Eli5: Why is Urban warfare feared as the most difficult form of warfare for a military to conduct?


Eli5: Why is Urban warfare feared as the most difficult form of warfare for a military to conduct?

In: 1719

There are way more places to hide people, traps, and weapons. You have to search every room in every building on every street. Plus, there’s the constant danger of civilians being caught in crossfire or combatants disguising themselves as civilians. Much harder than facing another uniformed group on natural terrain.

Because it’s really hard and bloody at the best of times and that is only if you really don’t care about damage to the surrounding buildings and people in them. If you do… well that it’s all those things plus almost impossible.

Look, Urban centers are a nightmare offensively. You have many buildings, all of which could be anything from empty to filled with civilians to filled with enemies to literally just wired up with explosives waiting for your soldiers to walk in. Battles stop being “The Battle of Big Field” or “The Battle of Hill XYZ” they become “battle over that random factory” or “battle of steve’s mum’s house”. An endless string of battles over every single building, every street and probably even the freaking sewer system. A relentless, grinding conflict that can stretch out for years in some cases.

Plus let’s keep in mind that cities are *densely populated by civilians* who almost never leave totally. So on top of trying to do battle with your enemy you also have a bunch of random people who most militaries would prefer not to massacre but who end up getting killed en-masse because war is a messy business. Those civilians may just do their best to not get killed, but there is also plenty of examples of civilians joining the fight. It’s not at all unthinkable that a soldier could think they are safe after clearing a house and finding only women and children in there only for one of the women to plant a kitchen knife in their back. People don’t like invaders and most will take the opportunity if presented to strike back.

One of the most disadvantagous natural terrains a military can be in is a canyon or valley. You are surrounded on all sides by vantage points and can’t see beyond the canyon rim. Not only that but any attempt to push back an ambush would mean assaulting uphill at a massive disadvantage.

Urban centers are like sprawling artificial canyons. Essentially, any army wishing to take an urban area either needs to reduce it to rubble or go building to building and clear each one. The first choice has the potential for a massive amount of civilian death and the second one has a the potential for a massive amount of soldier’s dying.

Unknowns are angles and places you’re unable to clear. In an open field it’s easy to see all that is occurring. In a compound in a field it tough but more manageable. In home in a neighborhood every window, every door, behind every trash can, behind every sign and the list goes on. Inside a home is also tough for the same reasons, tons of Unknowns. Now add in that a skilled shooter will hit targets far but at close range even an unskilled shooter will hit shots on the target. Add civilians who some are armed makes it even worse. Also don’t forget the rebellious faction may dress as civilians. Also don’t forget ied (improvised explosive device). Also don’t forget trying to navigate city streets that have barricades. Also don’t forget the defending side has homefield advantage. The list really goes on and on and in an urban engagement the expected casualties are very high.

You’re extremely limited in options for advance and defense. Civilians are everywhere. The enemy can be anywhere. Taking tanks into cities is a very bad idea. The entire purpose of taking a city is to gain access to its resources. If you don’t want its resources, it’s easier to just take out the supply lines to and from the city. If you attack the city, you risk damaging your access to resources. Then there’s the insurgency to fight while holding the city.

Which is why the US spends so much on foreign aid. The civilians are more likely to be on your side if you have a history of feeding them.