Combat is bloody, materiel-driven, and chaotic—here, Marines engaged in Najaf, Iraq. The time has come for the Marine Corps to change the perception that the high-tech U.S. war machine fights at a disadvantage in urban areas. The focus must shift to urban warfare.
By 2020, 85% of the world's inhabitants will be crowded into coastal cities—cities generally lacking the infrastructure required to support their burgeoning populations. Under these conditions, long-simmering ethnic, nationalist, and economic tensions will explode and increase the potential of crises requiring U.S. intervention." 1 Likely U.S. enemies include a wide array of possibilities: al Qaeda terrorists; dictatorial strongmen; drug cartels; or perhaps tribal/ethnic strife leading to humanitarian crises. These potential adversaries realize that fighting high-tech U.S. forces in open terrain is suicidal, and thus enemies will tend to operate in cities and towns, attempting to use the urban terrain to neutralize U.S. technology. Therefore, it appears the most likely type of future conflict will be urban warfare.
Though Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom have dominated our nation's view of modern warfare, post-Vietnam conflicts have been characterized primarily by urban warfare. Of 26 conflicts fought over the past two decades, 21 have involved urban areas, and 10 have been exclusively urban. 2 The Corps' experience in Lebanon, Panama, Khafji, Somalia, Liberia, and the Balkans demonstrated the need to be able to conduct a wide array of operations in close terrain. The battles for Iraqi cities such as Nasiriyah, Najaf, and Fallujah show that high-intensity urban combat has changed little since the days of Stalingrad, Seoul, or Hué. As the global war on terrorism continues, it is increasingly necessary that the Corps adopt an institutional focus on fighting and winning in urban areas.
In light of our nation's future strategic requirements, the Marine Corps needs redefining. It should focus the majority of its effort on developing and disseminating urban warfare doctrine. While the Corps is studying future urban warfare, it has yet to accept fully that urban warfare is likely to be the Corps' primary role in the future. Despite a visionary warning from former Commandant General Charles Krulak concerning the "Three Block War," the Corps has done little to develop and advance an urban-warfare ethos and mind-set. 3