Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Knowing and Understanding the Dimension of Urban Warfare

Warfare are to be won as aimed by a military to achieved a mission. And in order for that to happen, planners need to understand the nature or the dimension of such warfare they are entering to. With prevailing situation in the heart of Mindanao as well as for the stigma of Zamboanga Siege coming up to mind, might as well will be a nice thing to have a good discussion about having tactics that is done in Cities. That is, urban combat.

Infantries fighting close-quarter combat is one of the necessities
in Urban Warfare. Source
As of this time of writing, the war is still on-going in Marawi City where the military seems to be fully challenged in this kind of conflict that clearing and occupying block by block, house to house, room to room and street to street means something essential to the Armed Forces to the Philippines to surround the terrorists in the City in an effort to exhaust resources and morale that may mean victory to the military.

It was well known that the Philippine Armed Forces already encounter such dimension of warfare in the form of September 9, 2013 Zamboanga Siege that have put the whole city in the standstill for two weeks due to the ambitious plan made by Misuari-led Moro National Liberation Front of raising their flag on the City Hall in which that causes the conflict so as to the fact that the City will not let such thing happen. Considering that, Zamboanguenos are now giving significance since then that there will only be one flag that will fly in the city and that is the Philippine flag.

Speaking on the nature of warfare, the Marawi Crisis and the Zamboanga Siege do have a fair share of Urban Warfare where soldiers and opposition forces (OPFOR) alike are seeking shelter across blocks of infrastructure where vantage points for snipers are taken and engaging one and another carefully where steps and strategies are carefully calculated. The only contrast there is that the Marawi Crisis and the intensity of combat thrown by the OPFOR makes it much difficult for the AFP to engage. Not to mention various factors that will be discussed later in this article.

It was then proved in the past that such battle determines the outcome of the whole war where tactics and strategies executed dictate the results of the overall combat taken especially in the case of urban warfare. Also with that, different approach on the offense and defense are devised by both forces where gains and losses in that sense are somewhat attainable where ground troops stay safe, key positions obtained, and the outcome of the battle being in their favor varying mission details.

On this topic, it is at best to know a thing about Urban Warfare itself, the tactics and strategies it incorporates in combat, notable examples in history and the situations comparable between Zamboanga Siege and Marawi Crisis where factors are to be measured based on existing data as well as the ingenuity and engagements of the armed forces on eliminating OPFOR.

United States Military's Stryker Brigade searching for insurgents in
Mosul, Iraq. Obtained from U.S. Air Force Website
Urban Warfare, in its very description pertains to military combat taking place in an urban setting such as a town or a city. And from that definition alone, it is different from the usual open-field combat or in the Philippine's case, Jungle warfare.

Rand Corporation's interpretation on Urban Warfare ranges from guerilla attacks to gang violence. To take note, others not being mentioned there include terrorist attacks, standoffs, bombings and some other form of combat in cities where for sure, there will be civilians trapped between gunfire as well as the complex dimension of the environment in which that makes the whole operations much complicated.

In other words, Urban Warfare in its nature needs to consider many things which includes civilian safety, execution of plans as per defend key positions or occupying them, precision strikes as requested by ground troops, aerial surveillance, and others like improvised explosive device (IEDs) and sentry positions like sniper vantage points that may kill ground troops or civilians, among others.

Given the circumstances, the considerations given makes it dangerous for the ground troops to simply roam around in a war-torn city filled with hostile that are after them. Hence, calculated moves are a necessity where engaging the enemy in a way that lives needed to preserved is needed to be done so as to achieve the primary objectives that the military wanted to aim at. Not also to mention that capturing the city mean preserving key infrastructures and civilian lives therein.

Regarding the definition of urban warfare, it is deemed good to check on the history of known battles given the urban battle and the stiffness of both sides to attain their respective missions in the sense that any executions given may mean victory and loss as well as life and death so as for the city's existence and survival of it and the ground forces within it.

