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 Joshua Eaton | Sun, 02/10/2019 - 12:58am | 0 comments
Military planning is become increasingly complex with the inclusion of advanced technologies, unmanned and autonomous systems, the cyber domain, new, emerging, and unknown threats, and the mercurial nature of the battlefield. AI and machine learning can help streamline military planning along several dimensions.
by U.S. Army TRADOC G2 Mad Scientist Initiative | Sat, 02/09/2019 - 8:27am | 0 comments
It is important to take a creative approach to projecting and anticipating both transformational and enduring trends that will lend themselves to the depiction of the future. In this vein, the Army Mad Scientist Initiative is seeking your creativity and unique ideas to describe a battlefield that does not yet exist.
by Alma Keshavarz | Sat, 02/09/2019 - 12:39am | 0 comments
What makes illicit networks resilient and why do states choose to attack some more aggressively over others? These are the questions the author—Nathan P. Jones—investigates and attempts to answer in "Mexico’s Illicit Drug Networks and the State Reaction". Dr. Jones is a non-resident scholar in drug policy and Mexico studies at the Baker Institute at Rice University in Texas and an Assistant Professor in Security Studies, Sam Houston State University.
by David Walton, by Joseph Long | Fri, 02/08/2019 - 5:22am | 6 comments
Direct Action and Unconventional Warfare - one is in the movies, and the other is in the history books. Perhaps oversimplified, the differences between these two mission sets are at the heart of the Green Beret’s identity crisis. Both are clearly doctrinal Special Forces missions, but one dominates our cultural zeitgeist, while the other is relegated to a few weeks in the Q course and knowing glances at Semi-Annual Training Briefs.
by W. R. Baker | Fri, 02/08/2019 - 5:07am | 0 comments
With the exception of the very few, most Vietnam veterans are proud of their service (~91%) and most of these seem to be “revisionist” versus “orthodox,” as the distinction seems to be currently drawn. I’m surprised that primary sources (i.e., those who were in Vietnam) don’t seem to be as important as secondary ones are for historians today. Just a brief survey of what is now being taught in colleges about Vietnam, including (surprisingly) military ones, and you’ll find it is now a seldom offered course by itself and it seems consigned to being only a chapter in history books.
by Joe Miller, by Monte Erfourth, by Jeremiah Monk, by Ryan Oliver | Thu, 02/07/2019 - 1:42am | 2 comments
The U.S. remains in a position to have a disproportionate impact on the shape of the future, but the window of opportunity is closing. While the military must continue to prepare for distant and unlikely wars, the U.S. is losing ground in the present. Outside of war, actors are achieving desired outcomes and increasing their positional and policy advantages – often at the expense of U.S. interests. These actors have stolen intellectual property, annexed the sovereign territory of neighboring nations, interfered in political processes, and even caused the deaths of innocent non-combatants.
by Stephen B. Young | Thu, 02/07/2019 - 12:54am | 2 comments
In his State of the Union Address, President Trump sought to legitimate his negotiations with the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan with the argument that the Taliban were happy to negotiate with him. Of course, they are happy to do so. Through negotiations they will finally be in a position to take over Afghanistan - just as the North Vietnamese finally won the Vietnam War thanks to their private negotiations with Henry Kissinger – when there were no South Vietnamese present to prevent him from selling them out.
by Michael Gladius | Wed, 02/06/2019 - 1:00pm | 0 comments
Heavy Infantry are the answer to the looming possibility of combat in megacities. America does not have any dedicated IBCTs or Divisions for urban combat, but if these were to be raised, Heavy Infantry would form the core. Armored divisions might also benefit from the addition of heavy IBCTs. The current model for all-purpose infantry is extremely useful for training, but specialized heavy-light infantry enable greater tactical flexibility, both when mounted and dismounted. For a global power fighting in every terrain and climate, flexibility is the indispensable core.
by Keith Nightingale | Tue, 02/05/2019 - 3:20am | 0 comments
51 years ago – this past Sunday - around 0630, I was looking over the berm shown in the picture, wondering how I emerged alive. It was Tet 1968. A very thin 52d ARVN Ranger Battalion was defending the Xuan Loc airfield against constant assaults.
