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Category: Insurgency/Irregular Warfare

Jan. 1, 2016

Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone

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.

July 1, 2015

Rapid Regeneration of Irregular Warfare Capacity

There is widespread agreement among the public and in the foreign and defense communities that the United States should avoid “another Iraq” or “another Afghanistan”—that is, another large-scale, long-term, and highly costly stability operation. President Obama’s reluctance to put “boots on the ground” in Iraq is but the most recent example of this reaction against the high costs and questionable outcomes of the conflicts in those two countries.

Sept. 30, 2014

Challenges in Coalition Unconventional Warfare: The Allied Campaign in Yugoslavia, 1941–1945

During World War II, operatives and military advisors of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was a precursor to both the current Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Forces, conducted a challenging unconventional warfare (UW) campaign against the Axis forces with and through guerrilla resistance elements in Yugoslavia. The resistance movement effectively fixed in place 35 German and Italian divisions, consisting of roughly 660,000 soldiers in the western Balkan region during 1941–1945.1 This campaign rendered them strategically irrelevant by preventing their use in other theaters. The combined United Kingdom (UK)–United States (U.S.) contingent achieved this effect with never more than 100 Allied personnel on the ground in the denied area. The number of Axis personnel killed in the Balkans is estimated at 450,000.2 This extremely favorable force ratio and its associated effects commend UW as a low-cost, high-reward method of warfare.

July 1, 2011

The Evolving Threat of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

The United States faces an important strategic question in northwest Africa: what level of activity by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) would constitute a sufficient threat to U.S. national security interests to warrant a more aggressive political, intelligence, military, and law enforcement response? AQIM already poses the greatest immediate threat of transnational terrorism in the region, and its operational range and sophistication continue to expand. Since 2007, the group has professed its loyalty to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s senior leadership and claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks in the subregion. These attacks have included the use of suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, kidnapping operations, and assassinations.

Dec. 1, 2010

The Surge: General Petraeus and the Turnaround in Iraq

When General David H. Petraeus, USA, took command of Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF–I) on February 10, 2007, beginning his 3d tour and 28th month in Iraq, the situation was grim. Increasing sectarian violence had led to an escalation of killings of civilians in Iraq, with up to 150 corpses being found daily in Baghdad.1 The government of Prime Minister Nouri alMaliki was viewed by almost everyone as ineffective at best, and the U.S. military strategy was not well defined and clearly not working. Iraq appeared to be sliding out of control toward civil war or disintegration, and the United States appeared to be headed inexorably toward defeat— another Vietnam. Popular sentiment held that the best course of action was to cut our losses and disengage from a fight we were losing. General George Casey, USA, the outgoing commander of MNF–I, had supported a gradual drawdown of U.S. forces and a handoff of security tasks to Iraqi forces even as the situation got worse

Feb. 1, 2008

So Many Zebras, So Little Time: Ecological Models and Counterinsurgency Operations

Force ratios are an important variable in warfare and in nature. On the Serengeti, large zebra herds are constantly hunted by small prides of lions. But with their overwhelming majority, why don’t the zebras unite and attack the lions? Hooves can be as deadly as claws when used correctly. And conversely, if the lions are such effective predators, why are there so many zebras?