Small Wars Journal

Westgate Mall Attacks: Urban Areas Battleground of the 21st Century

Sun, 09/29/2013 - 8:08pm

Westgate Mall Attacks: Urban Areas are the Battleground of the 21st Century by David Kilcullen, The Guardian.

Things aren't where we left them when we headed off into the mountains after 9/11. When the hangover clears, and the generation that fought in Afghanistan and Iraq comes home from these wars, we'll find that much of what we thought we understood has changed. The future (crowded, coastal, urban, connected) will be so different from Afghanistan (remote, landlocked, rural) that we'll have to reconsider much of what we think we know about 21st-century conflict.

Attacks like this week's siege in Nairobi reinforce what we've already seen in places like Mumbai and Karachi: that urban environments, including complex pieces of urban terrain like shopping centres, hotels and industrial facilities, are the battlegrounds of the future. And the urban siege, with its commando-style tactics and guerrilla infiltration of a big city's ebb and flow, is increasingly the tactic of choice for a wide range of adversaries...

Read on.



Wed, 10/02/2013 - 10:22pm

In reply to by stanas


You said "Add diminishing resources (law enforcement) at least in USA...". Where did you get that?

That seems to be the template, which is to kill as many innocent civilians as possible. Urban terrorism/warfare is here because this is where the most damage can be gotten and it seems to be working well! When the terrorists say they will cause heel on earth, their actions were not in vain
a. World Trade Center
b. 9/11
c. London
d. Kenya
e. Spain
f. Iraq (post invasion)!

Add diminishing resources (law enforcement) at least in USA and those running to privatize government resource for profit, and we have a marriage made in hell!


I would say yes if we were having to take back our own cities, but others I just don't see the need. IMO we should have pulverized Fallujah and popped em as they stuck their heads out of the rubble. And, for the most part I think COIN is a waste of time, but never say never.

I know, very simplistic.


Mon, 09/30/2013 - 3:34pm

In reply to by gute


If the bad guys take the city, isn't taking it back by force inevitable? They not only take the city, they control the inhabitants and all they produce. That gives the bad people control of very great wealth and resource. The only way to deprive them of that control is to take the city back. That will involve fighting.

You could avoid the fighting perhaps by isolating the city from the world thereby depriving the bad people of the power control of the city would otherwise give them, but that would be a siege of sorts I think. A siege would hurt a lot of innocent people. Fighting would hurt people too. You would have to weigh the cost/benefit of each approach but sieges prolong things and make for bad press, both of which would benefit the bad people more in my opinion.

I don't see how city fighting can be avoided.

I am at a loss as well. IMO this attack was a religious based terrorist attack. Unless Mr. Kilcullen is making the point that we (free nations) will have to go to terrorist safe havens and root em out.

My biggest issue with all of this is the belief or the need to engage in urban combat. The Battle for Seoul was probably necessary, but what about Hue and Fallujah? I don't know, maybe so because we were involved in a protracted conflict, but to be going around the world fighting non-state actors in costly urban battles - I'm not so sure. Many point to Mogadishu as a fight that was necessary, but was it? Maybe it has more to do with the way it was fought. Then again, sometimes we don't get choose when and where, but we should.

I'm really at a loss here to identify exactly what is new? I'm actually a fan of Kilcullen, but this article seems to miss the mark by a wide margin. We have been dealing with urban terrorism for decades, it is not new at all, and the urban terrain has always been complicated to operate in. Afghanistan is mostly rural, but we went there because they conducted a major attack in an urban center (NYC). Urban fighting will not replace fighting in rural areas which is far from over, the reality is we'll continue to fight in both urban and rural areas and I hope that doesn't mean we have to coin a new term like rurban or urbal to inform our doctrine, since we already fully grasp we'll be fighting in both rural and urban environments.

Algiers, Beirut, Baghdad, Dublin, Naples, Mogadishu, Chicago, Juarez, Bogota, and numerous other cities have or are currently dealing with urban sieges of terrorism and/or crime. Concurrently there are ongoing rural insurgencies that will continue for many more years in India, Burma, Philippines, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Columbia, Nigeria, Somalia, etc.

With the exception of terrorists being able to exploit information technology, what is Dave actually getting at?