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Into the cities: West African militaries face up to the challenge of urban warfare

West African militaries are increasingly conducting operations in urban areas, Maria Lampoudi explores how they are adapting to the terrain and equipping forces

Seen here at Amchidé on the border post with the Nigerian town of Banki, this Force Protection Cougar MRAP is one of two such vehicles in service with the BIR and was part of a batch of six donated by the US to Cameroon. (Erwan de Cherisey)

On 10 May 2022 the United Nations Secretary-General's (UNSG's) annual report on the ‘Protection of civilians in armed conflict' drew attention to the “pattern of devastating harm to civilians in the immediate and long term” caused by explosives in densely populated areas. Earlier in 2022 UNSG António Guterres said that 50 million people are facing “the dire consequences of urban warfare” in 2022, with civilians representing around 90% of casualties from explosive devices globally, while the same indicator decreases to only 16% in non-urban terrain.

At the January 2022 UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting on the status of urban warfare in the world, Ghanaian Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia underlined that the asymmetrical nature of urban warfare poses important challenges for countries performing civilian protection and critical national infrastructure protection missions. In addition, Bawumia called for the prioritisation of civilian protection in the planning and conducting of urban combat operations. Gabon's Minister of Foreign Affairs Pacôme Moubelet-Boubeya noted that “the urban area is today, for the military, the equivalent of the jungle in the 1970s” and that urban conflict causes eight times more victims than in rural areas.

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