Small Wars Journal

Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla

Sun, 01/12/2014 - 1:58am

Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla by David Kilcullen, reviewed by Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs.

Kilcullen has a rare ability to combine serious theory with the insight of an experienced practitioner. He argues that most future conflicts will occur in cities, thanks to the extraordinary growth in urban populations and the interconnectedness wrought by new technologies, which will create novel opportunities for crime and political violence. Kilcullen brings his narrative to life by using contemporary examples, including the recent revolts in Libya and Syria and the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The density of contemporary cities makes it easier for gangsters and warlords to assert control and renders civilian populations highly vulnerable. Security forces can address such threats, but as Kilcullen notes, a lack of popular support can make intensive search-and-destroy measures counterproductive. Kilcullen’s book would have benefited from more historical perspective. States have long coped with the particular challenges of urban security. Modern Paris was designed, in part, to help the authorities maintain order, and in Warsaw during World War II, anti-Nazi Polish resisters learned that states or armies can suppress a popular urban uprising so long as they care little about preserving life or property…

Read on.


Foreign Policy criticized the book "Out of the Mountains" for lacking more historical perspective, but then their short review goes on and I do not see the examples they used prove their point.
I know I am not encouraged when there is an overemphasis on culturalism that ends in defending or seeming to defend tyrants and religious maniacs like the Taliban because western morality has been shelved for social secular values, that in the end aren't very much like values at all.
I do wonder about the climatology argument as it pertains to littoral megacities. If you are the elites of the megacities and population growth is so rapid and out of control what better place to dump those who have the most angst against the nation state than on the shore? If you believe the global warming paradigm they are occupying dead space anyways, we need only wait 20-50 years and let carbon emissions do their thing.
I also found his conflicted reminiscence on Mogadishu at best off. He saw the city through the prism of a contractor after the fighting, not through ring sites. The fact is TF Ranger and 10th MTN kicked ass. And they were not "beaten" by the city, they were hard pressed because President Clinton did not wish to put tanks and C-130 gunships in the region for political reasons. In fact the US forces put such a hurt on the city even Kilcullen admits that the mere threat of a return of forces on a greater scale was enough to force the release of the Hostage Durant. Kilculllen may be correct in his assessment of the "city" rising against the ranger force but draws the wrong conclusion about what the button was to push. He also does not assess the mission and the real concern Aidid's group was foremost in preventing food deliveries to hundreds of thousands of starving peoples.
This ties directly into the last aspect I wish Kilcullen would have addressed, or might still.
With megacity mega growth and an environment that is unfriendly to users, where does total annihilation rate on his assessment of nation state solutions?
Erdagon and the Turks are still in denial about the Armenian horror, the total annihilation of a people to redress problems arising in the aftermath of a war lost to Russia, the loss of 70% of its European population, and perhaps greed the Young Turks gathered nearly 1 billion in Reichmarks for the property's of the Armenians who were disposed of in "nothingness".
The German's debated if the annihilation of the Armenians was justified for the sake of national survival and the fact the Ottoman's were a key ally in WWI. But Hitler referred to the Armenians as Uber Jews. 1.8 million Armenians were disposed of in 3 ways, 1.4 were killed, and half of the remainder were either forcibly converted to Islam or fled.
The Armenians were accused of "stabbing" the Turks in the back, committing atrocities against the Turks, no proof exists to support that myth, they were "usurers" and the same sorts of antisemitic names the Germans later used to define Jews was used against the Armenians. There is no doubt the Armenian annihilation was a template resulting in the Holocaust. And the ayatollah in a video released by Newseek last year declares the Holocaust did not occur. " If Jews were killed it was incidental to the war not the obsession of the Nazis to eradicate the Jews to save the nation, confiscate property's and more room to breed Aryans.
Kilcullen does mention the Bosnian genocide but even that falls under the pall of old conflicts between Islamist supremacy and the alignment of the Muslims with the Nazis.
To ignore some of these hatreds still exists and still shape current policies is a big mistake. Genocide is still currency in some regions, Rwanda another recent example, Hussein and the Turks treatment of Kurds another and Hussein's conflict with the Swamp Arabs and the Shiite - Sunni conflict. Each has an element that is nearly genocidal but with some modicum of restraint.
Given the laundry list of crisis the world faces we ca hardly ignore the very real threats that may become more full blown when it is boiled down to "us or them".
I wish someone would write on that topic, global crisis and the growing possibility Holocaust and total annihilation will gain favor as a matter for national solutions.
The Palestinians are committed to that path now. They have yet to develop any plan to build a nation and Abbas himself can not travel safely in West Bank refugee camps, they have put their faith in Allah and annihilating the Jews, by rewriting the Borders which is a religious boundary that would exclude Jews and Christians from Holy places or limit them in the case of Christians. And by Right of Return (About 30,000 Palestinians would actually be "returning") destroy the Israeli state from within. When Nasser threatened to annihilate the Jews before the June 1967 War, he promised to undo the disgrace of 1956 and then the disgrace of 1948. for the preceding 20 years Islamic nations had been ridding themselves of Jews at as great a rate of refugees as the Palestinians had become. Nasser's overconfidence lead to his defeat, but has no one ever thought that having dispelled most of the Muslim worlds Jews and having located them all in Israel Nasser's threats of annihilation were vain? Or any less true then than today when the Ayatollah's staff makes pronouncements that in 10 years they will have a nuclear weapon and in 11 Israel will cease to exist?
Whether you are a bigot or not the question is how much more real will threats of 'final solutions" for nation states become when the world runs out of room for people?

