Intelligence Challenges in Urban Operations

Intelligence Challenges in Urban Operations

James Howcroft

Military operations in an urban area are not normally thought of as a “Small Wars” concern, yet they are an important capability that will remain relevant as we address the issue of security in the 21st century.  From my experience, we avoid them like the plague, for good reasons, until we have no option but to commit resources and go in.  Our foes see great value in operating in urban areas. Urban operations are a form of asymmetric warfare, which degrades a number of advantages possessed by well-equipped and well-trained militaries.  (David Kilcullen’s recent book Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla addresses these aspects in great depth). The population of our world is increasingly urbanized. Both the World Bank and CIA agree that more than half the world’s population now lives in urban areas. There are the mega cities of Africa and Asia to consider, but the issue is equally important in the hundreds of thousands of smaller cities and towns throughout the world.  The Ukrainian military is dealing with this issue in the summer of 2014 in Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.  The Nigerian military will have tough decisions to make to in its fight against Boko Haram.  Eventually, the Iraqi military will need to retake the towns and cities of central and northern Iraq lost to ISIS and its allies in June 2014.

As a Defense Attaché assigned to Moscow in the 1990s, I observed and reported on Russian combat operations in Grozny during the two Chechen Wars (1995-2000).  I served in the Second Marine Division during Desert Storm in 1991 as part of the operation to liberate Kuwait City.   I was the G2 of First Marine Division for the capture of Baghdad in 2003 and G2 of First Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) during the unsuccessful assault on Fallujah in 2004.  I observed firsthand a number of important conditions for success throughout these urban operations that remain relevant for any fighting force. There are many doctrinal publications, lessons-learned handbooks, and first person accounts that are certainly worth reading. My modest list is not meant to replace these resources nor is my list exhaustive. These seven are merely challenges in urban operations I personally encountered over the past 20 years that have constrained the ability to provide intelligence to those organizations and commanders I supported.  

1. Plan Ahead for the Challenges and Opportunities of the Cordon

One of the initial tasks will be to establish a cordon to isolate the urban area of concern.  This is an extremely resource-intensive job that will immediately draw upon the troops and tools you are assembling to use once you move into the city.  One of the most important initial intel tasks will be to determine how the local population moves in and out of the city, to help the commander focus his limited forces on disrupting the flow.  You will never have enough assets to be able to completely stop the traffic. The intelligence officer, based on his assessment of the environment and foe’s capability and intent, has to help the commander decide not only where to focus, but also how much movement to try to block and who in particular you will  use your finite resources to screen and search. You need to keep hostile forces out of the city obviously; but who do you let out? Everyone, so there are fewer noncombatants in the line of fire?  Families only? Do you want to leave a way out for your foe so you can then engage them outside the cover and concealment of the city? In April 2003, after fighting 600 kilometers from Kuwait to the Diyala River outside Baghdad,  orders to my Division from higher headquarters  were merely to “put a cordon around  Baghdad,”… a city of 5 million people.  Our request for clarification and guidance regarding rules of engagement, endstate, etc. was met by silence. Fortunately for us, by mid-April there was little movement by the population out of the city and little regime capability remained to reinforce Baghdad, so the cordon didn’t turn out to be quite the problem I had feared.  

Unfortunately my fears were realized a year later when establishing an effective cordon around Fallujah, prior to our assault in April 2004, proved to be a much bigger problem. Large numbers of the population were anxious to leave. Foreign fighters and extremists were trying to get into the city to fight from within the urban confines. We had to uproot Marine battalions from their ongoing security mission throughout Al Anbar Province in an attempt to impose a cordon and isolate the city.  We did not have adequate resources or experience to effectively screen those coming out of the city to identify and segregate the bad guys.  We quickly learned of the need for trained and trusted personnel, including hundreds of linguists, to question the population regarding the situation in the city. This exiting population was mainly families with their possessions, anxious to move out of the danger area. They were not interested in stopping their flight to talk to us. The fleeing population had the best, most up to date information about what was going on in Fallujah, but we didn’t have a system in place or enough resources allocated to tap into this knowledge. The campaign didn’t end well for either side.

2. Knowing Where Things are Located Isn’t Enough

Once the cordon is functioning, it’s time to move into the city.   The information demands of your force will be staggering.  There are certain areas you will always need to understand when entering an urban area – with the purpose of then controlling it and the population.  These are the building layout and composition, transportation, electrical, sewage and water, and natural gas systems and the locations/status of key subcomponents – bridges, gas stations, power stations, high tensions power lines, neighborhood substations/transformers, underground sewage canals, water purification plants, gas lines and their depth under roads(so they aren’t crushed by your tanks).  Other considerations are the locations of all police stations – either to get them on your side or to disarm them as they are the easiest sources of weapons at the beginning of an occupation – other civic buildings necessary for the running of the city – trash department, finance department, banks, city hall, fire departments, key cultural areas, and political party headquarters amongst a few as well as the locations of the tallest buildings not only for fields of fire and observation  but to locate the radio relays necessary for VHF communications systems. The USMC Urban Generic Information Requirements Handbook (UGIRH) was a useful tool to identify and organize the vast range of information our force required.  

