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Staffs Need Urban Warfare Preparation

Photo by: 
U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Julie Jaeger
Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Army staffs, especially at the division and corps levels, remain unprepared to effectively conduct and manage urban operations, even as the service expects to fight its next battle in the mess and chaos of a densely populated area, according to a recent report.

“Troops may be learning how to clear a room or to seize a two-story building, but trouble can occur if higher units do not understand how to maneuver these units, integrate enablers into the effort, and work with the higher echelon to better understand the operational or strategic picture, while advocating for more resources,” the report, “Urban Blind Spots: Gaps in Joint Force Combat Readiness,” states.

That level of staff training “is rarely happening, if at all,” and can “result in confusion, potential logistics issues, and a host of other problems until the staff has had a few days to garner a better understanding of the urban situation,” the authors write.

The report, from the National Security Fellows Program at the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, was written by Army Lt. Col. William Putnam, a military intelligence officer working on the Army Staff at the Pentagon, and Marine Corps Lt. Col. Kenneth Goedecke, an artillery officer serving as a military faculty adviser at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.

The world today is urbanizing at the fastest rate in history: 60% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban environments by 2030, according to the report. From towering skyscrapers to subterranean networks such as sewers or underground train systems, urban areas provide a unique challenge to the Army and the other services, the report says.

The Army’s previous two chiefs of staff—now-retired Gen. Ray Odierno and Gen. Mark Milley, who is now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—understood and frequently discussed the importance of urban combat and the fact that the Army is not properly prepared, according to the report.

However, the report adds, “the Army continues to train for urban warfare much in the same manner as it did prior to 2014: at the company and below level.”

To read the full report, click here.