Urban Warfare Project

In the future, I can say with very high degrees of confidence, the American Army is probably going to be fighting in urban areas. We need to man, organize, train and equip the force for operations in urban areas, highly dense urban areas, and that’s a different construct. We’re not organized like that right now.

– Gen. Mark A. Milley, Chief of Staff of the Army

Understanding Global Cities

Understanding Global Cities

In this episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project podcast, John Spencer is joined by Dr. Saskia Sassen. She is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and member of its Committee on Global Thought, which she chaired until 2015. She is the author...

Attacking the City of Dara Lam

Attacking the City of Dara Lam

In a previous episode of the Urban Warfare Project Podcast, host John Spencer spoke to three guests from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California about the urban operations training units undergo during rotations there. This episode features a...

A Talk With The US Army’s Underground Warfare Expert

A Talk With The US Army’s Underground Warfare Expert

In this episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project Podcast, John Spencer is joined by retired Sgt. Maj. Joe Vega. He works for the US Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group and is one of the most knowledgeable and experienced experts in underground warfare. He has been working...

A Senior Enlisted Perspective on Combat in Megacities

A Senior Enlisted Perspective on Combat in Megacities

In this episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project Podcast, John Spencer is joined by Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Hendrex. When the conversation was recorded, he was serving as command sergeant major of the 3rd Infantry Division. He has since become command sergeant major of...

Attacking the City of Razish

Attacking the City of Razish

In this episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project Podcast, John Spencer is joined by three guests. Col. Michael Simmering is the commander of the Operations Group at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California. Lt. Col. Andrew Steadman, the senior...

Fighting ISIS in the City

Fighting ISIS in the City

In this episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project Podcast, John Spencer is joined by Maj. Gen. Roger Noble. An officer in the Australian Army, in 2016 he served as the deputy commanding general of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command – Operation Inherent...

Is Urban Combat the Great Equalizer?

Is Urban Combat the Great Equalizer?

In this episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project podcast, John Spencer is joined by Col. Douglas Winton, chair of the Department of Military Strategy, Planning, and Operations at the US Army War College. In their conversation, Col. Winton discusses the topic of his PhD...

Feral Cities, Pandemics, and the Military

Feral Cities, Pandemics, and the Military

In this episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project podcast, John Spencer is joined by Dr. Richard Norton. He is a professor of national security affairs at the US Naval War College and a retired US Navy commander. While in the Navy, he served extensively at sea on...

When War Goes Underground

When War Goes Underground

This episode of the Urban Warfare Project podcast is unique—mostly because it isn't specifically about urban warfare. In fact, the episode's guest, retired Sgt. 1st Class William Rothrock, shares three stories from his deployments to Afghanistan, and all of them...

Preparing the Military for the Complexity of Megacities

Preparing the Military for the Complexity of Megacities

In this episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project podcast, John Spencer is joined by retired Col. Patrick Mahaney. He is the cofounder and director of the National Center for Urban Operations. A career Special Forces officer, he retired from the US Army after thirty-two...

The Battle of Sadr City, March–May 2008

The Battle of Sadr City, March–May 2008

In the fourth episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project podcast, John Spencer is joined by retired Lt. Col. Rob MacMillan. In 2008, Lt. Col. MacMillan was serving as the battalion operations officer of 1-68 Armor in 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. The...

The City Is Not Neutral: Why Urban Warfare Is So Hard

The City Is Not Neutral: Why Urban Warfare Is So Hard

“Contrary to what is often supposed, urban warfare is not more difficult than other types of warfare.” That’s what a recent article published in the Texas National Security Review argues. The authors believe, in fact, that urban environments are “neutral,” not to be...

Protecting Civilians in Urban Combat

Protecting Civilians in Urban Combat

In the third episode of MWI’s new Urban Warfare Project podcast, John Spencer is joined by Sahr Muhammedally. She works at the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), a nongovernmental organization that seeks to convince parties to armed conflicts to recognize the...

Gangs of Baghdad

Gangs of Baghdad

I passed a checkpoint manned by a group of young men armed with assault rifles. But they weren’t like the Iraqi soldiers at other checkpoints. They didn’t really wear uniforms, their bearing was distinctly un-military, and they looked mean. These guys are shady, I...

Army Doctrine and the Urban Battlefield

Army Doctrine and the Urban Battlefield

In the second episode of MWI's new Urban Warfare Project podcast, John Spencer is joined by Col. Rich Creed, the director of the Army’s Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. A graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies, he has...