As the intelligence officer, you will need to know not only about the physical characteristics of the town and the capabilities and intentions of your foe, you must know the current composition and power of whatever group or groups is running the city.  Knowing how the city was run or organized under the former regime is probably irrelevant. You need to know the tools and levers of power and personalities of the current group or groups now calling the shots. Where are they successful in the city? What can’t they do and why not? Whatever groups may be running the city’s neighborhoods day by day may not necessarily be the foe you are going into the city to defeat. Can those running various sections of the city be our ally or are they aligned and supportive of the armed foe inside the city? If they support them, is it out of ethnic loyalty or fear?  Is the looming destruction of their city sufficient motivation for local powerbrokers to force foreign fighters out?  

Tools and assets that allow you to tap into the timely, detailed knowledge of the population are essential; but they can rapidly become overwhelmed by the size and scale of the task. The ability to exploit the language and cultural expertise of trusted local individuals, organizations and units will be crucial to your success.  During the Russian assault on Grozny in 2000, the Russians exploited the experience, knowledge and connections of warlord Bislan Gantamirov’s militia to guide operations in the city and obtain timely intelligence from the local population. Conversely, we lacked Iraqi units that could play such a role when we attacked Fallujah in April 2004. All but one of Iraqi military units that were to assist the Marines deserted, except for a single Kurdish battalion. They were well-led and brave, competent fighters, but they were Kurds in a Sunni city and thus little help in engaging local power brokers and learning from the population.   If you don’t have local allies that you and the population trust to assist your efforts you will fail; if not in the initial assault then certainly in your longer- term efforts to secure the city. 

3. Impose a Single, Common Tool to Visualize the Urban Area

There is a requirement for a single, common visualization tool or product that depicts the city or town that EVERYONE involved in the operation has access to. “Everyone” includes the infantry, resupply, medevac, supporting arms, air support, UAV operators, interrogators, debriefers, engineers, local police, the UN and NGOs. This has to be unclassified, easy to reproduce and available as paper copies that can be handed out like candy to everyone at every coordination meeting as well as disseminate electronically on smart electronic devices. You need a product with various scales that a user can turn/toggle the page from the detailed zoomed view of individual buildings on a particular block up to the overview of the city showing routes, power supplies and important buildings.   This document will be a common planning and coordination tool and provide a single, common naming convention and symbols. This can help eliminate the maddening tendency for every unit or organization to give the same feature a different name, and for newly arrived units to rename a feature to reflect their unit’s history and heritage. Is it Leatherneck Highway, Route Tampa, Highway 7 or what the population calls the road?   Keep in mind you need to identify a simple way to update it as you receive corrections and changes and you need to decide who will be empowered to add these updates; everyone or a centralized authority?   

4. Building a Useful Collection Capability Takes Time, Imagination and Flexibility

The nature of the urban environment will negate or degrade much of your intelligence and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. It is nearly impossible for reconnaissance or HUMINT teams to infiltrate covertly and remain undetected. Because of the risk associated with their employment, these assets were of little value in this role in either Baghdad or Fallujah. The urban structure and nature of the communications environment limit the ability to collect signals intelligence.  Low power, commercial devices designed for short distances will largely be outside your capability to collect.   If local features and your resources do allow collection, you will be overwhelmed by the vast amount of signals traffic from the large, urban population to translate, analyze, pass for action, and store for later use.  Having only recently decided to address the urban area, you won’t necessarily have the baseline template of the communications environment that is so important to signals intelligence.  It takes time to develop this template. Time was a luxury the commanders I supported never had.  Find a way to get your SIGINT guys in place working the signals environment as soon as possible.

Scalable UAVs have proven extremely useful in many urban efforts, but the limitations of imagery, whether UAV or a satellite, to see between densely packed buildings or within structures are obvious. Furthermore, the overhead imagery perspective will not match the ground eye orientation of the force on the ground. The individual on the ground, being shot at, awash in a sea of gray concrete or dust will orient and navigate by items of color, i.e. the building with the red roof or the house with the blue door, while the imagery analysts or UAV operator is usually looking from a perspective above at a black and white video screen or black and white infrared or radar imagery.  The common visualization tool previously discussed can aid in this regard by providing a common block and building reference capability.

