Thought for the Day

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." - Confucius

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Welcome to the Age of the Commando

I think Anthony Cordesman might have coined the phrase of the era:  "Strategic Tokenism" for the use of SOF.

But this article, although written by a former Army Captain with no love lost for special operations, should make one think.  This entire article focuses on only one aspect of Special Operations and the smallest part at that.  This is all about the forces that conduct surgical strike (the execution of activities in a precise manner that employ special operations in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive environments to seize, destroy, capture, exploit, recover or damage designated targets, or influence adversaries and threats.)  It does not talk about the vast majority of special operations being conducted around the world that are defined as special warfare (the execution of activities that involve a combination of lethal and nonlethal actions taken by a specially trained and educated force that has a deep understanding of cultures and foreign language, proficiency in small-unit tactics, and the ability to build and fight alongside indigenous combat formations ina permissive, uncertain, or hostile environment.)

This article and all the emphasis on surgical strike (despite the words of senior leaders, to include GEN Votel who try to talk about the importance of special warfare and unconventional warfare see the JFQ article: ) really should lead one to think of whether we are correctly organized for special operations.  The dominant special operations organization is JSOC and its national mission forces.  Is there really a need for 4 star functional combatant command?  Why does JSOC need a higher headquarters?  What value does USSOCOM add to JSOC operations?  

I am coming to think that the Army actually appreciates the special warfare capabilities that reside in Army Special Operations more than the rest of USSOCOM.  After all it is the Army that has incorporated special warfare and surgical strike as the doctrinal descriptions of special warfare and surgical strike and not USSOCOM.  I think General Votel is the only member of USSOCOM in Tampa to use the words special warfare (again see this JFQ article  

What we do not have is an organization that is organized and optimized to conduct special warfare.  Perhaps the Army ought to recall its special operations forces (assuming that Title 10 Section 167 could be repealed) and form a Special Warfare organization that would be organized, trained, equipped, and optimized for special warfare.  The forces exist to conduct special warfare but there is no organization to conduct special warfare with the priorities, authorities, and resources similar to the scale of those that exist with our premier surgical strike organization.  Of course my words are sacrilege and I will probably be forced to turn in my SOF union card but my extreme rhetoric is really meant to ask are we giving sufficient priority to our special warfare capabilities.  Again, I think the Army appreciates them perhaps a bit more than the broader SOF community and certainly more than our policy makers and political leaders who desire the strategic tokenism offered by employment of our surgical strike forces (and I do not mean to disparage those forces at all - we have the best in the world and we need to sustain the highest level of capability within that force).  But I am not the first to ask these questions.  In 2009 someone named Yasotay asked whether we still need a USSOCOM at this link:  (Full disclosure - I do believe in USSOCOM but I believe we need to place greater priority on our special warfare forces but not at the expense of our surgical strike forces.)

