Ukraine and the Urban Battlefield


Ukraine and the Urban Battlefield


by David Reavill


Here, in America, there seems to be a growing view that Russia’s  Military is weak and ineffective. Based on the current fighting in Ukraine, and supported by the American media, large portions of Americans seem to view the Russian Army as easy to defeat.

The thinking is that Russia should progress faster in gaining new territory. After initial gains in the South Eastern portions of Ukraine, Russia appears to be bogged down, to the American eye, with further progress slowing. A notable exception has been their recent success in capturing the strategic city of Solitaire.

This thinking is dangerous. In making this assessment, my fellow Americans are overlooking the critical role of the Battlefield in any War.

Modern, unrestricted Warfare occurs in many different locations, representing different terrains and presenting other challenges.

For Americans, an almost mythic belief in an “Antiseptic” War has grown. A war fought with little loss of life, at least on our part, and one which resolves quickly. Of course, with our side winning.

Perhaps the best example of this kind of Warfare was the 1999 bombing campaign in Kosovo. Kosovo was a campaign conducted by NATO, but in reality, it represented mainly the efforts of the Americans. Its stated aim was to prevent “ethnic cleansing” of the Albanian minority by the Serbs, although this assertion was questionable.

Then President Bill Clinton ruled out the use of any American ground troops. And so, the campaign consisted entirely of using US Bombing Raids, flown at high altitudes to avoid any anti-aircraft. And the result was that few if any, Americans were placed at risk.

The other War that Americans may remember was the four-month campaign that decimated the Iraqi Army. It was the updated version of the German Blitzkrieg. Recall the “Shock and Awe” campaign in which American tanks overwhelmed the enemy in a marvel of force and distance covered.

Although the Americans did suffer losses, the speed and decisive nature of the battles assured those back home that America could win Wars quickly and decisively.

And thus, the Myth of the Antiseptic War grew.

So the thinking grew that America could fight a particular type of  Air War with little or no risk. Although this kind of “stand-off” air strike may not achieve its objectives, as noted at the time.

Additionally, Americans saw that specific conventional Warfare could be very successful. Warfare involving battle tanks, air support, and high-tech infrastructure could overwhelm an enemy—even an enemy with one of the most powerful armies in the world back then.

We saw the dominance of the American Military in both Kosovo and Iraq. In Iraq, however, we may have focused on something other than the brutal urban Warfare which followed. The first phase of the Iraq War was quick and decisive and concluded in four months, but it took eight long years for America to complete the Urban Battle and disengage from the conflict.

While we call the entire time that American soldiers were in the field the Iraq War. And that’s entirely appropriate, as Americans and Iraqis were dying throughout the eight years of the conflict. The reality was that there were two stages in that War,  the sweeping open-field conventional stage and the bloody, interminable hand-to-hand combat fought in the towns and cities. And the two were as different as night and day.

The first saw the massive open-field tank battles, the largest since such action since World War II.

The Second Stage of the Iraq War consisted, almost entirely, of Urban Warfare. An often chaotic conflict where the enemy is disguised and the objectives obscure.

Americans were familiar with Urban Warfare. The most notorious of the Viet Nam battles was the battle for the City of Hue. The Urban Battle cost over 200 American soldiers their lives; in the end, it was not a victory for the US.

Thirty-Six years after Hue, the Americans found themselves in the same sort of conflict in the first battle for Fallujah. Another bloody conflict for the Americans, costing nearly 100 dead and a loss for the US.

Hue and Fallujah are as far removed from this vision of an Antiseptic War as possible. These were bloody, brutal battles where one side may declare victory, but neither side wins. Urban War is primeval and mainly inconclusive.

For America, Urban Warfare has always sustained a high number of casualties. Americans have often been victorious, but always at a tremendous cost. No one emerges from these kinds of conflicts UN-blooded.

Yet today, many in this country think Russia should glide through its Urban Battles in Ukraine. But Russia is embroiled in the same kind of Urban Warfare as the Americans in Hue and Fallujah.

Let’s not think that Russia’s capability in Urban Warfare is any reflection of its capability on other battlefields. Even if you assume that Russia is bogged-down in the Ukraine towns and cities, an assumption I don’t share. Remember, the American performance in Fallujah did not reflect the performance of the sweeping American tank battles of just a couple of years before.

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