Small Wars Journal

Campaign Planning for Unconventional Warfare: Thoughts on a New Approach to Indirect Action

Sun, 11/08/2020 - 6:00pm

Campaign Planning for Unconventional Warfare:

Thoughts on a New Approach to Indirect Action


Paul W. Taylor



This article attempts an audacious undertaking: to lay the foundations for a theoretical construct for all forms of indirect statecraft. It approaches this task from an unconventional warfare perspective, but the model used is intended to be flexible enough to apply to the full breadth of what George Kennan called Political Warfare. Such an overarching theory has not yet been developed, despite having been a near constant of concern of states throughout history.[1]

This lack of intellectual foundation stems in part from a continuing misapprehension of U.S. military and civilian strategists of a war/peace dichotomy, as identified nearly 60 years ago in Kennan’s Policy Planning Memorandum, as well as a fixation on linear phase constructs.[2] Effective planning for complex problems requires a theoretical construct that is broadly applicable. Thus, this paper proposes a model that may form the basis of a new theoretical construct for unconventional warfare (UW) at the strategic level, intended to be agnostic to the level of violence, depth of engagement, degree of covertness, and other concerns that are subject to political decision. This breadth is designed to ensure that it is applicable not just to UW, but also to related forms of intervention, in particular paramilitary covert action.

The model proposed employs four interlocking lines of effort (ideation and preparation, developing access, rebalancing power dynamics, and facilitating operations), bound together by a fundamental principle of strategic development. Understanding these lines of effort (LOEs) will not just enable better UW planning, it will also provide a clearer understanding of counter-UW.  With some modification, such a model will also be applicable to partner- or proxy-dependent operations that are the converse of UW, such as foreign internal defense and security cooperation, which rely on the “by-with-through” approach.


The Current State of Play

At the strategic level, the U.S. military has two competing models for campaign planning, the campaign plan and the contingency plan. Campaign plans tend to seek the perpetuation of the status quo, while contingency plans tend to seek a return to the status quo ante. While JP 5-0 breaks campaign planning into various levels of plans (Global Campaign Plans, Theater Campaign Plans, branch plans, etc.), the campaign plan and the contingency plan form the two fundamental approaches to planning a complex operation.

This dichotomy of planning approaches is a reflection of the more fundamental perception of the security environment as having two states: war and peace. In theory, campaign plans are intended to align operations in time and space to achieve strategic objectives, regardless of the state of international relations. However, in practice, most campaign plans seek to avoid war and prolong peace, while contingency plans seek to end war and return to peace. However, the security environment not only takes on many other states, but rarely if ever resides in a perfect state of either war or peace.[3]

Like the fixation on the war/peace dichotomy, US strategy and planning are, to their detriment, fixated on the phases of campaign. While JP 5-0 thankfully abandoned a predetermined phase structure in the 2017 edition, it still mandates the use of phases in campaign planning, and U.S. doctrine on UW still employs a 7-phase model basically unchanged since World War II, namely Preparation, Initial Contact, Infiltration, Organization, Buildup, Employment, and Transition. This mandate, however appropriate in the abstract, rests on an assumption that activities can be lined up like dominos; in reality, achieving most national interests requires simultaneity of execution. Tellingly, phases are not discussed in the section of JP 5-0 devoted to campaign plans, as they are in the discussion of contingency plans.

The recently released Joint Concept on Integrated Campaigning does much to address some of these terms, but it suffers from some of the same maladies that it seeks to resolve. For example, while warning that terms like post-conflict imply a firm dichotomy between war and peace, it uses the term “follow through” to encourage continuity beyond the point at which we might proclaim “mission accomplished.” But “follow through” itself implies exactly that: a clear end state that must now be preserved. Additionally, its division of Joint Force mechanisms into “defeat,” “stability” and “competition” imply a clear distinction between these states, and effectively advise planners to withhold most of the tools available to them.

These dynamics have contributed to a situation where U.S. national security professionals are largely unable to plan proactive action to improve the national position (except to deter or prepare for major armed conflict). They are in effect handcuffed by their perception of how the international system functions. Instead, the U.S. government should embrace the fluidity of the international security environment, and seek to constantly improve its position in that environment.


