I'm not surprised to read the views on urban warfare of the head of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.
Future wars will be more Stalingrad than Star Wars, a US General has said as he warns against a relentless focus on technology.
General Stephen Townsend, the head of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, told British military leaders at the annual Kermit Roosevelt lecture in London, that combat in an increasingly urbanised world will result in a “scale of devastation beyond our comprehension”.
“The future operational environment will be more lethal and on a scale not seen in decades,” he said, as he warned military chiefs that advanced weapons will be of little use in built up areas devastated by fighting.
Modern armies have no idea how to fight in these “hyper populated [and] literally unboundable” areas, Gen Townsend told the audience ... In the battle to liberate Mosul from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), he had had to ask coalition partners if any army still used flamethrowers, as 'bunker buster' bombs had proved useless against fighters dug in amongst destroyed buildings.
. . .
General Townsend ... likened the fight to liberate Mosul to Stalingrad, the bloodiest battle of the Second World War.
A coalition force of 90,000 soldiers took nine months to finally defeat the 5,000 Isil fighters in Mosul. It took seven days to clear the last pockets of resistance, contained in an area about the size of a premier league football pitch.
Gen Townsend said that buildings taller than about four storeys would just collapse under aerial bombs with the basements and ground floors - where Isil fighters were hiding - largely intact. Subsequent bunker busters just made the ruined structure shake a bit and absorb the blast. He needed a way of killing every last Isil insurgent as they were determined to fight to the death and cause as many casualties as possible.
Eventually the Iraqi army deployed a specially designed armoured bulldozer to bury alive the remaining Isil fighters. Soldiers patrolling behind the bulldozer were used to kill any Isil suicide bombers that ran out to stop the vehicle.
It was a low-tech and brutal form of war. Gen Townsend questioned whether Western armies had maintained the skills and the stomach for such a fight. "Battles are won by young soldiers fighting in sand, mud, heat and cold," he said. Hi-tech weapons are largely useless in such battles, Gen Townsend cautioned.
There's more at the link.
My military experience is decades old, and didn't involve such intensive urban combat as Mosul. Nevertheless, I had some interesting times in towns in African nations, and extensive exposure to urban unrest in South Africa during the 1980's. Lower-key though those situations were, they were enough to convince me that the worst possible place to have to fight for your life was in an urban environment, where you couldn't see an opponent behind walls or rubble, and where every step exposed you to new angles of fire from potential enemy positions that you could neither see clearly nor control. I'm sure every serviceman who saw urban combat in Iraqi cities (see, for example, the First and Second Battles of Fallujah, or the 2003 or 2008 Battles of Basra), or any Russian serviceman who found himself in the 1994/95, 1996 or 1999 Battles of Grozny, or anyone trapped in the urban warfare in Syria over the past few years (see the video "lessons" here), will be able to confirm that from their own experiences.
I agree with General Townsend on the drawbacks of high technology in such a combat environment, but with a caveat. A new generation of tiny unmanned vehicles, both terrestrial and airborne, may lend a new dimension to urban warfare. When individual soldiers or fire teams can deploy miniaturized drones to peer around corners, over walls and within buildings, to give them advance warning of dangers ahead, that may allow them to develop tactics that will be more effective and give them a better chance of survival. (Of course, if and when both sides deploy the same technology, the stalemate will return. The next step will be jammers to stop the enemy using his drones, but allow you to use yours. The enemy will then counter that, and it's back to the same old, same old . . .)
We may see a return to siege warfare of a sort. An attacking force may refuse to enter an urban area, because of the difficulties and costs involved in fighting there. Instead, it may seal off the area, preventing ingress or egress, and try to "starve out" those living there. If the defenders are terrorists rather than conventional troops, they may, in turn, try to use the inhabitants as "human shields", forcing them to provide cover from incoming fire, get food and water for the combatants, etc. Armed forces with moral or ethical standards will try to avoid inflicting casualties on the "shields". Those without, will not. Either way, the "shields" are unlikely to enjoy the experience.