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.

Read the Remainder at The Cipher Brief

Examining Terrorist Tactics: The Lethal Geography of Downtown Dallas

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Exploiting Urban Geography

The shooting of 14 people during a protest march, 12 of them police officers, is without question a terrorist-style assault on the police force of one of America’s largest cities.

Five Dallas cops, including a Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer, died from a gunman who declared he acted alone and wanted to kill police officers, white people and white police officers, Dallas Police Chief David Brown said. The ambush follows shootings of black men by police officers in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis.

Police said one male gunman, Micah X. Johnson, died inside a downtown community college building after cops sent in a robot, which blew up an attached explosive device. A female suspect who allegedly fired at officers was arrested overnight.

Dallas Police said at least two gunmen had fired at them from a “triangulated … elevated position.”

There is mixed information about key details. For one, it’s not clear if there were one or two shooters — or more — or if any shooter was actually on elevated ground. Two men arrested while driving away from downtown were uninvolved in the shootings, as was a man photographed while carrying a rifle during the march.

However, if the gunman or gunmen acted as snipers, they would have exploited a particular vulnerability of downtown Dallas’ urban geography.

More than 50 years ago, ex-Marine and Marxist gunman Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Pres. John F. Kennedy from a sniper’s perch — now Dallas’ most famous tourist attraction — at Dealey Plaza blocks from where Thursday’s gunmen unleashed his rampage.

This isn’t to force a comparison, but to stress that a sniper — if he was perched— would have been at an extreme advantage over anyone in the street. Dallas, like many so-called “Sunbelt cities,” has an urban area that is both built up and yet is relatively less dense than many other downtowns.

It’s also to note an aspect of America’s modern security culture that has resolutely failed. We can build subtle barriers against car bombs and stop terrorists from boarding airplanes, but we’ve done little to prevent people with high-powered rifles from striking down their fellow citizens.

Here is a digitally-altered photo from Google Earth showing the location of the attack:

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Read the Remainder at War is Boring