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 Richard Kaipo Lum | Thu, 11/05/2020 - 4:46pm | 0 comments
Today, we in the United States are confronted with a bewildering array of changes, occurring on multiple levels and unfolding at different rates.  The world order is clearly undergoing a set of transitions and with rising geotechnological competition and unraveling global integration, it is even more challenging to make confident statements about the future.  In fact, there is no single future “out there.”  We are always confronted by a range of possibilities for how the world could change and today, given the breadth and depth of changes underway, effectively dealing with those possibilities requires us to address the future in new ways.
by Philip Neri | Thu, 11/05/2020 - 2:59pm | 0 comments
A force that must contend with an aspect of the operational environment that it is not prepared for must adapt to achieve its objectives. Therefore, the reciprocal of readiness is adaptability. Military forces seek to man, train, and equip so that any adaptation required is not beyond the reach of its tactical formations. However, the accumulated manning, training, and equipping of a nation’s fleets, aircraft squadrons, and brigades does not equate to a qualitative assessment of overall military readiness. Incorporating the five distinct categories of force structure, modernization, institution, force projection, and sustainability, in addition to the tactical readiness metrics builds a comprehensive readiness framework.
by Robert C. Jones | Wed, 11/04/2020 - 2:46pm | 0 comments
What are the operations we need to select, train, organize and equip the force to conduct that are truly “Special” and also relevant to the challenges facing our nation in this evolving strategic environment? This is the most important question facing United States Special Operations Command today. But it’s not one we spend much time on.
by Robert C. Jones | Wed, 11/04/2020 - 2:03pm | 1 comment
Critical Points of Understanding for Guiding a Durable Peace in Afghanistan
by John Bolton | Mon, 11/02/2020 - 9:38pm | 0 comments
This spring the Army had a real-world Mission Command challenge as COVID-19 forced continued operations and training while within Social Distancing guidelines. Units began operating remotely, using a variety of platforms and apps including Line, WhatsApp, and zoom. Some utilized Defense Collaboration Services while others relied on teleconference lines. A common theme, however, is that many tactical units did not deploy their Mission Command Systems (MCS) Command Post of the Future (CPOF) connected via JNN/CPN/STT - the systems designed for communication during combat and tested during every Combat Training Center (CTC) rotation. In other words, at a critical moment, systems either failed or simply fell by the wayside, unused because of broad agreement on a lack of utility.
by Lisa Merriam | Mon, 11/02/2020 - 3:24pm | 8 comments
ISIS and Antifa much alike. “Mass movements are interchangeable,” said Eric Hoffer in The True Believer. From Hezbollah to Al Qaeda, from Occupy Wall Street to the Revolution Abolition Movement, these groups share more than an anti-American philosophy. They use the same marketing techniques. We explain how ISIS retails its ideology in our book Weaponized Marketing: Defeating Islamic Jihad with Marketing that Built the World’s Top Brands. Antifa is going to market the same way.
by Lorris Beverelli | Sun, 11/01/2020 - 1:20pm | 0 comments
France, once more, faces terrorism. The murder of French teacher Samuel Paty on October 16th, 2020 by a radical Muslim and the knife attack in Nice less than two weeks later on October 29th led to political and social-level talks in the country about France and radical Islamic terrorism. Among these discussions, people have mentioned that France was “at war” against “Islamist terrorism” or the ideology of “radical Islamism.”
by Daniel H. McCauley, by Sadi Sadiyev, by Rashad Tahirov | Sun, 11/01/2020 - 12:59pm | 0 comments
There is no question that leadership is foundational to the “profession of arms”. Yet the Services treat leadership at senior ranks as a “given” based upon the results of an officer’s success at the tactical level. Certainly, as officers progress up through the ranks to senior leadership positions, some of the skills required to be successful are, in fact, transferrable from their tactical leadership experiences. Many of the leadership skills necessary to lead organizations successfully at the senior levels, however, are entirely new.
