Tactics 101: 024 – The Attack of a Built Up Area
TO ATTACK OR NOT ATTACK? (THAT IS THE QUESTION!)
Before you begin the planning and preparation of attacking into an urban area, the first thing you must decide is; is it necessary. It seems like such a simple step, but many have chosen not to answer this vital question (they later paid the ultimate price). Below are some questions you should ask yourself before attacking a built-up area:
1) There is a potential tactical advantage in your forces maneuvering into the urban area. Possible tactical advantages could be securing a bridge or transportation hub that is needed in the future or the terrain sets the conditions for you to conduct future operations.
2) There are key logistical nodes in the built-up area that are vital for the enemy.
3) There is a political advantage in the attack.
4) There is no way you can bypass the built-up area. For you to accomplish your ultimate objective you unfortunately have to maneuver through the built-up area.
5) That is where your enemy is! If he isn’t going to come to you, you may have to go to him.
Don’t attack if:
1) The built-up area does not provide you any resources or hubs that will assist you in future operations.
2) During your mission analysis, you determine that attacking into the built-up area is too costly in terms of the time it would take to accomplish the mission.
3) During your mission analysis, you determine that attacking into the built-up area is too costly in terms of the number of potential casualties or resources you would expend in order to accomplish the mission.
4) There are too many limitations placed on you (rules of engagement etc.) that all but eliminate your ability to fight in the area.
5) The built-up area has been designated an open area and according to the Hague Convention the defending force must leave the area.
6) There is a bypass around the built-up area that assists you in maneuvering to your ultimate objective.
7) The enemy located in the built-up area is not a threat to hindering your ability to accomplish your mission.
TYPES OF URBAN OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS
Within the scope of attacking a built-up area; a unit will normally conduct a movement to contact, hasty attack, or deliberate attack. Let’s discuss each as they apply to an attack on a built-up area.
Movement to Contact – Just as in any environment, there are times when you must gain and then maintain contact with your opponent. If that is the case, then forces will conduct a movement to contact. The big difference in conducting a movement to contact in an urban area is that the distances involved are much closer. Other than that, the principles are very similar. Since your knowledge of your opponent is minimal, you want to organize your force so you make contact with the smallest force possible. Once a force does make contact, a commander must decide what to do next. His options are usually to conduct a hasty attack, set-up a hasty defense, or become involved in a meeting engagement with his foe. In the event of a hasty attack, the enemy ‘goes to ground’ and you must attack him to remove him. In a hasty defense, you ‘go to ground’ to exploit decisive terrain and thus, force him to attack. The last outcome is the meeting engagement, which may occur when the opponents are alert to each other and both sides decide to attack simultaneously. No matter how the opposing forces make contact, seizing the initiative is the overriding imperative. Rapid execution of battle drills and actions on contact accrue the initiative. The first to take decisive action is likely to gain the advantage. The difficult piece in seizing the initiative is that there are so many factors that can influence a commander in the urban area. These include not only the enemy, but the terrain, infrastructure and the civilian populace. A variant of the movement to contact is the mission of search and attack. We will discuss this in the next section.
Hasty Attack – As discussed above, a hasty attack is one of the likely outcomes of a movement to contact. Additionally, we may conduct a hasty attack in the defense if the opportunity arises or anytime we believe the enemy is vulnerable. As is the case with any hasty attack, the able commander will make the most of the time and resources he has available at the moment. He must quickly deploy his forces, suppress the enemy (this can be difficult due to infrastructure) and determine where the decisive point (giving him the marked advantage over his opponent) is and obtain it. Because of the terrain and the potential for civilians to come into play and restrictive rules of engagement; it is challenging for the commander to achieve the above. Truly, the hasty attack in urban operations can have a huge payoff. Conversely, it can be a very risky endeavor.
Deliberate Attack – The characteristics of a deliberate attack in urban operations are no different than any environment. These include extensive planning and preparation, conducting detailed reconnaissance providing timely and accurate intelligence, and capitalizing on friendly strengths and exploiting enemy weaknesses. Since a commander should have the majority of his resources at his disposal he must ensure his attack is truly a combined arms effort. The key to accomplishing your mission in a deliberate attack is your ability to isolate your enemy from outside support. We will discuss this concept in more detail as well as the phases of a deliberate attack later in this article.
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