Gerasimov Doctrine

To at least a degree, this fluid conception of interstate competition is used by Russia, having inherited it from the Soviet Union, whose conduct of political warfare was described by George Kennan as “the most refined and effective of any in history.” The modern incarnation of this legacy is rooted, according to most sources, in an article written by Russian Chief of the General Staff, Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov.[4]

Through their campaign in Ukraine, Russia intends to achieve classic UW operational objectives, such as disrupting social order and government function, provoking excessive responses by security services, and otherwise delegitimizing the Ukrainian government; while developing a friendly resistance movement. In this campaign, Russia appears to be following the eight-phase model suggested by Robert Worley (Setup, Mislead and Deceive, Corrupt Officials, Escalate Subversion, Isolate the Subject, Broad Spectrum Military Operations, Focused Operations, and Mopping Up), but does not clearly progress through the phases sequentially.[5] Broad in its suite of implementing mechanisms, the campaign uses a “combination of political, economic, information, technological, and ecological campaigns in the form of indirect actions and nonmilitary measures,” in order to “level off the enemy’s superiority in armed struggle” and to “neutralize adversary actions without resorting to weapons.”[6] The U.S. could take a much-needed lesson in campaigning from this comprehensive, dynamic, and confounding approach.


Emergent Strategy

In campaign planning, unlike that of an individual military operation, it must be accepted that constant update of the strategy will be required as the static plan collides with dynamic reality. This realization will help the strategist to develop an approach that is flexible and less likely to encounter truly unexpected outcomes. This mentality must be continued throughout the campaign to allow adjustment to the evolution of facts on the ground and newly discovered context, and carry on after the campaign is complete to ensure against blowback like that experienced after the 1980’s campaign in Afghanistan. This type of hedging strategy is especially useful when initial information is incomplete or unreliable, and allows policymakers to seize opportunities as they are presented.

Thus, the model proposed herein employs several overlapping LOEs in the place of phases, as predetermined phases tend to hamper flexibility and distract planners from the necessity to prepare for later activities.


A New Model of Unconventional Warfare

As noted above, the current U.S. mentality creates an inability to employ all of the elements of national power to proactively seek improvement of the strategic position of the U.S. Additionally, the overly-tactical nature of the current U.S. model for UW makes it of little use at the strategic level. To that end, I propose the abandonment of the 7-phase model for UW, at the very least for strategic purposes, and the adoption of model of 4 “phased lines of effort”: Ideation and Preparation, Developing Access, Rebalancing Power Dynamics, and Facilitating Operations, paired with a fundamental principle: strategic development. While phased over time, each LOE continues from its inception point to the end of the campaign. As used here, “phased” can be defined as overlapping in time, but inherently ordered. General Stanley McChrystal’s high-tempo “Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze, Disseminate” construct is an example of this concept of phased operations.

It must be noted, however, that this is a proposed model of unconventional warfare and covert action, not of insurgency. The theoretical underpinnings of insurgency are much more well-discussed, including in US military doctrine. Additionally, there are fundamental differences in approach and objectives between unconventional warfare and insurgency, one of which is a direct challenge to a sitting government while the other seeks to enable that challenge. This is a vital point: “doing” and “supporting” are significantly different activities.




Ideate, Prepare, and Organize

The first LOE is that in which policymakers, in coordination with intelligence analysts and operational planners, determine the general shape of the operation. Once a possible opportunity for proactive shaping is identified, intelligence requirements can be developed and intelligence preparation of the environment can commence.


