Urban conflict: a recent object lesson

A few days ago, I published a post about urban self-defense and security.  In it, I noted that the author of a linked series of articles had gained experience in that field in Iraq, while mine had been in Africa, but that both of us – and most veterans of urban warfare – would agree that there’s a great deal in common about it, anywhere in the world.

Another urban conflict, not even two years ago, was the Battle of Marawi in the Philippines, in 2017.  Wikipedia describes it:

The Battle of Marawi … was a five-month-long armed conflict in Marawi, Lanao del Sur, that started on 23 May 2017, between Philippine government security forces and militants affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), including the Maute and Abu Sayyaf Salafi jihadist groups. The battle also became the longest urban battle in the modern history of the Philippines.

Obviously, full-blown urban warfare like the Battle of Marawi is unlikely to erupt in the USA, or any First World nation, under normal circumstances.  Nevertheless, even a lower-level conflict (including civil conflict between competing groups such as gangs, ethnic alliances, etc.) may produce at least some similar effects, and cause just as much disruption to those living nearby.  (See Selco’s book, that I recently reviewed, for another example of that.)

An excellent analysis of the fighting in Marawi was compiled for the Australian armed forces, who are obviously keeping a weather eye on developments in their back yard.  It’s well worth reading in full, to see how the Philippine armed forces succeeded in their task despite some real handicaps and shortcomings, and how they overcame the latter.  Here are some excerpts to whet your appetite.

The costs of the Battle of Marawi were high. Opinions on infrastructure damage vary but aerial imagery indicates that huge swathes of the city have been devastated by the fighting – the mass destruction flattening entire city blocks. The World Bank estimates it may take two decades to restore Marawi to its original condition. However, the true price of the battle is that paid by the people of Marawi and the lives of those fighting. 165 members of the AFoP were killed in action, with over 1,000 injured. Some reports indicate over 1,000 insurgents were killed in the siege, which also took the lives of 47 civilians. The fighting drove over 400, 000 people from their homes.

. . .

While the [Philippine armed forces] had access to enabling technologies and supporting arms such as indirect fire, close air support and armoured fighting vehicles, the battle was ultimately won by room-to-room, house-to-house fighting. No amount of firepower can substitute this intimate, discriminate, and precise application of force.

Combat shooting, battlefield fitness, small team [tactics, techniques and procedures] and battle craft are more important than any other skill, and must be prioritised. Above all else, the Australian Army must have the ability to deliver small combined arms teams to the fight who are capable of shooting faster and more accurately than their enemy out to 200 metres by day and by night; who can dominate and control complex spaces more rapidly and with fewer casualties; and who can operate seamlessly with other small teams or supporting elements in joint and coalition environments.

The Marawi experience suggests that such small teams, operating seamlessly alongside engineers, artillery and armour—as well as combat medics and military police—fighting as combined-arms sections, platoons, combat teams and battlegroups, are essential.

. . .

Medical planners should expect higher rates of casualties than usual when fighting in the urban environment. Furthermore, combat trauma management skills must be trained down to the individual level. Such skills save lives – and instil morale.

The battle also highlighted the sheer number of non-battle injuries in the urban environment, and the importance of using protective equipment such as helmets, ballistic eye protection, gloves and body armour. The true value of this equipment was found in protecting combatants from secondary fragmentation, falling debris, hitting their heads while moving, and preventing the cuts and scrapes which rapidly become infected in this environment.

There’s much more at the link.  Highly recommended and thought-provoking reading.

Do please note the emphasis on “Combat shooting, battlefield fitness, small team [tactics, techniques and procedures] and battle craft”.  These are basic elements of the soldier’s craft, and they should be basic for us as well, to the extent possible to civilians.  It’s not going to help to train with your weapons only on the “square range”, where you line up your shots slowly and carefully from a shooting bench, pull the trigger, stop to chat with your buddies for a while, then leisurely fire off another round.  No, snap shooting, rapid movement, and the pressure of knowing that someone out there is trying to “do unto you” what you’re trying to “do unto him”, will make the real deal something you really don’t want to experience!  (How do I know this?  Trust me.  I know this.)

That’s why, to cite just one example, the Rhodesian Army spent so much time training its recruits in combat reaction shooting – seeing targets only fleetingly and at odd angles, some partly or fully behind cover or concealment, requiring extremely fast reactions, rapid sight alignment and snap-shooting accuracy.  South Africa adopted similar methods (sometimes called “Jungle Walk” training).  I’m here to tell you, they were very effective.  For more details, see the sections “Fire and Movement” (p. 6) and “The Rhodesian Cover Shoot – ‘Kill’ the concealment, kill the terrorist” (p. 8) in the Adobe Acrobat document “Rhodesian Cover Shooting” at Small Wars Journal.  They’re very informative.  The Rhodesians operated in a bush warfare environment, of course;  but similar skills may (probably will) be needed (suitably adapted, of course) in cities, even if the situation doesn’t degenerate into full-blown urban warfare.  (Again, see Selco’s book.)

To give you an idea of just how bad urban warfare can become, a video was made by the Philippine Armed Forces about the Marawi fighting.  It was produced for publicity and propaganda purposes, but that doesn’t change the reality of what it portrays.  WARNING:  It doesn’t pull any punches.  You see civilians being brutally murdered by terrorists, actual combat footage, and other nastiness.  If you’re squeamish, DON’T WATCH IT!  If, despite that warning, you want to proceed, you’ll find the video here.  (I’m not going to embed it in a family-friendly blog, for obvious reasons.)

I haven’t forgotten my idea about writing a book of my own about surviving in a situation of societal breakdown and low-intensity unrest, which I mentioned earlier.  I’m going ahead with that project, and I’ll include a section on dealing with armed urban conflict.  It’s something I don’t want to face again . . . but given what some groups are up to in these United States (think Antifa, Black Lives Matter, etc.), that may be unavoidable.  Even law enforcement agencies are pulling back from some such conflicts, because their safety is being prejudiced by politically correct city administrations (for example, in Portland).  If law enforcement can’t or won’t be there to help you, you’re on your own . . . so you’d better think about how you’re going to cope, and prepare for it.



  1. Peter,

    Thank you for taking your time to share your experiences and insights into the things we may see in our future.

    I look forward to buying your work.


  2. You want to practice these sorts of TTP? Join a paintball or soft air sports league. Cheap at the price, and readily available. You can practice solo in your own back yard.

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