Urban Battle Command in the 21st Century

By Russell W. Glenn Gina Honing

Rand Corporation

Copyright © 2005 RAND Corporation
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8330-3742-8

Chapter One

Setting the Stage: The Urban Battle Command Environment

Americans have worked at war since the seventeenth century, to protect themselves from the Indians, to win their independence from George III, to make themselves one country, to win the whole of their continent, to extinguish autocracy and dictatorship in the world outside. It is not their favoured form of work. Left to themselves, Americans build, cultivate, bridge, dam, canalise, invent, teach, manufacture, think, write, lock themselves in struggle with the eternal challenges that man has chosen to confront, and with an intensity not known elsewhere on the globe. Bidden to make war their work, Americans shoulder the burden with intimidating purpose. There is, I have said, an American mystery, the nature of which I only begin to perceive. If I were obliged to define it, I would say it is the ethos of work as an end in itself. War is a form of work, and America makes war, however reluctantly, however unwillingly, in a particularly workmanlike way. John Keegan Fields of Battle, 1995

The job at hand in the dust-choked streets and smoke-filled air would demand the most of this American ethos. Courage, commitment, perseverance, delegation, patience, and leadership: all would be called on. And all would be answered. It was October 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia, during United Nations Operations Somalia II (UNOSOM II). Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), and other units were fighting to support and retrieve U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force personnel who had in turn sought to rescue comrades in downed aircraft. The Americans had no tanks or infantry fighting vehicles in the city. Previous efforts to reach the brutal fighting via High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) and trucks had resulted in confusion and casualties.

Mogadishu, October 3-4, 1993: A Tactical Leadership Vignette

Lieutenant Mark Hollis, a platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division relief force, had just received guidance on how the next phase of the operation would take place. Hollis thought the plan

was simple: Pakistani tanks would lead Malaysian [armored personnel carriers] carrying 2d Battalion soldiers. Company A would attack to break through to [Task Force] Ranger. The column began movement around 2145 hours, with the Pakistani T55 tanks in the lead.

But this was urban combat. Hollis, riding in one of those armored personnel carriers, found that navigating to the crash site

was impossible; every time I tried to look out, I was thrown in a different direction.

The vehicle began to pick up speed. We started going over curbs and obstacles in the road, which again threw us around. Unknown to me, at the same time the first vehicle, which held the 1st Squad leader, and my vehicle, the second, began pulling away from the rest of the column. The commander's placement of his HMMWV, the third vehicle in the march order, was the only thing that kept the rest of the Malaysians from following the runaway lead vehicles. This effectively separated me and my two lead squads from the rest of the company. We did not see the rest of the company again until the next morning.

At this time, I was totally disoriented and had not realized we were on our own. Being bounced around in an armored vehicle made it difficult to tell which way I was going, while the explosions outside made communication with the company commander virtually impossible....

Three men were injured; one of them took a round in the chest and died later in Germany when surgeons tried to remove the bullet....

The location from which I chose to command and control our vehicles' movement was unsatisfactory. I learned that I should avoid any location where my field of view is limited. If I had taken the assistant driver's position instead, I would have known immediately when my element broke contact with the rest of the company....

A platoon leader sent into a theater of operation needs to know and understand the equipment he may be using. I had never seen or heard of a German Condor [armored personnel carrier] until the day of execution. Finding out how to open the door to a vehicle 15 minutes before rolling out the gate is not the way to start a mission. A platoon leader needs to coordinate through his company commander to arrange a time when the allied forces can come over and teach his soldiers about their equipment. This is particularly significant at a time when operations with other United Nations forces are becoming more frequent.... How do we communicate with those who do not speak English in the midst of battle, with no interpreters available?

Mogadishu, October 3-4, 1993: An Operational Level Command Vignette

Communications failures, the inability to see, unfamiliarity with coalition member equipment and language, and an aggressive enemy thwarted Lieutenant Hollis's ability to control his force. The challenges confronting those senior in his chain of command differed in character but not consequence.