Announcing the Urban Warfare Project Podcast

Announcing the Urban Warfare Project Podcast

As the world becomes more urban, we need to be prepared for cities to become battlefields. That's why we launched the Urban Warfare Project in 2017—to explore the unique challenges that military forces face when forces to operate in dense urban terrain. Today we're...

MWI Video: Fighting Terrorism in the City

MWI Video: Fighting Terrorism in the City

Several times each semester, the Modern War Institute convenes what it calls War Councils—interdisciplinary panels that explore an issue related to modern war from a variety of perspectives. These War Councils provide cadets and faculty the opportunity to engage with...

What the Mosul Study Group Missed

What the Mosul Study Group Missed

The US Army’s Mosul Study Group released a report—What the Battle of Mosul Teaches the Force—in September 2017, a mere month and a half after the Islamic State was ejected from the city. The report purported to provide lessons derived from the battle. However, the...

Intuition, the City, and War

Intuition, the City, and War

Cities matter. They matter for fighting climate change, for fighting pandemics, and, as the Urban Warfare Project continues to demonstrate, they matter for the future of fighting itself. The heightened importance of urban spaces results from demographic developments,...

The Inescapable Truths of Urban Warfare: Five Lessons from Basra 2007

The Inescapable Truths of Urban Warfare: Five Lessons from Basra 2007

In 2007, UK and coalition forces in the southeastern Iraqi city of Basra faced a series of tactical challenges. Those challenges—like the ones US forces would confront that year and the next further north in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood—offer insight into some...

Is Warfare in Cities as Inevitable as We Think?

Is Warfare in Cities as Inevitable as We Think?

Future combat will take place in dense urban areas and likely in megacities, or so we are told. These are the new “truths” that are taking hold in the US military. According to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who is likely the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs...

The Elephant in the Tunnel: Preparing to Fight and Win Underground

The Elephant in the Tunnel: Preparing to Fight and Win Underground

“Sir, what do you want us to do about the tunnel?” one of my squad leaders asked. We were conducting platoon attacks at the massive Range 220 complex at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California as part of a training exercise in 2017. Nowhere...

My Underground Warfare Wish List

My Underground Warfare Wish List

The age of urban warfare is already here. It cannot be avoided any longer. And the urban environment includes not just what is on the surface, but also super-surface and subsurface levels. Most major urban areas include an entire world of underground transportation,...

A Soldier’s Urban Warfare Christmas Wish List

A Soldier’s Urban Warfare Christmas Wish List

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2017.   There are no urban warfare units in the US Army—not a single unit designed, organized, or equipped specifically for the challenges of operating in cities. There are no research centers dedicated...

MWI Podcast: War Goes to the City, with David Kilcullen

MWI Podcast: War Goes to the City, with David Kilcullen

This episode of the MWI Podcast is a very special one. In it, you'll  get to hear the very first episode of the newest podcast series we're launching at MWI. Over the past couple years, we have deliberately spent a lot of time and energy on the particular set of...

Why Militaries Must Destroy Cities to Save Them

Why Militaries Must Destroy Cities to Save Them

“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” That’s how a US Army major during the Vietnam war described the decision to use massive amounts of firepower, to include aerial bombs and artillery, while attacking approximately 2,500 Viet Cong who were besieging...

America’s Mumbai

America’s Mumbai

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 17, 2017.   It will take months, possibly years, to fully understand how the senseless attack in Las Vegas will change American society. Hotels are considering metal detectors, X-ray screening of...

Getting Beyond Door Kicking: Four Tasks for Urban Warriors

Getting Beyond Door Kicking: Four Tasks for Urban Warriors

Ask any group of infantry soldiers what they train to prepare for urban operations and the answer will usually be: Battle Drill 6, “Enter and Clear a Room.” Battle Drill 6 is one of the fourteen drills, defined by doctrine, that infantry platoons and squads are...

Crowd-Sourcing the Character of Urban Warfare, v2.0

Crowd-Sourcing the Character of Urban Warfare, v2.0

The world is urbanizing, and doing so quickly. By 2030, 60 percent of the global population will live in cities. At the same time, the US military remains committed to maintaining the capability to conduct an immensely wide range of operations—from humanitarian...

Prepare the Army for Future Urban Battlefield

Prepare the Army for Future Urban Battlefield

In 2001, when U.S.-backed Afghan fighters forced the Taliban out of Kabul, the capture of the city was largely a symbolic victory. In many ways, the more meaningful fight would rage in Afghanistan’s rural areas, scattered with villages from the ruggedly mountainous...