Intelligence Preparation of the Environment

Because UW seeks to affect the governing structure of a society foreign to our own, the intelligence to be gathered and analyzed must include all political, military, economic, social, informational, and infrastructural (PMESII) variables, including at a minimum, strength of the opposed regime, social cohesion and will to resist, terrain and availability of sanctuary, and resistance leadership. The inherent interconnectedness of these variables makes deep understanding of the environment vital to success. This depth of understanding takes years to develop, and while volunteer dissidents may present an attractive shortcut, they do not absolve UW policymakers of the responsibility to develop their own assessments, as exemplified by the case of Ahmad Chalabi and “Curveball” in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[7]

Additionally, since the UW effort will be conducted primarily through proxy actors, the key actors in the environment (or shaping it externally) must be identified and assessed. This includes assessing vulnerabilities and strengths of adversary actors, potential partners, and neutral actors across the PMESII spectrum. For example, in addition to local actors and foreign governments, the most influential media sources may be based outside the subject state. Caution should be used to ensure that bias toward or against any actor does not impact the assessment of those actors; in assessment, there are no good guys or bad guys.

While the subject of the UW campaign may be an individual state, no state exists in a vacuum. While some are more autarchic than others, every state relies on foreign resources to some extent. Thus, the assessment of the environment must include relevant regional and global points of connection, so that these connections may be exploited by the operational planners.



Intelligence about the operating environment and the relevant actors is not enough. It is vital that the planners also conduct a self-assessment, including the desired and acceptable end states, campaign objectives, national capabilities available (including diplomatic and economic tools in addition to military and intelligence), and the political will of policymakers and of the public. That is, what do we want, how can we get it, and how much are we willing to risk for it? Responsibility for conducting this self-assessment will most likely fall to the NSC as the body responsible under the National Security Act of 1947 for assessing national security objectives, commitments and risks, but should include the departments of State and Defense at a minimum.


Strategic Baseline

With the IPOE and self-assessment underway, the planners may begin to determine the strategic baseline. This entails determining the alignment of interests between potential partners, choosing preferred actors from those potential partners and developing an initial support plan. This will help to avoid “adverse selection” (picking the wrong proxy), and help to identify points of leverage to induce compliance with US objectives and constraints.

Perhaps the most vital aspect of this baseline assessment is the alignment of interests. Interests of actors will never align perfectly, but fundamental alignment should be sought before developing a client-patron relationship. This step does not include detailed planning, but provides the planning guidance setting the political bounds of campaign and executive intent for the full life-cycle of the campaign, including guidance for all LOEs. An example of such a strategic baseline can be found in President Reagan’s NSDD 166 determining to continue aid to the Afghan Mujahideen.

Responsibility for developing this baseline will also likely fall to the NSC, due to their responsibility to “advise the President with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security so as to enable the military services and the other departments and agencies of the Government to cooperate more effectively in matters involving the national security.”[8] A model for the development of this baseline may be available in the Clinton Administration's Presidential Decision Directive 56, Managing Complex Contingency Operations.



Once a strategic baseline is set, the planners must then determine an organizational structure to develop and execute the campaign. One tier of organization should be at the level of the NSC to provide policy oversight and guidance. If the NSC as a whole is deemed too cumbersome, the “Directorate of Political Warfare Operations” proposed by Kennan may provide a model for this organization. A second tier of organization should provide detailed planning and command and control of the operation. In order to succeed, this organization must adequately represent all relevant agencies, be empowered to act in accordance guidance of the NSC and the President, and be appropriately sized to the scale and covertness of the endeavor. This organization must also be scalable and flexible enough to evolve over the course of the campaign as needed. The Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) structure provides the best initial framework for this organization, but depending on the specific operation and its requirements for interagency coordination, this role could be assigned to a Joint Special Operations Task Force, a Theater Special Operations Command, or Country Team.


The ideation and preparation LOE is the earliest and most contemplative of all the phased LOEs, but all aspects of this LOE must continue throughout the campaign in order to provide strategic guidance to the implementing JIATF. It requires policymakers to continuously assess and reassess the strategic situation, given input from the field and changes in the political environment. Primary responsibility for this LOE necessarily falls on the shoulders of the NCS, with implementation and feedback via the JIATF, in order to ensure lower echelons are coordinated in their approach.


