Small Wars Journal

Special Warfare "Threefer"

Three recent articles in Special Warfare recommended via e-mail (Hat tip to COL Dave Maxwell):

The Great UW Debate by Colonel David M. Witty.

The Special Forces community has been trying to articulate a definition for unconventional warfare, or UW, for well over 50 years. The pages of previous issues of this magazine are full of articles discussing the definition and scope of UW. The community's failure to clearly state a concise definition of UW to itself, the Army, the joint force, and other government agencies makes it appear that it is at best, doctrinally adrift, or at worst, intellectually lacking. Given the increased emphasis on irregular warfare and the fact that UW is one of the five IW activities, the SF community needs to agree on what UW is or risk losing credibility.

Effective Use of FID: Expands SF Influence by Captain Stephen C. Flanagan.

During the past six years of combat rotations to Iraq, United States Army Special Forces have refined their lines of operation, or LOOs, to meet the ever-evolving challenges presented on the battlefield of counterinsurgency, or COIN. The LOOs directed by combined joint special-operations task forces, or CJSOTFs, in Iraq and Afghanistan have varied greatly over time and have included: targeting enemy networks, conducting tribal engagements, conducting information and psychological operations, conducting combined lethal operations and developing networks of influence. However, one LOO that has remained the constant emphasis for the 10th SF Group in shaping the battlefield in Operation Iraqi Freedom is the conduct of foreign internal defense, or FID.

The Lion, the Starfish and the Spider by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bruce E. DeFeyter.

Today policy-makers, law-enforcement officials and military leaders struggle to come up with innovative ideas for neutralizing terrorist organizations and their activities. One such idea, not given much thought until after Sept. 11, is attacking terrorist financing structures, methods and sources. Attempting to destroy terrorists by denying them financing or interrupting their money stream is unlikely to succeed as a sole point of effort for at least three reasons. First, organizationally, terrorists are structured to slip behind, around and underneath centralized organizations, rules and bureaucracies. Second, terrorist organizations can conduct operations for literally pennies on the dollar, and any serious effort to interrupt these financially insignificant activities will have serious second- and third-order effects on the larger financial community. Third, even with the thousands of laws enacted and the historically unprecedented cooperation between partner nations, terrorism continues to escalate by nearly every conceivable measure. Bluntly put, counterterrorism financing reform simply doesn't work.


LPierson (not verified)

Sun, 04/04/2010 - 3:02pm

The debate may be declared as "closed" within DOD. However, this definition gives support to those that would consider use of UW as means of policy execution to look elsewhere for the capability. We need to be very careful what we ask for.

I am reminded of Thomas PM Barnett's TED presentation regarding the way forward for DOD and "the space between." He spoke of Miltary Operations Other Than War (MOOTW) as translated to mean "We don't want to do this."

I read both articles regarding on the "new" definition. Again, it reads to me "We don't want to do this." Several points:

1. COL Witty's comparing the non-use of strategic nuclear forces to DOD'S non-use of UW capabilities really isn't credible. The effects of US nuclear capabilities were quite clearly understood; however US UW capabilities, then and now,... well just how would that play in geopolitics? On the nuclear hand everyone knows we have significant capability to create glass from the lanscape; and the UW side we have been less than stellar or successfull at sneaking about in other's backyards. Afghanistan as a success is a weak example.

2. Activities as opposed to operations. So when will USSOCOM engage and take the lead in activities as opposed to operations? It is an important exercise in semantics, I would contend the military would be in a supporting role in activities. Would this then be warfare? No it would not, thus rendering the definition meaningless.

3. This is connected to point 2. Policy makers deciding to make war using UW, absolutely right. SO if we are to make war using UW, policy makers, congress will either A) Declare war or b) otherwise authorize use of force in public debate. This begs several questions, especially in light of the fact that UW lines of effort, must by necessity, be executed under a cloak of secrecy. A) Will the doctrine governing UW be supported by law (Title 10 of Title 50)? B) How does title 10 allow for the cloak of secrecy? C) If it is title 50 will DOD be covered via executive finding? I might remind everyone the last time DOD was authorized, under executive finding, to be the lead and conduct similar operations, or "activities" was during the Vietnam War. The Church hearings resulted in DOD being finished in that arena. Where in legal writ did that change?

