The Bayonet

Tuesday, May. 06, 2014

Historian talks past, future of urban warfare

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Fort Benning Soldiers got a look at the past, present and future of urban warfare April 29 during the latest installment of the Combat Leader Speaker Program.

Retired Lt. Col. Louis DiMarco, an assistant professor of military history at the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was the featured speaker.

DiMarco has extensively researched the history of urban warfare, and is the author of Concrete Hell: Urban Warfare From Stalingrad to Iraq.

He said historically, urban warfare has actually been more common than rural warfare. He said the transition to rural warfare came around the time of Napoleon Bonaparte in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

DiMarco said warfare was largely conducted in the rural setting from then until after World War I, when the transition back to city fighting began. Most of DiMarco's research has focused on urban warfare since World War II, and he said the trend towards urban warfare will only continue to increase.

"Warfare since World War II has logically led to where we are today, which is a place where most conflict as it occurs around the world is going to take place not in the open fields of the countryside or the forests or jungles, but rather in the urban centers and major cities around the world," he said. "That's driven by several historical and demographical factors. One is the global migration of populations from the rural parts of the world into the world's cities. In 1950, less than a third of the world's population lived in cities. Today, about half the population lives in cities and by 2050, two-thirds of the population will live in cities.

"So, you have that trend and you have the trend of military operations becoming more complex and adversaries avoiding the strengths of American conventional military power, which means they avoid fighting us in the open."

DiMarco said one consequence of modern urban warfare is the increased effect of the media when conducting urban operations.

"One of the things that gets stressed in urban combat is information operations," he said. "The media is much more involved. Our adversaries can use the media to project messages that affect politics and public perception much more in an urban environment than in the countryside, where the battle essentially takes place in isolation. ... You can lose a single urban battle, maybe not the war or campaign or maybe not even the whole battle, but if you have a bad day where you take a lot of casualties, that can have ramifications that reach all the way to the White House."

However, DiMarco said the Army's experiences in Iraq in recent years have helped it to become more adept at urban warfare.

"I think that over the years we were in Iraq, we got increasingly better at it, and maybe even experts at it in many units because we knew that was the environment we were going into and we very quickly developed tactics, techniques, procedures and equipment to operate in that environment," he said.

And while the Army faces an uncertain fiscal future, DiMarco said it is vital that those urban warfare skills obtained in Iraq continue to be polished and honed.

"It's a perishable skill," DiMarco said. "It's a skill that's very difficult to train realistically. Where do you get a city of a million people to train in? ... In an environment where cost is driving a lot of our decisions, there's a danger we will not have the resources to do the effective urban warfare training that we need to stay sharp. If that persists over time, you can lose those skills and knowledge fairly quickly."

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