In October 2017 – as Iraqi forces mop up in Mosul, fighting rages around Raqqa and Deir Ezzour in Syria, the United States resumes bombing ISIS strongholds near the Libyan city of Sirte, and combat continues in Avdiivka, a frontline town near the city of Donetsk in Ukraine – it’s obvious that conflict is becoming increasingly urbanized. The battle of Mosul alone, with 1.2 million civilians in the city during the fighting, and over 100,000 combatants engaged, was not just the biggest urban battle since the World War II, but the largest of any kind, worldwide, since the start of the century. Even the war in Afghanistan, which for much of the past 15 years has been largely rural, has become increasingly urbanized in recent years. And if a conflict in Korea kicks off, nuclear or not, the heaviest destruction will almost certainly fall on the 26 million people of the Seoul-Incheon metropolitan area.
At one level, this is a trivial observation: wars happen where people live. Since April 2008, the planet’s population has been more urban than rural, and analysts estimate an additional three billion urban-dwellers globally by mid-century. To put that in perspective, it took all of human history, right up until 1960, to generate that same number of people across the entire planet, so this is a dramatic acceleration of urban growth that is almost certain to have implications for urban security, as well as for every other aspect of life. In other words, war has become more urbanized because everything is becoming urbaner.
At another level, though, the increasingly urban nature of conflict is generating dilemmas for the world’s armed forces, most of which prefer to avoid city fighting whenever possible. The United States and its allies – who care about minimizing civilian casualties and avoiding damage to urban infrastructure – have invested heavily in new technologies for precision close air support, small-diameter bombs, mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, sophisticated intelligence and targeting systems, and vehicle self-defense suites to help forces survive and operate in cities while doing the minimum possible damage.
This was partly driven by the searing experience of urban counterinsurgency in Iraq, but also by a series of studies on likely future conflict, which showed that conflict in coastal, connected cities – including megacities with populations exceeding 10 million – would be an increasingly likely and demanding future challenge. Likewise, NATO is also putting significant effort into urban operations, through an ongoing multi-year experimental and research program focused on figuring out how better to fight in cities.
Even states like Russia, Syria, and Iran – who care less about collateral damage and civilian casualties, but confront more existential questions closer to home – have been forced to reckon with the need to control, secure, and occupy large cities, such as Aleppo or Damascus, against irregular armed groups of insurgents. Barrel bombs and bulldozers might help you raze an urban area block by block, but as Syrian commanders and their Russian and Iranian advisers have found, you still need to secure the rubble and deal with the surviving population afterward.
Here, the question of scale is key: any time a military force captures a piece of urban terrain, it faces the choice of either completely destroying it and making it uninhabitable – such as the Russians did in Grozny in 1995 or the Syrian government did in parts of Aleppo in 2016 – or deploying large numbers of troops to control and protect it. Cities are sponges that soak up troops.
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Insurgencies in cities – and the corresponding counterinsurgency effort that governments confronting such uprisings are forced to engage in – represent a key subset of the future urban conflict challenge. They are not the only one – Mosul, for example, was a conventional street fight in the same vein as Stalingrad or Berlin were during World War II – but they are, in many ways, the most complex and demanding.
In part, this is because of dynamics inherent to insurgency and guerrilla warfare that are not unique to cities. Guerrillas can attack anywhere, so counterinsurgents have to defend everywhere, and this is hugely costly and labor-intensive, whether you are operating in a city or not. Likewise, irregular forces are hard to detect and engage because they tend to be lightly equipped, move fast, and blend into the background.
Conventional forces fighting guerrillas can often bring vastly more firepower to bear but have less knowledge of the terrain and population than their enemies, are bound by more intrusive political and legal constraints, and are constantly being outrun and outmaneuvered by agile, smaller forces. This is as true of jungles or mountains as it is of cities, but urban environments offer insurgents some significant extra advantages.
First, they offer cover and concealment. This may seem counterintuitive: governments can typically marshal much greater presence through police, military, and security services in cities than in the countryside. For this reason, guerrillas tended to hide in the jungle, infest rural villages, or lurk in the mountains for much of history. But recent advances in sensor technology – including airborne synthetic-aperture radars that can peer through jungle foliage, satellite-based imagery, and signals intelligence systems that can detect and locate radio transmissions in remote mountain areas, and platforms like drones that can stay aloft for days to maintain “eyes on” a target – have made rural and remote areas much less safe for guerrillas.