The local population will be the best source of intelligence. Locals that don’t notice subtle changes in their environment don’t survive. The large numbers to be screened and questioned will quickly overwhelm your resources.  If they can be trusted (both by you and by the population), the local police and military are well suited for this task. Don’t forget about identifying a culturally appropriate way to engage the female half of the city’s population. It took years for the US Army and Marine Corps to field female engagement teams to talk with the mothers, wives and sisters of Baghdad, Fallujah and Kandahar.   That’s a lesson we can’t let fade from our corporate mentality. Just like SIGINT, it takes time to set up HUMINT networks in a new city. HUMINT professionals need time to understand the ethnic/tribal makeup and power dynamics of the city, which will have an effect on who reports on whom and how reliable that reporting will be. It will be tough to ascertain the reliability and truthfulness of local population reporting - after all, it is your actions that are bringing death and destruction to their neighborhoods, putting their families at risk and causing them to flee. They don’t know yet if you are going to win or how long you will be around. Talking to you compromises their families.

Media reporting can also be of great value to your intelligence collections operation. Reporters will be able to access places and people you may not be able to reach.  What they have to say and what the people they are interviewing are expressing is of tremendous value to your assessment. Observation of the view over the shoulder of the correspondent can also be a valuable tool in assessing the status of buildings, key infrastructure or enemy equipment.  Air Force analysts assessed that strikes in 2001 on the Taliban’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue in Kabul were successful based on looking over the shoulder of a journalist reporting in front of the building.  In April 2003 after seizing the northern half of Baghdad, my Division was tasked with short notice to send a Task Force another 200 kilometers north to seize Tikrit, Saddam’s home town. Our objective had only ever been Baghdad, but the Turkish government’s refusal to allow their territory to be used to invade Iraq from the north left Tikrit unsecured.  It took time to reorient collection assets further north. My initial assessment to Task Force Tripoli that the city had been abandoned by the military and was undefended was based on watching a CNN report. The widespread growth in social media, especially in young, urban populations, opens up another lucrative source of real-time, street level reporting, as recently seen in Damascus, Tripoli, and Mosul.

5. Have a Method to Separate the Bad From the Good that Doesn’t Alienate the Population

There is a requirement to separate the bad guys from the innocent. Not every 25 year old male is the enemy. Not only is interning every male of fighting age a huge resource drain, it also alienates the population.  Your understandable “better safe than sorry” approach results in actions that push the population away from you. A local populace that feels the occupying military has its interests in mind, can meet their needs and hasn’t indiscriminately interned their husbands and fathers is more likely to provide reliable and useful information.  An ignored, alienated population is less likely to carry out your directions and directives, or to identify concealed combatants, cached weapons and booby traps. At best, an alienated population is neutral.  Worst case, they provide intelligence to the enemy and join their side.

There must be a fast and easy initial screening process that can be employed, as your forces clear buildings and neighborhoods.  People with gunshot wounds and military related equipment on them will be easy, but how about the rest?  The Russians in Grozny in the 1990s checked shoulders for bruises, sleeves and forearms for powder burns and sniffed for the smell of gunpowder.  Initially, our biometrics won’t be of use, we are unlikely to have had the time or opportunity to have built a database. One solution to identify combatants could be the use of gunpowder residue tests which police and forensics teams’ use in civilian police departments.   Once you do identify the bad guys, you need a plan to figure out where they go and how to interrogate them.  Most likely the town’s jail was set up and run for a small number of criminals, not hundreds or thousands of detainees with uncertain legal status.  Even if there are vacant prisons conveniently now empty and available as a result of your actions, you will need trained and well-led professionals to administer whatever system of interrogation, evidence and justice your mandate and circumstances dictate.  We did this poorly in Iraq in 2003-2004; the resulting Abu Ghraib scandal was a huge setback in our efforts to develop trust and cooperation with the Iraqi population.  

6. Do Not Underestimate the Power and Importance of the Media

The media will have a huge impact on the perceived success or failure of your mission.  Combat in a city is ready-made for a huge impact on TV and social media.   The media can get close to the action, and capture a real-time stream of powerful images and video of damaged buildings, craters, burning vehicles and destroyed lives.  They will have access to hundreds of poignant frightened and injured civilians and children to photograph or interview that will be appear in homes and capitols around the world. Innocents will get killed in this type of fight.  Your force will be the one bringing the destruction, you will get the blame, not those who chose to occupy buildings and build bunkers in neighborhoods. As the Ukrainian military had retaken Slavyansk in July 2014 , the media was focused on images of the destruction caused by the Ukrainian military, not on the guilt of those who initially chose Slavyansk as the battleground.   My commanders’ prescient warnings prior to the assault on Fallujah in April 2004 to senior US leadership of the likely media impact of sending a Marine infantry division into a city were ignored. These civilians were aghast when those warnings became reality. The Marines had to cease operations and withdraw from the city because of the impact on world opinion of the destructive images being shown on international media.