by Daniel Weisz | Sat, 10/31/2020 - 9:08pm | 0 comments
Book review of Guillermo Trejo and Sandra Ley, "Votes, Drugs, and Violence: The Political Logic of Criminal Wars in Mexico." Trejo and Ley conceptualize cartels and organized crime groups (OCGs) as political actors that read and react to the political environment in Mexico and demonstrate that there is a symbiotic type of relationship between the OCGs or cartels and an informal level of the state.
by Sarah Koch | Sat, 10/31/2020 - 10:56am | 0 comments
Western society’s connectivity is accompanied by a new national security risk: cyberattacks. To a degree almost unimaginable a decade earlier, disruptive and destructive cyberattacks have become central to multi-domain warfare in interstate conflict. Our critical infrastructure, banking, and military systems rely on connectivity in cyberspace. Paradoxically, those who are at the forefront of these emerging technologies are also the most susceptible to attack.
by Joanne Patti Munisteri | Fri, 10/30/2020 - 5:42pm | 0 comments
Turkey and Iran continue in their historically based power play in the Caucasus and the Levant.  They are squeezing territory from Armenia via their proxy war by the Azeris in Nagorno-Karabakh and the presence of Azeri jihadists in neighboring Syria.  Posing as referees to these conflicts are the Russian Federation and the United States, both of whom have significant numbers of Armenians within their own borders.
by Nate Trimble | Fri, 10/30/2020 - 5:21pm | 0 comments
   The United States (US) is in another Cold War with Russia.  The US military shares several operational spaces with the proxies of the Russian Federation and its troops in such places as the Levant, Northern Africa, South Asia, and Ukraine.  Despite or because they are not declared international armed conflicts, Russian close air support in Libya, firefights in Syria, or standoffs in Ukraine has confronted US-backed proxies that parallels the pattern of undeclared conflict during the Cold War.  
by Christian M. Bills | Fri, 10/30/2020 - 10:27am | 0 comments
      The United States is the target of countless threats from around the world. In the age of ecommerce, instant communication, and the expansion of the internet cyber threats have become some of the most terrifying adversaries. Enemies of the United States have all weaponized this ever-growing form of communication and information source and have been quick to understand that for every road closed more are presented. The internet allows these threats to combat the United States on a level playing field as they can create programs to hack into government websites, liquidate financial accounts, steal sensitive or classified information, or spread disinformation on either official or social media platforms. One group in particular has been highly successful in this new war being waged and they are known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA).
by Alan Cunningham | Thu, 10/29/2020 - 6:13am | 0 comments
In the start of 2020, much of the world and virtually all of the United States was consumed by news reports and developments about COVID-19, a new strain of the Coronavirus respiratory disease. Hysteria was rampant with people buying toilet paper and masks and gloves, despite news agencies and international health organizations urging against this; some did this of their own accord, but it is undeniable the effect that social media websites (like Facebook) and “news” agencies (like InfoWars) had on inciting this hysteria. Not only was misinformation spread about what individual countries were experiencing, but about the cause of the virus.
by David C. Rasmussen | Wed, 10/28/2020 - 8:52pm | 0 comments
The political divisiveness and distrust that built up around the Nixon Administration as a result of the Watergate cover-ups and investigations, ending with President Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, created a backlash to policies associated with Nixon such as détente with the Russians. Even though President Ford tried to maintain continuity with Nixon’s policies, the policy of détente had become so toxic to both Democrats and Republicans, that President Ford was forced to completely abandon it during the 1976 Republican presidential primary campaign. It was within this rare political context of bipartisan unity that the Army had the rationale it needed to make its largest doctrinal shift in the post-World War II era.
by Pasar Sherko | Wed, 10/28/2020 - 8:32pm | 0 comments
Directing violent operations against the west has been a major threat coming from Salafi-jihadi groups. While the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda is the most widely-known external attack, since the declaration of the ISIS caliphate in June 2014, conducting external operations is almost exclusive to the Islamic State.
