On Urban Guerillas


Sunday, October 27, 2013
Review – Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla
Posted by Chris Rawley

David Kilcullen’s new book, Out of the Mountains, is based on the premise that demographic trends and the democratization of technology will force many, if not most, future wars into highly connected, densely populated, littoral areas. And whether or not Western militaries currently have any intention of fighting in those sorts of conflicts, history demonstrates we will. Efforts that begin as humanitarian assistance or noncombatant evacuation may overlap areas of complex urban conflict. Even during state-on-state wars, irregular operations in urban terrain will feature prominently. These conflicts, regardless of the form they take, will share several characteristics.

Through a series of vignettes that include Somalia, the Mumbai attacks, and the Arab Awakening, the author shows how urban-littoralized battles are occurring in increasing frequency and involve not just local, but international actors. Whereas I provided a Reader’s Digest version of the new phenomenon of networked urban “flash” insurgencies in UW 2.0, Kilcullen lays out in significant detail how soccer hooligans, social media, and online activists became the action arms in the revolutions that rapidly toppled Arab governments earlier in the decade, and how these same types of actors will impact future urban conflict.

Rather than a static terrain feature, Kilcullen sees urban areas as organisms, with people, goods, money, etc. flowing through that system at various rates similar to the way a metabolism regulates the flows of nutrients through a living being. In keeping with the biological analogy, terms such as infestation and parasite illustrate how transnational criminal networks or occupying militaries might respectively interact with and change a city. Examination of this same model from the perspective of licit and illicit maritime traffic flowing through ports and densely populated coastal regions might be a useful research subject.

There is value in this book for a range of audiences; urban planners, diplomats, NGOs involved in conflict resolution, Marines, and special operators can all take away something from Kilcullen’s field research and analysis. For naval observers, the appendix, in which the author discusses some capabilities required by military forces operating in and around networked urban environments, might be the most interesting part of the book. Kilcullen questions some of the assumptions behind current Naval/Marine Corps doctrine including the ability to bypass urban areas with vertical lift and the validity of sea-basing, although he notes that expeditionary logistics are as important as ever.
He stresses the need for new tactical organizational constructs and that properly selected, trained, and trusted junior officers and NCOs will be paramount in these conflicts. “In a coastal urban setting, the complexity of the environment will demand this level of trust right from the outset.”

Leave a Reply