Every Room Is a New Battle

The Lessons of Modern Urban Warfare

Published in: Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, v. 20, no. 4, Oct.-Dec. 1997, p. 371-394

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1996

by William Rosenau

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The world is urbanizing rapidly, yet Western military forces have yet to come to terms with the peculiar demands of urban warfare. The harsh urban environment, particularly in the developing world, is an ideal arena for asymmetrical adversaries seeking to neutralize the technological, logistical, and organizational advantages currently enjoyed by modern military forces. After examining some of the security implications of urbanization, this article explores three recent representative examples of urban warfare: Beirut (1982), Mogadishu (1993), and Grozny (1994-1995). In each case study, the organization, equipment, and training of the forces involved are examined, and conclusions are drawn about what types of military systems, munitions, and force structure were effective, and why. The final section of the article draws together lessons from these case studies and from other accounts of urban battles in an effort to understand what is needed to improve military performance in this environment. The author concludes that greater effectiveness will require changes in organization and equipment; more important, it will also require a change in a military organizational culture that has largely ignored the challenge of fighting an asymmetrical adversary on urban terrain.

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