Welcome to the Age of the Commando

  • by Matt Gallagher 
  •  Jan. 30, 2016 
  •  6 min read 
  •  original
A FEW months ago, my wife and I had dinner with a couple we didn’t know very well. It was awkward at first, but there was wine, and conversation soon followed. At one point, the wife asked about my tour in Iraq, where I served four years as a cavalry officer. I began talking about the desert, the tribal politics and the day-to-day travails of counterinsurgency. “That’s all fine,” the husband interrupted. “But tell us about the super-soldiers. The Special-Ops guys. That’s what people care about.”
He had no time for “G.I. Joe.” He wanted “American Sniper.”
He is not alone. The mythos of Special Operations has seized our nation’s popular imagination, and has proved to be the one prism through which the public will engage with America’s wars. From the box office to bookstores, the Special Ops commando — quiet and professional, stoic and square-jawed — thrives. That he works in the shadows, where missions are classified and enemy combatants come in silhouettes of night-vision green, is all for the better — details only complicate. We like our heroes sanitized, perhaps especially in murky times like these.
The age of the commando, though, is more than pop cultural fantasy emanating from Hollywood. It’s now a significant part of our military strategy.
Last month the White House announced the nomination of Gen. Joseph L. Votel to lead United States Central Command, which is responsible for military operations in 20 countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria and Saudi Arabia — in other words, the hotbed of our geopolitical conflicts. General Votel has been the head of the military’s Special Operations Command since 2014. His Central Command nomination represents a break in tradition; it has almost always gone to generals of more conventional backgrounds. Military analysts hailed it as a sign of the Obama administration’s trust in, and reliance on, Special Operations.
Special Operations Command, or Socom, oversees all Special Operations Forces — our Delta Force operators, Navy SEALs, Green Berets, Army Rangers, among others. Special Operations personnel deployed to approximately 139 nations in 2015 — about 70 percent of the countries on the planet. While a vast majority of those missions involve training the defense forces of partner countries, a few involve direct combat.
In December, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter announced at a House hearing that an “expeditionary targeting force” will be sent to Iraq to conduct raids on top Islamic State targets. They’ll be joining the roughly 3,500 troops already there working as advisers and trainers. President Obama seems desperate to strike a balance between doing nothing in the region and not reneging on his “no boots on the ground” promises.
Clearly, commandos have boots, and those boots touch the ground. But White House officials have taken to what a report in this newspaper recently called “linguistic contortions” to obscure the forces’ combat roles.
As the military as a whole downsizes, Special Ops recruitment continues to rise. There are approximately 70,000 Special Ops personnel today, a number that includes soldiers, civilians, National Guard and Reservists, as well. This number is up from 45,600 in 2001 and 61,400 in 2011. Still, Adm. William H. McRaven — then the head of Socom — told Congress in 2014 that “the force has continued to fray” from the endless deployment cycles. In response, the Army alone last year put out a call for 5,000 new Special Ops candidates.
In the political sense, the policy works. The secrecy surrounding Special Ops keeps the heavy human costs of war off the front pages. But in doing so, it also keeps the nonmilitary public wholly disconnected from the armed violence carried out in our name. It enables our state of perpetual warfare, and ensures that as little as we care and understand today, we’ll care and understand even less tomorrow.
Special Operations are not a panacea. Just as SWAT teams can’t fulfill their purpose without everyday beat cops on corners, operators can’t and don’t function in a vacuum. Many a military analyst has compared our current “counterterror” approach to a Band-Aid; while effective, that effectiveness has no clear end state. And recent history suggests an overreliance on our commandos can lead to tragedy. In 1993, in Somalia, Special Operations seemed a cure-all, too. Then came the battle of Mogadishu. Same with 1980 and Operation Eagle Claw, as we desperately tried to end the Iran hostage crisis. The former led to a short-lived retreat from international intervention, the latter to the very creation of Socom.
Further, like a postmodern Praetorian Guard, our operators don’t serve at the will of the American people. Though Congress holds the purse strings for Special Operations, decisions about individual missions are not generally put before them for approval. Individual force commanders overwhelmingly make those calls. While Mr. Obama has proved cautious in authorizing their use, the next commander in chief might not be so prudent.
