Fixing the Way the Army Trains for Urban Warfare by Zachary Griffiths - Modern War Institute
As Iraqi forces liberate Mosul, now is a good time to reflect on what lessons this recent round of urban combat means for the United States. After defeating ISIS’s mobile defenses of car bombs and suicide vests in Mosul’s suburbs, Iraqi forces attacked into prepared static defenses overwatched by ISIS snipers. In Raqqah, the United States and Syrian Democratic Forces celebrated the Fourth of July by with an airstrike against ancient Rafiqah Wall to bypass ISIS improvised explosive devices. Iraqi forces in Mosul—Iraqi Army units and militias working with them—fought as combined arms teams at the lowest level: infantry enabled by sharpshooters, lethal drones, slick media operations, and an armored bulldozer. After close combat, bulldozers threw up counter-mobility and protection barriers to consolidate gains. Beyond dozers, Iraqi forces also adopted an engineer mindset to stay alive. To avoid the deadly streets, they shuffled through holed walls under the cover of Mosul’s rooftops. Throughout the operation, Iraqi forces directed civilians out of the city as they sought to minimize civilian casualties.
When faced with urban combat, the US Army turns to Field Manual 3-06. Although a decade old, its contents reflect three of the big lessons to have emerged from Mosul. First, we need to train urban offense and defense. The Army prefers the attack, but defense is the stronger form of war. In manpower-heavy urban operations, the Army must concentrate forces for attacks, while defending in other sectors. Second, platoon- and squad-level combined arms teams with organic breaching capability win the day. In an article entitled Immediate Lessons from the Battle of Mosul, the author, an Australian Army officer, sees the “Armed ISR platform, Tank, Bulldozer, Anti Tank Missile, Sniper, and Rifle Squad operating as a micro team [providing] the organic abilities to Identify, Neutralise, Suppress, Obscure, Secure, Reduce and Assault (SOSRA) in a complex urban environment.” Finally, mission command and trust in low-level leaders is essential. Our small units must bypass, isolate, and then reduce enemy strongpoints. Urban operations, like those in Mosul, require trust in subordinate leaders to defeat a distributed enemy.
To meet these demands on the Army, several articles hosted by MWI combine to prescribe a vision of a revolutionary change in urban operations because of megacity proliferation. This recommendation has three major components. First, the Army needs a full time test-brigade to investigate what brigade-level urban operations might look like, despite having seen it before. Second, the Army must have a megacity training site at least as good as the Israelis’ Urban Warfare Center. Finally, the Army should establish an urban warfare school as prestigious as Ranger School. I like a revolutionary vision as much as the next MWIFellow, but maybe an evolution would be more appropriate and economical…