Effectiveness of Snipers
A trained sniper is not only lethal, but also an effective psychological weapon. Properly employed snipers will disrupt command and control, slow armored advance, and attrite assault support elements. Snipers have the ability to infiltrate any part of an urban area with relative ease. Uncertainty associated with snipers increases difficulty in the decision making process and constrains small unit leaders. Especially in low intensity conflict, the expert rifleman and sniper become the infantry’s answer to the smart bomb, cruise missile and the laser guided artillery round, but with considerably smaller probability for collateral damage. During the battle for Stalingrad, the 62nd Russian Army had four hundred snipers, who collectively killed over 6000 Germans. During the battle for Seoul in 1950, over 30% of the casualties were caused by snipers.
Deliberate and Hasty Offensive Attacks
Deliberate Offensive Attack. Deliberate attack is initiated when enemy defenses are extensively prepared, urban areas are extremely large or congested, the advantage of surprise has been lost, and the attack of an urban center is considered unavoidable. Deliberate attacks consist of three distinct phases.
Isolate. Control avenues of approach into and out of the enemy occupied area to deny reinforcements/resupply. This portion fixes the enemy positions, delays further defensive expansion, and prevents enemy breakout. Close Air Support (CAS) and other fire support assets play a large role during this operational phase. CAS and assault support assets assist the Ground Combat Element (GCE) by providing flank and rear security, maintaining enemy observation to determine strengths and weaknesses, preparing and resupply friendly positions, and destroying enemy assets that may attempt to provide resupply.
Assault. Once the enemy has been isolated and fixed, the assault phase of the attack begins. Through utilization of combined arms, the GCE moves within the built-up area to secure a foothold. CAS assets may be employed to create feints, keep primary avenues of approach clear for friendly forces, act as radio rely and provide suppression of enemy positions within the city. CAS and assault support assets continue armed recce, assist in creating feints, provide radio relay, FAC (A), flank security, and escort operations.
Clear. Detailed planning and coordination characterize this phase followed by decentralized violent small unit actions. Clearing consists of house to house, block to block, objective to objective advance through defended areas to secure critical objectives. Follow-on units carry out the clearing action. Normally, direct and indirect supporting arms are less effective during this phase due to coordination requirements and close friendly proximity to enemy fortified positions. This is one reason armor is so effective for direct fire support during MOUT. Tanks are mobile, survivable and powerful and are often attached to the infantry. During Operation Urgent Fury fire support coordination was communications intensive. Because of the pace of advance and shifting FSCM’s, friendly units twice encountered each other. In one instance, a Marine unit had taken control of a hotel designated as a link-up point prior to the expected time. When advancing Army units arrived, unaware of the Marine occupation, they delivered fire on “unknown troops”. Only through a rapid exchange of messages did things get sorted out to prevent any friendly casualties. Observation and fire support coordination by FAC (A) assets is effective because of the situational awareness gained through mobility and altitude advantage over ground FAC’s. Depending on the severity of the battle, urban layout, and enemy isolation, assault support assets may continue conducting resupply and MEDEVAC.
Hasty Offensive Attack. Hasty attacks are normally conducted when the element of surprise is maintained and the enemy is not prepared defensively. Hasty attacks are conducted in three phases and are supported with preplanned on-call or scheduled supporting arms. The guidelines to follow in a Hasty Offensive Attack are:
Find a weak point. In order to successfully penetrate and destroy the enemy, a weak point (gap) in their defenses must be located. During this phase, CAS can provide security for friendly forces, observe enemy movement/resupply, and execute feints. Attack helicopters can play a crucial role by providing armed recce to locate these enemy weak areas. FAC (A)’s are also very effective in coordinating supporting fires, while the GCE is repositioning or reorganizing. Fix the enemy positions. Once enemy weaknesses are located, the GCE initiates movement to contact. CAS assets should suppress or neutralize known enemy strongholds. CAS assets may also provide a FAC (A) or act as radio relay for NSFS or artillery that can not be observed or controlled by ground FAC’s. Assault support assets must maintain logistics/resupply lines, MEDEVAC, radio relay and conduct pinpoint insertion.