Clear away the smoke and romance, and Special Ops often function as highly trained kill squads sent out into the beyond in the name of country. They are the best there is at that. But this strategy ensures a recurring cycle of armed conflict, a decision of such significance that all citizens need to be weighing it and considering it, not just a select few.
My own experience with Special Ops is mixed. I didn’t have many positive encounters with them overseas. As part of the fabled surge in Iraq, my scout platoon and I patrolled a rural town north of Baghdad for 15 months on a counterinsurgency mission that often seemed to conflict with that of the operators.
IN early 2008 we were called to a farm to help pick up the pieces after a commando raid. A tribal leader claimed that two of his lieutenants had been taken by mistake by “the other Americans, the ones with helicopters.” Those other Americans, the tribal leader told me, said that the two Iraqis were brothers, and members of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Now we were left to explain to the men’s family why they were gone, why their house had been cycloned, and why a placard of Mecca had been torn from a wall, and receive the hard stares from those men’s children as we stood over a dead pet dog that had been shot during the raid.
I didn’t tell that story to our dinner companions, though. Instead I talked about a visit I made to Tacoma, Wash., in 2011, when I got to know the other side of these other Americans. I’d left the military and was now a writer, or trying to be one. A college friend and his Ranger unit were returning from Afghanistan, and I had visions of writing a tale of young men constantly at war but in between battles.
The Rangers, the Special Ops unit that Pat Tillman left his N.F.L. career in 2002 to join, is a proving ground of sorts, and attracts many younger soldiers. Though designed in part as an elite light infantry for airfield seizures, the Rangers have seen their purpose morph: More than ever, kill-or-capture raids are their raison d’être. They’re the fullbacks of the Special Ops world, all brute force and power, as memorialized in the film “Black Hawk Down”: “We get on the five-yard line,” a Ranger officer tells a dismissive Delta soldier, “you’re going to need my Rangers.”
The days in Tacoma were spent trying (and failing) to get the Rangers’ public affairs office to approve on-post access. The nights in Tacoma were mostly spent in bars with young Rangers looking to unwind from their last tour while also prepping for the next one. They described the routine: three to six months deployed, three to six months stateside, rinse and repeat. Elizabeth Samet, who teaches English at West Point, calls these service members “war commuters.” More than one observer in Tacoma, including some partners and spouses, termed it an addiction.
If that was true — and it didn’t apply to many, in my estimation — they’d have their reasons.
A number of Rangers I met joked that vampires saw more light than they did during their deployments. I came to see these young men in a way I hadn’t when I’d worn the uniform myself, because of the way they embraced the endlessness of it all. They weren’t fighting for resolution, as we’d been in Iraq, or how we thought we’d been. Peace over there wasn’t their goal. Calm back here was.
I didn’t agree with that worldview, not at all. But I still appreciated it.
On Super Bowl Sunday, my friend and I were invited to watch the game with a group of older sergeants. It seemed that most had already settled into their stateside lives, sharing diaper responsibilities with their wives, swapping war stories with one another in between.
While the adults watched the game, kids ran around with Nerf guns as big as they were. This was no Cowboys and Indians. They were playing “Rangers and Rangers.” They all wanted to be like Daddy, and none were willing to play the role of an Al Qaeda jihadist, even in pretend.
Continue reading the main story
The baby-faced Ranger privates I helped sneak into bars in 2011 are hardened sergeants by now. The sergeants I met are either in charge of entire Ranger companies or have moved into the so-called black units of Socom, like Delta Force. They remain anonymous silhouettes to the country they serve, not just because their bosses at the Pentagon want it that way, but because we do, too.
The other Americans, indeed.
Matt Gallagher is a former Army captain, Iraq war veteran and author of the novel “Youngblood.”
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A version of this op-ed appears in print on January 31, 2016, on page SR6 of the New York edition with the headline: Welcome to the Age of the Commando. Today's Paper|Subscribe

