Urban Warfare Poses Most Dangerous Scenario

ByABC News via GMA logo
March 20, 2003, 9:44 PM

March 21 -- If rooting out Saddam requires urban combat in Baghdad, U.S. soldiers could face Iraqi snipers, ambush and even biological or chemical weapon traps lurking around every corner.

When it comes to urban combat, the U.S. military is haunted by memories of Mogadishu, Somalia, where a horrific 1993 battle that began with the crash of two Blackhawk helicopters in hostile territory left 18 American soldiers dead. The military disaster, which inspired the movie Black Hawk Down, also created a lingering distaste for urban combat.

"No prudent, experienced military commander looks at fighting in the built-up areas as anything but the worst of possible choices," said former Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold.

In Iraq, urban warfare would almost certainly mean face-to-face combat with Saddam's Revolutionary Guard on the narrow streets of Baghdad.

"The advantages that accrue to a defender in a city are that he fights from terrain that is very favorable," Newbold said. "That means buildings which offer him a high degree of protection from our precision munitions, from detection by our intelligence means and from fires by our ground forces."

But in the months before military action started, American soldiers have gone through intense, hand-to-hand urban combat training. Instead of following formulaic battle plans, soldiers are taught how to go into enemy territory with only one certainty: they won't know what is coming at them.

Worst-Case Scenarios

At Ft. Polk in Louisiana, soldiers undergo specialized urban combat training at the U.S. Army's Joint Readiness Training Center.

"We always train worst-case scenarios," said Army Staff Sgt. Rene Martinez. "It's a rude awakening sometimes, but it's a good awakening because the more they train on it, the better they get on it and they'll come back from a real-world deployment alive instead of in a bag."

Soldiers in the 509th Airborne Infantry based at Fort Polk are trained to think like the enemy. Then, 10 times a year, the soldiers put visiting units to the test in a plywood and cinderblock "city" called Shughart-Gordon. It is a $59 million facility named after two Delta Force soldiers who were awarded the Medal of Honor after they died protecting a downed pilot during urban combat in Somalia.