The first priority for LTC John Allison, a Joint Staff planner during operations in Somalia, was to try to understand "who the players were in the hierarchy, who reports to who from national strategic to tactical. Each country had their own reporting chain and interests." Some countries had a dual reporting structure, some were reporting through an alliance, and some forces were operating directly under national control. Some of the U.S. forces in Mogadishu were notionally commanded by the Turkish United Nations (UN) commandeer General Bir. The Deputy UN Commander was U.S. Army Lieutenant General Thomas Montgomery. Not unusual for the military forces of any nation assigned to a UN force, Montgomery also served as the Commander, U.S. Forces Somalia, a position in which he reported not to Bir but rather the Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, General Hoar. His title notwithstanding, Montgomery did not command all U.S. forces in Mogadishu, much less all of Somalia. The Quick Reaction Force (QRF) from the 10th Mountain Division, the organization he would have to rely on in a short-notice, high-threat situation, was under Montgomery's tactical control but not his operational control. In short, General Montgomery could influence how this important element of his force was used in specific situations but could not dictate how best to organize its forces or combine them with those from other organizations in the interest of mission accomplishment. That authority remained with General Hoar. Montgomery had neither tactical nor operational control over yet another significant U.S. military capability in Mogadishu: Task Force Ranger, consisting of Ranger Regiment, Delta, Task Force 160, and other special operations elements. MG William F. Garrison commanded TF Ranger and reported directly to General Hoar in Tampa.

That there was an imperfect response to the difficult situation of October 3-4, 1993 at higher as well as Lieutenant Hollis's echelon should therefore come as no surprise. Generals Hoar, Montgomery, and Garrison were further hampered by the political decision not to bring U.S. armor or mechanized forces into theater; the QRF had to rely on Pakistani and Malaysian coalition forces to extract the outnumbered Americans when the enemy's resistance proved too tough for trucks and HMMWVs. Those multinational forces did not answer directly to General Hoar, General Montgomery, or General Garrison. Instead, they were under the command of their own nations' military leaders in Karachi and Kuala Lumpur. George S. Patton once likened combat to an orchestra in which every instrument complements others to create an effective symphony of violence. The cacophony of armed forces in October 1993 Mogadishu answered to at least four conductors.

Command structure was only one part of the issue. Another part was the resultant control difficulties. Another was insufficient combined arms and multinational training. Another was the unavailability of U.S. armored and mechanized forces. Yet another was communications. And a very significant part was the success of enemy tactics. But a proper command structure that facilitates control and promotes well-conceived training is better able to identify shortfalls and develop solutions that much abet the defeat of even the most able of enemies.

The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet 525-4-0, The United States Army Objective Force Maneuver Sustainment Support Concept, describes how the challenges of urban operations compare with those in other environments. The list is incomplete, but it provides further substantiation that missions such as the one conducted in Mogadishu are among the most difficult of military undertakings. The TRADOC authors conclude that urban contingencies require

more [Public Affairs Officer] support ... more Civil Affairs (CA) activity ... more frequent reconstitution of forces.... Expect ammunition consumption to rise by a factor of at least three. Weapons maintenance will increase; maintenance goes to supported units, not evacuated; periods for soldier rest and recuperation are more frequent; expect high casualty rates; expect operations to be more time-consuming; expect infrastructure to be extremely vulnerable; and expect support for forcible entry operations. Medical and health services are critically stressed. Expect more injuries, disease, and psychological casualties. Expect terrorist acts.

Commanders conducting urban operations must expect all of these and more in the way of challenges. These leaders need to prepare their units for such demands before they deploy. The remainder of this report provides material that the authors trust will be of value in that regard.

