While the humanitarian consequences of urban fighting are all too visible in recent examples such as Gaza, Aleppo, Marawi and Mosul, the prevalence of wars in cities is likely to continue to increase as populations become increasingly concentrated. in urban areas.
We know that urban warfare kills, injures and displaces far more civilians – and destroys more civilian infrastructure and essential services – than any other combat in open areas. In addition, we often see how, after fighting, explosive remnants of war or unexploded ordnance delay reconstruction and prolong or even prevent the return of displaced persons. As the physical world collapses violently before the eyes of families living in urban warfare, the emotional and mental costs are very real. The intensity and proximity of urban warfare to civilian life can cause lasting psychological damage to survivors.
With the aim of reducing the damage and suffering of civilians, and in order to help commanders and their military subordinates to identify means to do so, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has produced the following commander’s guide .
This manual guides us through the main applicable frameworks of international humanitarian law (IHL) in urban settings and brings together recommendations for commanders around topics such as:
Doctrine of urban warfare, emphasizing the protection of civilians as a key element of urban operations, while weighing alongside mission achievements and the protection of forces within the limits of the law of armed conflict (LOAC);
Specific and realistic urban war training prior to operations, including the emphasis on the practical application of LOAC by subordinate commanders;
Planning of urban operations which considers the human terrain and infrastructure in detail, not only as they could impact the battle, but also in terms of the impact of the fighting on them – including prioritizing options to avoid and / or mitigate damage to them. civilians;
Conduct while still operating within the framework of LOAC obligations, which means that commanders must prioritize means and methods that avoid and, if this is not possible, first mitigate damage to civilians;
Finally, the manual also discusses partnership operations, and appendices to help plan evacuations and screenings for people leaving an urban area.
The timing of publication of the manual also coincides with the High-level workshop on international rules governing military operations (SWIRMO) in late October / early November, which was a hybrid event held in Geneva this year, in which over 300 senior officers from 90 countries participated.