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 James K. Wither, by Richard Mašek | Fri, 10/23/2020 - 10:42am | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 5 comments
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 3 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 | 1 comment
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 | 2 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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
"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 | 1 comment
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 | 2 comments
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 | 2 comments
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 | 1 comment
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 | 5 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 | 1 comment
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 | 6 comments
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.
by Nathan P. Jones, by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker | Mon, 08/17/2020 - 10:30pm | 1 comment
José Antonio Yépez Ortiz (aka “El Marro”) was arrested by elements of the Mexican Army (Sedena) in Guanajuato on Sunday, 2 August 2020. “El Marro,” which means the sledgehammer or mallet, is the leader of the Cártel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL). The CSRL are widely known for their role as ‘huachicoleros’ or participants in the illicit fuel trade. The CSRL has been embattled for the past year as government forces sought its leader’s arrest and it fought against its rival the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) for control of Guanajuato’s illicit economy.
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker, by José de Arimatéia da Cruz | Tue, 08/04/2020 - 9:16pm | 1 comment
A facção (drug trafficking faction) in Rio de Janeiro led by Álvaro Malaquias Santa Rosa, known as Peixão (Big Fish), is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to consolidate control over a group of favelas (slums) in the Northern Zone of Rio de Janeiro. The result is a complex of five favelas: Cidade Alta, Vigário Geral, Parada de Lucas, Cinco Bocas, and Pica-Pau known as the "Complexo de Israel" (Israel Complex or Network of Israel). The favelas comprising the “Complexo de Israel” have a combined population of about 134,000 inhabitants. Peixão’s gang employs a mix of religious imagery and targeted confessional violence to exert territorial control and dominate the illicit market.
by Tim Nichols | Sun, 08/02/2020 - 5:53pm | 21 comments
This paper discusses how our special operations professionals should transition from two decades of counter-terrorist operations to emerging great-power threats. Nichols argues that there are some significant areas of mis-alignment in terms of training and resources, and that senior leaders should address this.
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker, by Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht | Fri, 07/31/2020 - 6:40pm | 1 comment
On Monday, 20 July 2020, suspected members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) attacked a military police guards at a prison—la Peniteciaría Nacional de Támara—north of Tegucigalpa, according to the Instituto Nacional Penitenciaro (INP – National Penitentiary Institute). The attack, by prison inmates, involved firearms (assault rifles and pistols, as well as grenades). One sergeant received firearms injuries.
by Elina Driscoll | Sun, 07/26/2020 - 12:37pm | 2 comments
This paper explores the 1994-1996 Chechen War, which was the first large-scale military conflict involving post-Soviet Russia and played a crucial role in reshaping Russia's military and political strategy. The war, also known as the First Chechen War, resulted in the unexpected victory of Chechen insurgents, who managed to defeat the better equipped Russians due to their skillful use of guerrilla tactics, clever use of geography and urban warfare, and deep understanding of Russia's political and military vulnerabilities.
by Daniel Harris | Sat, 07/25/2020 - 10:06am | 1 comment
Although since 2009 the Pakistani military has partially shifted from its conventional force posture to a modern COIN approach in its conflict with the TTP insurgency, coercive tactics are still employed today. As a result of their initial tactics and current human rights abuses, the military succeeded in routing TTP strongholds but failed to address the insurgency’s root-grievances, alienating the population and ensuring post-conflict regional insecurity.
by Allyson Christy | Mon, 07/20/2020 - 9:07am | 5 comments
This paper analyses the timeframe of American manufacturing decline matched to China's rapid power gains against US economic and national interests and security vulnerabilities.
by Randy Noorman | Fri, 07/17/2020 - 10:29am | 2 comments
The battle of Debaltseve is the largest battle of encirclement in contemporary European military history. This article focuses on the composition of the Russian backed separatist forces, the units and equipment deployed, and subsequent proof of Russia’s military involvement in the conflict.
by Magdalena Defort | Tue, 07/14/2020 - 4:17pm | 1 comment
This assessment seeks to answer questions about how social programs run by Venezuela’s Chavista regime became a perfect mechanism for building a widespread international corruption network to benefit the president and his cronies. It examines the pivotal role played by foreign powers—i.e., Iran, and Turkey—in these clandestine illegal operations.