Develop Access: Infiltration and Cooptation

Initial Contact

Once the shape of the campaign has begun to gel, operators from the intelligence, cyber, diplomatic or other relevant communities can make initial contact with local actors, including both the preferred actor and targeted adversary actors, as well as the locally relevant information actors. Initial contact will likely not be in person (absent a fortuitous preexisting relationship), but be some form of virtual or vicarious contact, such as having a trusted mutual contact engage with the local actor to test the waters. In fact, in some cases contact may remain largely or completely virtual or vicarious for the duration of the campaign, as was the case with Afghan Mujahideen. If a preexisting relationship exists, that relationship may provide an entrée to that actor. Once initial contact is made and the decision is made to move forward with the relationship, lines of communication can be developed to ensure shared understanding and work toward fuller alignment of interests.

The purpose of contact with adversary actors is to develop options for gathering necessary intelligence and undermining the adversary from within, such as developing moles and organizational saboteurs. This includes compromising computers and other electronic targets, in order to both gain intelligence and prepare for cyber-attack. Methods of cooptation may include a broad range of approaches, from simple recruitment to bribery to blackmail. Keeping the contact concealed requires careful selection of the means of communications. The CIA will likely lead this effort and conduct the majority of these operations, but other communities in the interagency should also be considered if they have preexisting relationships or natural affinity to the target.

Contact with information actors entails developing lines of communications with the locally relevant media, clergy, or other opinion influencers, and methods to influence these actors directly or indirectly. This contact may be overt (public affairs and “white” propaganda), covert (“black” propaganda) or clandestine (leaks, intentional exposure, etc.), and should target the modes and channels of communication most likely to create the political effects sought. For example, social media is used world-wide, but some regions use certain platforms much more than others: posting on VKontakte might be effective in Russia, but completely ineffective in China.


Initial Infiltration

Developing these types of contact will enable the initial infiltration of personnel and equipment necessary to further the campaign. Personnel that may be infiltrated at early stages include CIA operations officers, U.S. Army Special Forces, and overt and covert enablers such as officials from the State Department, USAID, Treasury and the Justice Department.

While the overall effort may be covert, many of the enabling actors may operate in a largely overt fashion. Overt enablers are those US government officials that facilitate aspects of the UW plan by providing services that implicitly support the resistance or challenge the regime in such a way that they may operate overtly. Examples include Justice Department liaisons who develop rapport with a law enforcement agency that is at odds with its government, consular officers who flag refugees that may be able to provide useful intelligence or be willing to return home to fight the regime, or sanctions enforcement personnel. Care must be taken to ensure that a sudden influx or reorganization of overt personnel does not lead to exposure of covert aspects of the campaign.

This access development and exploitation is not limited to contacts with preferred actors: corrupted customs officials may allow shipments through their station, contacts at a television station may be used as references for operatives entering under cover of press credentials, and diplomatic credentials may be obtained for overt enablers.


Operational Preparation of the Environment

UW forces infiltrating the operational environment will need to conduct operational preparation of the environment to prepare for entry of additional forces, whether covert or overt. OPE entails actions such as refining the location of specific, identified targets through close-target reconnaissance and tagging, tracking, and locating operations; reception, staging, onward movement, and integration of forces; and development of infrastructure for use by follow-on forces.[9]

As access is expanded, the covert operatives can begin to facilitate resistance efforts to infiltrate adversary institutions, such as government agencies, military and paramilitary forces, political parties and other organizations affiliated with the regime (e.g., banks, corporations, etc.) as well as neutral organizations that may be beneficially co-opted (churches, unions, etc.). These assets may lay dormant for a significant period of time in order to develop capacity while limiting risk of exposure.

The UW campaign may also facilitate the preferred actor’s development of interorganizational relationships with actors whose interests are broadly aligned with theirs. A number of politically-active organizations hold sway in a given territory, such as churches, community organizations, militias, and private companies. In stable countries, these organizations overwhelmingly support the state government, and prefer to settle their differences through official channels or traditional politics. However, in less stable states, these organizations may be receptive to aligning with an anti-regime movement, and may provide a valuable source of support.


Rebalance the Power Dynamics: Strengthening and Weakening

This LOE employs access developed in the previous LOE to strengthen preferred actors, build and strengthen relationships between the preferred actor and aligned or neutral actors, undermine the power of the adversary, and create friction between the adversary and actors aligned with it. There is an inherent tension in this LOE, however, in that the employment of access tends to expose the actor and possibly the sponsor. For this reason, the employment of access to affect the balance of power must be moderated to limit the risk, while still generating lasting effects. Thus, in most cases, this process will be quite protracted.