4. This one is connected to point 3. Development of the environment that would be conducive to UW is a line of effort that resides where? This is an old and continuing point of argument, the new definition does little new in terms of guidance for doctrinal development especially regarding DOD based lines of effort. The discussion attempting applying some sort of doctrine to "activities" would make for good watchin'.

5. I was intrigued by the chart contained in COL Witty's article. I would like to have seen the demographic details of the groups surveyed. COL Maxwell mentions 70 NCO'S and WO'S in ASOT training, were they the only people from the ASO side surveyed? How many individuals from the UWDWG had ASO backgrounds? Additionally that survey would be an interesting item of debate here at SWJ.

We have had nearly 60 years of struggling with the term UW. Again the key to applying "UW" has always rested in the hands of policy makers, they will decide what, who, when, why and where, under a definition they decide is applicable. The new definition allows for reasonable opportunities from DOD to say no, much like the applications of MOOTW. DOD was dragged into those operations, even though we had a stated MOOTW doctrine. Our new UW definition, as stated at the beginning, just lends support to policy makers to pass us by. Will we be dragged into this too?

Uboat: If you PM me I will send you some graphics to perhaps allay your fears. (I would link here but I cannot figure out how to do that!) Also, note that the survey in COL Witty's article included some 70 SFC's and CW2's/CW3's in ASOT training. This was not done in a vacuum. I beleive "Narrowing the defintion" is not a correct characterization. No one is saying we do not do through and with (note though we have correctly elminated the "by" as that makes no sense - you either do it through some surrogate entity or with them by you don't conduct something "by" them.)

Uboat (not verified)

Thu, 04/01/2010 - 7:57am

Sir, I did read the whole article posted here but I did not read the other article. My access is somewhat intermittent now and I may have missed it. I would submit that if the "confusion" originated in the SF community itself then perhaps it is not the SF community that is confused.

I would definitely label myself a methodologist as would, I suspect, most of those I know and work within the community. That is the way it has been taught to most of us that I know. Through with and by goes hand in hand with UW. Narrowing the definition changes a lot of the things that we do. I'm still not convinced that that is for the better. I am also unclear how it is that a fundamental change like this was made without consulting with the regiment as a whole rather than a very small portion of it.

First, well done CW3 DeFeyter. Bruce and I spent a lot of time debating back and forth on a whiteboard. I'm glad to see him publishing, and I look forward to him presenting more of his ideas.

Second, CPT Flanagan presents a once-over the world OPSUM of 10 SFG in Iraq, but I would submit it only presents one aspect of FID. This debate is an on-going one. What is FID? What is combat-advising?

In Iraq, with exceptions of small units such as Hillah Swat, SF teams operated from rear areas (i.e. FOBs). I would categorize CPT Flanagan's essay as the direct action version of FID. It was the Regular Army forces primarily living with and working in the communities in small patrol bases. Contrastingly, in A'stan, SF teams operate regularly out of patrol bases working by, with, and through indigenious forces. This distinction is not to take away from CPT Flanagan's essay. Rather, it should expand the debate over how best to employ SF units in small wars.

-Should they own battlespace?

-Do they work best training and operating with Recon and Direct Action teams from rear areas?

-Should they work long-range reconnaissance in denied areas?

There are no easy answers with this one, but it should be discussed.



Outlaw 7 (not verified)

Wed, 03/31/2010 - 4:40pm

Robert C. Jones---
Do you think there is no jockening already going on for future budget funding from the side of big Army?

Check just in the last six months articles appearing in numerous areas that big Army is actually getting comfortable with FID.

Just what do you think the new ABB BCTs are in fact---nothing more than supersized FID units. At some point the experiences with ABB BCTs will in fact flow into doctrine and you do not think there is an inherent clash with SF on FID coming?---I would suggest it is already clashing.