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"The Radicalized Foreign Fighter Threat: Real or Imagined? Dr. Bruce Hoffman & Dr. Daniel Byman

This 85 minute You Tube video is worth watching as two of our nation's pre-eminent scholars on terrorism share their analyses and disagreements on the foreign fighter threat.  In addition to the critically important analysis they both provide this is worth watching to illustrate the collegiality between two professionals and scholars who disagree.  I wish we could see such discourse among all the analysts on national security issues.

Published on Jan 17, 2016
Dr. Bruce Hoffman & Dr. Daniel Byman present "The Radicalized Foreign Fighter Threat: Real or Imagined?" at the CSS Lunchtime Series, on 14 January, 2016.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone By Joseph L. Votel, Charles T. Cleveland, Charles T. Connett, and Will Irwin

This is one of the best descriptions of modern unconventional warfare and special warfare.

Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone

By Joseph L. Votel, Charles T. Cleveland, Charles T. Connett, and Will Irwin | January 01, 2016
General Joseph L. Votel, USA, is the Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. Lieutenant General Charles T. Cleveland, USA (Ret.), is a former Commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Colonel Charles T. Connett, USA, is Director of the Commander’s Initiatives Group at Headquarters U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Lieutenant Colonel Will Irwin, USA (Ret.), is a resident Senior Fellow at the Joint Special Operations University.
In the months immediately following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in the autumn of 2001, a small special operations forces (SOF) element and interagency team, supported by carrier- and land-based airstrikes, brought down the illegitimate Taliban government in Afghanistan that had been providing sanctuary for al Qaeda. This strikingly successful unconventional warfare (UW) operation was carried out with a U.S. “boots on the ground” presence of roughly 350 SOF and 110 interagency operatives working alongside an indigenous force of some 15,000 Afghan irregulars.1 The Taliban regime fell within a matter of weeks. Many factors contributed to this extraordinary accomplishment, but its success clearly underscores the potential and viability of this form of warfare.
Special operations forces are extracted from mountain pinnacle in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, after executing air-assault mission to disrupt insurgent communications (U.S. Army/Aubree Clute)
Special operations forces are extracted from mountain pinnacle in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, after executing air-assault mission to disrupt insurgent communications (U.S. Army/Aubree Clute)
What followed this remarkably effective operation was more than a decade of challenging and costly large-scale irregular warfare campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq employing hundreds of thousands of U.S. and coalition troops. Now, as Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have come to an end, the defense budget is shrinking, the Armed Forces are drawing down in strength, and support for further large-scale deployment of troops has ebbed. Our nation is entering a period where threats and our response to those threats will take place in a segment of the conflict continuum that some are calling the “Gray Zone,”2 and SOF are the preeminent force of choice in such conditions.
The Gray Zone is characterized by intense political, economic, informational, and military competition more fervent in nature than normal steady-state diplomacy, yet short of conventional war. It is hardly new, however. The Cold War was a 45-year-long Gray Zone struggle in which the West succeeded in checking the spread of communism and ultimately witnessed the dissolution of the Soviet Union. To avoid superpower confrontations that might escalate to all-out nuclear war, the Cold War was largely a proxy war, with the United States and Soviet Union backing various state or nonstate actors in small regional conflicts and executing discrete superpower intervention and counter-intervention around the globe. Even the Korean and Vietnam conflicts were fought under political constraints that made complete U.S. or allied victory virtually impossible for fear of escalation.
After more than a decade of intense large-scale counterinsurgency and counterterrorism campaigning, the U.S. capability to conduct Gray Zone operations—small-footprint, low-visibility operations often of a covert or clandestine nature—may have atrophied. In the words of one writer, the United States must recognize that “the space between war and peace is not an empty one”3 that we can afford to vacate. Because most of our current adversaries choose to engage us in an asymmetrical manner, this represents an area where “America’s enemies and adversaries prefer to operate.”4
Nations such as Russia, China, and Iran have demonstrated a finely tuned risk calculus. Russia belligerently works to expand its sphere of influence and control into former Soviet or Warsaw Pact territory to the greatest degree possible without triggering a North Atlantic Treaty Organization Article 5 response. China knows that its assertive actions aimed at expanding its sovereignty in the South China Sea fall short of eliciting a belligerent U.S. or allied response. Iran has displayed an impressive degree of sophistication in its ability to employ an array of proxies against U.S. and Western interests.
While “Gray Zone” refers to a space in the peace-conflict continuum, the methods for engaging our adversaries in that environment have much in common with the political warfare that was predominant during the Cold War years. Political warfare is played out in that space between diplomacy and open warfare, where traditional statecraft is inadequate or ineffective and large-scale conventional military options are not suitable or are deemed inappropriate for a variety of reasons. Political warfare is a population-centric engagement that seeks to influence, to persuade, even to co-opt. One of its staunchest proponents, George Kennan, described it as “the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives,” including overt measures such as white propaganda, political alliances, and economic programs, to “such covert operations as clandestine support of ‘friendly’ foreign elements, ‘black’ psychological warfare, and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.”5
Organized political warfare served as the basis for U.S. foreign policy during the early Cold War years and it was later revived during the Reagan administration. But, as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations observed, it has become a lost art and one that he and others believe needs to be rediscovered and mastered.6 SOF are optimized for providing the preeminent military contribution to a national political warfare capability because of their inherent proficiency in low-visibility, small-footprint, and politically sensitive operations. SOF provide national decisionmakers “strategic options for protecting and advancing U.S. national interests without committing major combat forces to costly, long-term contingency operations.”7
Human Domain-Centric Core Tasks for SOF
SOF provide several options for operating in the political warfare realm, especially those core tasks that are grouped under the term special warfare. Foreign internal defense (FID) operations are conducted to support a friendly foreign government in its efforts to defeat an internal threat. In terms of strategic application, UW represents the opposite approach, where the U.S. Government supports a resistance movement or insurgency against an occupying power or adversary government.
Figure 1.
Both of these special warfare tasks rely heavily on SOF ability to build trust and confidence with our indigenous partners—host nation military and paramilitary forces in the case of FID, irregular resistance elements in the case of UW—to generate mass through indigenous forces, thus eliminating the need for a large U.S. force presence (see figure 1). It is this indigenous mass that helps minimize strategic risk during Gray Zone operations: “Special Warfare campaigns stabilize or destabilize a regime by operating ‘through and with’ local state or nonstate partners, rather than through unilateral U.S. action.”8 As described in a recent RAND study, discrete and usually multi-year special warfare campaigns are characterized by six central features:
  • Their goal is stabilizing or destabilizing the targeted regime.
  • Local partners provide the main effort.
  • U.S. forces maintain a small (or no) footprint in the country.
  • They are typically of long duration and may require extensive preparatory work better measured in months (or years) than days.
  • They require intensive interagency cooperation; Department of Defense (DOD) elements may be subordinate to the Department of State or the Central Intelligence Agency.
  • They employ “political warfare” methods to mobilize, neutralize, or integrate individuals or groups from the tactical to strategic levels.9
Many examples exist of successful long-duration, low-visibility U.S. SOF-centric FID operations in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. From 1980 through 1991, U.S. support to the government of El Salvador fighting an insurgency in that country included an advisory force that never exceeded 55 personnel. The conflict ended with a favorable negotiated settlement. Similar successes against lower level insurgencies took place in neighboring Honduras and Guatemala. More recently, U.S. SOF have played a central role in effective long-term FID efforts conducted in support of the governments of Colombia and the Philippines.
Less well known and understood by those outside of SOF is the core task of unconventional warfare.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Georgetown Security Studies Review Volume 4, Number 1 January 2016

