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Posted on Dec 16, 2007 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 022 – Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield in Urban Operations Part 2

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


The first thing we must do in evaluating the threat is to determine who the threat is! Within an urban environment, the threat can be extremely varied. You may see conventional forces or unconventional forces, regular or irregular soldiers, units made up of indigenous people, criminal elements, and terrorists. Obviously, each type brings different capabilities and strengths and weaknesses to the table. Your Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) effort must focus on determining who the threat is. You must also be cognizant that the type of threat can continually change in an urban environment.

Before evaluating the specific threat you are facing; there are some basic principles and tactics we can start with regarding an enemy that does not fall under the conventional category. These principles and tactics can set the foundation, as we begin to gather intelligence which enables us to evaluate the threats we are facing. Let’s start with the following principles:


1) Deny or Control Access into the Urban Area. A smaller, less technologically advanced force will do everything it can to hinder its opponent’s ability to enter the urban area to begin with. This can include attacks on force build-up areas, employing obstacles, etc… Why give your opponent carte blanche into the area?

2) Offset Technology Advantage of Opponent. If you have a technology advantage over your foe, you can expect them to conduct actions that will limit the effectiveness of your technology. Of course, an urban area with its buildings, facilities and population greatly assists in doing this. Expect the threat to capitalize on these factors.

3) Set and Control the Tempo of Operations. As in every environment, tempo is critical. He who dictates the action has a huge advantage. In an urban area tempo is critical and is just as difficult to set and control. A threat will utilize actions to speed the tempo up or just as importantly, slow it down if need be.

4) If the Nature of the Conflict isn’t Acceptable-Change It! If a threat believes its opponent’s domestic opinion of the fight has changed it will alter its actions. Obviously, the U.S. saw this in Vietnam when its opponent settled into a battle of attrition. If a threat senses the staying power is not there domestically it will dig in and prepare for the long fight.

5) Produce Casualties at Every Opportunity. Related to above is for a threat to conduct actions that will produce casualties at all opportunities. If a threat senses that domestically its foe is casualty adverse; then it will conduct operations that will produce those casualties.

6) No Safe Havens. A threat does not want its foe to have at its disposal areas that it can utilize to prepare for operations. You can expect the threat to conduct operations to take away these safe havens.

7) He Who Wins the Information War Has a Huge Advantage. The side that has the support of the local populace certainly has a huge advantage. This support brings safe havens, intelligence coups etc…. Expect a threat to do what is necessary to gain this support. In this information age, you can also expect the threat to do what is necessary to gain the support of the outside world.

8) Keep Your Forces Dispersed with Decentralized Control. Small working groups of forces who understand their purpose are a common principle of a threat. This enables them to capitalize on their strengths and negate the strengths of their foe that may possess a technological advantage.


Certainly, every force will adapt their tactics to the situation. However, when you begin to analyze the tactics of a force that you have little information upon; you must have a start point. Below you will find some common tactics that should provide you with that start point.

1) Utilize Civilians Where Needed. Fighting in an urban environment is nasty business and many threats will do whatever it takes to gain an advantage. This can include using civilians as camouflage, concealment or utilizing them to shape the battlefield. A demonstration or a mass of civilians can tie up a threat’s opponent for hours if they are conducting support and stability operations. Soldiers utilized here are ones that can’t be used elsewhere.

2) Find and Secure Key Infrastructure. The side that controls such things as communication networks, energy facilities, public works, etc… has greatly increased their options in all realms. Looking at it another way, the threat will attempt to destroy this infrastructure to ensure their opponent can not control this infrastructure.

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