But David Kilcullen, a former adviser on counterinsurgency in the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, compares the fighting in the two cities in often unexpected ways in his new book “Out of the Mountains” to convince people to think more about urban conflict.
In the case of Mumbai, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group behind the attack turned the city to its advantage. It spent months getting to know its layout and dynamics, with Pakistani-American David Headley carrying out detailed reconnaissance. The 10 gunmen who snuck in by sea from Karachi and went on to kill 166 people were able to hide among the many boats plying smuggling routes. They landed in Mumbai’s coastal slums where nobody thought to report them to the police. “They didn’t get in there secretly; it is just that people thought they were smugglers,” says Kilcullen.
They communicated with their handlers back in Pakistan, taking advantage of the explosion in internet communications which have linked the world’s cities. They consciously exploited the chaotic urban environment in multiple attacks during a three-day siege.
In Somalia, the opposite was the case for the U.S. operation in the coastal capital Mogadishu meant to capture two lieutenants of Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed and which went badly wrong after two U.S. helicopters were shot down. Before the operation – which inspired the book and film “Black Hawk Down” and whose 20th anniversary was this month – U.S. forces had less than six weeks to get to know how Mogadishu worked.
“Unlike LeT, however, the Americans didn’t nest in the city’s natural flow; they deliberately ignored it,” Kilcullen writes.