by Paolo Pizzolo | Wed, 10/28/2020 - 8:16pm | 0 comments
This paper will describe the Greed versus Grievance Theory and why it is a useful theoretical framework to address the incentives for the outbreak of the 2011 Libyan Civil War. Specifically, it will argue that, although the greed argument can partly contribute in explaining the motivations that led the anti-Gaddafi rebel front to mobilize, the grievance argument renders a broader explanation to the uprising, as it includes relevant variables typical of Gaddafi’s regime, like: inequal income distribution, unemployment, lack of political rights, nepotism, and corruption.
by Sean McLaughlin | Tue, 10/27/2020 - 9:35pm | 0 comments
On July 1st, the Russian people approved a constitutional amendment that reset Vladimir Putin's Presidential term tally to zero, thus allowing him to remain in office until 2036 potentially. This could make Putin a President for life since he could potentially be 83 years old when his time in office ends. This is bad news for Ukraine because it ends any hope that a change of leadership in the Kremlin will lead to a negotiated end to the Russian backed insurgency in the east. Ukraine needs to now accept this hard reality and take a long-range strategic approach that will change the political dynamics of the conflict in Ukraine's favor.
by Billy Carter , by Isaac Odhiambo, by Jonathan Underwood | Tue, 10/27/2020 - 3:11pm | 0 comments
This case study is part of a larger body of work researched and produced by the students of the Military Information Support Operations (MISO) Program Design and Assessment Course at Ft. Bragg, NC. This body of work examines conflict scenarios with emphasis on determining the Psychological Operations (PSYOP) efforts and activities employed by the various competitive actors in the area of operations.
by Lawrence E. Cline | Mon, 10/26/2020 - 10:12pm | 0 comments
The Sahel region in Africa continues to be one of the most unstable regions in the world, with a variety of jihadist groups continuing to launch attacks. Although originally focused in Mali, it has metastasized into a major threat to bordering countries. The most critical security requirements continue to fall on the local military and police forces. Both before and after the external military and peace enforcement missions, local forces have had significant issues with maintaining security
by Andrew ‘Buster’ Crabb | Mon, 10/26/2020 - 10:00pm | 0 comments
Operational design has been adopted into Joint Doctrine. The Armed Services and US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) have also, in different forms, adopted operational design. As currently captured in JP 5-0 (Joint Planning), Joint Operational Design is seriously limited in both its usefulness and application. Joint Operational Design needs to be re-imagined.
by Jason Christensen | Mon, 10/26/2020 - 9:03pm | 0 comments
While it is imperative to leverage personal military experiences, it is also important to recognize our experiences have the capacity to result in inaccurate assumptions, conclusions, or implicit bias. The simple solution is to integrate data into our decision-making process rather than solely relying on observations of deployed forces, leadership experience, or self-assessments. For Psychological Operations (PSYOP), this poses a severe issue, as well as a new opportunity: educate target audiences with credible data and tailor associated messaging.
by Jose Mikhail Perez | Mon, 10/26/2020 - 8:30pm | 0 comments
In this article, our goal is to explain the factors why making peace in ethnically-divided societies, such as Mindanao, are often hard to secure. The primary argument that this article proposes is that the settlement of peace processes in ethnically divided societies are more likely to experience more cycles of violence during peace transitions. This argument is based from the various studies on ethnic conflicts after the Cold War where peaceful transitions in heterogeneous societies are more prone to interethnic violence while undergoing democratization.
by John P. Sullivan, by José de Arimatéia da Cruz, by Robert Bunker | Mon, 10/26/2020 - 7:43pm | 28 comments
Various factions (facções) exert territorial control over portions of Rio de Janeiro.  These include gangs and militias (gangues e milícias) that challenge the state, contest territorial control and illicit markets, and exert raw political power of criminal governance.  A recent study: Mapa dos Grupos Armados do Rio (Map of the Armed Groups of Rio) conducted by a team of researchers from several Rio de Janeiro universities and civil society organizations mapped the distribution of criminal armed groups (CAGs) in Rio de Janeiro.
