Small Wars Journal

urban operations

The Russo-Ukrainian War and the Principles of Urban Operations

Thu, 11/10/2022 - 10:05pm
The Russo-Ukrainian War provides an exorbitant amount of information for the security and defense studies communities, much of which is too immature, or insufficiently detailed to stake out ‘lessons learned.’ Nonetheless, examining urban operations from the macro-level, that is, above the movement of troops and individual formations, provides several noticeable trends. Most notably, urban operations in Ukraine demonstrate that attrition is how wars between industrialized nations are fought, won, and lost. Next, dislocation, or the effect of rendering an adversary’s strength irrelevant through position, function, time, or will, is germane to fighting and winning wars of attrition. As a result of these two features of urban warfare, sharply brought into focus by the Russo-Ukrainian War, Western militaries must make doctrine, organization, and training adjustments to how they think about and prepare for future war. This paper provides a set of principles for urban operations, based on these findings, to help orient the community of interest toward that end.

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Call for Papers: Journal of Strategic Security Security – Special Issue: Urban Security 2023

Thu, 08/11/2022 - 6:22pm

Call for Papers: Journal of Strategic Security

The Journal of Strategic Security has issued a call for Papers for its upcoming Special Issue on Urban Security. The special issue will look at a range of urban security issues including urban warfare, urban insurgency, urban crime and insecurity, operating in dense urban terrain (DUT), megacities, and subterranean spaces (SubT), and in the Urban-Littoral interface, as well as the protection of the populace.

Papers addressing the full range of violent actions from high intensity crime to civil strife and other situations of violence, non-international armed conflict (NIAC), and large scale combat operations (LSCO) during international armed conflict (IAC) are encouraged. All papers  submitted to the special issues issue will be subject to double-blind peer review. Small Wars Journal-El Centro Senor Fellow John P. Sullivan, Fellow Nathan P. Jones, and Associate Daniel Weisz Argomedo are co-editing the special issue. Details on the special issue follow.

Panama M113

US Army M-113 in Panama, Operation Just Cause 1989 (Public Domain)

Journal of Strategic Security – Special Issue: Urban Security 2023

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres pointed out at a recent Security Council meeting, that “50 million people currently face the dire consequences of urban warfare” and that “when explosive weapons are used in cities, 90 percent of those affected are civilians.”[1] Urban warfare has long been minimized in insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN) studies with a focus on the rural environment, despite the historical significance of urban insurgency in the 20th century, e.g. the Tupamaros and Marighella.[2] The emphasis on rural COIN may have been based upon the US experience in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the rise of Mao in China, its implications, and 20th century demographics.[3] However, as the global population increases, there are myriad reasons why conventional and unconventional conflict will tend toward the urban.

Scholar-practitioners such as David Kilcullen,[4] Anthony King,[5] Jamison Medby and Russell Glenn,[6] have pointed out the presence of megatrends which increase the likelihood the world will face more urban conflict. These mega-trends include population growth, increased urbanization, increased growth of cities on coasts, and the advantages urban environments have for connectivity. As Kilcullen points out, rising sea levels due to climate change endanger the cities where growth is likely to occur. Further, in many urban settings, “ungoverned spaces” are really “alternatively authority and [places of] softened sovereignty;”[7] be they governed by warlords, insurgencies, militias, pirates, or profit-seeking criminal groups in forms of ‘synergistic violence.’[8] The security community has also increasingly recognized that mega-cities, defined as cities of more than 10 million people, are increasingly likely to be the sites of urban conflict.[9]

Scholars such as Medby and Glenn (2002) have long pointed to the importance of urban intelligence in conflict and the role of “intelligence preparation of the battlefield” (IPB), an analytical approach to understanding how an urban adversary might react in various situations given terrain and other contingent factors.[10] In a testament to the growing interest in urban security there have been numerous anthologies, edited volumes, and collections published on the subject in recent years. For example, scholars such as Glass, Seybolt, and Williams (2022) focused an edited volume on the importance of urban violence resilience with a focus on the global south.[11] The Small Wars Journal recently published an anthology on urban warfare and its consequences entitled Blood and Concrete which anthologized many of the key pieces from the famous Small Wars Journal website.[12]