by Stephen B. Young | Mon, 02/04/2019 - 1:00pm | 9 comments
The record of American disappointments is indeed impressive for money spent and results obtained: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, the War on Terror. Further, an inability to obtain a favorable balance of power can be seen in the South China Sea, Yemen, Libya, the Ukraine, North Korea, and the Middle East. Today, near insurgent conditions in much of Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras negatively impact American domestic tranquility through drug sales and illegal migration.
by Michael Gladius | Mon, 02/04/2019 - 1:58am | 0 comments
Warrant officers exist primarily for highly-specialized, technical roles in the US Military. As the Army modernizes, however, their role ought to increase beyond simple numeric expansion. Enhancing the role of warrant officers at the expense of commissioned officers will cement America’s existing advantages and improve our leadership hierarchy and command system.
by Gary Anderson | Sun, 02/03/2019 - 12:18pm | 8 comments
What is needed is a Joint Squad Leader’s School that would train Army and Marine Corps newly selected Sergeants to lead infantry squads and weapons platoon sections. Such a course of instruction would be structured similar to the Marine Corps Basic School - which all newly commissioned second lieutenants must attend.
by De Faakto Intelligence Research Observatory | Sun, 02/03/2019 - 7:02am | 0 comments
Djibouti is a small dusty coastal nation on the Horn of Africa that has the distinction of being located at the southern entrance of the Red Sea on route to the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden. Djibouti is a mandatory passage way for important maritime trade routes; making it strategic terra firma, sought after by the most powerful militaries in the world. Djibouti is ideal for navel security operations, anti-piracy patrols, counter terror drone strikes, air force operations, counter terror special operations, intelligence-surveillance, peacekeeping & humanitarian aid.
by SWJ Editors | Fri, 02/01/2019 - 2:37am | 0 comments
SWJ (@smallwars) is working with Michael Burgoyne @mburgoyne and Jim Marckwardt on a project to celebrate the 10th anniversary of "The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa" ( We’re looking for authors to write a 7th Dream that reflects on COIN lessons learned over the last ten years.
by SWJ Editors | Thu, 01/31/2019 - 12:29pm | 0 comments
Jane’s by IHS Markit has identified the following major geopolitical and technology trends to watch in the defence industry in 2019. Continue on for the full text...
by Keith Nightingale | Thu, 01/31/2019 - 1:53am | 1 comment
I was cleaning out my accumulated files and I came across a series of notes regarding officers and leadership accumulated through the years. Having commanded four rifle companies, three Airborne/Ranger battalions and two Airborne/Ranger brigades, several in combat between 1965 and 1993, I saw a lot, did a lot and tried to remember. This article is for those who wish the knowledge, hopefully without the pain.
by Assad A. Raza | Wed, 01/30/2019 - 4:00am | 1 comment
As U.S strategy shifts towards great power competition, the U.S. Army must fully integrate civil affairs forces into their Echelons Above Brigade concept. Civil affairs are the Department of Defense’s primary force, specifically trained and educated to engage and influence the civil component of the environment.
by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan | Tue, 01/29/2019 - 3:32am | 0 comments
What the four operational level perspectives in Southern California (emanating from Los Angeles), El Salvador, Massachusetts/Long Island, and Zetas plazas (within certain regions of Mexico) have shown is that, within each specific geographic area, the MS-13 cliques adapt their configuration to optimize operations vis-à-vis their host environments.
by Gary Anderson | Mon, 01/28/2019 - 3:21pm | 1 comment
Should we replace American forces in Syria with armed contractors? Erik Prince thinks so. In an article for FOX News, Prince and retired General Anthony Tata suggested that a group such as the World War II Flying Tigers be formed to replace the US forces being withdrawn from Syria.
