Small Wars Journal


Journal Articles are typically longer works with more more analysis than the news and short commentary in the SWJ Blog.

We accept contributed content from serious voices across the small wars community, then publish it here as quickly as we can, per our Editorial Policy, to help fuel timely, thoughtful, and unvarnished discussion of the diverse and complex issues inherent in small wars.

by Jonathan Fagins | Sat, 12/14/2019 - 5:00pm | 1 comment
In the book "Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present", Max Boot provides an insightful look into conflicts where revolutionary movements and guerrilla forces out-maneuver and out-strategize conventional armies that are exceptionally larger.
by Pasar Sherko | Fri, 12/13/2019 - 10:10am | 0 comments
Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al-Qurayshi is a new alias for ISIL’s new leader designed to obscure his identityand prevent targeting by counter-terrorism forces. There is a good chance that Amir Muhammed Sa’eed al-Mawla, also known as Hajji Abdullah al-‘Afri, is the new ISIL emir. This article explains what this succession means for ISIL and the world, and what we can glean from the announcement of the new leader.
by Robert Bunker | Thu, 12/12/2019 - 5:53pm | 0 comments
"Gangs and Organized Crime" is a major new book effort—aimed primarily at the university book market—by veteran authors and gang specialists George W. Knox, Gregg W. Etter, and Carter F. Smith.
by Andrew Shaughnessy | Thu, 12/12/2019 - 3:49am | 0 comments
Against the backdrop of a generation of Soldiers who grew up tethered to smartphones, the Army remains rigidly analog in many of its systems. While there are numerous potential examples of how smartphone applications could make Army systems more accessible, few seem as immediately viable for disruption as unit maintenance.
by Thomas A. Drohan | Thu, 12/12/2019 - 3:02am | 0 comments
Complex warfare is high stakes competition in learning, and the United States is being out-thought and out-fought by China. Why is this so, and what can we do about it?
by Kevin Duffy | Wed, 12/11/2019 - 5:33am | 0 comments
That the practice of human trafficking—with its concomitants of forced labor and sexual exploitation—is alive and well in the contemporary world is a shocking fact, one that strikes at the conscience and stretches credulity (can this really still be happening in the twenty-first century?). That said, cases involving the practice are regularly laid bare for all to see.
by Hesham Youssef | Wed, 12/11/2019 - 5:10am | 0 comments
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has fallen down the list of political priorities in recent years as regional and global powers have been preoccupied with more pressing issues—including tensions with Iran; wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya; unrest in Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria; the rise of intestate competition, including with Russia and China, in the region; and a host of internal issues affecting the countries of the region. The conflict, however, has not gone away.
by Travis Zahnow | Tue, 12/10/2019 - 10:23am | 0 comments
In "Why American Loses Wars", Professor Donald Stoker, Fulbright Scholar and academic, persuasively argues warfare has changed over the last 75 years and the United States no longer knows how to approach war correctly. As a country, our over reliance on limited war and a failure to adequately conclude with them has left us incapable of winning, forever mired in endless wars.
by Irina Tsukerman | Tue, 12/10/2019 - 9:21am | 0 comments
… All of this leads to the reasonable conclusion that not only was Qatar likely informed by Iran about the plan to attack the Aramco sites in September, but likely had coordinated with Iran and helped make it happen smoothly.
by Octavian Manea | Mon, 12/09/2019 - 3:34am | 4 comments
SWJ interview (Part II) with Nathaniel L. Moir, Ph.D., an Ernest May Postdoctoral Fellow in History and Policy at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. Dr. Moir is completing a book manuscript on Bernard Fall for publication.
by Octavian Manea | Sat, 12/07/2019 - 6:17pm | 0 comments
SWJ interview with Nathaniel L. Moir, Ph.D., an Ernest May Postdoctoral Fellow in History and Policy at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. Dr. Moir is completing a book manuscript on Bernard Fall for publication.
by Robert Bunker | Fri, 12/06/2019 - 10:14pm | 0 comments
On 8 November 2019, a USC Homegrown Violent Extremism (HVE) Digital Summit was coordinated by the USC Price Safe Communities Institute (SCI). It was held in Los Angeles, California at the main university campus and streamed live to a national and international audience consisting of policymakers, first responders, academics, community organizers and advocates, and other stakeholders within the broader community of interest.