Chechen mistreatment of journalists coupled with the deliberate Russian effort to keep the international media out of the second battle of Grozny in 2000 meant that the Russian destruction of a city of half a million of their own citizens was not shown on domestic or international media outlets; giving the Russians freedom to use supporting arms to level the city block by block and eliminate the Chechen force in Grozny.  International media coverage of the carnage and destruction of the cities of Syria in 2014 has dwindled after the targeting of journalists has made Syria the most deadly country in the world for journalists to work. This is a trend likely to continue as regimes recognize the power of media driven information operations and take action to shape the message.  While the Russian and Syrian regimes were able to intimidate journalists so that independent reporting of the fighting was impossible, America and NATO operate under public and transparent rules and laws that prohibit this type of action.   Our operations will be seen by the world. We have to anticipate the powerful impact of our operations and be willing and prepared to engage with the media to help them present an accurate and balanced message.    General Mattis, when serving as the First Marine Division Commander, often challenged us by saying; “There will be a story about our actions on the evening news tomorrow, what are we doing to make it the right story?” If you chose to ignore the media, you cede this powerful tool to our foes. 

7. Realize Your limitations and Decentralize Your Effort.

Intelligence for urban operations must be centrally planned and coordinated at the senior headquarters level in order to incorporate the insatiable needs of the multiple actors addressing a difficult mission in a complex environment. But when it comes time to move into the city and begin the clearing operation the fight becomes decentralized down to the small unit level, squads, platoons and companies.  Decentralized operations of this type require decentralized intelligence.  Platoons and companies need intelligence of immediate value and precision.   Knowing that “Al Jawan neighborhood has a high concentration of former regime fighters” iIs useful and adequate at your headquarters level.  The platoon needs intelligence that tells them “The three story building on the north side of the next block in Al Jawan has a newly dug tunnel connecting it with adjacent buildings allowing the defenders unobserved lateral movement and resupply.” It is extremely unlikely that a higher headquarters would be able to collect that information and be able to disseminate it down to the supported small unit in time to be useful.   The headquarters who own intelligence assets need to acknowledge this fact and be willing to strip personnel and capabilities from their level to push down in direct support of the small level units in the fight.  I learned that the time to do this is sufficiently prior to the launch of the assault to give the supported commander the chance to  understand how to use the capability he now owns and enough time for the attached intel professionals to have the opportunity to understand the needs of those they now support.  Intelligence attachments can be useful; last minute attachments are a distraction. 

Final Thoughts

Urban operations are difficult, resource-intensive missions for every war fighting function within a unit. This is equally true for intelligence, both during the planning and execution phases of the mission. More collection platforms, more systems and more technology won’t necessarily make you successful.  The common thread needs to be the issue of dealing with the population. They are the reason we go into the city; it isn’t about the structures or statues. The people have the best information to fill your gaps. Dealing with the huge amount of data at your disposal and turning in it usable, relevant, actionable intelligence for the wide range of consumers counting on you for answers is a daunting task and it has to be done.   Because it is tough doesn’t mean it can be ignored, wished away or pushed off to some other distant headquarters.   I cannot honestly say that I did a great job supporting initial urban operations in Baghdad in 2003 and Fallujah in 2004, but my Marines and I did what we could, we learned hard lessons as we went along and these lessons paid dividends for those who followed us in Iraq.  It is those lessons that I offer for future use among my peers and comrades in arms.

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Comments

Without diminishing COL Howcroft’s points in most areas, the large size of police forces discovered in mega-city research of New York, London, and Karachi illustrates that we seldom minimize our investment in keeping the peace through law enforcement. It follows that a substantial ground military presence to maintain stability and peace or forward deterrence might be appropriate. That could include foreign urban and other areas falling apart in a way that ultimately will affect us all at lower cost in blood and treasure now or far more later.

36,000 NYC cops for a city of 8 million illustrates that a “less is more” approach does not work as a long term solution to quelling urban unrest. Few would argue that having that many cops might alienate the population. Nor would the mayor ever announce a date that all police would withdraw or would move outside the city onto boats or aircraft. No plans are made to leave entirely to train thousands of miles away for future crime or monitor from offshore leaving subsequent chaos. Neither would a police chief or mayor propose replacing all regular police officers with just SWAT teams or DARE officers.

NYC has 36,000 police officers. London has 31,500. Both are relatively peaceful and Chicago seems to have greater problems with its smaller force. Both examples cast doubt on the efficacy of having only smaller numbers of ISAF and U.S. forces in a restive country the size of Texas for the first six years of OEF. This is particularly true when one looks at how many police officers serve continuously in Karachi as I will point out in a moment.

One plausibly might argue that an appearance of foreign occupation would differ from use of homegrown police and military. That's why you would think we should deploy only to augment and work with existing legitimate authorities, or we should not be there at all. Of course neither Iraq’s Hussein/Baathists nor the Taliban/al Qaeda were legitimate representatives of most Iraqis and Afghans.

