Urban and Rural Insurgencies

The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author. They
do not reflect the official position of the US Government, Department of Defense, the
United States Air Force, or Air University.

With global urbanization on the rise, especially in the developing world, it is
reasonable to conclude that urban insurgencies will become more prevalent in the future.
The new Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual devotes only a single
paragraph to this environmental change, noting that urban insurgencies are “difficult to
counter because they require little or no popular support.” This admission implies a need
to study the dynamics of urban-based insurgencies in greater depth and suggests that the
time has come for a systematic comparison between urban and rural-based insurgencies.
This thesis historically analyzed two rural insurgencies and two urban insurgencies to
determine the underlying similarities and differences between the two types of
insurgencies. The two rural examples are the counterinsurgency campaigns in the
Philippines from 1946 to 1954 and in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2008. The two urban
examples are the Battle of Algiers in 1957 and the insurgency in Baghdad from May
2003 to February 2006.
In the Philippines and Afghanistan, the difficult rural terrain proved to be a
significant asset in the expansion of both insurgencies. These insurgencies were able to
operate from relatively secure base areas to build strength, recruit forces, establish
support networks, and exploit government missteps. In both insurgencies, concentrating
on the support of the rural population proved critical for both insurgents and
In the Algiers and Baghdad examples, the urban environment provided many
advantages to the insurgent. It gave them access to soft targets that could be attacked by
small cells. It also gave the insurgents sanctuaries in which they could, for varying