Chapter Two

A Call for Moving Urban Command and Control Doctrine into the 21st Century

The teams and staffs through which the modern commander absorbs information and exercises his authority must be a beautifully interlocked, smooth-working mechanism. Ideally, the whole should be practically a single mind. General Dwight D. Eisenhower


Operations in Mogadishu provide a pertinent backdrop for a consideration of urban battle command. There was far more to these operations than just those two days in October 1993. Personnel from all four U.S. armed services and those of many other nations worked for many months to bring relief to starving Somalis, introduce stability, and deliver a cruel clan head to justice. Together the sequence of the several operations and actions shown in Figure 2.1 might have achieved the status of a campaign had there been sufficient coherency of political guidance and operational continuity to link them logically.

These months of U.S. and UN force commitment in Mogadishu made demands similar to what future commanders are sure to experience in urban areas worldwide. Americans had conducted and supported missions involving the gamut of support, stability, defensive, and offensive operations during their time in the Horn of Africa. While there were shortfalls with regard to the command of these enterprises, there was also much in the way of success. Cooperation between military forces and private volunteer organizations may not have been perfect. However, the United Nations Task Force's (UNITAF) establishment of a Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC) helped to ensure that both civilian and military efforts to aid Mogadishu's suffering were moving in the same general direction despite their not always sharing identical approaches or motivations. U.S. and multinational commanders developed liaison ties that were a significant element in reducing operational conflicts and misunderstandings. Progress beyond these basic levels of cooperation proved too difficult to attain in many circumstances. Various nations refused to allow their forces to support actions in the city of Mogadishu, restricting personnel to areas away from the capital. The situation was much like that in Bosnia, about which a commander commented that "every troop contributing nation had its own national command structure within the main UN staff, and each nation had its own political agenda as well as a chief of contingent who held the national red card." In this and many other regards, Mogadishu offers lessons that commanders are well advised to consider now rather than after they are committed to an urban area in a domestic or overseas theater. The following pages contemplate such challenges in the context of battle command. The discussion begins with a look at battle command and several related constructs designed to support a commander in analyzing, planning, and conducting operations. In several cases, joint and service doctrine have defined these concepts so narrowly as to keep them from meeting their full potential when applied to undertakings in modern cities. Recommendations for remedying these self-inflicted shortcomings follow their identification. Thereafter the study looks in turn at four functional areas inherent in battle command: (1) leadership and command, (2) control, (3) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), and (4) communications. The discussion takes into account how urban environments present challenges to each functional area and how a force might overcome those challenges. A general discussion of findings and recommendations concludes the document.

The primary focus of the pages to follow is on areas (1) and (2). ISR and communications are essential to successful battle command, but they are the supporting cast that facilitates command and control. The authors also do not wish to repeat material presented in previous RAND Corporation urban studies. ISR is touched on, albeit in a limited manner, in the 2003 Honing the Keys to the City: Refining the United States Marine Corps Reconnaissance Force for Urban Ground Operations. Similarly, communications difficulties and possible solutions are addressed in Freeing Mercury's Wings: Improving Tactical Communications in Cities. Readers desiring to delve into either topic more thoroughly are invited to refer to these efforts.

The focus of consideration is primarily near term: What needs to be done now to improve U.S. Army battle command capabilities? It is also urban-oriented, but many of the observations and recommendations apply equally to other environments no less than the world's villages, towns, and cities. With this last caveat, we turn to relevant current and emerging doctrine.

Flaws in the Foundation: Shortcomings in Doctrine

It is necessary to define the term "battle command" and discuss several related elements before asking how urban areas affect the exercise of urban battle command and what can be done to favorably influence that process.

Field Manual (FM) 3.0, Operations, defines battle command as "the exercise of command in operations against a hostile, thinking enemy." This, the definition that should underlie this study, has two principal elements. First, it is commander-focused. Such an emphasis is encouraging given the aforementioned problems of command during operations in Mogadishu. Second, battle command requires the existence of "a hostile, thinking enemy," something that should not surprise the reader given that there is a need to distinguish "battle command" from a generic concept of "command." Otherwise the term "command" alone would suffice.


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