Within the context of 21st Century warfare -- filled with crime-fueled, systems disrupting sons of global fragmentation taking on the nation-state -- cities are no longer bastions of defense as they were in 20th Century maneuver warfare. The question now becomes, why and for what end? The answer to why, as is often the case when dealing with global guerrillas, is as varied as the primary loyalties -- from religion to criminal to political -- that bind these groups together. So, the best starting point for analysis is to work backwards, from what it is possible to achieve rather than forward from motive. Here's the major categories of objectives possible to achieve using an urban takedown:
- Nation-state over reaction. Essentially, bait the nation-state and its people into reactions that will embroil them in external and internal conflict. From the "superpower baiting" of al Qaeda to the Mumbai attack's focus on new tensions between India/Pakistan (ditching reconciliation and moving back to open hostility) and the election of hard right governments (a win for the BJP, the Hindu Nationalist Party, in India's upcoming elections would be a sign of success).
- Economic failure. To force a city to decline from a high level of economic equilibrium to a lower one (decline tend to jump between levels as opposed to gradual declines). This is done by exacting a terrorism "tax" on economic activity. See the US Fed's report on how this works. Many of the urban assaults we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003-07 achieved this goal. The late 2008 protests at Thai airports also achieved this, but on a country-wide scale.
- Coercion. Simply, a small group takes down an urban area to force a state to leave them alone (to allow them to continue operations without interference). The Brazilian takedowns of Sao Paolo and Rio are good examples of this. The violence in Tijuana Mexico is another.
NOTE: please read my article for the City Journal from last year, "The Coming Urban Terror" for more detail on urban takedowns. I was going to write a follow up for them on "Fear Management" as it applies to urban takedowns earlier this year, but didn't get it fully done. I should probably revisit it since it really brings the thinking on the Mumbai assault and inevitable future attacks of this type to a new level.