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Urban warfare

Urban warfare is warfare conducted in populated urban areas such as towns, cities and refugee camps. An alternative term, still in widespread use, is MOUT, commonly standing for Military Operations in/on Urban Terrain. The US manual FM7-92 refers to "mission on urban terrain" once and some people may be more familiar with the rare use of MOUT with that form of words.

Warfare inside a city is very different from a traditional open field battle against a conventional army. A complicating factor of urban warfare is the presence of civilians, sometimes as combatants of various sorts, ranging from armed militias to people defending their homes against all comers, usually with many innocent non-combatants trying to stay out of the way of the battling forces. The military operations are also complicated by limited fields of view and fire because of buildings, large amounts of concealment and cover for defenders and the ease of placement of booby traps and snipers.

Traditional (World War II) military operations often rely on large quantities of artillery fire, which many modern armies will try to avoid as a way of reducing civilian casualties. A notable exception to this was the Russian attack on Grozny in which large amounts of artillery fire were used. The Russian army handled the issue of civilian casualities by warning that the city would be levelled and that any civilian should leave the city before the attack began.

Usually the weaker party in a war tries to enforce urban warfare on the attacking force. This is due to serveral reasons:

  1. A populated city is much harder to conquer than an open field.
  2. The urbanized city is much easier to defend because it has many tall buildings, narrow alleys and sewage tunnels. The buildings can provide excellent sniping posts while the alleys are ideal for planting booby traps.
  3. If the attacking force is a Western army, adhering to international law and western moral values, it must restrain from using heavy fire power and indiscriminate bombing. Thus, the party barricading in a city won't have to face warplanes, heavy artillery and massive tank assault.
  4. "Media War": a war on urban terrain is bound to cause some civilian casualties and extreme damage to civilian property. Photos of dead civilians and ruined streets broadcast on TV make a strong impact in favor of the party barricading in the city and undermine the morale of the attacking force.
  5. Often, the barricading party by using "Human Shields" is using the immunity that civilians gain under international law in order to prevent attacks on its combatants. This tactic which is declared a war crime, though the use of the weaker party as human shield may be ignored by the world media and different human right organizations.

The limited fields of view require far larger numbers of troops than open field warfare and the operations are renowned for resulting in very high casualty rates. The US forces operating in Iraq in 2003 saw remarkably low casualty rates, attributable to: The Israeli Defence Forces developed a special urban warfare tactic whose main goal is to keep casualties down: both military and civilians. The tactics consist of using technology advantages such as night vision devices, swarming the city in a non-linear form of advance and using heavy armoured bulldozers, mainly the Caterpillar D9, to detonate booby traps and clear ways for tanks and armored personnel carriers to advance. The D9 bulldozers have also been used to attack enemy gunmen in rigged buildings without endangering Israeli soldiers' lives.

Famous urban battles in modern time:

See also:

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