To expand the urban example, Karachi has 96 police stations in 3 zones serving in the Sindh Police. If Pakistan requested assistance in Karachi, the National Command Authority might consider assigning one battalion of about 500 coalition troops to work with each police station. That alone would require about 48,000 coalition infantry battalion troops. The Sindh police (before adding the Pakistan military) have 105,000 employees serving in Sindh province which has 46 million, including Karachi, covering 146 thousand square kilometers. That corresponds to one cop per 438 residents. Karachi itself is either 1362 square kilometers in size or 2100 kms including surrounding area and has over 9.3 to 23 million inhabitants dependent on what you consider indigenous Karachi which is 3rd largest city in the world at the larger figure.

Although Wikipedia claims a density of 6,000 people per square km, if you divide 9.3 million by 1362 km2 you get over 6800 people per square km. If you divide 23 million by 2100 sq. kms it is closer to 11,000 per square km. One company (-) of 100 troops in each square kilometer of Karachi would face a ratio of 1 counterinsurgent per 68 to 110 residents (20 troops per 1360 to 2200 folks). Keep in mind there are more Pashtuns (the primary Taliban ethnicity) in Karachi than in any other world city at 25% of the population.

Then look at Baghdad’s Sadr City which had 2.4 million people (about a fifth of Baghdad’s population) in an area of only 35 square kms (68,571 folks per square km) with mostly 3-story or lower buildings. Straight from today’s Gaza headlines, the decision back during the 2008 battle was to build a T-barrier around the city to prevent 107mm rocket and mortar fire from this Shiite stronghold from hitting the Green Zone. It became a model of urban warfare combined arms operation to include a comprehensive RAND study.

The brigade commander John Hort then who now is a Brigadier General employed engineer constructed T-walls that were being engaged by snipers, countered by our own snipers and heavy armor, plus Strykers, and Shadow and Predator UAS technology to achieve victory with minimal loss of life as outlined in this 60 minutes clip:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-technology-won-sadr-city-battle/

Note also that six Apaches were constantly available along with CAS. Counterfire radar was used and six GMLRS unitary round strikes also attacked a militia C2 facility purposely placed adjacent to a hospital with only moderate civilian collateral damage. To believe that UAS cannot function effectively in an urban environment is not supported by recent history. Also, the fact that Colonel Howcroft and countless Army leaders recall one giant movement to contact in the first OIF years, that is less an indictment of UAS/RPA and more a reflection that the 25-fold expansion in numbers of such airborne assets had yet to be funded/procured.

Then examine this War is Boring article:

https://medium.com/war-is-boring/the-armys-newest-drone-can-stay-airborn...

Note the persistent capabilities of a tethered UAS hovering potentially over a key intersection so it can see down streets in four directions from altitude. It might start out atop an elevated mast to be raised above jury-rigged power lines. An LRAS3 similarly could observe down the same intersecting streets (if straight) however it would be limited by a low field of view that would be blocked by vehicles, canopies, and people. If something like LRAS3 was elevated on a mast (as FCS had planned} then it would partially augment a tethered UAS capability. Such a mobile information collection tool would work better for more frequent unit maneuver. Technology is not the problem. Slow intelligence that does not reach troops in time is a greater issue.

Col. Howcroft,

Your submission is so rife with practical field experience, and good old fashion common sense, it was a pleasure to read. I was especially impressed by your candor in admitting your own fallibility, and coming forward in a forum such as this one. A very famous and successful General who fought against U.S. forces in WWII, said, to paraphrase, 'No one makes more mistakes than the Americans… but no one else learns from their mistakes faster than the Americans…'

As you clearly identified your desire that future peers and comrades in arms are your principle target audience, I'd strongly encourage you to widen the scope of your work, to include a broader context, such as the Political and Intelligence and Media conditions that were/are generally outside the ability of a field Commander or MI Officer to predict, or even be wholly aware of, yet which in hindsight, often are larger contributors to success or failure of an operation than many in predominantly military circles like to dwell on (at least publicly). The example of CNN's active collaboration with the Hussein regime in exchange for what amounted to exclusive media access, to the extent they ceded editorial control, and arguably any claim of independence from hostile Intelligence Services, leaps to mind (as the USMC G2 in 2003, you undoubtedly know more about it than I, or indeed the U.S. public at large over a decade later)…

Sadly, I do understand that it would be inappropriate for you, or the DIA/DoD/MI community in general, to publish many/most of these sorts of details in the public domain at present, for a whole host of reasons… not the least of which is Political reprisals, bureaucratic backlash from various public and private entities involved (with much larger Public Relations budgets than the USMC), and etc. Yet it is exactly these sorts of potential liabilities that future commanders would be well served to understand… that even reputable American media companies personnel and executives, can at times choose to risk (or abandon) their reputations for what amounts to a short term fiduciary advantage… It may be the sort of subject that you and your comrades in arms brush off in retrospect… the litany of 'experts' predicting your certain doom, broadcast 24/7 to the U.S. public by a compromised entity claiming to be 'objective' probably IS FUNNY for you to watch today, but I doubt it was very amusing at the time. And future commanders SHOULD be prepared when the inevitable time comes when THEY'LL find themselves bombarded with panicked calls for reassurance based on enemy I/O's or preposterous domestic misreporting… I'm reminded of the pressure Gen. George Thomas withstood before the Battle of Chattanooga (not many statues of George Thomas in Virginia… lol).

