Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Urban Warfare Paradigm Shift

In the planning for the first US large-scale Fallujah incursion, Operation Vigilant Resolve, the Marines had a list that included of dozens of targets that, based on intelligence, were candidates to be struck using airpower or kinetic means, meaning aerial bombardment. The targets themselves were a collection of buildings spread all over Fallujah, somewhat concentrated on the northwest side of the city, the Jolan district. The thing is, the real targets were not the buildings themselves but the people that potentially could be inside the buildings, namely groups of insurgents using the structures as "barracks" or improvised command and control nodes or prepared firing positions. Destroying the buildings themselves was not going to achieve the desired effects if the individuals in question were not inside the buildings at the time of the strike.

So, we could have set a time to send strike aircraft and destroy all the buildings in one day...and achieve nothing beyond the demolition of a series of building. Now, US forces had information that, at some point, it was likely that insurgents would be inside one of these buildings, the rest of the time we did not know where these guys were. There were dozens and dozens of building with insurgents inside about which we did not know anything. Basically, we had to wait until the insurgents arrived at the targeted facilities that we knew about and then hurry up and strike before they leave. To accomplish this you are going to need a great deal of persistent surveillance on the facilities that we do know about, and that could possibly, at some point, be visited by a group of insurgents or by insurgent leadership.

During World War II airpower us used to attack entire cities: Stalingrad, Cologne, London, Dresden, Tokyo, etc. By the time of the Vietnam War, airpower was attacking areas and facilities. During the Gulf War, and other conflicts during the 90s, it was demonstrated that airpower could go after specific portions of a building. Increasingly, airpower is being used not to target entire cities, or entire facilities, or even portions of a building. Airpower is being (and will probably be in the future) used to target small groups of individuals (less than 20 people) or even particular individuals. So in less than 70 years airpower has gone from going against entire cities to the targeting of single individuals.

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