The Urbanization of Insurgency: The Potential Challenge to U.S. Army Operations

The likelihood of urban insurgency — irregular (i.e., guerilla or terrorist) warfare in cities — is increasing as the dual demographic trends of rapid population growth and urbanization continue to change the face of the developing world. Whereas cities once provided a relatively better standard of living for people migrating from the countryside, they are now overcrowded and overburdened. Generations are growing up in the slums that surround the capital cities of many of the world’s developing countries, and infrastructures are proving incapable of serving the massive urban populations. And the situation is getting worse. Moreover, insurgents are entering this ripe environment.

Unable to maintain operations among the dwindling rural populations, insurgents are following their followers into the cities. In countries as diverse as Peru and Turkey, insurgents are setting up “liberated zones” in urban shantytowns. Such zones, which are nearly impenetrable, afford the insurgents many of the same advantages they enjoyed in the jungles of the rural areas. Perhaps most important, urban insurgencies are frequently linked to broader insurgent movements in the countryside. Using terrorist tactics, urban insurgents tie up the government’s security forces in the cities, giving their brethren in the rural areas room to maneuver.

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