Contemporary Operation Issues Facing the US Army



Modern warfare has moved from open and pitched land battles to urban areas. These urban areas are often thickly populated, with buildings and civilians. The enemy has better information about the terrain and has sympathizers among the civilians. The US army cannot use powerful weapons and it is limited by lack of information, giving the enemy an advantage, leading to higher casualties of soldiers. Considering these facts, the paper argues for the case of setting up an urban warfare center, where troops are trained to fight in closed spaces and at close quarters. The paper suggests that setting up such a school will help soldiers to reduce casualties and gain an upper hand.


The US Army has distinguished itself in several wars across the globe, from forests, mountains, seas, deserts, and land, the army has fought its enemies with bravery and courage. Equipped with superior weapons, training, and support from other defense forces, the army has fought several large and small battles (US Army, 2018). Behind the success is the war strategy and excellent training that soldiers receive, which equips them to face various challenges. Recent battles in the Middle East, in cities of Syria, Afghanistan, and other areas, have brought new challenges and dangers, which force a rethink on the strategy and training. It is clear that the battle has shifted from open land warfare to cities with ruined buildings, where enemies and civilians take refuge. In some instances, enemies entrench themselves among civilians, some of who support and sympathize with these fighters. Compelled by the need to reduce civilian casualties and to minimize damage to structures, US soldiers cannot use powerful munitions, and they have to systematically sanitize the city, hunting for the enemy. In this process, US soldiers face increased attrition and fire from concealed enemies. These realities require a rethink of the operational strategy and require new methods of training to prepare soldiers for urban guerilla warfare (Acharya, 2014). With this background, this paper argues that a new war operational strategy is needed since open land warfare will reduce and battles will shift to cities with dense masses of civilians, with dangers of civilian casualties and risk to US soldiers.

Literature Review

The introduction section briefly described the new face of war that US soldiers face, urban warfare. A report by the U.S. Army War College indicates that new war zones will resemble crumbled and ruined cities of Syria, Iran, Iraq, where the enemies hide behind buildings along with civilians, and where the US army cannot use powerful weapons. Enemies will have to be isolated carefully and terminated without harming women and children. As the recent war in Afghanistan and Syria shows, a few hundred heavily armed militants managed to hold out for many years. Tanks, howitzers, gunships were not very helpful since they can be compromised by a suicidal attack. US soldiers faced this problem earlier in the jungles and cities of Vietnam. In addition, the army risks public censure and media criticism when civilians and when US soldiers are killed (Felix and Wong, 2015).

Continuing this argument, Joes (2007) speaks of ‘Urban Guerilla Warfare’ which become the new norm. In this type of warfare, the enemy made up of insurgent groups, terrorists, enemy troops, infiltrate cities and towns, and carry out quick attacks on government forces. Marques (2014) adds to this description and argues that the regular army is rendered ineffective since it cannot use heavy weapons, and it is forced to fight in the streets, man-to-man, in an unfamiliar terrain, where the enemy is often undistinguishable from the natives. In this street fighting, the government forces are rendered ineffective and they may suffer heavy casualties, often more than the enemy (Kilcullen, 2015). 

Johnson (2015) speaks of the difficulties that US forces faced during the Middle East wars. Heavy weapons, large scale munitions, high caliber explosives offered limited help. The Islamic terrorist knew the terrain better, had support of locals or coerced them to comply. The Islamic fighters used snipers very effectively, attacking from unexpected places and then disappeared in the city, and the US army was left without a clue.  Even a city like Mosul that was reduced to rubble offered advantages to the insurgent. Any bombing from US forces would further reduce the city to more rubble, increase the rebuilding costs, kill civilians, and create bad publicity for the army. More than 6,700 US soldiers died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (You, Zhang, Ma et al., 2018).

Criticizing the US military administration, Spencer (2017), writing for the Modern War Institute, links the high number of casualties to a flawed operational and training strategy and bad decisions. More war zones will look like Mosul, and it is essential that US soldiers are aware of the danger that fighting in cities poses. The current US Army principle of ‘Train as you fight’ needs to consider that if soldiers are not trained to fight in cities, US casualties will reach an unacceptable level. Urban warfare poses huge implications in the areas of intelligence gathering deploying vehicles and weapons, developing weapons and systems for close contact combat, target discrimination, and preparing for intense, bloody, close combat. The enemy has the advantage of closed and confined space, vertical and subterranean spaces, crumbling walls that can trap soldiers on either sides or barriers that prevent the use of image and IR recognition devices. 

Eilam (2016) discusses the Israel army strategy, which has seen greater success in urban warfare in the packed cities of Palestine and Israel. The author argues that training of soldiers closely matches the hostile terrain and environment of crowded cities. The Army has created schools where soldiers are trained to develop their mental and physical abilities to fight enemies that are settled in urban fortifications. Since US is an ally of Israel, transferring such training facilities to US war training colleges should be possible.


The literature review has brought up shortcomings in the operational strategy of the US Army, in failing to train soldiers in urban warfare. All these decades, US fought on open land, where it had superior weapons that provided a technical advantage. However, as seen in the recent Middle East wars, the battle zone has moved from open land to cities. The training given to the soldiers for urban warfare appears to be inadequate. Considering the success of Israel armed forces that fight in similar situation, it is imperative that the US Army should consider rethinking the operational strategy for urban warfare. It may be necessary to develop new weapons and munitions that are suitable for this type of fighting. When such changes are built into the operational strategy, chances of success and lesser casualties are higher.


The paper examined the need for US Army to consider urban warfare as a part of the operational strategy. War zones have shifted to cities where the army faces several changes such as a hidden enemy, unfamiliar terrain, hostile civilians, and other challenges. By providing training in urban warfare that reflects the hostile terrain of cities, the forces would have higher success with lower casualties. The recommendation is that the army should consider the strategy and training of Israel and other countries that are successful in fighting in cities, and develop appropriate training methods.

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  1. Acharya, A. (2014). US Military Strategy in the Gulf: Origins and Evolution under the Carter and Reagan Administrations. NY: Routledge.
  2. Eilam, E. (2016). The Struggle against Hizbullah and Hamas: Israel’s Next Hybrid War. Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, 10(2), 247-255.
  3. Felix, K. M. and Wong, F. D. (2015). The Case for Megacities. Parameters, 45(1), pp. 19-32.
  4. Johnson, D. E. (2015). Fighting the” Islamic State” the Case for US Ground Forces. Parameters, 45(1), pp. 7-15.
  5. Joes, A. J. (2007). Urban Guerrilla Warfare. Kentucky, US: University Press of Kentucky.
  6. Kilcullen, D. (2015). Out of the mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla. Oxford University Press.
  7. Marques, M. P. D. (2014). Guerrilla warfare tactics in urban environments. NY: Pickle Partners Publishing.
  8. Spencer, J. (2017). The Army needs an Urban Warfare School and it needs it soon. Retrieved from
  9. US Army. (2018). United States Army Organization. United States Army. Retrieved from
  10. You, X., Zhang, W., Ma, M., Deng, C., & Yang, J. (2018). Survey on Urban Warfare Augmented Reality. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information, 7(2), pp. 46-58.
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