War Books: Preparing for Urban Warfare

War Books: Preparing for Urban Warfare

Editor's note: Each week, we ask a practitioner, scholar, or observer of war to list the top books that have influenced the way they think about war and strategy.   We all watch global trends with the hope of predicting the future. The military rightfully makes...

How Drone Swarms Could Change Urban Warfare

How Drone Swarms Could Change Urban Warfare

For the first time since the Korean War, the U.S. military has to worry about enemy bombs dropping on them in combat. This threat doesn’t come from multibillion-dollar next-generation aircraft dropping precision-guided bombs on open battlefields. Instead, it comes...

Destroying Cities to Save Them

Destroying Cities to Save Them

Mosul is destroyed. Many of the estimated 875,000 residents displaced by the fighting can’t return home because their houses are among the piles of rubble left behind. Mosul joins cities like Stalingrad, Hue, Grozny, and more recently, Aleppo and Raqqa—all destroyed...

MWI Podcast: The Future Urban Battlefield, with Dr. Russell Glenn

MWI Podcast: The Future Urban Battlefield, with Dr. Russell Glenn

In this episode of the Modern War Institute podcast, MWI editorial director John Amble speaks to Dr. Russell Glenn, a senior adviser for plans and policy to the deputy chief of staff, G-2, of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. Dr. Glenn has spent nearly...

The City Is the Battlefield of the Future

The City Is the Battlefield of the Future

The battle for Mosul represents the future of warfare—and it wasn’t pretty for America’s allies. A ragtag army of a few thousand Islamic State fighters managed to hold the city for months against some 100,000 U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces. The ISIS fighters...

Fixing the Way the Army Trains for Urban Warfare

Fixing the Way the Army Trains for Urban Warfare

As Iraqi forces liberate Mosul, now is a good time to reflect on what lessons this recent round of urban combat means for the United States. After defeating ISIS’s mobile defenses of car bombs and suicide vests in Mosul’s suburbs, Iraqi forces attacked into prepared...

Three “Warhacks” for Urban Combat

Three “Warhacks” for Urban Combat

The Army does not have a school for learning how to operate in dense urban terrain. Beyond simply training soldiers for such a complex setting, one of the reasons the Army should establish such a school is to create a laboratory for innovation. Units in an urban...

Urban Warfare in 140 Characters — Top Tweets

Urban Warfare in 140 Characters — Top Tweets

We've published a number of articles on the unique characteristics of military operations in dense urban terrain. We also recently launched the Urban Warfare Project, which will continue to develop as a dynamic home for even more content we have in store. In...

Urban Warfare, in 140 Characters

Urban Warfare, in 140 Characters

The world is urbanizing, and doing so quickly. By 2030, 60 percent of the global population will live in cities. At the same time, the US military remains committed to maintaining the capability to conduct an immensely wide range of operations—from humanitarian...

So You Think the Army Can Avoid Fighting in Megacities

So You Think the Army Can Avoid Fighting in Megacities

“The Army will never need to fight in a megacity.” Over the past few months, MWI has published several articles exploring combat in megacities and examining the Army’s preparation for such an operating environment. The response these articles have produced has brought...

The Army Needs an Urban Warfare School and it Needs it Soon

The Army Needs an Urban Warfare School and it Needs it Soon

Train as you fight. It’s the first of the Army’s ten principles of training, meant to ensure that the Army will develop and execute tough, realistic training. As long as we train as we fight, no soldier should confront a situation or an environment for the first time...

Concrete Barriers: A False Counterinsurgency Idol

Concrete Barriers: A False Counterinsurgency Idol

In 2013, David Kilcullen, an advisor to Gen. David Petraeus during the Iraq War, was asked how the US military reduced violence in Baghdad by 95 percent. “We did it by killing the city,” he responded. “We shut the city down. We brought in more than 100 kilometers of...

What an Army Megacities Unit Would Look Like

What an Army Megacities Unit Would Look Like

A few weeks ago, I published the article “It’s Time to Create a Megacities Combat Unit.” This article received both criticism and support. Some of the supportive messages suggested that I take the next step and offer an organizational solution. If trends in both...

How is Mosul Being Liberated?

How is Mosul Being Liberated?

MWI’s Maj. John Spencer was interviewed for this episode of the BBC program The Inquiry, which examines the ongoing battle for Mosul and the challenges of urban warfare.

Task Force Gotham, Part II

Task Force Gotham, Part II

The conclusion of a two-part story about the first operational deployment of a purpose-built Army unit designed specifically to fight in megacities.