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Posted on Oct 4, 2007 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 020 – Urban Operations

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

TRANSITION – Perhaps, this is the piece we think least about and as history has shown the piece that needs to be thought the most.  Within transition of an urban area, the commander begins moving control of the area to a third party organization with an endstate of turning it back to the original government (or of course to the government that the victor wants in place).  Of course, the transition could also go the other way from a stability operation to urban fighting.  Or perhaps, in the most difficult case you could be conducting both simultaneously.  The key in executing this transition is to not to lose momentum.  Momentum is generally lost when prior planning is not conducted and the window of opportunity is lost.  If the window of opportunity is not seized, there will many other groups (some you will not like) who will be willing and waiting.  During the planning and execution of the transition, the commander should consider the following:  1) Changes in the task organization to ensure the right mix of units (with the right skill sets) are in the right area.  As you know, the skill sets desired in transition are very different then those utilized during urban fighting.  2)  Related to changes in skill sets is changing the mindset of the soldiers.  Obviously, after a period of intense fighting it is difficult to turn it off and begin stability and support tasks.  The commander must set the conditions for this transformation.  3) Units must quickly learn to work with other agencies or organizations (mostly civilian) who may have different agendas.  This can be extremely challenging and there is almost certainly some difficult days ahead in making this work.  4) Through it all, a unit be prepared for the defeated enemy to conduct some type of counterattack.  After days of conducting stability and support operations, complacency may set-in.  Complacency sets the conditions for bad things to happen.  Good commanders will ensure their units never get complacent.

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Throughout the series, we have tried to include discussion on the basic fundamentals of particular operations.  In regards to urban operations, there are some key fundamentals that can assist a commander in accomplishing his mission.  These include:

• As in any operation, a well-planned and executed Intelligence, Reconnaissance, and Surveillance (ISR) plan is critical.  The key to achieving this is utilizing human intelligence effectively.  This is tough business and can require some time to set the conditions. Because of the urban environment, a commander can not effectively utilize all the technological ISR devices he possesses.

• To win in urban operations, a unit must understand the civilian population in the area.  You must know where their loyalties lie.  What will their involvement in the fighting be.  You must truly understand how they will effect the operation on both sides.

• Related to the above is your ability to separate civilians from your enemy.  You must have a plan to do this and contingencies when they appear in places where you did not anticipate.  Wishing this away leads directly to utter chaos.

• A pure attrition mentality is not the answer.  Coming in with guns blazing is good for a Hollywood movie, but will not ultimately achieve your final objective.  Just as a maneuver warfare mindset is paramount in conventional warfare, it is optimal in urban operations.  We will discuss methods in the upcoming months.

• You can not control everything.  Conducting urban operations is manpower intensive.  You must decide what is important in your overall scheme.  Just as in other environments, there is key and decisive terrain in urban areas.  Just as in other environments, the side that controls this terrain is setting the conditions for victory.

• Always be conscious of collateral damage.   Again, a commander has non-lethal resources at his disposal to utilize.  He does not have to blow-up every building to accomplish his mission.

• You must excel at close combat.  Unlike other environments where technology can make a fight highly impersonal, an urban fight is a highly personal affair.  The side that executes small unit and individual combat drills will normally win.

• Information operations are critical in urban operations.   The side that mentally manipulates the other and ensures their story is getting out to the civilian populace and media is at a huge advantage.

• A unit must isolate the urban area in which they are attacking.  If this does not occur, the defender can easily reinforce themselves with supplies and personnel.

• Urban operations are decentralized operations won at the individual soldier, squad and platoon level.


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