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IDF builds fake Muslim city to prepare for war
Shelly Paz, The Jerusalem Post
22 January 2007
The IDF unveiled an Urban Warfare Training Center (UTC) on Monday in a mock city that simulates an Arab town, four months after the second Lebanon war ended.
The unit's commanders firmly stated that the city was planned eight years ago and that construction began a year ago. They added that the current pace of the training was two battalions each week.
Newly built IDF facility near Tze'elim,
built especially for urban warfare training
The mock city is located in the southern Tze'elim military base. From a distance, it looks like any Arab urban center.
Around 500 structures were built for a maximum capacity of 5,000 residents. "Just like in every real city we built mosques, a Casba and even a refugee camp," said Lt.-Col Arik Moreh, the second in command of the Tactical Training City (TTC), part of the UTC, following a large urban warfare training exercise Monday morning.
Arab music was played in the background throughout the entire exercise, to get everyone in the mood.
In the center some of the houses' walls have holes, an imitation of those soldiers leave behind after breaking into houses and taking them over.
"This place was built as close as possible to reality. The density of the houses, the stores, a central plaza," said Moreh, adding that the exercise included mainly cadets from a commanders' course.
During the exercise, 350 soldiers were spread out in the fake town, some playing the role of civilians while a few women, dressed in American uniforms and armed with laser target rifles, acted as Hizbullah fighters.
"This is a routine breaker," said two of the women following a short demonstration in which soldiers broke into a house - successfully, of course.
"Usually we are Hummer operators but this exercise is fun because you have a chance to shoot these laser rifles," the girls explained.
"The main difficulty of such urban combat is to keep track of the location of each and every soldier, because as soon as the forces get into a town like this, they disappear in the houses and become invisible," said Moreh.
According to the IDF, the city's structures were influenced by many Arab cities, but mostly by Ramallah.
Every house is equipped with surveillance cameras which start filming as soon as the forces step inside, for debriefing purposes.
All field units will be trained in the UTC, including the Air Force, the special canine unit, DCO officials and even media representatives.
Brig.-Gen. Uzi Moskovich, the head of the Ground Training Center (GTC), said that the facility "is the largest one of its kind in the world" and stretches over 20 sq.km.
"In addition, the resemblance to a real urban center helps us prepare our forces better," he added.
"Most important are the debriefing capabilities the UTC is equipped with. This way we can reach the best conclusions."
Parts of the UTC are still under construction and will open in July 2007. Both regular and reserve units will train there and practice possible scenarios of urban fighting, from kidnappings to various terror activities and ambushes.
"Lessons will be learned together with all the participating units. We know that training is a process we will have to work on gradually," said Moskovich, adding that in the future, the IDF will host foreign armies.
"This kind of massive training in an environment that simulates a real fighting situation is one of the conclusions from the last war," said Moskovich.
According to Moskovich, there is no problem of demoralization among the soldiers. "The collective mood is that we made some mistakes which have to be taken into consideration, but all in all, the atmosphere is good," he said.
However, two paratroopers who, as reservists, took part in the exercise said the problem during the Lebanon war was the conduct of the political echelon.
"There is no forecast for another war soon, but the area we live in is not stable and the IDF has to be ready as soon as possible," concluded Moskovich.
After the photogenic simulation for the visiting journalists, First Lieutenant Effi said that a major differences between the UTC and a real combat situation is the live ammunition.
He added that "the fear factor is missing because this is only a simulation. But it helps improve our abilities. This is a more accurate tool for us and we hope we'll do better" in the next war.
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