The other aspect I think Kilcullen loses sight of is the whole issue of technology enabling "swarming" of independent militias. Certainly he lays the case for the new mediums in technology to enable more fighters to respond more quickly to an event. However this is hardly unprecedented. In our own American Revolution, the British were defeated at Saratoga, a decisive battle by "swarms" of militia. After the circulation of the story a young woman had been heinously murdered by a group of British allies, or "savages" , within two weeks over 20,000 militias responded, first opposing and defeating the Hessians sent to forage and then at Saratoga itself.
Kilculllen emphasizes only the effects of a medium but it did not create or lead to the formalization of "swarms". From weeks to hours.
I would also question the attempt to somehow make the swarms that responded in the Arab Spring as detached from Mosques, or incited by Islamic extremism. The key note event of the Arab Spring in Egypt followed one week after affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood set off a bomb in a Coptic Church. That one bomb killed over 50 Coptics, over a hundred maimed or wounded, nearly half the total of Arab Spring casualties during their uprising. Mubarak's government responded with a mass arrest of Muslim Brotherhood activists. One of the first objectives of the Egyptian Spring was the release of over 3,000 Muslim Brotherhood terrorists and suspects. Coincidence? I think not. But barely reported by the author or editors of fake news narratives. Who did the White House Aids blame for Benghazi's 13 hours? After they couldn't make it stick to a Jewish extremist? A Coptic.
How long did it take before the full extent of Morsi's membership in the Muslim Brotherhood was reported in the USA, it was only released incrementally in many publications he was a friend of Muslim Brotherhood members or associated with them, as many Muslims do, and then upgraded in time to full membership and even leadership in the designated terrorist group.
Bad reporting? or Malevolent obfuscation?


Tue, 01/14/2014 - 1:29pm

By and large I echo Robert C. Jones' comment below.

I do think the one piece of original thought in this book is the one on feral cities. Though I don't think it is original in the sense of new insight into a newly defined problems, I do think it does a service in challenging an outdated (and never truly accurate) view that a city is under the control of the nominal sovereign at all times. Although his description of cities reacting like organisms may be a little misleading, the idea that a city is an entity is a promising approach to our planning.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 01/13/2014 - 2:25pm

Correct me if I am wrong, but if one looks historically at UW/guerrilla/insurgency events---have not they all had a rural and an urban/city component or urban/city first then rural?

Even Mao pushed to control cities, Ho had his VM/VC urban/city units and Che/Castro had urban/city elements (as they worked they way out of the rural areas). Even AQ uses cities when available---so much easier to work in than rural areas---harder on the counter insurgent.

In the case of say European terrorism ie Baader/Meinhof/RAF, RBs, 2 Jun---they all existed in cities.

Seems to be a move to cash in on the globalization wave.

It may help to understand "Out of the Mountains" from the following perspective:

In order to continue to exist and thrive, the more market-oriented and more market-dependent states and societies of the world believe that they must make the land areas of the world more safe, compatible, "open" and pliable to international trade and commerce.

Herein, the large cities and mega cities of the world are seen as the centers of -- or potential centers of -- international commerce and trade.

Much as the more market-oriented/market-dependent states and societies understand that their future depends on the successful transformation (for commercial purposes) of outlying states and societies -- and especially their larger cities and mega cities -- likewise do our enemies understand this fact.

Thus, and is illustrated by the attacks on the World Trade Center in the recent past (notably in THE mega city and THE center of international commerce and trade), one must expect that our current and future enemies (those who choose not to have their way of life and way of governance altered or destroyed so as to better provide for and benefit from the global economy) will gravitate to the large cities and mega cities for their disruptive and destructive purposes.

These are, after all, and from the perspective offered above, to be seen as the "center of gravity" re: this conflict?

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 01/12/2014 - 10:04am

There are many smart and senior people jumping on this bandwagon, so I try to remain open minded.

But so far I must confess I think this concept is much like the Seinfeld Show - A very entertaining, lucrative, book about nothing.