The conflict in Ukraine has opened the world’s eyes to the horrors of urban warfare. Urban warfare will be a part of the return of great power conflict, be it in the form of revanchist/irredentist powers such as a Russia and China, or in the defense of national sovereignty by democracies such as Ukraine and the West. Scholar practitioners such as John Spencer have written urban warfare guides and handbooks which have been distributed to urban defenders in recent urban warfare in Ukraine. His website contains a Ukrainian translation in addition to an English version of his Mini-Manual for the Urban Defender.[13] The uptake of the manual from US personal computer to social media, to the battlefield, demonstrates the real-world implications of scholar-practitioner activity in urban security. This special issue of the Journal of Strategic Security hopes to add to the important literature on Urban Security by receiving and peer reviewing high quality submissions in accordance with the Journal’s high publishing standards.

Below is a list of urban security issues the special issue editors would like to see submissions on:

  • Conflict in Megacities (10 million or more)
  • Police-Military Intelligence interface in urban conflict
  • Insurrection
  • Urban-littoral nexus
  • Information warfare in support of urban conflict
  • Urban insurgency
  • Urban Terrorism
  • Criminal governance in cities (Slums/Favelas)
  • Criminal Armed Groups (CAGs) in cities
  • Social Media and Urban Conflict
  • Climate Conflict in Cities (Urban-Climate Conflict Nexus)
  • Urban counterterrorism
  • Urban counterinsurgency (COIN)
  • Urban Riots and Public Order
  • Intelligence for Urban Operations (e.g., GeoINT)
  • Urban policing
  • Urban critical infrastructure protection including urban cyber security
  • Humanitarian operations and protection of civilians in urban conflict
  • Medical and humanitarian response to urban crises and disasters

Manuscript Submission Guidelines

Please follow manuscript submission guidelines for drafts:

Special Issue Editors 

John P. Sullivan,
Nathan P. Jones,
Daniel Weisz Argomedo 

Key Dates

Abstract submissions to special issue editors 1 February 2023 (250-word maximum)
Draft submissions for blind peer review 1 June 2023
Projected Special Issue Publication Fall 2023

Source: “Call for Papers 2023; Special Issue: Urban Security.” Journal of Strategic Security, 2022:


[1] “Urban Warfare Devastates 50 Million People Worldwide, Speakers Tell Security Council, Calling for Effective Tools to End Impunity, Improve Humanitarian Response,” (Security Council, January 25, 2022),
[2] John P. Sullivan and Nathan P. Jones, “Bandits, Urban Guerrillas, and Criminal Insurgents: Crime and Resistance in Latin America,” in 
The Routledge Handbook of Latin America and the Caribbean (Twentieth and Twenty-First Century) ed. Pablo Baisotti (New York: Routledge, 2021).
[3] David Kilcullen, 
Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Mao Tse-tung, Mao Tse-Tung on Guerrilla Warfare, trans. Samuel B. Griffith, FMFRP 12-18 (Washington, DC: U.S. Marine Corps, 1989),
[4] Kilcullen, Out of the Mountains.
[5] Anthony King, 
Urban Warfare in the Twenty-First Century (Medford: Polity, 2021).
[6] Jamison Jo Medby and Russell W. Glenn, 
Street Smart: Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield for Urban Operations (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2002).
[7] Anne L. Clunan and Harold A. Trinkunas, 
Ungoverned Spaces: Alternatives to State Authority in an Era of Softened Sovereignty (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), 19.
[8] Howard Campbell, “Downtown Juárez,” in Downtown Juárez: Underworlds of Violence and Abuse (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2022), 19.
[9] Dave Dillege, Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan, and Anna Keshavarz., eds., 
Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities, A Small Wars Journal Anthology (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2019). 
[10] Jamison Jo. Medby and Russell W. Glenn, Street Smart
[11] Michael R. Glass, Taylor B. Seybolt, and Phil Williams, “Introduction to Urban Violence, Resilience and Security,” in Glass et al, eds.,  Urban Violence, Resilience and Security: Governance Responses in the Global South (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2022). 
[12] Dave Dillege, Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan, and Anna Keshavarz., eds., Blood and Concrete.
[13] John Spencer, The Mini-Manual for the Urban Defender: A Guide to Strategies and Tactics for Defending a City, Fourth Version, 3 April 2022
; John Spencer, John Spencer Online,, 2022,

