On Irregular Warfare

Irregular Warfare, Both Future and Present by Walter Pincus, Washington Post.

It is the newest Pentagon doctrine, one that has been under discussion for several years and has been the focus of little-publicized, multinational, computerized war games. Now it will be put to the test in Afghanistan and Iraq by United States Central Command.

Last week, Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert H. Holmes, Central Command's deputy director of operations, told reporters that an interagency task force on irregular warfare is about to be announced. He called it "our way at the combatant command to be able to focus all of the instruments of power in order to prosecute the irregular warfight in our region."

But what does "irregular warfare" mean?

Essentially, it is an approach to future conflict that the United States has been carrying out ad hoc in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two years ago, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England signed off on a Pentagon "working definition" that described it as "a form of warfare that has as its objective the credibility and/or legitimacy of the relevant political authority with the goal of undermining or supporting that authority." ...

And from Westhawk - 'Irregular warfare' is now legitimate, a decade too late.

... Central Command's interest in the scaled-down indirect approach, with small teams of U.S. soldiers working from the start through existing indigenous groups, shows that the Big Army's previous preference for large-footprint major combat operations or COIN strategies is now heading for the sunset. The merits of irregular warfare will intrigue war planners who have lived through the frustrating experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Indirect methods look attractive now. Ironically, it was Central Command that a decade ago rejected an unconventional warfare option against Saddam's regime...

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General Al Gray and then Major Tony Zinni and several others all "got it" in the late 1980's, seek Gray's article from 1988 at www.oss.net/BASIC. The problem is three-fold:

1) Service leaderships are hooked on big ticket items and not at all interested in winning wars (less Army, but even Army before Schoomaker (B.S.) had this disease.

2) Failure of generalship and admiralship is a result of indoctrination, confusing loyalty with integrity (we are supposed to defend the Constitution, not the chain of command), being surrounded by sychophants, being cut off from iconoclasts, and a genuine confusion over the difference between accepting civilian leadership and accepting civilian idiocy or criminality.

3) USG budget is "out of control" because Congress is a two-party crime family that has been bought and is a fully owned subsidiary of Wall Street. This means that those civilian agencies that need money for Whole of Government operations do not get it because they don't offer enough high-tech pork or jobs at home--e.g. there is no tangible benefit to Kansas of having 1000 foreign service officers from Kansas who spend their lives and dollars overseas.

The so-called Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) has two sucking chest wounds that they refuse to acknowledge because their "board" consists of samo-samo old boys, and all they really want to do is make the pork streamlined for the military. They are not serious about open source intelligence, multinational and multiagency information sharing and sensemaking, or about Whole of Nation and Whole of All operations (harmonizing spending and behavior by all in any given grid). See www.oss.net/PIG for the handbook.

Irregular Warfare has great promise, but not until SecDef admits that he has to give up $200 billion a year in non-reimbursable transfers to other non-military agencies and capabilities.

Semper Fi,
Robert Steele

I tend to agree with Herschel Smith, that the small footprint COIN scheme was a loser. Much better was the small footprint IN scheme such as was so effective in 2001 Afghanistan. Obviously it requires different skills than are required for COIN.

" If considering a full-blown insurgency such as in Iraq or Afghanistan, the small footprint model for COIN is a loser every time and in every place it has been tried in this part of the world"

Well, at times it is going to be a choice of A "small footprint" vs. none at all for domestic political reasons and that is just as much a factor to be dealt with in the real world as the indigenous politics "over there".

El Salvador in the 1980's was handled, officially, on 50+ advisers. Ideal ? Probably not. Good enough ? Fortunately, yes. We don't know what cards will be dealt out in 2012, 2016 or 2020.

If the focus on irregular warfare is meant to hone the skills for and implement proactive state-making (let's say, such as fomenting an insurgency inside of Iran for the purpose of regime change), then I'm all for it and have advocated this approach for a long time.

If this is nothing more than recapitulating the small-footprint COIN argument, then I have said enough awful things and spewed enough disdain on my own blog about this. No need to rehash it. If considering a full-blown insurgency such as in Iraq or Afghanistan, the small footprint model for COIN is a loser every time and in every place it has been tried in this part of the world. No amount of doctrinal gesticulations and hand waving can make a loser strategy into a winner strategy.

True. Yet again proof that 'doctrine' is NOT the Holy Grail, it is simply the transcription of thoughts by humans -- with all the foibles that entails.

"working definition" that described it as "a form of warfare that has as its objective the credibility and/or legitimacy of the relevant political authority with the goal of undermining or supporting that authority." ...

William Lind/van Creveld's's radical heresy is now approaching the status of holy doctrine.