The latest edition of our student run peer-reviewed security studies review can be downloaded at this link:
The home page for the review is at this link:

Georgetown Security Studies Review
Volume 4, Number 1
January 2016

Why Greater American-Russian Counter-ISIL Cooperation is
Needed ................................................................................................. 4
Blake Bassett

Secret Evidence and its Legalities in an Evolving World of
Intelligence and Cybersecurity ....................................................... 36
Donna Artusy

Realism, World War I, and the US-China Relationship .............. 51
Abigail Casey

The Russian Counterinsurgency Campaign in Chechnya During
the Second War and Chechenizatsia .............................................. 69
David Sidamonidze

Atlanticist Drift: French Security Policy After de Gaulle ............ 93
Daniel Lim

The Islamic State’s Social Media and Recruitment Strategy:
Papering Over a Flimsy Caliphate ............................................... 120
Ryan Pereira

Friday, January 1, 2016

(Clinton Email on COIN) U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05760317 Date: 12/31/201

A fascinating email from the just released Clinton emails.   It mentions Bernard Fall's 1965 essay reprinted in the 1998 Naval War College Review "Theory and Practice of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency."  I would commend everyone to reading its 11 short pages.  It can be accessed from my blog at this link:

You might want to read the email below first and then my comments.

The email to Secretary Clinton references Fall and revolutionary warfare in Vietnam so I thought I would send the link to the entire essay and note this excerpt below which may be relevant to the discussions on the Gray Zone and other naming conventions.  I think it is also why there are those who advocate  the need to be able to conduct counter-guerrilla operations which should be the major military contribution of any campaign that addresses insurgency.  But it is the ideological aspect that makes this different from other conflicts and why I am an advocate of the study of revolution, resistance, and insurgency. (

Fall mentions that sublimited warfare is meaningless.  He must have been referencing the 1962 chart I have posted below which I think is interesting to examine in light of our search to explain AND NAME forms and characteristics of conflict short of war today.  As an aside I have also included a chart from the 1962 Special Warfare magazine (which can be downloaded at this link.  The article "Use the Right Word" is in the "Introduction" which is hot linked on the page at this link.

Excerpt from Fall's essay.

