After more than a decade and two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan later, much of what we thought we knew about fighting terrorism and insurgencies has turned on its head. The attacks in Paris confirm what we’ve already seen in places like Mumbai and Nairobi: that the battleground is shifting away from rural, more isolated areas (like the caves of Afghanistan) to more densely populated urban centers. The city is the battleground of choice for terrorists in the 21st century. And the urban siege, the method of using multiple coordinated attacks executed simultaneously is the enemy’s tactic of choice.
No doubt, terrorists have targeted urban centers since the 1960’s, but those attacks focused more on sensationalism and generating attention rather than the body count. The attacks were more limited in size and scope as well.
The Origins of the Urban Siege – Mumbai
The 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, became the template for the style of urban assault we saw in Paris. In November of that year, members of a militant Islamic group fanned out across the city to conduct a series of 12 coordinated attacks lasting 4 days. When the smoke cleared, ten terrorists with small arms and explosives managed to kill 173 people and injure over 300 more.
The Mumbai attack became the standard that other terrorists used when planning their urban assaults. Starting in 2009, South Asia saw a string of similar attacks, which then spread outside the region culminating in the Westgate attack in Nairobi during 2013.
Paris: Urban Siege Perfected
The lessons of South Asia and Africa gave the jihadists a virtual laborartory by which to watch, observe and experiment before bringing their tactical and operational innovations to bear in France. And look at the results. In one night, jihadists precipitated the worst attack on French soil since World War II, leaving 130 dead and another 350 injured. The fact that the jihadists hit a Western nation with the lethality to rival that of the Mumbai attack, all the while operating with fewer attackers on a shorter timeline is truly disconcerting.
"The city is the battleground of choice for terrorists in the 21st Century."
Security Lessons for Law Enforcement
Lessons for the Private Citizen
If you find yourself in the crosshairs on an attack, these 3 items may save your life:
Alea Iacta Est
The term "urban siege" first appeared in an article entitled “Postcard from Mumbai: Modern Urban Siege,” Small Wars Journal, 16 February 2009, and “Preventing Another Mumbai: Building a Police Operational Art,” 15 June 2009.
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