Movement through or around the enemy. CAS aircraft provide flank security, FAC (A), point target destruction, and clear key avenues of approach for friendly forces. Assault support assets are required to provide resupply, MEDEVAC and troop transport.
Psychological Implications of MOUT
The psychological impact of MOUT is arguably greater than any other form of battle. The presence of snipers has a psychological effect in battle as it causes Marines to be concerned with being ambushed from above, below, or behind. Casualties may be much higher and evacuation of the wounded more difficult in urban areas. There are also the added moral dilemmas when innocent civilians are killed, and the threat that any civilian can be a potential enemy. This point was emphasized during the TF-160 operation in Mogadishu. The inability of supporting arms to effectively engage some urban targets may also have a demoralizing affect. Finally, the door to door fighting, potential isolation, ever present obstacles, mine and booby-traps add to the high stress.
How can we better prepare for urban warfare? The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) prepared for the battle of Suez in 1973 by implementing urban lessons learned from the 1967 battle for Jerusalem. Tank battalions and mechanized infantry battalions spent months training together to prepare their soldiers for the harshness of urban battle. The effects of prior training, such as the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Special Operations Capable (SOC) predeployment work up, reap large dividends when geared to operating in urban areas. The demands placed on small unit leaders to exercise the initiative required for success are high. Commanders must delegate decision making authority to develop the skills required of subordinate commanders and leaders during MOUT.
Line of Sight (LOS) communications difficulties in urban environments result from problems created by manmade structures absorbing or reflecting transmitted signals. Threat permitting, an airborne DASC or communications relay platform is an important asset during MOUT. During actual movement, communications within a company or platoon is difficult. Communications links to various headquarters and supporting units and agencies is often difficult to maintain. During the battle for Hue City, PRC-77's placed on top of buildings worked well. In Beirut, wire communications lines were placed in sewers and around existing telephone/electrical poles. This improved communications capabilities during these urban battles. The IDF pioneered the use of Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs) for radio relay platforms and subsequently, provided real-time battlefield updates to combat commanders. During the 1967 battle for Jerusalem, the IDF placed Israeli flags on top of cleared buildings so CAS aircraft could monitor the Israeli Forward Line Of Troops (FLOT). Another example of innovative communications techniques was the IDF's use of a spotlight to mark specific buildings as night CAS targets. During Operation Eastern Exit, the Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO); Mogadishu, Somalia, in January of 1991; two CH- 53 Sea Knights orbited the city for 15 minutes while attempting to establish radio communication with Embassy personnel. After radio contact, the Embassy communicator was unable to give navigational assistance from his windowless room. The primary zone was marked by Embassy personnel waving a large white sheet. This technique highlights an additional solution to urban communications through the utilization of standardized visual signals. Visual signaling systems include mirrors, colored smoke or panels, flash cards, wing or rotor dips, whistles, infrared strobes, laser pointers, luminescent paint, flags and pyrotechnics.
Urban environment logistical support is extremely complicated. Ammunition resupply alone requires large amounts of dedicated helicopters and motor transportation assets. It is not unusual for ammunition consumption to increase tenfold during urban warfare. In the 1978 siege of Beirut, Syrian forces required up to 120 trucks of artillery ammunition per day. During the battle for Hue City, U.S. forces consumed 13,000 artillery rounds, 20,000 mortar rounds and 5000 naval gunfire rounds in less than one month. During Operation Just Cause (Panama) some Army units sustained themselves for the first three days from supplies carried in their rucksacks.
Combined with ammunition requirements, the difficulty in maintaining a resupply of adequate amounts of fresh water during MOUT and the decentralization of combat units may require logistical support to be a "push" rather than a "pull" system. This entails a system of prepackaged supplies configured to unit-specific needs. All vehicles should carry at least one five gallon container of water.
Staff planners must scrutinize ordnance loadouts aboard amphibious lift. Urban conflicts increase the Marine Air Ground Task Force's (MAGTF) ammunition requirements or even change the specific ordnance required. In the push to meet ammunition requirements, basic logistic resupply must also be addressed with same priority. The fact that most potential urban areas likely to be occupied are in underdeveloped countries makes potable water as high a priority as ammunition, if not higher.