The Art of Urban Warfare from the Deep Seas

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 9:26pm
In the short Sherlock Holmes story from 1885, Mycroft Holmes, the intellectual panjandrum of the British government, tells his brother Sherlock about the plans of the Bruce-Partington submarine. Mycroft mentions to Holmes that the submarine’s importance can hardly be exaggerated. It has been the most jealously guarded of all government secrets. “You may take it from me,” Mycroft declares, “that naval warfare becomes impossible within the radius of a Bruce-Partington operation.”                          Stealth is the common feature between submarine warfare and urban warfare. Submarines are asymmetric weapon platforms in the vast oceans. Contemporary US and Russian submarines are sophisticated and powerful weapon platforms. One nuclear submarine can obliterate two to four cities with intercontinental ballistic missiles or target centers of gravity like aircraft carriers and military installations with cruise missiles by staying safe thousands of miles away from the target.

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Urban Warfare Project Podcast: The Battle of Marawi

Fri, 03/05/2021 - 3:58pm



In this episode of the Urban Warfare Project Podcast, John Spencer is joined by Dr. Charles Knight. He is a senior lecturer in terrorism, asymmetric conflict, and urban operations at Charles Sturt University and a senior researcher at the University of New South Wales.

Dr. Knight has researched and and written about the 2017 Battle of Marawi, in which the Philippine Army fought against Islamic State fighters over the course of five months. With the two sides fighting through the streets, alleys, and buildings of Marawi, it was one of the biggest and most high-intensity urban battles of the modern era. In the conversation, Dr. Knight explains the context in which the battle must be understood, the phases through which the fighting progressed, and the types of tactics that characterized the battle.

Modern War Institute: The Eight Rules of Urban Warfare and Why We Must Work to Change Them

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 10:07pm

Full Article:

By John Spencer


The article also includes an extremely useful overview of historical and recent urban warfare case studies which may be interesting/useful to researchers interested in urban operations.

Modern War Instituate Podcast: The Second Battle of Fallujah and the Future of Urban Warfare

Fri, 01/08/2021 - 10:54am

Full Podcast:

An interview with Lt. Gen. James Rainy, the battalion commander of 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment during the Second Battle of Fallujah.

Fighting in the Phone Booth: An Urban Pivot for the U.S. Army

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 5:59am
The United States Army is training to fight the wrong war. At the tactical level, units are preparing to meet near-peer threats in open terrain. A typical field exercise sees soldiers patrolling the woods or fighting pitched tank battles in the open desert. What you will not see is a rifle squad clearing a city block or practicing urban breaching techniques.

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Amid Humanitarian Crisis, Syrian Regime Intensifies Idlib Offensive

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 12:28am
Of the three million people in Idlib province, U.N. sources estimate more than one million have been displaced—with approximately 586,000 displaced since December 1, and the number is rising rapidly. With Turkey and other nations closing their borders, and harsh winter conditions in the region, what is the humanitarian situation in Idlib?

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A NATO Urban Delaying Strategy for the Baltic States

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 2:57am
Any successful Russian thrust into one or more of the Baltic States depends on the calculus of speed. They need to make the action a fait accompli before NATO reinforcement can arrive. A 2016 Rand war game indicated that current NATO capabilities cannot properly offset the Russian 6-1 armor advantage in the Baltics in a timely manner. However, if key Baltic urban areas can be turned into potential urban fortresses, the equation changes radically.

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The Role of Police and Military Special Forces in Counter-terrorism Efforts in Cities

Sat, 11/02/2019 - 11:15am
Given the heightened terrorist threat, the police forces of global cities are beefing up their special forces units by adopting more militarised approaches in weaponry, tactics, culture, and organisation even as they increase the level of cooperation with the state’s armed forces. This civil-military integration in homeland security is present in Singapore where the police force and the army are conducting more joint patrols in public places besides key installations (KINS), and the Army is training more soldiers for peacetime operations.

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