Increasing urbanization in a global setting of political and economic instability indicates that urban warfare may well be the major conflict scenario of the 21st century. The United States armed forces are not currently prepared to meet that challenge. The last major urban conflict involving the American military was the Battle of Hue during the Vietnam War. As part of the Tet Offensive in 1968, Communist forces seized control of Hue and held it for nearly a month.
Having undergone intensive tactical training for their mission, the enemy, solidly entrenched in buildings of various kinds, offered fierce resistance to the American and South Vietnamese troops who tried to reconquer the city. U.S. Marines bore the brunt of the fighting. Untrained and unequipped for street-fighting, they encountered immense difficulties in clearing Hue. Faulty intelligence, command and control problems, and a lack of proper equipment made the experience a nightmarish one and the human cost was considerable: 147 Marines and seventy-four soldiers lost their lives, while a combined total of 1,364 were wounded. Only through raw determination, superior firepower, and adaptive leadership were the Marines able to prevail.
The Battle of Hue offered critical lessons for subsequent military planners. Later conflicts in places such as Somalia and Afghanistan suggested that Hue might be more relevant than expected for contemporary warfare. As a result, the U.S. armed forces have made significant strides toward correcting deficiencies in the areas of doctrine, training, and equipment. However, they remain under-prepared for urban warfare because they are still not training as a joint and combined arms team across the full spectrum of operations. This is in large part due to continued shortfalls in training infrastructure and lack of equipment. U.S. armed forces must continue to maximize urban operations training at every level in order to validate doctrine, learn how to fight, and develop specialized equipment for urban operations.