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Posted on Mar 28, 2008 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101: 025. Urban Operations: Truisms and Nuggets

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

Time. Napoleon once said that his commanders could ask him for anything but time. He was right, of course. Every minute you waste is one that benefits the enemy so use your time well. This is even more critical when entering an intense and complex battlefield like a city. Typically, the successful conclusion of an urban battle takes two to three times longer than the initial estimates. The unanticipated added time consumes more logistics and triggers the loss of more personnel than the unit is prepared to withstand. The excessive and unplanned expenditures and losses stress the morale of the overall campaign. Prepare for a slower OPTEMPO coupled with accelerating expenditure of all classes of supply and prepare for an increase in casualties.


Isolation. No single factor is more important to the attacker’s success than isolation of the urban area. The attacker wins when the defender is isolated. Again, we see the Russian failure to isolate Grozny in 1994 as a key factor in their defeat. Isolation should be complete, but even partial isolation results in a higher success rate. Historically, the attacker wins about half of the time when the defenders were not significantly isolated, albeit at great cost. While it is unrealistic to envision complete isolation of a city until enemy forces to the rear of the city are pushed far beyond its outermost boundaries, total isolation does not appear necessary. The key to the attacker’s success is in stemming the unimpeded flow of manpower, supplies, and weapons to replace the defender’s losses.

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