Sir… It isn't my intent to minimize the value of the experiences you're trying to convey. Rather to suggest that you prepare a classified version for USMC (Counter) Intelligence officers (which probably already exists), as well as an edition prepared for publication several (the fifty year rule must be good for something!) decades from now, when you and your contemporaries will be dead, but the Marine Corps and it's future Officers will be fighting in some similarly complex and murky (and probably urban) conflict… and won't care if the feelings or sensitivities or diplomatic niceties of the present are ignored, if it's done for their sake in the future.

(Please pardon me if I've been out of line, or rude. There was a burial of a Marine yesterday who'd been MIA for over seventy years, unnecessarily in my opinion, and frustration with the bureaucracy responsible (or derelict) often gets the better of me.)

Sincerely,

Alexander Scott Crawford

Great article by retired Marine Colonel Howcroft who has been there at senior levels during these wars. Given the talk of a future role for ground combatants in mega-cities and other large urban areas, his analysis is particularly valuable. While it's hard to disagree with the expert in this case, I did have a few areas of additional observation or concern.

1. Plan Ahead for the Challenges and Opportunities of the Cordon

In April 2003, after fighting 600 kilometers from Kuwait to the Diyala River outside Baghdad, orders to my Division from higher headquarters were merely to “put a cordon around Baghdad,”… a city of 5 million people. Our request for clarification and guidance regarding rules of engagement, endstate, etc. was met by silence.

This reminds us that cordoning an even larger mega-city of 20 million would be a greater challenge. As he points out, the routes into the city are one focus. However, infiltrators may find ways to go cross-country or underground. We recall the berm built around Fallujah which is not a probable option around a city of 20 million. Although given sufficient time, the Israelis demonstrated capabilities to fence or construct barriers around Gaza and the West Bank which the U.S. could assist if the host nation was the primary builder to include within cities to create the Berlin affect if new boundaries are deemed essential to include through cities.

2. Knowing Where Things are Located Isn’t Enough

Once the cordon is functioning, it’s time to move into the city.

The prior FM 3-24 standard of 20 counterinsurgents per 1,000 population would not be feasible in a mega-city of 20 million as it would require 400,000 troops. Theoretically, a smaller force could initially “clear” the city but any attempt to “hold” might well include more forces than clearing. Perhaps 100,000? In a mega-city with 1,000 square kilometers (32 x 32 kms), that would mean only one company (-) of 100 troops per square kilometer before adding other enablers and warfighting functions.

That most likely also would dictate forces both inside and cordoning the city which implies a combined arms maneuver, wide area security, and C4ISR challenge both internally and externally to the city. Then recall that as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the urban area(s) is not the sole focus which means even more troops are required and spread thin to achieve nationwide area security.

And we think we can get by with a sequester-driven 420,000 man active Army?

Other considerations are the locations of all police stations – either to get them on your side or to disarm them as they are the easiest sources of weapons at the beginning of an occupation.

One could argue that if the police are on the side of insurgents, all is lost. Look at Karachi and imagine an external coalition element attempting to understand the nature of the problem and population without local police and military assistance. Can you imagine trying to disarm 36,000 NYC police in 77 precincts let alone one’s armed with AK-47s and mobile in NYC’s 8800+ police cars? Aren’t police our largest potential source of C4ISR along with any city-wide access to surveillance cameras?

3. Impose a Single, Common Tool to Visualize the Urban Area

“Everyone” includes the infantry, resupply, medevac, supporting arms, air support, UAV operators, interrogators, debriefers, engineers, local police, the UN and NGOs. This has to be unclassified, easy to reproduce and available as paper copies that can be handed out like candy to everyone at every coordination meeting as well as disseminate electronically on smart electronic devices.

Agree completely about the unclassified grid reference graphic and potential need for an unclassified common operational picture. Outlaw points out elsewhere that 90% of useful intelligence can be derived from open sources and that the NSA was trying to classify even that at a Secret level. That’s not smart if true.

4. Building a Useful Collection Capability Takes Time, Imagination and Flexibility

The nature of the urban environment will negate or degrade much of your intelligence and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. It is nearly impossible for reconnaissance or HUMINT teams to infiltrate covertly and remain undetected. Because of the risk associated with their employment, these assets were of little value in this role in either Baghdad or Fallujah.