Build own capability

In executing this LOE, synergy with the infiltration and cooptation LOE should be sought. Through efforts to strengthen preferred actors and subvert regime actors, the UW planners should continue to build and consolidate access to local actors and environment. Infiltration of additional covert forces and overt enablers will continue, and must be modulated to ensure that the operation is not exposed. Additionally, if overt forces are to be used in any portion of the campaign, the campaign planners must prepare for infiltration of those force as well as the modes of coordination with the preferred actor. A significant amount of training of the preferred actor’s forces may be required for them to become sufficiently interoperable with U.S. military forces. The extent of interoperability required will depend on the extent of integration of forces. However, even where the forces are not planning to merge, they must at a minimum have standing deconfliction measures.


Employ access to strengthen preferred actors

Empowering a resistance requires a whole-of-government effort, employing all elements of U.S. national power—diplomatic, informational, military, and economic, financial, intelligence, and legal (DIMEFIL)—to develop preferred the actor’s capacity and organization. It is important that U.S. planners not assume that this is done solely through the access to resistance and neutral organizations. Access to adversary institutions can be used to strengthen the resistance as well, via methods such as embezzlement, inside-jobs, and smuggling facilitation.

It is a common refrain that the resistance structure will likely differ significantly from that of U.S. forces. In UW, this is true not only in their basic organization, but more particularly in one often-overlooked regard: clandestine resistance movements are by their nature criminal enterprises, and thus share many of the same structural incentives, such as secrecy of operations, alternative logistics and funding, and deniability. These similarities may lead the resistance to partner with criminal organizations, expanding the elements of power to incorporate criminality (DIMEFIL-C). This expansion creates both opportunities and complications. In addition to legal challenges, U.S. planners must determine which of these connections are warranted and which pose too great a liability for long-term stability. After all, not all criminals are equally nefarious: compare Bible smugglers in a totalitarian theocracy to heroine smugglers anywhere. 

Front organizations (whether U.S. or resistance) can provide a litany of services to a clandestine resistance, including generating revenue through legitimate markets, receiving or shipping of covert aid, laundering of funds, purchasing of supplies and enabling technology available from the open market, or cover for resistance operations. For example, construction and fertilizer companies provide ready cover for obtaining explosives, while a tourism company may conduct intelligence collection. The U.S. must therefore be prepared to facilitate the development of these front organizations and coordinate through them when appropriate.   Planning for and managing relations with these fronts is especially vital in cases where U.S. contact with the resistance is to be fully vicarious, as exemplified in National Security Decision Directive 270 (1987), discussing management of the relationship with Pakistan, the U.S.’s implementing partner in supporting the Afghan Mujahideen.

UW planners must also facilitate the development of the vital but often overlooked political element for political direction to the resistance, public and international relations, negotiations, and eventual participation in or assumption of government processes. The political element will likely be comprised primarily of the public component (if one exists), as well as members of the shadow government (underground) and guerrilla leadership. It acts through some combination of overt, covert, and clandestine activities to provide political direction, give voice to the insurgent narrative, and undermine the government, such as seeking to supplant the regime by providing essential services.  If the insurgency is successful, this will be the element that transitions into legitimate political leadership and government functionaries in the new regime. It is therefore vital that it be developed sufficiently to take up those post-conflict responsibilities.

While building the strength of the resistance, caution should be taken to maintain appropriate balance in several respects. First, the UW planners should avoid over-developing guerrilla forces (or action arm of a non-violent resistance) before the auxiliary and underground are able to support them, and before the government is sufficiently weakened. Guerillas and street activists present a more viable target for conventional military and police forces, and may prompt a crack-down before the resistance is ready to openly contest the government.  In urban areas, the auxiliary and underground take on particular importance, vis-a-vis the guerrillas, whose operations are greatly hindered by the increased state surveillance possible in urban areas. In an age of increasing urbanization, this is an especially important distinction, and consideration of this aspect should guide the plan for support and advice rendered. However, without a strong action arm, the resistance will struggle to coordinate and conduct the dramatic actions that undermine confidence in (and of) the government.  