by John P. Sullivan, by José de Arimatéia da Cruz, by Robert Bunker | Sat, 07/11/2020 - 4:33pm | 4 comments
On 3 June 2020, Brazilian police in Greater São Paulo launched Operação Soldi Sporchi (Operation Dirty Money), serving search and arrest warrants against members of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC). The PCC was alleged to have used medical and dental clinics to launder money earned from the gang’s drug trafficking activities and treat injured gang members to avoid detection by the police. The investigation also exposed corrupt connections to public officials and transnational links to the ‘Ndrangheta.
by Alexander Elfes | Fri, 07/10/2020 - 3:43pm | 1 comment
Lieutenant Alexander Elfes, Platoon Commander, 1st Military Police Battalion, Australian Army provides an overview of the May 2020 Warrant Officer Class 1 Ken Bullman OAM lecture series (KBLS) on 'Mexico's criminal Insurgencies" by Dr John P. Sullivan.
by Thomas Dyrenforth | Fri, 07/10/2020 - 8:20am | 1 comment
By increasing IMET opportunities for sub-Saharan African partners, the U.S. can counter Chinese influence by building interoperability with African militaries, strengthening strategic relationships, developing English language capacities, and promoting American values—all directly supporting U.S. security interests in Africa. This increased engagement is especially timely during a period of global power competition as other countries will gladly fill this void.
by Angelo Thomas | Sun, 07/05/2020 - 8:51pm | 1 comment
A Year Inside MS-13 is the product of Juan Jose Martínez’s one year stay in 2011 with the Guanacos Criminales Salvatrucha (GCS)—an MS-13 clica (clique)—in the suburbs of San Salvador. Translated from Spanish, the book provides an inside perspective on MS-13 which unfolds through the telling of highly detailed vignettes.
by John P. Sullivan | Fri, 07/03/2020 - 12:06am | 1 comment
Review of P.W. Singer and August Cole's "Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution."
by Alma Keshavarz, by Robert Bunker | Wed, 07/01/2020 - 9:47pm | 1 comment
On 27 May 2020, Acting DEA Administrator Timothy J. Shea and United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman charged Adel El Zabayar—a former Venezuelan National Assembly member—in a Manhattan federal court with narcoterrorism, a cocaine importation conspiracy, a series of weapons related charges, and money laundering. The charges were based on a DEA agent’s testimony and his broader investigation into El Zabayara’s links to Venezuelan Cártel de los Soles, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Hezbollah (Hizballah), and Hamas.
by Shawn Creamer | Wed, 07/01/2020 - 7:57pm | 1 comment
The United States needs a different North Korea approach that addresses American national security interests but limits the danger of strategic weapons use and does not default to hostilities, forceful subjugation, or occupation by the United States. This paper proposes an alternative path for America’s leadership to consider. 
by Robert C. Jones | Tue, 06/30/2020 - 4:54pm | 19 comments
This paper explores how ideas influence strategic thinking, using the example of how defining concepts such as "insurgency", "warfare", and "complexity" set a tone and framework for counterinsurgency strategy.
by Lemar Alexander Farhad | Thu, 06/25/2020 - 10:00am | 8 comments
Drawing from his career experiences of reforming military and security forces of partner and allied nations, LTC Lemar Farhad suggests a new way of thinking about policing in America; a novel paradigm for recruitment, training, evaluation, and monitoring of police officers.
by Sam Mullins | Thu, 06/25/2020 - 9:29am | 1 comment
Violent extremists and terrorists have undoubtedly seized upon the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to peddle their propaganda and try and exploit the situation to their advantage. But are we perhaps over-estimating the threat? This paper argues that while there is indeed much to be concerned about, there is also reason to believe that terrorists’ gains may be far more modest than many people seem to think, particularly in the short-term.
by Robert Bunker | Sat, 06/20/2020 - 9:19pm | 2 comments
This SWJ El Centro Review Essay looks at a recent book on Mara Salvatrucha, "Operation Devil Horns: The Take Down of MS-13 in San Francisco" in the context of MS-13 gang culture and organizational characteristics.