At the same time, rapid unplanned growth, particularly in informal slum settlements that tend to cluster around the edges of large cities, has made many cities much less “legible” for governments. Jumbled houses, cluttered rooftops, narrow winding streets, and crowded urban neighborhoods also make it harder for security forces to operate in urban terrain and allow guerrilla cells to disappear and re-emerge at will.
Second, the connectivity explosion that has transformed cities, especially in the developing world, offers significant new opportunities for urban insurgents. Cellphones, including smartphones and other hand-held mobile technologies, as well as massive growth in access to the internet, and cable and satellite television, have transformed the operating environment for insurgents. Nigeria, for example, had only 30,000 cell phones for the entire country in the year 2000; by 2012, the total was 113 million. In the same timeframe, tools like Google Earth, GPS, smartphone apps for controlling mortar and artillery fire, and social media gave rise to entirely new sets of capabilities for insurgents.
Today’s urban insurgents can employ advanced manufacturing, including 3D printing, to create capabilities on-site as needed. They can use social media as reporting networks or command-and-control systems. They can use local light industrial capabilities to create backyard workshops to manufacture weapon systems, and use Google Earth and smartphones to generate precision-fire capabilities approaching those of governments and at far less cost. The hobby drone, in particular, has given urban insurgents the ability to take a low-cost air platform, arm it with a grenade or improvised explosive device (IED), then find and attack targets at will.
These new insurgent capabilities, which of course are also open to state-backed operators and special forces teams that seek to operate below the radar in future cities, have prompted conventional militaries to think of fresh ways to deal with what I have described as “the coming age of the urban guerrilla.” These include sophisticated biometric, facial recognition, and biochemical sensing systems to detect explosive residues or track individuals in crowded spaces, as well as big-data techniques to monitor and respond rapidly to subtle but detectable changes in an urban environment. They include new counter-sniper, counter-IED, and counter-drone technologies, techniques for emplacing and employing mesh-networks of ground-based and airborne sensors, and new organizational structures – smaller, more modular but better-protected units that can more effectively operate in urban areas.
But constant co-evolution is the name of the game here. As governments develop new tools or techniques, insurgents and guerrillas are constantly adapting too. Every new iPhone version or DJI hobby drone represents a potential advance in guerrilla technology, as consumer electronics are repurposed and weaponized. Every urban battle, terrorist attack, or incident of unrest generates lessons and techniques that different groups and individuals can share, regardless of ideology. And every new security measure that governments put in place – whether online or in the physical world – creates an adaptation challenge for agile adversaries, both for state and non-state armed groups.
All of this means that the challenge of urban conflict, and within that broad category the even more complex and demanding subset of urban insurgency and counterinsurgency, will be with us for the foreseeable future. And as the planet continues to urbanize and cities keep growing at unprecedented rates, this subset of urban warfare will almost certainly continue to be one of the most dynamic and dangerous of all. I will continue this article with a few tips to keep you safe and please, keep in mind this is only the basics. Browsing our blog you can find a few more detailed article about urban survival.
First, you need to be aware that at some point the disaster will come. It will come like they always do. It may start slow and steady but eventually, it will reach a fever pitch. The destruction brought on by man or mother nature will ravage all that dares step in its path. The audible effects of the disaster will give way to visual awe when the damage is quantified.
Soon after the disaster, things will get rather quiet as people begin to take it all in. When the realization that everything they have learned to depend on is gone, there will be a hush across the land. This will be quickly followed by a screaming mass of desperation that will involve violence, looting, rape, and the most carnal and violent behaviors. But even that will die down eventually.
If you are still alive, you will find yourself in the silence of survival. You will find that breaking that silence and attracting the attention of the desperate masses could lead to another tragedy. We are going to discuss six methods that can give you away in a survival situation and how to mitigate them.
If you find yourself in an outdoor survival situation, you will eventually be heating and cooking with wood. Not everybody knows that the types of things you put on a fire dictate the type of smoke you’ll get. Stay away from the green. Young saplings and green leaves will create billows of white smoke that will be easy to see from far away. In fact, this is a great technique if you are looking to signal for rescue. Look for dry wood from old trees. This is your best bet when it comes to building a good fire.
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Watch the video below on the Dakota fire pit. This is a method of building fire underground to cook with and heat your shelter. You want to build this type of fire pit by digging two holes in the ground and connecting the tunnels. The largest tunnel will be for your fire. Also, build your Dakota pit under a full tree branch. This will help disperse the smoke.
