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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


In order for a unit to be successful in urban operations, they must execute the operation with every resource available.  The urban fight is not just an infantry fight.  It is a combined arms fight just as much as any other type operation.  Below we will discuss how each of the BOS elements can assist in fighting the urban fight and some things you should consider in relation to the BOS.  We will get into much more specific detail when we discuss offensive and defensive operations.


• Just like any other operation, intelligence is critical in conducting urban operations.  However, the urban environment offers many challenges to a commander to collecting the intelligence he needs in planning and executing the mission.  A unit that depends heavily on technology to gather information will obviously find his assets are degraded in an urban operation.  It is key for the commander to understand these limitations and focus on the assets and techniques he does have available.

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• Since the capabilities of your technology are limited, a commander must increase his emphasis on human intelligence.  The gathering of human intelligence is truly an art!  It takes time to establish relationships (something you may have very little of in conducting an operation).  You must determine if they are trusted sources.  You must determine what their agenda is.  In aggregate this is tough business. Yet, it must be accomplished if a commander wants to get the intel he requires to conduct urban operations.

• As referred to above, gathering intelligence in an urban operation requires more time than most other operations. Because of this, ISR assets must be deployed as early as possible.  Neglecting this is likely to result in little or no intelligence available to make critical decisions.  This is obviously a recipe for disaster!

• As in other operations, if a piece of intelligence is critical in planning and execution; use redundant means to collect it.

• As discussed earlier, every urban area is different.  What works intelligence-wise in one area, may not work in another location.

• Focus your intelligence assets on answering CCIR.  This is no different than any other operation.  However, the requirement to do this is probably more critical in the urban fight.

• Special Operations Forces can be a huge asset in the intelligence area.  The key is integrating them with the conventional forces.  There must a link to exchange information back and forth.

• Intelligence on the civilian population can be even more important than on the enemy.

• Information changes constantly in the urban fight.  What was true a minute ago may not be true now.


• First, you must get out of your mind that tanks and mechanized vehicles are of no use in an urban operation.  History has proven time and again the tank if used in conjunction with other arms (combined arms!) can be incredibly effective in the urban fight.  Remember you must protect these vehicles with infantry.

• Utilize tanks to reduce strongpoints.  Again, protect them with infantry!

• Obviously, the urban terrain has major impacts on the maneuverability of tanks and vehicles.  It will canalize maneuver and affect the ability to reposition, bypass and mutually support units.  However, we can all remember numerous examples in history where the enemy never thought maneuver was possible in an area and it was achieved.

• The dismounted infantryman is the key to maneuver in the urban operation.  Yet, a commander must remember the physical and mental impact urban operations have on the infantryman.  The true art of leadership in the urban fight is determining when your infantry has culminated physically or mentally.  On the flip side, if the commander can determine when his opponent has done the same he has created a window of opportunity he must exploit.

• You can never have enough infantryman or combat engineers in an urban operation. 

• When we talk combined arms in an urban operation, we are not talking large organizations. The combination may be a tank or two, a platoon or squad of infantry or engineers and some multipliers (mortars, civil affairs personnel, etc…).

• If you have the technological edge, use it!  If it is the capability to fight at night – do it!  Remember, background illumination from the area will adversely affect night vision devices.

• Although rotary wing air (attack aviation) is highly vulnerable in the urban fight, do not quickly dismiss its use.  With proper planning and preparation, it can be of immense value.  Attack aviation can especially be effective in isolating an area from a stand-off distance ensuring the area is not reinforced by the enemy. Additionally, utilize attack aviation for flank security.

• As in any other operation, a reserve is necessary.  As a refresher, the reserve is utilized to reinforce success or prevent failure.

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