The CSS Blog Network

The Era of Urban Warfare is Already Here

Image courtesy of the US Army/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) on 21 March 2018.

Aleppo. Mosul. Sana’a. Mogadishu. Gaza. These war-ravaged cities are but a few examples of  a growing trend in global conflict, where more and more of the world’s most violent conflicts are being fought in densely populated urban areas, at a tremendously high cost to the civilians living there. Despite their aversion to urban warfare, American and NATO military strategists increasingly acknowledge that the future of war is in cities. Concurrently, humanitarian agencies such as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are adjusting their response to relief operations in urban centers in real time. This rise in urban violence and the resurgence of warfare in cities comes from three key factors: the global trend toward urbanization, increasingly volatile domestic political conditions in developing countries, and changes in the character of armed conflict.

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The Future of War is in Cities – The Study of War Should Follow Suit

Courtesy of Alessandro Grussu/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 23 May 2017.

On March 17th, a US airstrike killed nearly 300 people in the densely populated area of western Mosul. This deadly attack – along with other reports of mounting civilian casualties from US airstrikes in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen – are raising questions about whether the Trump administration has relaxed the rules of engagement.

Since entering office, President Trump has sought to reduce the constraints on the use of force imposed by his predecessor. For instance, he has designated parts of Yemen and Somalia as “areas of active hostilities,” giving the US military greater latitude to carry out airstrikes and ground raids. His new plan to defeat ISIS is also expected to include “recommended changes to any United States rules of engagement and other…policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law.” So far, both administration and military officials have denied that a formal change in the rules of engagement has taken place. But human rights groups are saying that even the perception of declining concerns over civilian deaths can have a “detrimental strategic impact” on the fight against ISIS, with dire humanitarian consequences.

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The Future of War is in Cities – The Study of War Should Follow Suit

Courtesy of Alessandro Grussu/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 23 May 2017.

On March 17th, a US airstrike killed nearly 300 people in the densely populated area of western Mosul. This deadly attack – along with other reports of mounting civilian casualties from US airstrikes in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen – are raising questions about whether the Trump administration has relaxed the rules of engagement.

Since entering office, President Trump has sought to reduce the constraints on the use of force imposed by his predecessor. For instance, he has designated parts of Yemen and Somalia as “areas of active hostilities,” giving the US military greater latitude to carry out airstrikes and ground raids. His new plan to defeat ISIS is also expected to include “recommended changes to any United States rules of engagement and other…policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law.” So far, both administration and military officials have denied that a formal change in the rules of engagement has taken place. But human rights groups are saying that even the perception of declining concerns over civilian deaths can have a “detrimental strategic impact” on the fight against ISIS, with dire humanitarian consequences.

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Smart CCTVs: Third Eye of Secure Cities

CCTV

Courtesy Steve Rotman/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in December 2016.

Synopsis

Many cities around the world are exploring the use of Smart CCTVs as advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) offer operational value for homeland security. However, cybersecurity and overreliance could impede the technology’s potential.

Commentary

Following recent terrorist incidents, Germany’s Interior Minister announced in August 2016 that CCTV cameras at airports and train stations will be enhanced with facial recognition technology. Likewise, the New York Police Department has developed the Domain Awareness System that uses similar technology to track and monitor potential suspects.

Globalisation increases the exposure of cities to myriad transnational threats even as growing urbanisation is putting the strain on law enforcement by increasing the densities of population, property and critical infrastructure to be safeguarded in each precinct. These inherent challenges in protecting cities – population and economic centres that make attractive soft targets – necessitate the early warning and identification of threats. Smart CCTVs support this function as the third eye of cities by complementing the vigilance of police officers and the community.

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Bringing Big Data to War in Mega-Cities

DARPA Big Data

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 19 January 2016.

As the U.S. Army prepares for the future, it has become increasingly aware that operations are more and more likely to take place in large cities. The number and size of cities continues to grow, and they are quickly becoming the dominant form of human habitation. Belligerent actors, aware of the West’s growing anxieties about collateral damage, have good reason to place forces in or around cities. Further, advanced sensing and weapons systems employed by modern militaries make hiding in remote areas of the world less and less attractive to non-state enemies of advanced powers.

America’s enemies see the advantages of the seemingly impenetrable clutter that dominates the modern city. The Army’s current approach to learning about this environment is to seek the diamonds scattered amidst this clutter. What we are missing, though, is that the clutter itself is the jewel. Enormous amounts of readily available data can reveal more about a city, its population, and the nefarious actors residing there than we could have imagined before. To truly understand this environment the Army must fundamentally change its approach to understanding the environment: It must adopt a holistic approach enabled by big data analytics.

The Army, however, seems hesitant to embrace 21st-century data analysis, instead relying largely on the same micro-level methods it has used for decades.
This must change if the Army wishes to maintain the ability to “see first” and “understand first” in the modern urban arena.

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