by Jonathan Helton | Sun, 10/25/2020 - 10:14pm | 1 comment
One African conflict that consistently flies under the radar is the struggle between Morocco and the Polisario Front over the territory of Western Sahara. This struggle dates back to the Cold War and reflected Cold War alliances throughout its duration. . Despite some flare ups, the battle over Western Sahara has moved to the realm of diplomacy and dialogue. Concern among some Polisario Front members could lead to a resurgence of armed conflict, so international spectators and interested parties need to revisit long- and short-term solutions before this conflict reignites.
by Drew (Richard) Marcantonio, by Kristina Hook | Sun, 10/25/2020 - 9:57pm | 0 comments
In the chaotic reality of wars and armed conflicts, environmental issues are often downgraded in long lists of policy priorities. The authors suggest that this reality is partially driven by the simmering and subterraneous aspect of environmental risks; the long-term possibility of environmental degradation may not seize the attention of political decision-makers as intuitively as ongoing violence spikes or political turmoil. This paper proposes a new policy and demonstrates how that tool can rapidly contextualize environmental risks. In addition this paper also shares previously unpublished data on Ukraine’s war-driven ongoing environmental crisis.
by Christjan Gaudio | Sun, 10/25/2020 - 9:51pm | 0 comments
The United States Coast Guard exists to protect American prosperity both domestically and globally. Domestically the service maintains regulatory authorities relating to shipping, coastal, and offshore operations interacting at every level of the domestic maritime environment. Whether on the high seas or in domestic waters stability is a mission inherent to the service and something that the Coast Guard has conducted in one form or another for over two hundred years.
by Travis M. Florio | Sat, 10/24/2020 - 9:24pm | 1 comment
Book Review of "Small Wars, Big Data: The Information Revolution in Modern Conflict" by Eli Berman, Eli, Joseph H. Felter, and Jacob N. Shapiro, with Vestal McIntyre.
by Riley Murray | Sat, 10/24/2020 - 7:02pm | 0 comments
Helping a foreign country improve the effectiveness of their military aviation capabilities is an incredibly difficult task, made even more difficult when partner nations are facing ongoing irregular conflicts. Despite this difficulty, recent efforts to develop allied air forces through Aviation Foreign Internal Defense (AvFID) have not seen coherent strategic planning. US forces often do not develop an effective conceptual end state, long term plans do not guide operational decisions, and cognitive dissonance exists between nearly all actors.
by Francis Miyata, by John Nicholson | Sat, 10/24/2020 - 5:19pm | 0 comments
The dichotomy of old and new wars is premised on the rupture between interstate conflict and intrastate conflict, exemplified by the military theories of Clausewitz and Mao respectively. The present article’s task is essentially conservative. It will contest this narrative of an evolving nature of war both theoretically and historically. By underlining the formative influence of Clausewitz’s On War on Mao’s thought, from which the Chinese Communist leader derived the principles of insurgency, the present article will serve three functions.
by Connor Hirsch | Sat, 10/24/2020 - 4:16pm | 0 comments
Following former Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s resignation and dissolution of his government after a military coup, the challenge of waging counterinsurgency against jihadist groups will pass to Mali’s next leaders, whoever they may be. The Keita government’s failure to provide adequate security in many communities after nearly a decade of conflict contributed to the popular calls for changes in leadership and allowed insurgent movements to metastasize
by Andrew Straley | Fri, 10/23/2020 - 12:00pm | 0 comments
The next war will most likely take place in the information ‘cognitive’ battle-space, where the U.S. military is ill designed and ill equipped to fight. This future war will take place in ways and places far beyond the conventional Western concepts of war. The traditional ‘Western-way-of-war’ where society believes the nation is either ‘at-war’ or ‘at-peace, is a relic of the past. U.S. national policy leaders are slow to recognize the international system has changed, making the United States more vulnerable to evolving forms of hybrid warfare, asymmetric warfare and unrestricted warfare.
