Getting Ready for the Urban Battle
Twenty-four hours into the ground campaign, Israeli forces have split the Gaza Strip in half, surrounding its largest city, and setting the stage for definitive battles that will follow.
As the AP describes it:
On Sunday, Israeli soldiers fought primarily in open areas in the launching zones used by Gaza's militants to send rockets raining down on Israeli cities. As the troops in three brigade-size formations moved in, residents of those Israeli cities began cautiously emerging from bomb shelters in hopes that the rocket fire would taper off.
Backing up the troops, mobile artillery units fired shells that exploded in veils of white smoke over Gaza's urban skyline. Tanks pushed south of Gaza City as deep as the abandoned settlement of Netzarim, which Israel left along with other communities when it pulled out of Gaza in 2005.
That effectively cut off Gaza City, the territory's largest population center with some 400,000 residents, from the rest of Gaza to the south.
Senior Israeli military officials said Hamas fighters were attempting to draw IDF soldiers deeper into Gaza's urban neighborhoods. One terrorist spokesman claimed that Gaza would be "the graveyard" of the Israeli Army.
That's nothing more than propaganda--and even Hamas understands that. The Israeli operation that is now unfolding was planned with extraordinary care, minimizing casualties among military personnel and civilians.
If you want a template, consider our own, successful "clearing" of Fallujah in 2004. U.S. Marines, supported by Army elements, took the city in only six days, killing more than 1,000 terrorists and capturing 1,100 more. American casualties were surprisingly light for an urban battle; 51 killed and 425 wounded, in an attacking force of more than 15,000.
In a post-mortem for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jack Kelly explained why the Iraq operation wasn't a repeat of Grozny, the infamous 1994 battle where Chechen rebels wiped out a Russian brigade that rushed into the city, unprepared for an urban engagement:
Military analysts say the Americans in Fallujah avoided the fate of the Russians in Grozny by carefully gathering intelligence over the two months preceding the attack; by innovative use of new technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles; by being able to drop bombs and shoot artillery and even mortar shells with precision, and because of the superior training of American soldiers and Marines.
As Mr. Kelly notes, the Marine Corps began training for urban combat in the 1980s, and the Army followed suit in the decade that followed. The forces assigned to clear Fallujah were exceptionally well-prepared for the task, resulting in lower casualties for the assault force.
U.S. troops also foiled potential ambushes and traps by clearing routes through the urban terrain, using tanks and bulldozers. Instead of sending troops and armored vehicles through funnel and choke points, American forces demolished buildings and quickly cleared the rubble, creating their own routes.
And where did our forces learn that trick? From the Israelis, the same Army that is now setting the stage for the Gaza battle.