If you are fortunate enough to bag yourself some wild game in traps or by bow and arrow (assuming you want to be silent), you must be very careful about cooking. Many survivalists will tell you to smoke your meat to get the most shelf life out of it. When it comes to shelf life they would be right. The problem is, after a few hours of smoke and delicious meaty aromas floating up into the air, you will probably have some visitors. You may even have some wildlife visitors as well.
The Dakota method mentioned above will help with the smell as well. Still, in an urban survival situation where cooking will attract hungry and desperate people, it would be in your best interest to cook and scatter. You shouldn’t loaf around and eat. Don’t sleep where you have cooked. In the wild, this brings bears, but in urban survival, it will bring people.
Learn to cook in the ground. You can make charcoal by assembling a pile of wood and completely covering it in a mound of clay soil. After this, build a big fire all around the mound. The soil will protect the wood inside and the fire will create some great charcoal for you. Use this to cook in the ground.
You can cook whole carcasses in the ground covered in leaves, or you can bury small cooking pots, covered, and avoid the wafting smells.
The importance of being conscientious about sound is crucial. Sounds come from all types of movements and activities. You must remain quiet always and particularly in movements. Many people plan on carrying an AR15 or rifle of the type in a survival situation. You must be very disciplined when you use that weapon and know what using it means. A gunshot will bring people.
Learn the basic principles of hand signals in movement. You will want to be able to move quickly and quietly without having to stop and discuss changes in direction. Another skillful use for hand signals is if you see someone before they see your group. You can signal a quick stop and cover with just a move of the hand.
Keep a silent or quiet weapon on your person along with your high-powered rifle. A crossbow or even a smaller .22 will generate a lot less sound than a big rifle. Another overlooked survival weapon is a good scoped air rifle.
Light discipline is a consideration whether you are bugging out or bugging in. Remember, the world will be darker than we have seen it. If we are experiencing a disaster that puts the power out for a long time, the world will be totally different at night. The light pollution of buildings and street lights will be gone and you will be left with the cosmos above as your only light.
The human eye is trained to find light and particularly artificial light. If you have a home or a site that is lit in a world of darkness, you will have visitors. Of course, there are ways to combat this as well.
We call on the Dakota fire pit again to also conceal our fire. If you can create a perimeter of tall rocks or logs around your Dakota setup, you will be offering great coverage to your fire. Also, plan on building a camp around the fire and camp in denser areas as well.
Light discipline also involves traveling at night without the aid of artificial light. In the cooler months, this is a fantastic way to stay warm through cold nights. Sleep during the warmer days. This alleviates the need for a big campfire in the middle of a dark night.
While traveling, you will want to mind your flashlights, headlamps, and lanterns. Get yourself a reliable red light as they are much less noticeable at a distance.
In a community setting, you will want your overall condition to mimic that of the conditions around you. In other words, a fresh haircut, well fed, a spirited neighbor may raise some eyebrows in a community without running water that has been bartering for food over the last month. In our society, we are often looking for the guy who has it easier. He often becomes a villain as well, i.e. the rich are evil!
Be observant of those around you. Make sure you mimic their struggles to keep your preps a secret. Unfortunately, if you admit to having it, people are going to want some of it.
We love our dogs. They are loud and boisterous every time someone comes by the house. They are way cooler than any alarm system. The problem with dogs is that they are also instinctual. The reason we love them is that they read us better than any creature on the planet. When you are on high alert, so are they. This comes from hanging out with us over millennia. They are going to bark when threatened. That is their go-to deterrent. They don’t care if a hail of bullets is what comes back in return.
The solution? Start training your dogs on terms like hush or silence. If your dog is not capable of keeping quiet in a bug out situation, you will have your location exposed all the time. Branches will fall, sticks will snap in the night, and you will be scared. This will make your pooch go crazy, in most cases. A simple command can take care of that.
White noise is another great method when dealing with dogs. When I want the babies to stay asleep, I put the television on for the dogs or they hear everything outside and get loud if something comes too close. Setting up camp by rushing waters or waterfalls is a great way to muffle the perceived threats of your animal and keep them quiet through the night.
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to give ourselves away in a desperate world. If you take these six considerations and apply my recommendations, you will be a little more concealed. What other situations would expose you in an urban survival scenario? Leave your comments below.
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