by Elie Abouaoun, by Sarhang Hamasaeed | Thu, 12/05/2019 - 3:43am | 0 comments
Violence remains a risk as parties resist demands for deeper change, USIP experts say.
by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan | Thu, 12/05/2019 - 2:41am | 0 comments
It behooves security analysts to monitor the migration of the CJNG into new territories, the establishment of new cartel-gang alliances and, as demonstrated in this assessment, the spread of cartel TTPs such as car bombings, and attacks on police and security forces.
by Keith Nightingale | Sun, 11/24/2019 - 8:05pm | 0 comments
Gen Vol Warner died last week. He was the epitome of what a Leader is all about and a major factor in my own development.
by Franklin C. Annis | Sun, 11/24/2019 - 5:59pm | 0 comments
Amazing things can happen when two scholars engage in intellectual combat. This is especially true in the fields of National Security and Professional Military Education (PME) where two individuals of different opinions or philosophies can “battle” through articles within a journal, both having an honest intent to seek the truth. In these battles, facts and assumptions are challenged and examined in detail. The authors work against each other like steel upon steel making the arguments ever sharper.
by Scott Worden | Fri, 11/22/2019 - 7:00am | 0 comments
It’s been over two months since President Trump announced a halt to U.S.-Taliban peace talks. In a move that could revive the moribund peace process, the Afghan government and Taliban completed a prisoner exchange that had been announced last week but then delayed. An American and Australian professor held by the Taliban were freed in return for three senior Taliban figures. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s September 28 presidential election remains undecided, further complicating peace efforts.
by Scott S. Haraburda | Thu, 11/21/2019 - 9:27am | 0 comments
Sound and effective decisions, supported by reliable data, usually determines military operational success. Recent rapid advances in electronic instrumentation, equipment sensors, digital storage, and communication systems have generated large amounts of data. This deluge of digitized information provides military leaders innumerable data mining opportunities to extract hidden patterns in a wide diversity of situations.
by Francisco M. Hernandez, by Brodie T. Babb | Wed, 11/20/2019 - 9:29am | 0 comments
The analysis of CAO by trained CA forces drive multiple processes, including operations and targeting processes, and enabling supported commanders and decision makers to apply resources and make decisions. CA drives the operations and targeting processes by executing its core competencies alongside indigenous partners to increase the understanding of networks within the operational environment (OE), particularly those within the civil component.
by Adam Gallagher | Tue, 11/19/2019 - 4:49pm | 0 comments
"If foreign powers ceased their involvement in Libya, the country’s protracted civil war could come to an end quickly, said Mohamed Syala, the foreign minister of the Government of National Accord, in an interview with the U.S. Institute of Peace. The role of outside powers in Libya’s conflict has garnered renewed international attention in recent weeks as Russia has ramped up its support for Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar’s forces."
by Franklin C. Annis | Tue, 11/19/2019 - 5:25am | 0 comments
I was first introduced to the concept of Availability Ratings by Major Jason Fincher at an event held by the Association of Marine Corps Logisticians. By measuring equipment readiness over time and attempting to increase the speed of acquisition of replacement parts and maintenance, Major Fincher was positively impacting readiness. He found that the key to maintaining a high-level of readiness may be focusing on the increasing the speed of which Marines can return non-functional equipment to a ready status.
by Morgan Smiley | Mon, 11/18/2019 - 4:55am | 0 comments
Many of the troopers and leaders who were part of the early deployments of the “Global War on Terrorism” have since departed the military. But I know many remain, though for a lot of them, I suspect their experiences consist of deployments involving security force assistance or limited patrols with limited goals as host-nation forces were pushed to take on more responsibility. Despite this, the troopers who are still in our military have valuable lessons that should be passed on to those with less experience.
by Chayathip Weerakajorn | Sun, 11/17/2019 - 11:44am | 0 comments
All actions have consequences, and all circumstances come after certain root causes; so does the ongoing insurgency in the southernmost provinces of Thailand, or what also known as the Deep South. The Thai ways of counterinsurgency are arguably flawed in several aspects, including the security and civil pillars of counterinsurgency. Moreover, the unstable domestic politics continues to distract the country leaders from conflicts in the south, as they are forced to focus on securing political power in Bangkok instead.