by James K. Wither, by Richard Mašek | Fri, 10/23/2020 - 10:42am | 0 comments
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020 arguably created the greatest global security challenge since 1945. Faced with this unanticipated threat, scholars and practitioners from the security and counterterrorism fields have struggled to understand and assess the impact of the pandemic on global and domestic terrorism
by Ridvan Bari Urcosta | Fri, 10/23/2020 - 9:50am | 0 comments
A view from Poland on the current conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The current conflict in the South Caucasus started on 27 September with Azerbaijan air and forces armed with massive support of artillery against the positions of the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh. It is a large-scale offensive against Armenia in general, and unprecedented in its nature since the beginning of the 1990s. Neither Armenia nor the international backers of stability in this region were ready for such developments.
by Ahmet Yiğitalp TULGA | Thu, 10/22/2020 - 11:02am | 1 comment
The world had faced with many terrorist organizations until 2014. However, after 2014, the world faced with the most complicated terrorist organization. This terrorist organization is ISIS or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has been running a more different propaganda campaign, emphasizing the state-building and welfare schemes run by this organization and these elements make ISIS more complicated.
by Aaron Byrd, by Mechille Braden | Thu, 10/22/2020 - 10:54am | 0 comments
Advisors supporting our national counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency missions need a conceptual model of organizational leadership that crosses cultures and applies to a wide variety of organizations. We propose an organizational leadership model built on a set of cross-culturally defined intelligences and the Executive Core Qualifications used by the US Office of Personnel Management in evaluating senior leaders.
by Dave Maxwell | Wed, 10/21/2020 - 4:45pm | 0 comments
Remarks delivered for a SOCPAC Conference on Resistance and Resilience in Asia, February 4-6, 2020.
by William M. Darley | Wed, 10/21/2020 - 10:39am | 2 comments
The U.S. is distracted due to the current election turmoil. This makes Taiwan vulnerable. The essay outlines how the People’s Republic of China (PRC) may act against Taiwan in the coming weeks and months. It provides a concept depicting one possible course of action for an invasion of Taiwan by the PRC. The concept assumes that the PRC wants to annex Taiwan with the majority of its industrial and technological infrastructure intact with minimal fighting, which means avoiding engaging in urban warfare.
by Joseph N. Gardner | Tue, 10/20/2020 - 8:35pm | 0 comments
The world has a history of repeating themes, such as the collapse of states and global unrest, about every twenty years
by Preston McLaughlin | Tue, 10/20/2020 - 4:49pm | 0 comments
Frank “Gus” Biggio, foreword by General Stanley McChrystal, USA Ret. The Wolves of Helmand: A View From Inside The Den of Modern War. Forefront Books, 2020. Distributed by Simon and Schuster: USA. [ISBN 978-1-948677-64-6, Hardcover,, 288 pages]. Due to be released on 10 November 2020.
by Peter Kent Forster | Tue, 10/20/2020 - 4:41pm | 0 comments
Ansar al-Sunna wa Jama’ah, Mozambique’s emerging jihadi umbrella group, has been active in the northern province of Cabo Delgado since 2017. Its sustainability is benefitting from a number of enablers. While it remains possible for the Mozambique government to defeat Ansar al-Sunna, the task is becoming more complex as the drivers of sustainability continue to mature. This paper identifies five key enablers, analyzes their current state, and offers practical suggestions on counter-measures
by Brent W. Thompson | Tue, 10/20/2020 - 4:33pm | 0 comments
"China is on the clock. The PRC has long held that Taiwan is a “rebel province” that it must bring under its control." Will a crisis present an opportunity that it can exploit? Does the Russian model for annexation of Crimea in 2014 offer a template for what the PRC might do in Taiwan?
by Kevin Bilms, by Douglas A. Livermore | Tue, 10/20/2020 - 9:47am | 0 comments
Counterterrorism must be reframed in the era of Great Power Competition. The new unclassified summary of the Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Annex requires placing counterterrorism and countering violent extremist organizations in the proper context and directs DOD to “degrade and, on order, defeat designated priority VEOs… [and] sustain a network to share the burden with willing and capable partners.”