The Army’s Battlefield Surveillance Brigade main ISR capability in RSTA squadrons is the LRAS3 long range sensor which could prove useful in the cordoning role in looking at car occupants in a line entering a city through checkpoints. Inside the city, you may need to transition to a greater role for vehicle-mounted telescoping sensors, tethered and hovering UAS, and aerostats controlled by squads rather than MI elements. His observation about covert HUMINT surveillance and small two-man OPs being at risk in urban areas seems spot on. That alone coupled with the need for larger squad-minimum elements that are making no effort to hide and are working closely with police may drive a need for greater squad-based and aviation information collection using elevated sensors to assist infantry urban efforts.

5. Have a Method to Separate the Bad From the Good that Doesn’t Alienate the Population

There is a requirement to separate the bad guys from the innocent. Not every 25 year old male is the enemy. Not only is interning every male of fighting age a huge resource drain, it also alienates the population. Your understandable “better safe than sorry” approach results in actions that push the population away from you.

The 2008 Battle of Sadr City provides an example of a combined arms effort with ample elevated information collection and internal city cordon efforts to include T-barriers. The outer city cordon is one requirement but within there often are ethnic enclaves, diasporas, and insurgent strongholds that help identify and isolate the bad from the good. Current Gaza lessons and its tunnels to infiltrate rockets and most recently get under fences is one aspect of concern for both internal and external cordons. The effectiveness of Iron Dome and C-RAM in Iraq are further examples of means to counter urban rocket and missile launchers and their ability to target cities and infrastructure.

6. Do Not Underestimate the Power and Importance of the Media

The media will have a huge impact on the perceived success or failure of your mission. Combat in a city is ready-made for a huge impact on TV and social media. The media can get close to the action, and capture a real-time stream of powerful images and video of damaged buildings, craters, burning vehicles and destroyed lives.

I’ve been watching a lot of CNN (seems more balanced lately and Alisyn Camerota from former Fox News is a welcome addition) the last few days and even with channel surfing to other channels there has been a mix of both extraordinary value and mindless repetition. I’m finding CNN’s coverage far more valuable than its coverage of the missing Malaysian Air 777 out over the ocean. However, reading Outlaw’s words and links in the SWJ Council and Blog has been far more useful in gaining new information.

The Aviationist blog and an ejection seat site helped me compile a list of downed Ukraine aircraft that provide circumstantial evidence of professional air defense assistance from Russia. However, I must agree with Dayuhan that the Russian propaganda is far less effective than Outlaw seems to believe. One particular amateurish effort was their claim that a ground attack Su-25 similar to our A-10 was climbing rapidly in the vicinity of the shot down Malaysian 777. They even went so far as to change the service ceiling of the Su-25 in Wikipedia from a Russian IP address to make it appear that it could climb to 33,000’ with no attempt to explain why or what it would do there???

I just can’t buy that Russian and Palestinian information manipulation is more devastating than the actual visuals of a downed passenger plane or big bombs hitting Gaza cities. >strong>That imagery is the potential media mechanism that will influence the most folks as retired Colonel Howcroft points out.

7. Realize Your limitations and Decentralize Your Effort

Intelligence for urban operations must be centrally planned and coordinated at the senior headquarters level in order to incorporate the insatiable needs of the multiple actors addressing a difficult mission in a complex environment. But when it comes time to move into the city and begin the clearing operation the fight becomes decentralized down to the small unit level, squads, platoons and companies. Decentralized operations of this type require decentralized intelligence.

If the intelligence community had demonstrated in these wars a greater capacity to provide useful graphics and other information for UAS/RPA operators ahead of missions then one could understand the need for greater upfront centralized planning and analysis before missions. However, too often a flimsy, insufficient target deck is provided to include frequent last minute mission changes. Lengthy time requirements of the Air Tasking Order and airspace constraints of the Airspace Control Order drive some of the centralized planning aspect. But if the mission often is changed at the last moment with nothing more than chat airspace changes, the value of centralized MI planning becomes more suspect.

As he points out, this translates to greater needs for decentralized C4ISR at lower company, platoon, and squad echelons with information fed up to higher echelons rather than mostly the other way around.

8. Final Thoughts

More collection platforms, more systems and more technology won’t necessarily make you successful. The common thread needs to be the issue of dealing with the population. They are the reason we go into the city; it isn’t about the structures or statues. The people have the best information to fill your gaps. Dealing with the huge amount of data at your disposal and turning in it usable, relevant, actionable intelligence for the wide range of consumers counting on you for answers is a daunting task and it has to be done.

Can't have it both ways. The prospect of covert HUMINT surveillance and two-man OPs seems like a risky proposition at best in large urban areas. The squad-sized and platoon elements that could survive operating in the open have limited horizontal fields of view and security and patrol requirements that limit observation to areas seen from a current location. After patrols pass or beyond view of the COP, ISR is limited. That seems to indicate that elevated collection platforms such as telescoping sensors, aerostats and UAS/RPA are the solution under control of lower echelons.