One of the problems one immediately faces is that of terminology. Obviously "sublimited warfare" is meaningless, and "insurgency" or "counterinsurgency" hardly define the problem. But the definition that I think will fit the subject is "revolutionary warfare" (RW). 

Let me state this definition: RW = G + P, or, "revolutionary warfare equals guerrilla warfare plus political action." This formula for revolutionary warfare is the result of the application of guerrilla methods to the furtherance of an ideology or a political system. This is the real difference between partisan warfare, guerrilla warfare, and everything else. "Guerrilla" simply means "small war," to which the correct Army answer is (and that applies to all Western armies) that everybody knows how to fight small wars; no second lieutenant of the infantry ever learns anything else but how to fight small wars. 

 Political action, however, is the difference. The communists, or shall we say, any sound revolutionary warfare operator (the French underground, the Norwegian underground, or any other European anti-Nazi underground) most of the time used small-war tactics--not to destroy the German Army, of which they were thoroughly incapable, but to establish a competitive system of control over the population. Of course, in order to do this, here and there they had to kill some of the occupying forces and attack some of the military targets. But above all they had to kill their own people who collaborated with the enemy. 

But the "kill" aspect, the military aspect, definitely always remained the minor aspect. The political, administrative, ideological aspect is the primary aspect. Everybody, of course, by definition, will seek a military solution to the insurgency problem, whereas by its very nature, the insurgency problem is military only in a secondary sense, and political, ideological, and administrative in a primary sense. Once we understand this, we will understand more of what is actually going on in Viet-Nam or in some of the other places affected by RW. 

U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05760317 Date: 12/31/201

by SWJ Editors

SWJ Blog Post | December 31, 2015 - 7:14pm
From today’s Department of State FOIA release of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Includes counterinsurgency discussion concerning Afghanistan strategy based on a historical perspective. Redacted portions are excluded.
UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05760317 Date: 12/31/2015
From: sbwhoeor
Sent: Friday, November 13, 2009 6:48 AM
Re: H: Memo on Afghan. Sid
Hope it's helpful. Both are available to talk.
Sent via Cingular Xpress Mail with Blackberry
Original Message
Date: Fri, 13 Nov 2009 06:35:10
To: 'sbwhoeop
Subject: Re: H: Memo on Afghan. Sid
Thx so much for sending.
Original Message
From: sbwhoeor
To: H
Sent: Thu Nov 12 19:25:02 2009
Subject: H: Memo on Afghan. Sid
November 12, 2009
For: Hillary
From: Sid
Re: Afghanistan strategy
Below are two documents: One is a memo frorr
Who served in the counter-insurgency program in Vietnam with John Paul Vann. He writes about Bernard Fall, the great French journalist and analyst, whom he studied with. His memo is a critique of COIN proposals and his own recommendations.
The other document consists of notes from my conversation with William Murray, former station chief of CIA in Pakistan. He was one of the members of a small CIA team, including Milt Bearden (whom you probably know and who is close to Richard Holbrooke), that directed the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation. Murray also served as station chief elsewhere, including Lebanon. His remarks focus on the lack of a clear mission and message in Afghanistan.
I neither endorse nor disputes and Murray's analyses, but simply present them.
Counterinsurgency — a much failed strategy?
Bernard Fall was one of the most significant theoreticians and practitioner of Counterinsurgency (COIN) in the 20th Century. He was the expert most listened to at the Special Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg when LTG William Yarborough commanded the school there in the Kennedy and Johnson eras.
Fall defined COIN clearly. He said that: Counterinsurgency = political reform + economic development + counter guerrilla operations
This theory of warfare was developed by the colonial powers as a "cure" for the wave on "wars of national liberation" that swept through their overseas possessions after World War Two. Because of these revolts against authority most of the European powers found themselves faced with colonized populations engaged in extended attempts to obtain independence from the metropole. Such rebellions were usually based on ethnic and racial differences with the colonizers and were often led by vanguard Left parties with communist connections. That connection caused an eventual American policy commitment to the COIN struggle. That commitment sometimes occurred as a partner of the colonial power (Vietnam in the late '40s and '50s) and sometimes as a successor to the colonial power after at least partial independence had bee achieved. (Vietnam after the French)
COIN theory was seen by both the former colonial officers who taught it at Bragg and their American disciples of the time as the opposite of the methods of the anti-colonial insurgents who were thought to practice something called "revolutionary warfare." (RW) Revolutionary Warfare + Political subversion (including propaganda) + economic transformation (usually socialist) + guerilla warfare (to include terrorism)
(Continued at the link below)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Congress Has Embraced Unconventional Warfare: Will the US Military and The Rest of the US Government?