by Louis René Beres | Sat, 11/16/2019 - 10:52am | 0 comments
At the outset, world leaders will need to plan rationally, self-consciously and (above all) collaboratively for global survival. More than anything else, this would signify a refreshingly new willingness to realign traditionally narrow judgments of national self-interest with the much wider interests of humankind. Although meeting this complex requirement will at first appear unrealistic, nothing could be less pragmatic than staying stubbornly on our present collision course.
by Matthew Aaron Richmond | Sat, 11/16/2019 - 12:57am | 0 comments
Violence resulting from conflicts between criminal groups and police has risen steadily across much of Latin America in recent years. The effects tend to be most felt in marginalised urban neighbourhoods, where widespread poverty and weak provision of essential services create opportunities for drug trafficking factions, street gangs, and militias to entrench local influence.
by Daniel Riggs | Fri, 11/15/2019 - 2:58am | 0 comments
No support to resistance will ever be perfect. But identifying groups who pose the best means for not only success, but stability as well is crucial. Decision makers and planners should not be content with finding a group to just achieve strategic ends. In world affairs, nothing appears to provoke as much ill will and long-term disdain towards a foreign country after they have provided less than intelligent support to a resistance movements that turn totalitarian or towards carnage.
by Boglarka Bozsogi | Wed, 11/13/2019 - 3:27pm | 0 comments
They know the drill. Emerging threats, foreign intervention, local alliances, and historic letdowns. Abandonment should not come as a surprise. Great powers have instrumentalized Kurdish nationalism for grand strategy, but cooptation implies agency from the proxy—a willingness to offer its strategic advantages for support or protection. U.S. withdrawal in face of the Turkish incursion in Kurdish-controlled northern Syria shines a light on the challenges of proxy warfare.
by Samiullah Doorandesh | Wed, 11/13/2019 - 12:55pm | 3 comments
Every U.S. airstrike resulting in civilian casualties nullifies the eighteen-year long endeavors of reconstruction and nation building aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Afghans in the perpetual War on Terror. The airstrikes have alarmingly augmented the xenophobia of Afghans towards the foreign troops and especially those of the United States.
by Brandon Kasubaski | Wed, 11/13/2019 - 12:41am | 0 comments
MDO’s success depends on technological developments, capabilities available, and leaders and planners’ insight in seeing how such developments and capabilities can affect the ideal relationships between operating elements. A great deal of success also depends on the nature of the enemy, their strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities.
by Sarhang Hamasaeed | Tue, 11/12/2019 - 4:32am | 0 comments
ImageTens of thousands of Iraqis have been protesting in Baghdad and southern provinces against the failure of the Iraqi government and the political class in delivering basic services, providing jobs, fighting corruption, and more. Iraqi security forces and armed groups reportedly linked to Iran have used lethal force in response to the protests, leaving over 260 dead and over 10,000 injured. As the protests have progressed, demands have expanded to include calls for regime change, the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, early elections, pushing back against Iranian influence, and accountability for killing peaceful protesters.
by Keith Nightingale | Mon, 11/11/2019 - 1:28pm | 0 comments
Many years have passed since the last uniformed American left Vietnam. Those of us that were there have many mixed feelings and emotions on the subject. There is sufficient distance that historians have time to dissect actions ranging from Presidential decisions to the amount of mixed-race babies left behind to the quality of c rations.
by Keith Nightingale | Mon, 11/11/2019 - 12:18pm | 0 comments
Once a year, the Nation honors the Veterans. Each day the Veteran honors us all with the fruits of that service. The Veteran internally recalls, reflects and remembers the very personal and unique aspects of that time served There. Together, all the Veterans have a binding thread we honor that only they can know and share- the knowledge that they were part of something larger than themselves over There.
by Chris Wozniak | Sun, 11/10/2019 - 11:53am | 0 comments
The United States occupies a central role in the global financial system and has leveraged its advantage to combat transnational actors and pressure geopolitical adversaries. The low cost and high utility of financial suasion makes it an appealing tool for presidents seeking alternatives to military force or unsophisticated embargos. However, presidents who make use of this financial strength must understand its roots, appropriate use, and the threats to American predominance it can create.