Additionally, planners must avoid catastrophic success, in which the resistance prevails militarily before it is ready to govern. The resistance leadership must be prepared to pull disparate elements of the resistance together to form a coordinated, stable government. Lastly, planners must avoid over-empowering some of the more destabilizing elements of the resistance, such as smuggling networks or extremist elements.


Employ access to undermine adversary power

Every effort should be made to employ all U.S. DIMEFIL elements in coordination to undermine adversary actor’s DIMEFIL and organization. This includes overt mechanisms such as coercive diplomacy, economic coercion, and information and influence activities (IIA), as well as military posturing. Criminal sanctions may also be used, if not to capture the targeted leaders, at least to impede their travel abroad. Covert operations will likely also be used, to include employment of assets within the government to subvert the government’s ability to respond to threats and crises, and deception or information operations to break or subvert adversary connections to aligned non-state actors, including criminal elements, media, NGOs, corporations, and others.

While many would instinctively distinguish between strengthening a partner and weakening an adversary, the fact that the ultimate measure of success is the relative rather than absolute power of the forces necessarily requires their combination. After all, strengthening the insurgent forces (beyond mere train and equip functions) is often done in a manner that weakens the government. In a simplistic example, or in order to expand a resistance force’s arsenal, UW forces may assist in pillaging a munitions depot. More fundamentally, expanding resistance influence and legitimacy necessarily involves the reduction of that of the government.


Facilitate Operations

Once the resistance is sufficient strong, including the military capabilities of any guerrilla forces, the subversive capabilities of the underground, and the supporting capabilities of the auxiliary, the resistance may begin its overt operations. The objectives of these operations are manifold, from the most grand (causing the regime to divert resources away from an intended invasion area or shaping that invasion area) to the most mundane (obtain supplies from battlefield captures, undermining adversary confidence, providing civic assistance to undermine regime legitimacy, etc.).

 The UW forces- facilitate these activities. In addition to US Army Special Forces providing battlefield advice and assistance, the UW planners should also seek to align the other elements of national power (DImEFIL-C) to facilitate resistance operations. For example, IIA activities can amplify the effects generate from a relatively small operation. Here, “operations” must take on its broadest meaning, including the entire spectrum of resistance activity, as well as activities following the success of the campaign, such as assumption of government responsibilities.

As with the development of guerrilla forces, UW planners should seek to balance the employment of resistance/US forces against risk of overexposure of resistance infrastructure, covert/clandestine support mechanisms, or the sponsorship of the resistance.


Infiltrate and employ overt forces

An aspect of facilitation is the infiltration and employment of any U.S. and coalition overt forces, and their coordination with preferred actors. Examples of this activity can be found in the opening stages of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), as well as the Allies’ commando operations in France in advance of the Normandy invasion,[10] among others. Insertion and employment of conventional and surgical strike forces can speed the success of the campaign (taking care to avoid catastrophic success) by providing capabilities that the resistance cannot achieve, and allow the resistance to assume greater risk of exposing its infrastructure.  However, coordination of conventional and resistance forces will be complicated, and should be well planned in advance of first contact. This is placed in the “facilitate operations” LOE in recognition that the overt forces in most cases will be intended to perform an enabling function, rather than conducting independent operations. Exceptions to the foregoing rule exist, but the U.S. and resistance operations must in any event be well coordinated to limit the risk of fratricide, deconflict operations, and provide mutual support.

While the above discussion may seem short shrift for such an indisputably important aspect of supporting resistance, this LOE is the most well-understood of the four, as it is the primary focus of current UW doctrine. However, one caveat is required: Unlike the “employment” phase of the 7-phase UW model, this LOE (like the others) is not temporally distinct; it begins as soon as access is developed. For example, even from the first contact with a small and beleaguered resistance, facilitating the development of secure communications may be required.