Some of the debate around MAJ Gant's article here in SWJ was in fact questioning even the need by SF to do FID in an UW environment.

So please do not tell me that you think big Army "cares or does not care" about the definition of UW---have learned that where there is no clear and concise current doctrine or the lack of clearly defined Tasks, Standards, and Conditions defintions take on a whole other meaning. Defintions are always in the eyes of the beholder.

For Uboat:

Respectfully, are your comments based on your reading of the definition alone or based upon eading both COL Witty's entire article as well as LTC Grdovic's recent article on the evolution of the UW defintion from Joint Forces Quarterly and also recently posted on SWJ?

Bob's World

Wed, 03/31/2010 - 1:56pm

Uboat, what SF does the most is FID. Always has, always will. That is the true bread and butter of SF. UW has always been a niche mission, but the skill to execute UW are used throughout the wide range of missions that SF executes.

In fact, one of the leading forces for confusing what UW was came from the SF community itself, when many who worked with UW skills confused that with actually executing UW missions.

As to Outlaw, pheew. Do we really need one more conspiracy theory? Big Army has its share of issues with SF, but worrying about the definition of UW is pretty low on their list.

Dave and Dave: Now that we have UW cleared up, how about we clean up this "COIN" mission a bit...

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 03/31/2010 - 1:50pm

Unconventional Warfare (UW) ... remains uniquely Special Forces'. It is the soul of Special Forces: the willingness to accept its isolation and hardships defines the Special Forces soldier. Its training is both the keystone and standard of Special Forces Training: it has long been an article of faith, confirmed in over forty years of worldwide operations, that "If you can do the UW missions, you can do all others." The objective of UW and Special Forces' dedication to it is expressed in Special Forces' motto: De Oppresso Liber (to free the oppressed).

Robert M. Gates, Remarks at the dedication of the OSS Memorial, Langley, VA, 12 June 1992, quoted in The Special Forces History Society's The Special Forces Regimental History Calendar, 1994, (Fort Bragg, NC: Office of the Command Historian, U.S. Army Special Operations Command).

Outlaw 7 (not verified)

Wed, 03/31/2010 - 1:43pm

UW was redefined in order that big Army can do the job with Rangers/Marsoc and it was redefined to eliminate the need in the future for SF.

This was the same darn argument that evolved out of VN after the 5th SFGA was redeployed back to the States in 1970--and big Army did not want them then and the survival mantra for SF then was DA/SR thus the long tought road for SF internally between white and black SF.

Do you really think big Army wants SF around after Afghanistan is finished as it wants the FID mission for itself as a justification going in to the coming lean budget years.

Uboat (not verified)

Wed, 03/31/2010 - 1:05pm

I can't say as I agree with this new definition at all. Essentially we have narrowed the definition to near irrelevance. I don't understand how that is a good thing. UW has always been the bread and butter of SF, from the day you enter the Q course until you retire. If we redefine UW to a mission set that has little chance of being used any time in the foreseeable future, where does that leave SF? I can see the conversations that will come out of this.

"What does SF do?"
"They do UW."
"And what is UW?"
"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 and guerrilla force in a denied area."
"We don't do that and aren't going to be doing that anytime soon so why do we need SF?"

I just don't see how this is a good thing for SF other than it appears to make things easier for planners? I noticed that that sent this survey out to a fairly small and select group of people. Why not send the survey out to the force that will be conducting the missions rather than one conference with a very specific focus and a "working group" made up of largely senior staff officers. How can you redefine what has always been the core mission of SF without consulting with the operators? I don't get it.

I would have to agree with Anonymous above. This is an important article on UW. I would expect some comments from the esteemed Small Wars Journal readership. But perhaps, as COL Witty has said in his article, maybe this work has put the debate to bed! :-)

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 03/30/2010 - 10:22pm

Finally, the real deal on UW. Great article Col Witty. Thank you for setting us straight. You have done a great service for SF.