by Mona Yacoubian | Sat, 11/09/2019 - 6:06am | 0 comments
In the month since President Trump’s October 6 phone call with Turkish President Erdogan and the announced U.S. withdrawal from northeast Syria, the picture on the ground has changed immensely. Moscow has emerged as the key power broker in Syria. The Kurds, looking for protection from Turkish forces, are in Russian-brokered talks with the Assad government. These discussions could pave the way for an expanded Syrian government presence in the northeast for the first time in years.
by Jeremy Blascak | Fri, 11/08/2019 - 3:01pm | 0 comments
The difference between success or failure on the Korean Peninsula fell on the shoulders of the theater commander, US Army General Douglas MacArthur. His decision to execute Operation Chromite, a bold, combined arms, amphibious landing on the Korean west coast at Inchon, turned the tide of the war. Chromite successfully prevented a defeat at the Pusan Perimeter while cutting off vital North Korean lines of supply and communication through an amphibious envelopment. In order to understand the operational art and dynamics of Chromite’s success, it is necessary to frame the problem through a Cold War perspective militarily and politically, analyze the defense of the Pusan Perimeter to the planning and execution of Chromite, and evaluate how the operation successfully met strategic objectives through the creative and skillful employment of military forces while balancing the ends, ways, means, and risk.
by Tony M. Kail | Thu, 11/07/2019 - 5:14pm | 0 comments
The use of magico-religious systems to promote the activities of drug trafficking organizations is nothing new. In my book "Narco Cults: Understand the Use of Afro-Caribbean and Mexican Religious Cultures in the Drug Wars", I define a narco cult as “An individualistic, shamanistic, communal or ecclesiastical cult that functions as a source of spiritual or psychological empowerment for individuals or organizations connected to drug production or trafficking.” Based on these early reports of the investigation and witness testimonies it appears that several of the religious shrines discovered in the raid were possibly used for spiritual protection.
by Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. | Wed, 11/06/2019 - 9:30am | 0 comments
Recently Professor Mary McCord published an essay in which she rhetorically re-makes the reality of a scattered collection of rag-tag right-wingers who call themselves “militias” into potent “private armies” akin to what she calls “foreign forces prepar[ing] for potential violence.” Regrettably, Professor McCord‘s essay lacks a sufficient military perspective to adequately gauge the true nature of the threats.
by Leanne Erdberg, by Fouad Pervez | Wed, 11/06/2019 - 8:50am | 0 comments
There is a great hunger to better understand violent extremism and diminish its impact, especially given its global spread. Policies should stand on the shoulders of research to yield better outcomes for countless people around the globe whose lives are devastated by violent extremism.
by Nick Lopez | Mon, 11/04/2019 - 4:33am | 0 comments
In "Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World", General (Retired) Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell highlighted the transformation of Joint Special Operations Command in the early 2000s to more effectively fight the Global War on Terror, and ultimately offered insights on how to respond to 21st century problems. This same transformation may not be feasible across the Department of Defense (DOD). However, established networks in the DOD can be utilized to tackle the wicked problems of the 21st century. One such network is the FAO corps serving across the globe.
by Louis René Beres | Sun, 11/03/2019 - 10:39am | 0 comments
Already, back in 2014, US Senator Bernie Sanders fancied himself an informed scholar on the complex laws of war. Then as now, however, the Senator's seat-of-the-pants judgments concerning Israeli counterterrorism were evidently contrived and woefully incorrect. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, this recurrent American presidential aspirant, by accusing Israel of using "disproportionate force" against Palestinians, still ignores the (1) critical regional context of Israel's self-defense responses to terrorism, and (2) the authentic legal meaning of "proportionality."
by Keith Nightingale | Sun, 11/03/2019 - 9:22am | 0 comments
Laden Grunts traversing the steep scree-laden hills, Preternaturally alert, analyzing, Cunning senses energized, Behind them, others followed...
