War without borders: The growing threat of commando-style raids across the world

David Kerley, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Power Players

The wars of the future will not be waged between countries but by militias and criminal groups operating within large cities across the world, war expert David Kilcullen predicts.

Kilcullen, who was a key adviser to U.S. and international forces on counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, told “Power Players” that the world will likely see an escalation of conflicts similar to the 2008 Mumbai attacks in the coming 30 years.

“I could well see that happening in cities across the planet, including cities in the United States,” said Kilcullen, who’s just published a new book, “Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla.”

“Mumbai to my mind is actually the state of the art of maritime, littoral terrorism, and, in fact, we've seen a number of groups … figure out how to copy that kind of attack,” he said. “They looked at how the city flowed, the sort of metabolism of the urban environment, and infiltrated that in a way to deliberately disrupt the city.”

Kilcullen largely attributes the changing nature of war to a “massive explosion in connectivity” in recent years, in addition to demographics – with large, coastal cities being most at risk.

“The new thing that's dramatically exploded in the last decade is connectivity,” Kilcullen said. “In the year 2000, there were 30,000 cell phones in Nigeria. Today there's 113 million, and that's pretty typical.”

“So the stuff that happens in one country doesn't stay there; it immediately comes home to where we live,” said Kilcullen, who points to the globalized economy and immigration as other factors that bring conflicts closer to home.

The rising tide of connectivity is further complicated by a continuing trend of urbanization, particularly in the developing world, where Kilcullen says an additional 3 billion people will live between now and 2050.

“Urban overstretch, whether it results in warfare or just crime, is actually going to be one of the primary challenges that people are going to be dealing with,” Kilcullen said.

And he cautioned that the military can’t be the primary solution.

“In the end, it boils down to partnerships with local population, and designing solutions that work for them to make them feel safe, and whenever you can do that without involving the military, that's the better option,” he said.

For more of the interview with Kilcullen, and to hear his first-hand opinion on how counterinsurgency techniques fell short in securing Iraq, check out this episode of “Power Players.”

ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, Melissa Young and Bob Bramson contributed to this episode.