by Rose Croshier | Fri, 06/19/2020 - 12:17pm | 28 comments
This paper lays out why now is the perfect time for Combatant Commands, in particular U.S. Africa Command, to turn inward, and take advantage of this ‘tactical pause’ under COVID-19 to lead substantive reform of security cooperation at the operational level.
by Peter Kent Forster, by Gregory J. Kruczek, by Ava Sullivan | Tue, 06/16/2020 - 10:14am | 1 comment
This paper examines the emerging realignment within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), its control over the PMF, and the greater implications for US policy towards Iraq and Iran.
by Marta Kepe | Mon, 06/15/2020 - 11:57am | 3 comments
Marta Kepe examines what the advent of autonomous technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) may mean for military effectiveness and the ability to project power.
by Crispin Burke | Wed, 06/10/2020 - 1:53pm | 1 comment
Crispin Burke lays out a comprehensive overview of various Private Military Contractors (PMCs) operating in Libya in light of recent news of Russian jets supporting Wagner Group mercenaries in the country.
by Anna Sergi, by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker | Thu, 06/04/2020 - 10:34pm | 1 comment
The COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities and challenges for transnational organized crime groups, and mafias worldwide. This strategic note assesses the situation among the Italian mafias, including the Sicilian mafia, camorra, and ‘ndragheta.
by Alexandra Phelan, by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker | Tue, 06/02/2020 - 11:50pm | 1 comment
The COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities and challenges for Criminal Armed Groups (CAGs)—criminal cartels, gangs, maras, and mafias—worldwide. This strategic note assesses the situation among Colombia’s revolutionaries (the FARC –Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, ELN – Ejército de Liberación Nacional, and dissident factions, and BACRIM – bandas criminales.
by Octavian Manea | Tue, 05/26/2020 - 4:07pm | 1 comment
SWJ interview with Dr. David Kilcullen, author of the newly published Dragons and the Snakes - How the Rest learned to fight the West, Oxford University Press, March 2020. He is a professor of practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University and a professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of New South Wales.
by Nathan P. Jones | Sat, 05/23/2020 - 6:52pm | 1 comment
SWJ–El Centro Fellow Nathan P. Jones reviews the new Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) Mexico and Central America Dataset.
by Robert Bunker, by Angelo Thomas | Sat, 05/23/2020 - 2:50pm | 1 comment
This research note seeks to provide some initial and exploratory insights—primarily but not exclusively via imagery interpretation—into 18th Street dark spiritual activities. 18th Street (Barrio 18) linkages to dark spirituality will be addressed from within the context of both United States (CONUS) and outside of the country (OCONUS) perspectives, with the latter focusing on the gang’s presence in the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA).
by David Kuhn, by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan | Thu, 05/21/2020 - 6:09pm | 1 comment
Search and seizure operations were conducted by Mexican federal agencies in San Andrés Cholula, Puebla state on 25-26 April 2020 due to an anonymous tip. These operations resulted in the seizure of a ‘terrorist arsenal’ (arsenal terrorista) of weapons and equipment including the components required to make weaponized drones. This arsenal is thought to be linked to ongoing organized crime bombings in Guanajuato state—with possible Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL) ties—and represents one more data point concerning the growing weaponized drone capabilities of the Mexican cartels and criminal gangs.
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker | Mon, 05/18/2020 - 3:37pm | 1 comment
Gangs in the Cape Town region have enacted a truce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. South Africa is in the midst of a lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak that is also leading to food shortages. The truce involves gangs throughout the Cape Flats, including Manenberg. The participating gangs are joining together to distribute food, soap, and essential goods in an effort to provide relief to the communities in which they exist.[
by Scott Crino, by Andy Dreby | Sun, 05/10/2020 - 4:39pm | 1 comment
Libya experienced a steep increase in fighting last month. The April fighting produced significant lessons learned, especially with respect to drones and counter drone technology. These included the employment of unmanned “kamikaze” loitering munitions by the GNA and HAF, the appearance of handheld counter drone systems, and advanced commercial-off-the-shelf flight components being used to support reconnaissance and surveillance.