Strategic Development

Strategic development is the concerted effort to make the gains achieved more durable and to ensure that subsequent activities take full advantage of the improved position, and may be either planned or emergent in character. In contrast to the traditional view of consolidating gains through Phase IV / V operations, the concept of strategic development advocated here is a continuous consideration throughout all other LOEs.

Activities pursuing strategic development may include strategic issues like orchestrating the hand-off of operations from resistance to conventional forces; facilitation of assumption of political control by the resistance; and the transition to an acceptable, durable political situation. However, tactical and operational efforts should also abide by this principle, including tasks aimed at exploiting the gains made by the resistance, from preparing guerrillas to take on a defensive posture following an assault to engaging local elders in newly liberated villages to boost recruitment from that village.

This does not imply that an insurgency should seek to crystalize its position, such as seizing and holding territory, before it is prepared to do so; rather, strategic development seeks to exploit and amplify effects within and across LOEs. Indeed, the best course of action may be to abandon gains made if they do not serve the overall strategic picture – hence the use of the term “strategic development” rather than “consolidation of gains”.

Additionally, strategic development ideally will cross-functionally leverage the elements of national power and the four phased LOEs. For example, economic sanctions may be used to weaken regime officials, who may then be contacted by intelligence agents who exploit their financial difficulties as leverage, causing them to expose military secrets that enable guerrilla action.

Several operational demands related to strategic development stand out among the rest: hand-off or integration of operations, assumption of control, and transition to a durable political outcome. Each is discussed briefly below.


Hand-off / Integration

As discussed above, where U.S. or coalition overt forces are to be employed, the UW planners and their resistance counterparts must determine the burden-sharing, deconfliction and coordination measures that will be used once the resistance and the foreign military forces begin to operate in the same geographic area. This activity can take many forms, from the relief in place of resistance forces to the complete integration of operations. In the case of insertion of conventional ground forces, this will often manifest as a transition on the part of the resistance from guerrilla warfare to local security functions, but where stand-off capabilities are employed instead, such as in OEF in 2003, the resistance’s role will likely remain robust.  Because coordination between local forces and foreign conventional military is necessarily fraught with difficulty, planning for this activity must begin early in the campaign to ensure that adequate training and interoperable equipment is available in a timely manner.


Facilitate Assumption of Control

Whether overt forces are to be employed or not, the UW planners must proactively facilitate the preferred actor’s assumption of territorial control and governance. This begins with the development of an outline of a new political order acceptable to the U.S. and the preferred actor and ensuring that the relevant personnel and organizations receive any training necessary to fulfill their assigned roles. These will most likely be members of the political arm of the resistance, whether overt (e.g., Sinn Fein) or covert (e.g., IRA Army Council).


Transition to acceptable durable political situation

Strategic development is not mere exploitation. The consolidation of gains should at all times be oriented toward the transition to a new political situation which is not only favorable to U.S. national interests, but also durable at an acceptable cost. This does not necessarily mean self-sustaining, as it is perfectly reasonable to plan to support the new regime through international aid for the foreseeable future (as we do with many allies such as Israel). After all, operational successes “will be limited in their strategic utility and unlikely to achieve lasting results if the effects are not synchronized with long-term engagement activities.”[11]

Recent military doctrine conceived of this transition as occurring at a specific point in time, between supporting a new regime (“Phase V”) and that regime standing on its own (“Phase VI/0). However, this conception ignores the need for transition activities throughout the campaign, not only in the form of preparation for transition, but as an ongoing effort to make the new status quo created by the operation more durable.



Much more work is needed in laying a theoretical foundation for UW, employing that foundation in the development of concepts of employment and campaign plans, and training for our strategic leadership, including military and non-military professionals throughout the interagency. However, the foregoing is offered provide a starting point from which to build.

Indeed, the proposed model may very well provide the foundation for a consolidated theory of indirect action, from covert action, UW and foreign internal defense, to security cooperation and multinational operations, and even to non-military forms of statecraft conducted by, with and through partners. In each form of international engagement where the U.S. would prefer to work by, with, and through local and regional actors, the same four LOEs and principle of strategic development must be employed: the U.S. must plan and assess, build access, rebalance the power dynamics, and facilitate partner action, all the while ensuring that gains are durable. The underlying activities will necessarily vary between types of indirect action, just as they will between specific operations, but the overarching strategic necessities are the same.



