Small Wars Journal

The Inescapable Truths of Urban Warfare: Five Lessons from Basra 2007

The Inescapable Truths of Urban Warfare: Five Lessons from Basra 2007 by Ben Baker – Modern War Institute

In 2007, UK and coalition forces in the southeastern Iraqi city of Basra faced a series of tactical challenges. Those challenges—like the ones US forces would confront that year and the next further north in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood—offer insight into some universal and enduring characteristics of urban military operations. In fact, the situations in Basra and Baghdad shared a number of characteristics, not least of which was that both the UK forces in the south and the Americans in the capital, along with their Iraqi partner forces, were battling Shia militias that, at various times, dramatically ratcheted up their levels of violent activity.

In Basra, many lessons were learned—or relearned—the hard way, and they are at risk of being forgotten. The fighting in that city highlights five interrelated tactical considerations that should inform the way practitioners think about and plan for the contemporary urban fight:

1. the physical impact of the urban environment;
2. the complex and diverse nature of urban operations;
3. the impacts of war among urban environments’ people and places;
4. the criticality and challenge of sustainment and resilience;
5. and finally, the nature of the urban multi-actor fight.

These considerations are not new or unique, but because none of this is going away, Basra offers a useful lens through which to explore them. To warfare futurists looking for low-risk, low-cost, silver-bullet answers to the conundrums of urban warfare, Basra’s lessons are inconvenient but necessary truths...

Read on.