Civilian Operator 101: Preparing for the Urban Future of Counterinsurgency


Bottom Line: Conflict follows humanity wherever it goes, and the world’s population is increasingly living in cities. Waning are the days of the Maoist blueprint of rural insurgents pillaging small peripheral villages and seeking refuge in the hard terrain of mountainous caverns, dense forests or expansive deserts. Soon terrorist and insurgent groups will mount operations from crowded slums and ritzy skyscrapers – not just in a dense urban landscape, but in coastal megacities that pose a unique challenge for which the U.S. military largely remains unprepared.

Background: The United Nations estimated in 2016 that some 55 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, which will grow to 60 percent by 2030. There are 512 cities of at least one million inhabitants around the world, and this too is expected to grow to 662 cities by 2030. Over the same time period, the number of megacities – or overlapping urban landscapes home to at least 10 million residents – is expected to grow from 31 to 41. Many of these are emerging in the developing world, which will soon be economic, political, and cultural centers of gravity in the international political order.

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