Strategic Implications of MOUT
The effects of urban combat may have far reaching political consequences. Although an operation may be planned and executed at a tactical level, its repercussions may influence national strategy. Urban combat is more accessible to the media and therefore more visible to the world. It is often characterized by battle-damaged homes, schools, and churches and tragic civilian casualties. Images of the difficulties and harshness of urban combat may lead to a turn in public opinion. The potential for erosion of the national will to continue an urban military operation is very real. The urban fight can be won on the battlefield, only to be lost on the evening news. Although the actual conduct of an urban operation is tactical in nature, its intent may be aimed at strategic objectives. The battle for Hue City, although only one of over a hundred different attacks during the 1968 Tet Offensive, had a huge impact on the will of both the American public and political leadership directing the war. The media filmed the horrors of urban warfare and brought it to the living rooms of America. The battle to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Beirut was aimed, as Clausewitz might paraphrase, "putting the enemy in such a position that he could no longer fight." The irony of Beirut is although the Israeli leadership focused it attention on the enemy force, it failed to anticipate the cost. In Israel's case, the costs in image, international support; and, most importantly, its own national will, were enormous. The Beirut operation contributed to the eventual fall of Israel's political leadership. Again, a seemingly "tactical" urban battle demonstrated far reaching "strategic" implications. The actions in Somalia also represent consequences of MOUT when the "cost of doing business" becomes too high in the eyes of the American public and political leadership.
Rules of Engagement
Completing the "MOUT Big Twelve" historical lessons learned are Rules of Engagement (ROE). Because of the political nature of the battlefield, ROE are an extremely challenging issue during urban combat. American political culture, coupled with the "CNN factor," will likely impose significantly restrictive ROE on the conduct of a major urban campaign. Indeed, major collateral damage and non-combatant casualties could significantly escalate the cost of such an operation, turn the loyalties of a previously friendly population, and impede mission accomplishment. However, historical experience suggests that overly restrictive ROE have had to be relaxed to achieve mission accomplishment and to reduce friendly casualties. This dilemma will likely pervade during MOUT. The limitations imposed on forces for political and strategic reasons often constitute significant obstacles to mission accomplishment. Clear definitions of "hostile act" and "hostile intent" are critical. All Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen must clearly understand the ROE. A Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer and Civil Affairs (CA) representative should be available to any staff during the planning process to clarify any issues concerning ROE, the use of graduated response or deadly force, and forbidden targets. Squadron pilots should develop likely scenarios for the JAG and MAGTF/JTF commanders's review and interpretation. (A MOUT Homepage Note - this is also true for combat arm's elements, combat support elements and combat service support elements) This review and interpretation should then be should be briefed to all members of the MAGTF down to the lowest levels. TOE played a major role in every urban battle known. During the first 30 days of the battle for Hue City, ROE did not allow the use of artillery, naval gunfire, or air dropped munitions. Concern for collateral damage during Operation Just Cause required an officer of the rank equivalent to LtCol/Cmdr or higher to approve any indirect fire support. International outcry caused the IDF to restrict shelling of Beirut's hospitals, schools, and places of worship. (A MOUT Homepage Note - while this is a worthy endeavor, the enemy will most likely use known restricted fire zones/ROE to their advantage during MOUT. Examples include the husbanding of high value combat assets in cultural significant buildings/areas and the use of schools, hospitals and other civilian critical services as a shield from U.S. attack against critical combat nodes and resources). During the 1967 battle for Jerusalem, both sides were constantly reminded of the need to avoid undue destruction and; consequently, the both had to restrict indirect and direct fires. This was due to the city's religious significance to Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. Politically or militarily imposed ROE greatly affect how we conduct operations. Consider ROE during mission planning to ensure minimal degradation to mission accomplishment. It is likely that the ROE will be updated as MOUT actions escalate. The ROE must have provisions to account for any operation escalating into a full assault if any fire is received and friendly force require protection. A final concern about ROE is that it can be used against you if published in detail prior to an operation. Operational Security (OPSEC) must include details of specific ROE elements such as the deadly force matrix and other critical decision making guidelines that can be manipulated by the enemy and turned into an effective weapon on his behalf.
This series of articles provides a condensed look at the complexities of MOUT. Remember, as you find yourself operating in an urban environment, be flexible; stick with proven tactics, techniques, and procedures; and above all else - maintain situational awareness.
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