by Jeremy D. Lawhorn | Mon, 01/28/2019 - 1:04am | 2 comments
What America is experiencing today is a perfect storm: the convergence of a domestic political environment that is motivated by self-interest, revenge, and sabotage; a national media that is more concerned with sensationalizing crises than reporting facts or helping solve problems; the awakening and empowerment of underrepresented and otherwise traditionally marginalized peoples; and the interference of adversarial agents who aim to not only discredit democracy, but ultimately destroy America. It is becoming increasingly apparent that American policy makers are either unaware of this crisis or more concerned with their own political agendas, either way, this political and social division represents a fundamental crisis that threatens to rip the country apart. If recent failures to identify problems and generate bi-partisan solutions are indicative of the future, this crisis will continue unimpeded.
by Donald C. Bolduc | Sun, 01/27/2019 - 11:12am | 0 comments
The military is a noble profession filled with competent and committed officers and Noncommissioned Officers. It was my honor to serve as both an enlisted man and an officer. The intent of this playbook is to discuss a list of categories I found important as a leader. It is important to note that I have made every mistake a leader can make, but more importantly, I admit it, and have learned from my mistakes.
by Franklin C. Annis | Sat, 01/26/2019 - 7:26am | 0 comments
Unlike the other branches in the Army, the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) hasn’t had clear tasks requirements for officers since the 1990s. It is unknown why AMEDD stopped the practice that was universal to the rest of the Army. This has left the AMEDD in an awkward situation of not being able to clearly define, measure, track, communicate, and estimate the cost of the critical Ready Medical skills that are required on the modern battlefield.
by Pamela Ligouri Bunker, by Robert Bunker | Fri, 01/25/2019 - 9:49am | 1 comment
This plutocratic trifecta focuses upon the increasing global wealth concentration of the world’s billionaires—as well as the falling tax income tax rates on the rich and their corporations—discussed in a new Oxfam report, the fact that a record number of private (multi-million dollar+ jets) are ferrying global elites to the Davos meeting this year, and that a majority of the U.S. poor (per a World Economic Forum commissioned poll) now recognize that they and their children have little hope of working hard and, as a result, ever becoming rich in American society.
by Michael J. Mooney | Fri, 01/25/2019 - 12:43am | 2 comments
That the President desires to bring “an end to endless wars” is an admirable and rational objective. However, it ignores the fact that, as trite as it has become to state, the enemy (in this case ISIS) has a vote in what happens on the battlefield. It also illustrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the enemy.
by Ido Levy | Thu, 01/24/2019 - 9:43am | 2 comments
After over a decade and a half of the “War on Terror,” the United States and its allies have discovered the difficulty of fighting insurgent terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Operating from hard-to-reach areas, such as mountains and deserts, exploiting lack of effective government control, and leveraging support from local populations, these organizations have developed a way of war that defies even U.S. military efforts.
by Michael Gladius | Wed, 01/23/2019 - 1:02am | 2 comments
Nation-state borders are not sacrosanct. Exchanging land for peace is always a viable option, and this could provide a solution to America’s involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Although multiple solutions are available, we will focus on two: merging nations and fragmenting nations. Merging nations would entail merging Iraq with Syria, and merging Afghanistan with Pakistan. Fragmenting nations would break up the two nations into numerous smaller nations, as happened to Yugoslavia, albeit peacefully.
by Michael G. Murray II | Tue, 01/22/2019 - 11:17am | 1 comment
If DoD is serious about building viable partners, it must step back and reevaluate how it is currently viewing the future state of those partners and developing plans to move that partner towards the desired future state. SC is no longer a side mission, the mission in-between wars to shape, it has moved to the steady-state across the Range of Military Operations and is now a critical strategic tool that can provide us advantages over our adversaries if applied correctly.
by Stephen Tyminski | Tue, 01/22/2019 - 9:18am | 3 comments
As the U.S. Army looks forward to the next conflict, it must not lose sight of the current strategic challenges. Future adversaries will likely also adopt insurgent tactics, if not entire insurgent groups, in concert with their own modernizing forces in any conflict with the U.S.. Therefore, we must regrow the large-scale combat operations knowledge base in concert with, rather than at the expense, of COIN.