The Soviet troops on the battle of Stalingrad. Source
Throughout the history, there are written records with regards of urban warfare and the way it becomes much sophisticated as the new techniques executed and technologies introduced. With the times passing by, the dimensions involved in urban warfare becomes more sophisticated especially at present with the rise of terrorism wreaking havoc in key cities in Syria, Iraq, and in the case of the Philippines, Marawi City.

One notable example of an urban warfare widely raged in history is the Battle of Stalingrad in the Eastern Front that have took place in the Second World War. Apparently, the fierce urban street battle mixed with the harsh Russian Winter made it the notable turning point of the war with the battle favoring the Soviet side. Throughout the urban combat, the Soviets hold on by converting key buildings in the area to notable defense strong points for sentries to get deployed so as in the effort to stall the Germans in the attempt to occupy the whole City. It was then until a counterattack was devised which put the Nazis into submission.

Another notable example is the Battle of Berlin at the ending months of the Second World War. The Soviets are on the offensive and have the German Capital City on sights. In that case, the attackers encircle the whole city and envelop the defenders of the City where it held out until the European theater of War ended in May, 1945. This is a bit different than those of Stalingrad where the Soviets defended it fully while the Hitler Youth and several old citizens defending Berlin doesn't stand a chance against a million Soviet Conscript Forces attacking the City.

In both of these aforementioned conflicts, the inhabitants of these cities always facing the brunt where these civilians are on the risk of being shot upon or hit by a bomb which is a usual thing in battle. To further know the extent of such casualties that have taken place in an urban warfare, let us take note that the Battle of Manila in 1945 have caused 100,000 Filipino dead with attributions pointed out to continuous bombardment of the U.S. Armed Forces in which it is worth pondering for the planners of the present times to calculate the number of surgical strikes in key enemy positions with the help of ground troops and aerial surveillance.

In these case, it is known about the factors in determining the tactics used in urban warfare wherein in it dictates the outcome as well as the consequences it coincides. And with that also means the fate of those operating on the ground as well as the civilians involved lies on the proper planning, execution, and all of those other factors mixed upon where it favors one or another. 

Ground Troops on the offensive. Photo from ABS-CBN News
Both the September 2013 Zamboanga Siege and the recent Marawi Crisis engaged in urban setting with similarities and differences pointing out therein. These recent battle situations in Mindanao tested the urban warfare capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines when it comes to dealing with insurgents hiding, setting and exploiting the environment to it's advantage. Here are some of the key points regarding to this two conflicts.

2013 Zamboanga Siege AN URBAN BATTLE THAT LASTED 20 DAYS; SEPTEMBER 9-28, 2013
Simba Armored Personnel Carriers lining along Veterans Avenue, Zamboanga City.
From Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
The 2013 Zamboanga Siege was one of the military conflicts that involved urban warfare. It took place near the City Proper which have put the whole city into a standstill, losing millions of pesos in trade and business transactions in the process as work and studies downtown are suspended therein. 

This was purported by the separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari which was spearheaded by a man called Habier Malik. Their aim is to raise the MNLF/Bangsamoro Republic flag in the Zamboanga City Hall in which no other hard patriots will let that happen. Hence, the heat of the fight intensifies on the parts of the City especially on the villages (barangays or districts) of Sta. Barbara, Rio Hondo, Mariki and Sta. Catalina. From there on, it gives the Armed Forces the first taste of urban combat which was different to the usual Jungle Warfare that was waged across the country whether it may be between the Government and the Communists or the Moro Separatists.

This urban combat also includes human shields that makes military operations much difficult so as to the attempt not to kill innocent lives throughout the exchange of gunfire. Also in this battle, just like in any kind of urban warfare, there are key sentry positions where both sides fire sniper rounds, mortars, and rocket propelled grenades at one over the other. Also into the consideration is the intensity of the combat given. As per the experience of your very own, what is recently happening in Marawi is indeed much worse than what have happened in Zamboanga Siege considering that aside from that only four barangays or districts in the City are involved, only a portion of the people in the City are displaced especially from those of the four districts where the combat is raging.

