organizations
· Specialized urban training and specialized training to work with armor.
· Published doctrine is of little help except for pointers on defense
· Methodical and firepower intensive operations
· Battlefield is not linear and clean
· Snipers, mines and communications are your most important assets
· Urban structure and architecture is important
· ROE/ROI (Rules of Engagement/ Rules of Interaction
· Units do not plan or implement security measures
· No logistics plan
· Information/Psyops war: Discrepancies between Official sources and News Media (Public Opinion is extremely important; prepare provocations to destabilize along ethnic lines) Grozny, Israeli-Hezbollah, Iraq, Afghanistan
· Extensive use of Electronic Counter Measures and satellite blocking
· Assaults uncoordinated; Lack of coordination between units, agencies and police.
· Technology is ineffective when the soldier or user is untrained, confused and afraid to use it.
· The capacity of clans, culture and social traditions goes far beyond surface discipline
· Force ratios not adhered to
· The decision to fight in successive cities (this is a critical failure in decision making)
· Preparation for urban combat has to begin in peacetime

Increasingly, urban operations are a requirement of counterinsurgency. Generally speaking the area known as the Middle East is comprised of 18 Nations; is 4.3 million square miles, had a population of 326 million in 2002and 57% of this population resides in urban areas. For comparison, 25% of the population was urban in 1960 and current projections indicate that by the year 2015 that 70% of the population will be urban.[ii] Increasingly, military operations and or counter-insurgency operations within urban areas means that operations will increasingly include a succession of urban operations that literally will cross ethnic and cultural boundaries from one street to the next and will increase the complexity of operations. Of particular importance is the fact that Middle Eastern cities are unique and different from Western and European urban design. Despite the fact that some Middle Eastern cities are changing and may begin to resemble Western design as a result of sprawl and growth, the city center in Middle Eastern cities still has a significant religious, political and social influence and Middle Eastern urban design is also a physical reflection of tribal, clan and community separation that only the locals will know and understand, thus adding another layer of complexity to the hearts and minds campaign.

- Terry Tucker

[i] Sharp Corners: Urban Operations at Century’s End, Roger J. Spiller, US Army Command and General Staff College Press; Block by Block: The Challenge of Urban Operations, William G Robertson, Lawrence A. Yates, US Army Command and General Staff College Press.
[ii] Population Resource Center;

A View from the Rampart: A mine clearing training session south of our camp. French and US Demolition Experts train Afghan students the art and science of mine clearance.

Urban Terrain: Every alley, door, window and crevice offers defensible advantage and can become a dangerous trap. Rubble and city composition can also add to the complexity.

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