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New Theatres of Conflict

Bibhu Prasad Routray

By David Kilcullen
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. x 342, Rs. 795.00


British Army General J.F.C. Fuller, architect of the great tank battle at Cambrai, described the cities as impregnable in conventional wars. Tanks could never enter the narrow streets of the built up areas and should they succeed and move deep, it was easy to cut their supply line by the defending forces. During World War II Russian cities like Moscow and Leningrad withstood the Nazi assaults. In changed times however, cities, symbols of political and economic power as well as citadels of technological advancement have not only become the targets of choice for the terrorists, but are also immensely vulnerable for their networked existence. Worse still, the attacks which have been witnessed so far on urban environments, are in a process of constant evolution. In this context, David Kilcullen’s Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla, demands a thorough reading.  From the point of view of logistics, selecting soft targets within the cities and mounting assault on them are much simpler than carrying out an attack on a fortified military installation. Not all countries can boast of the security preparedness of the likes of Singapore (despite the recent incidents in which some persons did manage to force their way into the city state by crashing into the safety barriers at the border check points). The terrorists can study their targets with pinpoint precision through Google maps, carry out online recruitment for cells providing logistical support, and launch an attack, which will result in some degree of damage to the reputation of the cities even if the original plan of the terrorists does not succeed fully. The threat of terrorism on urban centres has been present for the past several decades. The difference, however, is in the growing level of preparedness among the terrorists to implement their plan of action. The states, on the other hand, have been found wanting in both their preparedness and response. For Indian readers, the 16-page sub-chapter on the 2008 Mumbai attacks would be of interest. The original plan of the ten Pakistani terrorists and their handlers to take hostages in the hotels and other locales did not fully succeed. Even then the damage inflicted by the attack on the city and the popular psyche proved to be an inspiration of sorts for terrorists in other parts of the world to try and replicate the adventure. Despite mixing up the ...

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