My latest article on Small Wars Journal.

Congress Has Embraced Unconventional Warfare: Will the US Military and The Rest of the US Government?

by David S. Maxwell

Journal Article | December 29, 2015 - 1:56pm
Congress Has Embraced Unconventional Warfare: Will the US Military and The Rest of the US Government?
David S. Maxwell
With the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 the United States Congress has embraced what Russia, Iran, China, Al Qaeda and even ISIS have long known and that is unconventional warfare (UW) is a form of warfare that is optimized for achieving national objectives in the space between peace and war.  Congress, in Section 1097, has directed the Secretary of Defense to develop a strategy to counter unconventional warfare being conducted by adversaries of the US.  Congress recognizes the US has a strategy gap between peace and war and the directive to the SECDEF is the forcing function necessary to develop a strategy and to bring new and creative thinking to the national security challenges we face.
What is Unconventional Warfare?
In Section 1097 and in joint US military doctrine it is defined as “activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area.”
However, our adversaries employ their own unique forms of unconventional warfare by effectively integrating conventional and special operations forces, all elements of their national power, and in particular psychological warfare, while exploiting conditions, to include resistance, in countries and regions around the world to counter the west and often the US directly in order to achieve their political and security objectives.  They take a more holistic approach to unconventional warfare and are willing to employ it as a matter of course.  In     contrast the US has long viewed unconventional warfare as something only Special Forces conduct and then only to be used in very rare situations when there are no other alternatives.  In short, in the past the US has shown it does not have the stomach for unconventional warfare.  Fortunately, Congress has recognized this shortfall in US security strategy.
Directive from Congress
DOD has 180 days to provide to Congress a strategy to counter unconventional warfare.  The clock is ticking.  It will be interesting to read the response to Section 1097.  One possible bureaucratic course of action would consist of reviewing what the Department is already doing and showing the metrics of terrorists removed from the battlefield and listing all the capabilities the Department has that are and can be used to counter-unconventional warfare.  The Department will even tout the new joint unconventional warfare doctrine from the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved in September 2015.  The purpose of this course of action would be to meet the Congressional requirement with minimal disruption to the department and thus get Congress off its back.  Another course of action would be to view this as an opportunity for Congressional support of a new strategy that would be based on a thorough understanding of our adversaries’ strategies and how they are employing unconventional warfare.  The question is how with the department respond?
My concern is that the department and the rest of the US government will continue to have no desire to have anything to do with unconventional warfare.  It is complicated, messy, time-consuming, and hard to measure effectiveness and success especially when compared to counterterrorism and surgical strike operations where immediate results are demonstrated in the number of terrorists removed from the battlefield.
Why Focus on Counter-Unconventional Warfare Strategy?
First, our enemies are conducting their unique forms of unconventional warfare; Russia, Iran, China, Al Qaeda, ISIS (I think AQ and ISIS are much broader than "simply" terrorist organizations.)  We need to recognize the strategies they are using and attack those strategies to effectively operate in the "Gray Zone” between peace and war.
Second, focusing on our enemies conducting their unique forms of UW should lead to the recognition that we have to operate in the Special Warfare realm and not just the Surgical Strike realm.
Third, focusing on terrorism has caused us to think too tactically while a focus on counter UW can drive us to think more strategically and holistically about the problems we face by understanding the enemy’s strategy which poses complex political and military problems.
The Future of Warfare in the Gap Between Peace and War: Past is Prologue