With respect to the situation in the City, The United Nations declared that the urban conflict in Zamboanga have become a form of a humanitarian crisis where with regards to the displaced persons from affected villages, it took a bit of time until these affected persons are relocated to a better site with newer opportunities. This in which, puts a toll for the urban warfare's effects that the lives of the affected civilians will be changed forever. The humanitarian situation for that fact is worth pondering in conflicts such as these that the military's HADR or Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response Capabilities comes at play alongside those of the local government, various national agencies and non-government organizations.

The Armed Forces, with the situation pertaining to the urban warfare, may be somewhat a good thing to ponder upon where tactics between jungle warfare and its urban equivalent are different in nature, approach and tactics. Hence, it may be a good thing for the military to enhance its skills and capabilities as well as the equipment necessary for such combat. And with that, another case of urban warfare arise recently in Marawi where the combat capabilities of the AFP is once again put into the test.


This crisis is an urban operation much intensified than what the Zamboanga Siege offers where it goes on beyond the time period of the previous conflict of 20 days. The Armed Forces in this matter are a bit improved from last time as the fruits of the AFP Modernization Program are materialized such as the Philippine Air Force's FA-50 LIFT jets and AW-109 helicopters that have seen combat, RCWS-armed M-113 APCs made from Israel, support and logistics with the help of Landing Platform Docks like the BRP Tarlac and BRP Davao del Sur, among others.

On an honest note, it seems that the military's overall readiness over the matter still needs to be addressed where skills and capabilities, in that sense, aren't that fully enhanced since Zamboanga Siege. Not also to mention that aside from the lack of skills enhanced in combat, the equipment for such kind of combat is also lacking where procurement of it is somewhat moving at a slow pace. Military equipment that is needed here are gas masks, tear gas, night vision goggles, body armor, and smoke grenades where several of them are being materialized therein.

The good thing here is that, both the United States and eventually, Australia expresses support by providing surveillance in the area with the use of P-3 Orions to give intelligence as for the whereabouts of the bandits across the city. This is an improvement where drones and these planes go hand in hand so as to provide precise targets for both ground and air units to fire upon. This is aside from the weapons aforementioned that pertains to its materialization from Modernization procurement projects. And with it, there are more things needed to be done with the capabilities that needs to get suffice of especially the aforementioned military equipment that are lacking.

The "Main Battle Tank" Idea

Given the circumstances aside from the needed equipment for the urban combat, another defense outlet also gives the idea about the necessity of main battle tanks that provide better protection for the ground troops as well as spewing better firepower wherein as per Modernization Plans, the MBTs along with light tanks will be slated in Horizons 3 and 2, respectively. As per this case, it was pointed out that the tanks being opted as per the said defense outlet is either the Israeli Merkava II or Magach 7. To take note, issues like infrastructure not having enough capacity to hold these tanks are being considered with flatbed trailers, rail tracks and pontoon bridges are an option. For more of this, we will discuss it in future articles here in Pitz Defense Analysis.


Warfare in its sense is fierce wherein a certain militia or an armed forces shall have an aim to accomplish its mission. And in that sense, various conflicts have their own tactics and strategies given the nature of the battlefield and the parties involved. In the case of urban warfare, both the attacker and the defender are using any key infrastructure or rubble to hide with combat taking place on streets, blocks and rooms. Having a lot of place to hide makes it difficult for both sides to fare out not also to mention that traps, hostages, trapped civilians and preserving key infrastructures needs to be considered. In these things, the point is that urban combat definitely is something that a planner may carefully execute in with considerations given as well as lives of the ground troops are in mind.


Post a Comment

Top Blogs Ranking

Politics & Government - Top Blogs Philippines

Follow us on Email

Never miss our updates. Press the Subscribe Button:

Enter Email from there and complete request.



Total Pageviews

Popular Posts

Google+ Badge

Visitors from Nations

Flag Counter