Much has been written about the difficulties and
challenges of urban warfare, especially combat methods used in
security and stabilization operations (SASO), where high sensitivity
to collateral damage and concerns for the welfare of non combatants
require limited use of force and tight control at all combat levels.
In past conflicts, offensive military operations have usually been
conducted in urban environments only when unavoidable. Leaders of
armies preferred to bypass areas posing significant threats or
obstacles to their forces. In most cases, military action in urban
areas would only occur when military units were forced to pass through
villages or urban terrain due to the co-location of river crossings,
strategic junctions, etc., with these population centers.
In the post cold-war era, however, conflicts are shifting from the
wastelands, deserts, and jungles into the cities, where terrorists,
insurgents, or guerillas (1) find safe havens in environments that also
provide a rich target environment.
Characteristics of urban warfare
For regular armies, operations in urban terrain pose
significant challenges. Compared to rural areas, or open desert,
maneuverability in a city is restricted to fixed routes, which are
frequently dominated by elevated firing positions (such as rooftops,
towers, etc). These restricted movement axes limit maneuverability and
require deployment of forces into long columns, reducing their ability
to employ concentrated firepower and provide mutual support. Since the
routes are predictable, enemy ambushes can be pre-planned or executed
spontaneously as the battle progresses.
Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) can be pre-positioned, some buried
under the pavement, some blended into walls and covered with mortar
and paint. These devices make passing targets, such as foot patrols or
inadequately protected vehicles, highly vulnerable.
IEDs and mines are only two of the threats that military units can
encounter in urban settings. Other popular attack methods include
car-bombs, suicide bombers, weapons fired from passing cars, sniper
fire, mortar and rocket attacks, and even direct assaults on
vulnerable elements. Locations of these ambushes can be selected based
on availability of observation points, ingress routes and especially
escape routes that allow urban guerillas to blend into the local
population immediately following an attack.
Subterranean networks, such as sewer or cistern systems, or purpose
built tunnels, offer covert movement to local elements familiar with
the terrain and add to the guerilla’s mobility. Attacks in urban
environments are often carefully planned, but their purpose is not
always to kill people. Sometimes attacks are performed as deceptions,
or as part of "battlefield shaping" by the attackers.
1 regardless of their
cause or justification for the fight, the enemy will be collectively
addressed here as "urban guerillas" (Back to top)