The ISR data aspect is intimidating but if lower echelons have JTACs with ROVER and other elements have remote video terminals, it would seem that the element that needs the information the most from larger UAS/RPA will have it much sooner provided it is kept classified at reasonable levels. Upper echelons can tag information for later automated analysis and dissemination but information collection at lower echelons should not be held hostage to the speed of MI analysts at upper echelons and overclassified ISR.

Perch and stare rotorcraft UAS that land atop buildings, tethered UAS, small aerostats and sensors atop telescoping towers to clear powerlines and buildings, and sensors in a concertina-surrounded “box” with remote weapons and atop combat vehicles to prevent tampering seem like possible solutions. This also would facilitate voice and text communications relay and networks. Existing power and light poles could mount bulletproof cameras to expand the urban surveillance network.

At some point given the human tragedy, appearance of occupation, and monetary cost of disability from IEDs, expanded information collection by unmanned systems will become more a requirement rather than an afterthought in urban and other warfare.

So, I was thinking about this in terms of the Ukrainian offensives in the East. Someone in the Council mentioned that in the beginning of the Crimea crisis they recommended to the Ukrainians that they firm of the borders and take away Russian passports, but, then joked, "guess that might not be so possible."

I don't know, it just seems so strange, dialing everything up to 11 when other lower key measures might have helped.

Did Brennan at CIA and NATO generals egg this on and create a Saakashvili effect? Proxy wars are dumb, the US usually gets on the wrong end of it, and, yet, we remain addicted to them.

Why are so many DC based policy analysts so, well, terribly addicted to only one narrative? You can't get hired if you don't tow a certain line? Shaming within the collective if you don't mouth certain attitudes? Why must everyone posture emotionally? Is there a personality type attracted to military policy work that is emotionally driven by the sense of adrenaline, the need to be more moral, a moral crusade?

The world is a hard place but does security really depend on such expansive forever proxy wars? Military and CIA budgets, sure, but US security?

I never get a sense of the internal politics of neighboring eastern european countries and how they may want this to occur, or have us back down depending on their own money and political interests.

Aack, I wasn't making any suggestions about the author. Just brainstorming. Sorry.

With the exception of the first paragraph, there is a lot of good information in this article. I disagree with the author's comments that urban warfare isn't normally considered in Small Wars. Since when? Urban terrorism, insurgency, etc. is not a new problem set for the U.S. As for doctrine, we had urban warfare doctrine for a while, the issue is that it is very hard to replicate the complexity of urban operations in training. We have several MOUT cities, some are very sophisticated and great training for Platoon and below, maybe even up to Company level. It is almost impossible to find an actual city to conduct large scale military maneuvers in to practice and refine doctrine. Hopefully we'll not only effectively capture the lessons learnt in Baghdad and other cities, but we'll find effective ways to train above company level for extended military operations in a large urban area.

A couple of links for consideration.

Combined Arms in Urban Areas (2002)

http://www.bits.de/NRANEU/others/amd-us-archive/fm3-06.11(02).pdf

The Marines' book on MOUT

http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/mcwp3353.pdf

FM on Intelligence Support to Urban Operations (2008)

http://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm2-91-4.pdf

National Defense article on the evolution of urban doctrine 2005 time frame

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2005/July/Pages/Army_Deve...

James,

Once again, even if from an "armchair" I enjoyed reading your article. It sits alongside a number of recent SWJ articles on military operations in mega-cties, policing, CT and COIN - each from a different perspective.

I also wondered how NGOs, especially those seen today by some in future operational areas as Western, such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and MSF, will be able to effectively function. Some NGOs already use far more local staff, rather than expats.

David,

Your question might be better addressed to the author of a paper on this specific subject recently posted on SWJ, "A Framework for NGO-Military Collaboration", by Glenn Penner.

Regarding the specific NGO's you mention… Neither Doctors without Borders, nor Oxfam, could pass a cursory DoDIG audit/review. This isn't to say those organizations, or those working with them, aren't doing good work, or are behaving in a cynical manner (my own, then widowed, grandfather met his second wife whilst working for MSF), but rather that there are certain practices expected in terms of financial reporting, and internal controls relating to transparent 'best practice', which are technically 'optional', but which if not adopted, would probably lead to a negative determination in terms of collaboration with the US DoD.

Full disclosure: Oxfam is/was used by a prominent Philosopher at NYU in an unrelated 'ethical' argument, because of the very low 'overhead' claimed in the U.S. I received a very poor grade from this Philosopher for arguing that the stated statistic was meaningless, because additional 'administrative overhead' that was subtracted in Geneva wasn't available to U.S. auditors, such as the GAO. Happily, I did learn an important lesson in said Philosophers class… namely, that life isn't fair. LOL.

Best,

A. Scott Crawford