by Jonathan C. Nielsen | Mon, 01/21/2019 - 1:07am | 5 comments
It is time to address the influence and threat of non-physical communities. The aforementioned attributes reveal that physical size and composition alone does not account for overall capability. As any group, competitor, or threat continues to expand the size and reach of their non-physical communities, the criteria and means to engage the attributes mentioned above will create turbulent and challenging scenarios.
by Octavian Manea | Sat, 01/19/2019 - 5:08am | 8 comments
Elbridge Colby is Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security. He was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development from 2017 to 2018, during which time he served as the lead official in the development of the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the principal DOD representative in the development of the 2017 National Security Strategy.
by Tamim Asey | Sat, 01/19/2019 - 4:52am | 1 comment
For years to come Afghanistan will need international and regional economic, political and military support to stand on its feet. As much as the international community need to support Afghanistan – Afghanistan will equally have to prove itself and equal and credible ally of its partners. Afghanistan will have no choice but to explore partnership and pursue one of the above options.
by Sam Read | Fri, 01/18/2019 - 3:48am | 1 comment
One of the lessons of this paper is that there is no one way an individual can be radicalized or recruited. It could be propaganda playing on misguided idealism, like Dakhlalla spoke of, hours spent studying extremist ideology online like Hasan, or being separate from and not assimilating into society, like Awlaki chose.
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker, by José de Arimatéia da Cruz | Thu, 01/17/2019 - 1:04am | 0 comments
Since 2 January, 205 criminal attacks have occurred in 46 cities in Ceará and about 360 individuals have been arrested. Ceara’s security forces have been reinforced with the assistance of the Polícia Rodoviária Federal (PRF or Federal Highway Police). The attacks have included bombings and arson directed against vehicles (including buses and school transportation), police stations, public buildings, bridges, businesses, and banks.
by De Faakto Intelligence Research Observatory | Thu, 01/17/2019 - 12:51am | 1 comment
Russia is building strong partnerships with Sub-Saharan African nations as a strategy to displace NATO and counter western influence. Some African partnerships established during the Soviet era, were weakened after the collapse of the Soviet Union, others are the result of opportunities created by the departure of western alliances. Russia has since re-engaged African nations to develop economic and military partnerships.
by Spencer B. Meredith III | Wed, 01/16/2019 - 11:53am | 2 comments
The United States needs to face the emerging security environment from a different vantage point than the past 20 years of counter-VEO efforts. Mattis’s departure has created the necessary cognitive opening to question our fundamental and often assumed paradigms to see more clearly the threats facing the nation.
by Javier Flores Mares, by Mauricio D. Aceves | Wed, 01/16/2019 - 12:39am | 2 comments
All criminal organizations in the world share similarities, but, at the same time exhibit particularities related to the places, times and cultures that gives rise to and surround them. Consequentially, organized crime in Mexico has a sui generis composition—the result of historical factors that have allowed the formation of criminal structures linked to high levels of violence, a cultural acceptance of criminal life and links with high political figures, causing the collapse of governability in certain territories, some of them near the northern border.
by Gary Anderson | Tue, 01/15/2019 - 1:11am | 0 comments
Before he resigned, former Defense Secretary James Mattis was reportedly working in conjunction with the Department of State to revise US policy in the Middle East. Whatever vision Mr. Mattis had will have likely died when he left office - but he had the right idea in undertaking a review.
by Bill Dahl | Tue, 01/15/2019 - 12:29am | 0 comments
During my investigative journalism series regarding public health and environmental hazards in Jalisco, Mexico, one question that continued to rise to the top was corruption. In my research, I identified a superb expert: Dr. Jose Ivan Rodriguez-Sanchez. He is currently in residence at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy – Mexico Center.
by SWJ Editors | Mon, 01/14/2019 - 3:35pm | 0 comments
Just released - "Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities" provides a foundation for understanding urban operations and sustaining urban warfare research. This "Small Wars Journal" (SWJ) Anthology documents over a decade of writings on urban conflict.