As I opined in 2012 before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee looking at the future of irregular warfare, we tend to prefer conventional conflict that can be defined as  "an armed struggle or clash between organized political parties within a nation or between nations in order to achieve political or military objectives.”  However, what we more routinely face is conflict that is “non-conventional” in nature.  It is something ambiguous and difficult to understand.  It extends the continuum of conflict.  Conflict in the conventional sense begins when the armed struggle begins; however, non-conventional conflict encompasses a broad range of types of conflict, starting with thethreat or possibility of conflict and extending past conflict termination, because the conditions that gave rise to hostilities in the first place may still remain, though not visible or easily recognized.  It also includes armed clashes by unorganized groups that are not seeking to achieve any political or military objectives but may be exploited by external actors.  Non-conventional conflict encompasses the lawlessness of a society in which the governmental system has collapsed, but no organized group has risen to take its place.  Violence and terrorist-like activity can occur out of frustration with no identifiable purpose.  This type of conflict is non-conventional, because it is difficult to determine the objectives and methods of the actors, perhaps difficult to even determine the actors, and thus it is difficult to apply conventional elements of power.  This is the sensitive and complex environment that our adversaries seek to exploit through their unique applications of unconventional warfare.
Since 9-11 we have embarked on the search for new names of forms of conflict and doctrinal terms to address those conflicts and the ever evolving nature of conflict.  We rediscovered Counterinsurgency; we have tried Asymmetric, Hybrid, and Fourth Generation Warfare and now the Gray Zone.  We have invented new doctrinal concepts such as Security Force Assistance; Train, Advise, and Assist; Building Partner Capacity, Train and Equip Programs, Human Domain, and ultimately decided on irregular warfare as the way to describe conflict in the post 9-11 world.  If we examine the history of conflict at theCorrelates of War Project we would realize the irony that what we are calling irregular in fact has been more regular than what we describe as conventional war.  Less that 20% of all conflicts since 1815 have been state-on-state conventional conflicts.  Or simply peruse Sir Lawrence Freedman’s Strategy: A History and Max Boot’s Invisible Armies to see that irregular warfare is the most prevalent form of warfare and is in fact pretty regular.
But at the heart of irregular warfare lies revolution, resistance, and insurgency.  These phenomena are taking place around the world but they are not new.  If you want to be a practitioner and strategist and operate in and develop strategy for the Gray Zone in the space between peace and war and conductpolitical warfareunconventional warfare, and counter-unconventional warfare, as well as operate effectively in the human domain then you must read, study, and internalize the fundamentals of revolution, resistance, and insurgency as embodied in the Assessing Revolutionary and Insurgent Strategies (ARIS) project first produced by the Special Operations Research Office (SORO ) in the 1950's and 1960's. It now continues under the direction of the U S Army Special Operations Command and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory's National Security Division.  Most important it is unconventional warfare that can support or exploit revolution, resistance, and insurgency.
Russian, Iranian, Chinese, and US Approaches to Unconventional Warfare
Unconventional warfare has not been and is not now well accepted within the US military and the US government.  The most recent attempt to raise unconventional warfare as a strategic option for our national security strategy illustrates the issue.  Some 28 years after the establishment of the USSOCOM in 1987, the command produced for the first time a joint unconventional warfare doctrinal manual.  USSOCOM had to lobby for over a year to get joint staff approval just to write the manual and when it was completed and approved in September 2015 the Joint Staff decided to make the manual For Official Use Only (FOUO).  Although this is not a classification it in effect makes the manual unavailable to the public as well as to academia.   I can only speculate the on the rationale for this but some action officers have said that it is a result of the controversy surround the unconventional warfare exercise Jade Helm that took place in 2015.  The real impact of this decision is summed up in the words of one my mentors who said that the surest way to make a doctrinal manual irrelevant and useless is to make it FOUO.
While the Joint Staff allowed unconventional warfare doctrine to be marginalized our adversaries have been perfecting and employing theirs.  The following charts summarize the unique unconventional warfare approaches of the RussiansIranians, and the Chinese.  The last chart summarizes the US approach to supporting a resistance or insurgency.  As you read these charts notice that the Russian, Iranian, and Chinese approaches provide a strategic framework for understanding how they will employ special operations and conventional forces and all the instruments of national power to accomplish their objectives while the US approach is very tactical and focused on “how to do” UW by Special Forces only.
Russian New Generation Warfare
(Continued at the link below)