by Muhammad Faizal bin Abdul Rahman | Sat, 11/02/2019 - 11:15am | 0 comments
Given the heightened terrorist threat, the police forces of global cities are beefing up their special forces units by adopting more militarised approaches in weaponry, tactics, culture, and organisation even as they increase the level of cooperation with the state’s armed forces. This civil-military integration in homeland security is present in Singapore where the police force and the army are conducting more joint patrols in public places besides key installations (KINS), and the Army is training more soldiers for peacetime operations.
by Lex Oren | Sat, 11/02/2019 - 12:19am | 0 comments
The Arctic Sea is a significant expanse for American security and has repeatedly been under-resourced by the Department of Defense (DoD). Without access to the sea and airspace that the freedom of the seas provides, the United States’ ability to maintain a forward presence and accomplish a range of military and humanitarian assistance missions will be compromised.
by Lauren Serrano | Fri, 11/01/2019 - 12:11am | 0 comments
Underpinnings of ethnic, religious, tribal, and demographic factors as well as their associated social identities remain a recurrent player in Iraqi politics and has affected the building of the Iraqi Army over the past 16 years. Researching Iraqi culture, social identities and their historical context is paramount to understanding the challenges the U.S. has faced in its efforts to train, equip, and advise the Iraqi Army. Independent thinking, creative ideas, information sharing, individual initiative, decentralized control, delegation of responsibility, and personal merit are all keys to success in U.S. military doctrine but contradict Iraqi sociocultural norms of centralized power, groupthink, and avoiding shame, embarrassment, and admission of mistakes. Training, equipping, and advising Arab militaries to follow Western military doctrine has had a history of at best mediocre results and rarely outlives the departure of Western advisors. U.S. capacity building doctrine in Iraq did not adjust to take into account Iraqi culture, instead it expected the Iraqi military to adapt to American military doctrine.
by Michael L. Burgoyne, by Albert J. Marckwardt | Thu, 10/31/2019 - 8:23am | 0 comments
Counterinsurgency isn’t dead no matter how much the U.S. military may want it to be. Ten years ago, we wrote a short parable designed to quickly inform junior leaders on the basic concepts of counterinsurgency called The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa. It seems appropriate to take this anniversary to revisit the book and the concept of counterinsurgency.
by Thomas A. Drohan | Thu, 10/31/2019 - 3:41am | 0 comments
In 2019, we are immersed in competitions that require persistent advantages to prevail against long-view opponents. Victory is relative and temporary, and our operations need to be influential lest they become irrelevant. This strategic challenge is acute in complex warfare, where operations are waged across domains (land, sea, air, space, cyber, electro-magnetic) using diverse means (diplomatic, informational, military, economic, social—DIMES) to produce synergistic effects (preventive and causative, psychological and physical, cooperative and confrontational).
by Mustafa Hasan, by Joanne Patti Munisteri | Wed, 10/30/2019 - 2:22pm | 0 comments
Protests in Iraq continue despite the harsh measures against those participating. Starting Thursday night, October 24th, crowds of protesters in Baghdad, Babel and Nasiriyah gathered to prepare for more protests. The vast majority of those participating according to the field reports, were males between 15-35 years old. Then Friday morning protests started again in earnest, renewing calls for reform and action. This time both men and women and high school aged boys and girls, joined the protests.
by N. V. Subramanian | Tue, 10/29/2019 - 6:18pm | 0 comments
Saudi Arabia’s overweening confidence as a leading Sunni power has been enfeebled by the 14 September attack on its oil facilities. Its sworn enemy, Iran, has carried out the attack by itself or its Houthi proxy in Yemen. It amounts to the same thing.
by Louis René Beres | Mon, 10/28/2019 - 11:00am | 0 comments
The US targeted killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on 26 October 2019 raises both tactical and legal questions. Although it is by no means certain that such "decapitation" tactics can tangibly diminish Jihadist terrorist threats to the United States, there is little reason to doubt their permissibility under pertinent international law. In the final analysis, such permissibility derives from our world's still-decentralized legal structure.
by SWJ Editors | Mon, 10/28/2019 - 12:44am | 0 comments
"War Amongst the People: Critical Assessments" - Edited by David Brown, Donette Murray, Malte Riemann, Norma Rossi and Martin A. Smith, The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Published by Howgate Publishing, May 2019.