The unique challenges posed by urban warfare can be extremely difficult to train for in a realistic way. American military installations that lend themselves to dynamic training tend to be set in expansive stretches of open territory, allowing for all sorts of live fire and simulated training events without worrying about the effect these drills may have on nearby civilian populations. The problem is, modern warfare doesn’t always take place in open fields, and among the only ways to develop real technical competency when it comes to urban combat operations is to train in urban environments.
Residents of Raleigh, North Carolina, witnessed just such a training event recently, when members of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command conducted a raid on the vacant Capital Plaza Hotel. It upset nearby residents, many of whom were initially unsure if what they were seeing was a real combat operation or an exercise.
Gates locked up once again at the old Capital Plaza Hotel after an overnight military exercise. Folks in nearby Brentwood neighborhood of Raleigh are annoyed, says “it was full on war games.” #ABC11 pic.twitter.com/xi3o6FrbzZ
— Elaina Athans (@AthansABC11) March 29, 2019
“The exercise turned out to be louder and more disruptive to the nearby neighborhood than the city anticipated,” City Manager Ruffin Hall said in a prepared statement approved by the Raleigh City Council. “Upon review and lessons learned, I would not approve an exercise of this scale and disruption adjacent to a neighborhood in the future.”
Notifying the public about these training events is a difficult predicament for the U.S. military that hopes to achieve a realistic parallel to how a real operation would unfold. If the notification approach is too effective, it can result in crowds gathering around the training site hoping to watch the spectacle. This is not only counter-productive for the concept of the training, it potentially puts civilians at risk (as there is an inherent risk to any and all military training). However, if notifications aren’t effective enough, public outcry from concerned citizens can also become quite troublesome.
“One of the neighbor’s daughters is eight months pregnant with her first pregnancy, and she was having trouble breathing. We were afraid she was going to go into premature labor,” said a woman who identified herself only as Dana to local news outlet WRAL-TV. “One of the neighbors had his guns out. It was crazy.”
The raid, which was conducted sometime between midnight and 2 a.m., included special operations helicopters flying low throughout the area for insertion and extraction of special operators, as well as simulated gunfire and a number of loud bangs reported by local residents that were likely flash-bangs or other types of explosives used for breaching. The overall size of the drill, it seems, proved to be the issue and as a result, the Army’s Special Operations Command has issued a statement saying that drills of that scale will not be conducted again in buildings located so close to the city’s occupied neighborhoods.
“U.S. Army Special Operations Command is grateful for the support we receive from multiple community leaders around the United States in order to routinely conduct training in a variety of urban settings,” Lt. Col. Loren Bymer said on behalf of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command. “These types of training events are necessary to maintain the readiness for the Army Special Operations soldiers.”
Feature image: MH-60 Black Hawk and MH-47 Chinook helicopters with the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Fort Campbell, Kentucky. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)