[1] Maxwell, David S. Do We Really Understand Unconventional Warfare? October 23, 2014. Accessed August 13, 2017.; Robinson, Linda. The Future of U.S. Special Operations Forces. Report no. 66. Washington, DC: Council on Foreign Relations, 2013.

[2] George F. Kennan, Policy Planning Memorandum, April 30, 1948. Accessed August 13, 2017.; Kennan, George F. "Measures Short of War"; Lecture. In Measures Short of War: The George F. Kennan Lectures at the National War College. 3-17.

[3] USSOCOM, The Gray Zone. White Paper. September 9, 2015. Accessed August 13, 2017. .

[4] Some have challenged the assertion that the Russian General Staff has developed a doctrine of hybrid warfare. McDermott, Roger N. "Learning from Today’s Wars: Does Russia have a Gerasimov Doctrine?" Parameters 46, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 97-105. Accessed August 13, 2017. However, the General Staff need not have intentionally applied a particular model for that model to be applicable to their conduct. The “Gerasimov doctrine” goes a long way in explaining Russian actions in the Donbas and elsewhere. USASOC, SOF Support to Political Warfare. White Paper. March 10, 2015. Accessed August 13, 2017.

[5] Worley, D. Robert. United States Political Warfare Policy. January 2015. Notional government policy.

[6] USASOC, SOF Support to Political Warfare.

[7] Pilkington, Ed, Pidd, Helen and Chulov, Martin. 2011. "Colin Powell demands answers over Curveball's WMD lies." The Guardian, February 16; Fairweather, Jack, and La Guardia, Anton. 2004. "Chalabi stands by faulty intelligence that toppled Saddam's regime." The Telegraph, February 19.

[8] National Security Act of 1947, Section 101.

[9] U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Special Operations. Joint Publication 3-05. Washington, DC: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, July 16, 2014.

[10] Milton, Giles. 2018. Churchill's Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler's Defeat. New York: Picador.

[11] Michele L. Malvesti, To Serve the Nation: U.S. Special Operations Forces in an Era of Persistent Conflict, Center for a New American Security, June 2010.

About the Author(s)

Paul W Taylor is an irregular warfare specialist in the Washington, D.C. area. He most recently served as a policy analyst and Strategic Communications Branch Chief for the United States Army Special Operations Command G-5 Functional Planning Division, as well as adjunct instructor of foreign policy at Methodist University.

Previously, Paul served from 2013 to 2018 as an irregular warfare policy and strategy analyst with Cydecor, providing support to the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy (Navy Warfare Group) in the analysis and drafting of strategy, policy, concepts, and doctrine related to irregular warfare and the integration of conventional and special operations forces.

From 2008-2011, while studying at Seton Hall University, Paul was a research fellow the Center for Policy & Research, in which capacity he participated in habeas litigation for Guantanamo Bay detainees, investigated US military detention operations, and conducted research into forensic evidence and expert witness standards and processes.

Paul served from 2003 to 2007 as a fire support specialist and forward observer for 82nd Airborne Division. During this service, he deployed to Iraq in 2004 and Afghanistan from 2005-2006. His awards and decorations include the Combat Action Badge, Army Commendation Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Parachutist Badge, and Royal British Parachutist Wings.

Paul has served in multiple volunteer positions, including several leadership positions with the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP), including most recently, as Chair of YPFP’s Defense Discussion Group. He is also founder and editor of the National Security Strategy Archive.

He has received a joint Juris Doctor and Masters of Arts in Diplomacy International Relations at Seton Hall University, in which he focused on national security issues. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in theoretical mathematics from Sonoma State University, just outside his hometown of Santa Rosa, CA.



Thu, 09/23/2021 - 8:38am

We are committed to providing our clients with exceptional solutions while offering web design and development services, graphic design services, organic SEO services, social media services, digital marketing services, server management services and Graphic Design Company in USA.