Urban Battles and the Operational Level of War

Urban operations are both challenging and fascinating, generating no small amount of commentary within the national security community. This rich discourse is valuable and essential, but the focus is usually on tactical considerations, leaving relatively little attention to how these considerations connect to the operational level of war. The notion of the strategic corporal is commonly known, where one soldier’s error can turn a city’s population against a military force, but this is only a narrow portion of that larger campaign perspective. The difficulty of those urban tactical challenges makes them captivating, but much more attention must be paid to the connections between the urban tactical and campaign design. Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales made a similar point more than twenty years ago, when he called out the American tendency to bypass “core conceptual aspects of war” on the way to the tactical details of urban warfare.

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