by Ron Penninger | Mon, 01/14/2019 - 12:15am | 0 comments
United States Soldiers, Privates and Generals, deserve access to unbiased, unredacted phenomenological reporting from the battlefield. In no way does this diminish the value, skills, and cognitive ability of the G2 or of national agencies. Rather, this capability is a much needed and as of yet, unmined treasure of data on the enemy, neutrals, and friendlies. DoD should place this tool in the hands of every leader from COCOM to fire team NCO.
by Matthew A. Horning | Sun, 01/13/2019 - 12:10am | 4 comments
The advent of the Internet and the global interconnection of data has generated a path to oust combat overmatch as ‘the’ game changer. Instead, information dominance will be the characteristic that will win future wars. The organization that has the most relevant, timely, and actionable information will be victorious in battle, even against a combat overmatch force. Instead of seeking combat overmatch in our future investment strategies, we should be seeking a strategy that gives us Information Overmatch.
by Tamim Asey | Sat, 01/12/2019 - 12:42am | 1 comment
Here we are eighteen years later with a resurgent Taliban and US/NATO achievements not only not consolidated but more fragile than ever and the Afghan state weaker with an unusual President in the White House, a growing war fatigue in the west and a divided Washington over the fate of its military engagement in the country.
by Phil Walter | Fri, 01/11/2019 - 8:56am | 5 comments
Phil Walter, the founder of Divergent Options, has distilled all his thoughts related to counterinsurgency into five simple rules. These are not guidelines, not principles, but rules. As such, adherence to these rules is not optional, unless you desire to fail.
by Ben Zweibelson | Thu, 01/10/2019 - 10:09am | 5 comments
Today, there might be few words as overused and fraught with multiple disciplines claiming ownership as the term ‘design’ and associated ‘design thinking’, ‘design practice’ and other variations. ‘Design’ has become one of the buzzwords along with ‘synergy’, ‘innovation’, ‘machine learning’ and ‘augmented intelligence’ within defense circles, but of all of these terms it seems that ‘design’ is the most debated and convoluted.
by Dave Dilegge | Wed, 01/09/2019 - 12:22am | 7 comments
I first posted this short piece at the Urban Operations Journal on 28 February 2003 and reposted it here at SWJ on 17 December 2007. Here are the considerations, again.
by Whitney Kassel | Tue, 01/08/2019 - 2:20pm | 0 comments
Murad’s advocacy, willingness to tell her heart-breaking story hundreds of times, and tenacity pushed a nearly impossible win across the finish line. Now Trump’s rash choice on troops in Syria may reverse that work. If and when the Yazidis begin to trickle back into Sinjar, they will have Murad, and very few others, to thank.
by William McHenry | Tue, 01/08/2019 - 12:55am | 0 comments
There is little doubt that post-Soviet Eurasia is beset with unresolved territorial conflicts. Indeed, all former Soviet states that are not either members of western institutions or in the orbit of Moscow— Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine —have either territorial disputes with their neighbors or self-sustaining internal secessionist movements with considerable foreign support—often provided by Russia itself.
by Todd Johnson | Mon, 01/07/2019 - 12:50pm | 0 comments
South Africa has myriad development priorities and observers are right to ask why the nation should be spending money on its military when sectors like public education and infrastructure are also in great need of investment. While it is a question worthy of serious consideration by policymakers, a simple answer is that a robust defence capability is required of any nation with aspirations for continental leadership.
by Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute | Mon, 01/07/2019 - 10:12am | 4 comments
November 29, 2018 letter from Howard R. Lind, President and Executive Director, International Stability Operations Association, to Secretary of the Army Mark Esper concerning the recent recommendation to shut down the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute. Continue on for the letter.
by Nicholas Ashley | Mon, 01/07/2019 - 12:22am | 2 comments
Civil Affairs and Joint doctrine allude to civil society’s important role within the OE. However, the concept receives only a few cursory mentions, including: defeating threats to it, mitigating vulnerabilities to it, and reintroducing former combatants into it. Civil society is addressed in neither practical nor theoretical terms. This lack of attention carries over into Civil Affairs Operations and civil-military operations.