by Richard Burchill | Tue, 10/06/2020 - 8:09pm | 1 comment
The impact of the COVID-19 upon the world in 2020 has been profound. Across the globe the day to day lives of people have changed dramatically and it is unlikely these changes will diminish anytime soon. There has been an extensive range of action taken in response to COVID such as stay at home orders, including working from home; limitations on movement within and between countries; limited access to various public and private services. These measures have had knock-on impacts such as a major downturn in economic activity, stressed supply chains, and disruptions to transport networks, amongst others. Both the threat posed by COVID-19 and the impact it has on our day to day lives appears set to continue for a considerable period of time.
by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan, by David Kuhn, by Alma Keshavarz | Mon, 10/05/2020 - 8:41pm | 1 comment
The Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) is alleged to have attempted to deploy two weaponsized drones with C4 or similar type explosives against their rivals—the Carteles Unidos (United Cartels)—in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán on 25 July 2020. The weaponized drones were not successfully deployed and were found by a local self-defense group (autodefensas) known as El grupo de autodefensa en Tepalcatepec.
by Pamela Ruiz | Thu, 10/01/2020 - 9:56pm | 1 comment
In January 2020, Guatemalan President Dr. Alejandro Giammattei proposed legislation to categorize the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs as terrorist organizations.In the United States, the Department of Treasury categorized MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization in October 2012 and in July 2020, for the first time, an MS-13 member was charged with terrorism-related offenses. The Constitutional Chambers of the Supreme Court of Justice in El Salvador ruled to reclassify these gangs as terrorist organizations in August of 2015 and in February 2017 Honduras sanctioned terrorist activities by these gangs. This article argues MS-13 and Barrio 18 lack the core component to be classified as terrorist organizations: a political or religious ideology guiding their violence.  
by Alma Keshavarz | Mon, 09/14/2020 - 5:55pm | 0 comments
There are a variety of definitions for hybrid warfare. Some are using the concept more haphazardly while others are applying a number of classifications. In 2005, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis identified hybrid wars as a blending of modes of warfare.  This SWJ Book Review assesses Orenstein's analysis and Mattis's construct of hybrid war.
by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan | Tue, 09/08/2020 - 7:40pm | 4 comments
An MS-13 leader in El Salvador—Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz (a.k.a. “Blue” or “Clipper”)—has been indicted on terrorism charges for his role as the Corredor (Leader) of the gang’s United States East Coast Program. The indictment, by the United States Department of Justice (US DOJ), represents the first ever charging of an MS-13 member for ‘material support to terrorists’ along with other terrorism related offenses in addition to the more traditional racketeering (RICO) and narcotics trafficking charges. It also provides detailed information about the East Coast Program’s command and control (C2) structure and links to El Salvadoran elements of the gang while describing identified US MS-13 cliques and their geographic distribution.
by H I Sutton | Mon, 08/31/2020 - 7:38pm | 0 comments
This open source intelligence (OSINT) report documents the development of narco-submarines in Spanish waters. These vessels, known as LPVs (Low Profile Vessels) or alternatively SPSS (Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible) vessels, are proliferating globally. These 'narco-submarines' now include three types: Fully Submersible Vessels (FSVs), Low Profile Vessels (LPVs), and hybrid Low Profile Vessels/Go-Fast Vessels (LPV/GFVs).
by Anibal Serrano | Sun, 08/30/2020 - 10:29pm | 1 comment
Eighteenth Street (18th Street) is a gang originating in the Pico-Union District of Los Angeles. It is one of the gangs frequently mentioned in a transnational context and often referred to as a mara—a type of sophisticated gang—due to its presence in El Salvador and other parts of Central America. Eighteenth Street is known as 18th Street, Barrio 18, Calle 18, Mara 18, and M-18 in its various locations. This article summarizes its origins and national and transnational migration/diffusion.