From the Foreword:
As a young Army officer, focusing on the likelihood of being deployed to Vietnam, Bernard Fall's Street Without Joy was probably the first military text that possessed real professional meaning for me. In this timely Occasional Paper, Dr Michael Evans, formerly Head of the Australian Army's Land Warfare Studies Centre and now the Australian Defence College Fellow, gives us an insightful and comprehensive review of urban military operations. He has traced the subject's origins and development to give us an up-to-date operational-strategic analysis of the significance of urban operations into the 21st century. In particular, Dr Evans makes a piercing historical link with Fall's work on rural insurgency in South-East Asia by calling his study City Without Joy—a play on Fall's title that captures the complexity and challenges of contemporary military operations in cities.
Dr Evans informs us that, while in the past it was often possible for commanders to bypass pitched combat in cities, that era has now passed. For a variety of demographic and operational reasons, the role of cities in 21st century war has begun to change. I was strongly reminded of this changing reality when in 2004, I assumed the position of Deputy Chief of Operations in the Headquarters, Multi-National Force - Iraq (MNF-I). Faced by the second year of the Iraqi insurgency, we in MNF-I, developed a pro-active 'cities strategy' initiative designed to counter the spread of urban-based insurgency. At times, some 15 major Iraqi cities were designated as part of our city strategy. Yet, we soon discovered the uncomfortable truth that enemy forces are not constrained by their adversary's strategic planning. Insurgents attacked Coalition forces in cities that were not on our list. And, of course, the most violent urban battle of all occurred in Fallujah—a city in the Sunni Triangle—that was not even part of the Coalition's original city strategy.
What this Occasional Paper demonstrates convincingly is that at the tactical level of warfighting there is not much that is new in fighting in cities, but that it remains absolutely necessary for us to continue re-learning old lessons. Again, with respect to learning lessons in war, Iraq is instructive. Prior to the second battle of Fallujah, Coalition planners were given very wise advice on how to fight in cities by US Vietnam veterans who had fought in Hue in 1968 during the Tet Offensive. Indeed, one Fallujah 'after action report' stated that the ebb and flow of the fighting in the city had been almost exactly as the Hue veterans had earlier described.
In my view, fighting in cities has two dimensions. The first dimension is that of generalship and the need to provide an operational-strategic shaping of urban combat. The role of a general is to shape a city fight in a manner that gives soldiers as good a chance as possible of achieving stated objectives. This is demanding in an urban environment because, as Dr Evans points out, command often becomes fragmented, so driving control from the operational to the tactical level. Nonetheless, in Fallujah, we shaped the urban military operational environment for three months by every legal means possible as the city emptied of civilians. By the start of the November 2004 assault, we had produced a shaped battlefield for troops in which the rules of engagement came as close as possible to matching the reality of tactical combat on the ground. To have failed to undertake this operational-strategic preparation and to have sent soldiers into a civilian-populated Fallujah under conditions of all-seeing media scrutiny would have been, in my view, irresponsible generalship. The second battle of Fallujah was successful because of months of shaping, a willingness to learn from experience, and the application of sufficient human and logistical resources.
The second dimension in urban operations is that of skilful soldiering. We ask much of modern soldiers when we expect them to conduct 'three block war' phased-style operations involving peace support, humanitarian and warfighting activities. In the second battle of Fallujah, Headquarters MNF-I pulled US Marines and some US Army armoured forces out of three-block operations and, with very little transition time, threw them into the cauldron of a conventional, urban, multi-battalion, multinational divisional assault—an assault complete with joint fires, joint intelligence and joint logistics. The speed and complexity of this kind of joint battle are what modern military operations in cities now mean for uniformed personnel. The modern warfighter is more and more likely to be pitchforked from restrained counter insurgency operations in a three-block-style environment into full conventional assault operations. In these circumstances, a major challenge is to retain our moral and legal focus when 'the killing switch' is flicked and our soldiers are forced to fight in grueling close combat.
As this fine Occasional Paper demonstrates, fighting in cities is a tough proposition, but it is not an impossible task for modern armed forces. What is required above all else is preparation and forethought. Dr Evans' comprehensive study represents a valuable and important analysis of an area of the military art that is likely to exercise our minds increasingly in coming years. This is a publication that deserves a wide readership and I commend it to fellow military professionals.
Jim Molan, AO, DSC
Adviser to the Vice Chief of the Defence Force
Warfighting and Lessons Learned
6 October 2007