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 Sean Parrott | Wed, 02/26/2020 - 5:59am | 2 comments
The United States Army is training to fight the wrong war. At the tactical level, units are preparing to meet near-peer threats in open terrain. A typical field exercise sees soldiers patrolling the woods or fighting pitched tank battles in the open desert. What you will not see is a rifle squad clearing a city block or practicing urban breaching techniques.
by Chris Bosley | Tue, 02/25/2020 - 1:05am | 0 comments
Governments and communities worldwide are facing the increasingly daunting challenge of what to do when citizens who participated in violent extremist conflicts return home. With ISIS’s territorial caliphate extinguished, more than 100 countries could face the task of not only having to reintegrate their citizens, but also preparing their communities for a future with them living next door. This is a society-wide challenge that will engage a cross-cutting spectrum of stakeholders deploying a range of peacebuilding and other tools to build communities and individuals who are more resilient to violent extremism.
by Robert S. Ehlers, Jr, by Thomas A. Drohan | Mon, 02/24/2020 - 12:17am | 0 comments
There is still disagreement and outright confusion about what the IE is, why it matters, how to operate within it, and how to develop a terms and definitions relating to it. While terms and definitions comprise the primary focus of this article, it is most useful to discuss them in the context of interactions between information, competition, and strategy.
by Larry Kay | Sun, 02/23/2020 - 5:33am | 0 comments
Why are conspiracies so prevalent? Why are facts and truth so elusive to so many today? Why are people so susceptible to disinformation? Why is the current political climate so peculiar, turbulent, and divided? It is clear that there is a relationship between the disinformation that people ingest and the vitriol that some seem to spit out. These puzzling circumstances may be the result of a growing trend of postmodern thought in the United States and the world.
by John S. Turner | Sat, 02/22/2020 - 8:16am | 0 comments
Last Wednesday, the Pentagon announced the Army’s 1st SFAB (SFAB—Security Force Assistance Brigade) would deploy within the coming weeks to conduct train, advise, and assist missions in select African countries. This is a good move as it sustains U.S. military presence, and reinforces U.S. commitment to regional security partners as they work to beat back violent extremist and strategic competitor gains for influence.
by Adam Gallagher | Fri, 02/21/2020 - 8:51am | 0 comments
After a year and a half of negotiations, the U.S. and Taliban have reached an interim agreement to reduce violence for a period of seven days. If that agreement holds, the two sides will formalize a pact that would lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and a phased U.S. troop withdrawal. Although the reduction in violence is an important achievement, it is but one step on a long, rocky road to peace, noted current and former senior U.S. officials on February 18 at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
by Cooper Strand | Fri, 02/21/2020 - 12:38am | 0 comments
While the termination of the VFA does not necessarily mean a complete end to cooperation between the Philippines and the United States, it does set a precedent that makes continued cooperation more doubtful. Certainly, the Philippines has the right to self-determination. But withdrawing from the VFA could have overwhelmingly negative consequences for the country itself as it grapples with insurgent forces. Additionally, these repercussions could be felt in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole by emboldening Chinese military activity in the region.
by Scott Smith | Thu, 02/20/2020 - 12:51pm | 0 comments
The agreement offers an opportunity to start a process to end the war—but there is much to be done to get there. USIP’s Scott Smith examines the U.S.-Taliban deal and what comes next.
by Franklin C. Annis | Thu, 02/20/2020 - 8:52am | 0 comments
The technological advancements that has allowed for the use of drones, has largely sharpened the existing ethical concerns of military conflicts. As the longer loiter times of drones have allowed for more positive identification of targets, so has the demand to ensure targets are appropriately identified. As drones have allowed for minimizing collateral damage, so has the demand for less collateral damaged has increased. In this way, many of the legal and ethical concerns surrounding drones are simply a re-examination of the classical ethical concerns of armed conflict heightened by advanced technology.
by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan | Thu, 02/20/2020 - 12:43am | 0 comments
On Wednesday, 12 February 2020, elements of SEDENA, the Secretariat of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional), assigned to the Eighth Military Zone (Octava Zona Militar), in Colonia Vista Hermosa near Reynosa, Tamaulipas discovered an underground bunker used as a cartel support facility. It is suspected that the underground warren has been operated by ‘Los Escorpiones’ (The Scorpions) a Gulf Cartel (Cártel del Golfo – CDG) enforcer cell.
by Daniel J. O’Connor | Wed, 02/19/2020 - 10:58am | 0 comments
Several major actions taken by the United States and coalition in the last 18 years share much in common with the efforts of the Soviet Union during its combat operations in the country (1979-1989). It is therefore incumbent upon any student of the current conflict to firmly understand the Soviet conflict, its doctrine, execution, and most importantly, the Soviet methods of counterinsurgency.
by Tom McCarthy | Wed, 02/19/2020 - 1:11am | 0 comments
Newfound breathing room has emboldened ISIS to release the name of its new leader and increase the pace and audacity of insurgent attacks against Kurdish, Syrian government, and Iraqi targets, pointing to the conclusion that this aspect of the Syrian Civil War has merely transformed into a new phase.
by Jonathan Bradley | Tue, 02/18/2020 - 9:45am | 0 comments
Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Doctrine was initially developed in the midst of the Iraq War as the military struggled to accept the situation it found itself in and struggled to create a strategy to address it. Initially published in 2004 as an interim doctrine, and then in 2006 as a completed publication, the Army and Marine Corps’ primary counterinsurgency doctrine has only been updated once since then.
by Michael A. Marra, by Douglas W. Bennett | Tue, 02/18/2020 - 8:02am | 2 comments
The United States has intervened repeatedly in the southern hemisphere for a myriad of reasons, but primarily to address growing problems metastasizing at the “Southern strategic approaches” to American territory. While today’s problem of 2015-2020 is one of human mass migration, the previous crisis of 2000 to 2010 stemmed from of an epidemic of illicit drugs. This threat was so pernicious at that period, the United States felt compelled to act with our partner nation of Colombia. With a combination of all instruments of national power, a holistic strategy with a small but powerful military theme emerged.
by Phil W. Reynolds | Mon, 02/17/2020 - 9:33am | 1 comment
Long before his famous Trinity Clausewitz had discovered the Singularity. No, no, YOU get out! It’s true! It’s not really a secret- it’s just that people who built their careers as Strategists (gasp!) get paid a lot of money to lecturing practitioners would prefer you to believe in the mystery of Clausewitz, a mystery that only Strategists (gasp!) can unravel.
by Carter F. Smith | Sat, 02/15/2020 - 1:43pm | 0 comments
This research note reviews the state of military-trained gang members (MTGMs) in the Eastern United States. In each wartime era since the Revolutionary War, there have been MTGMs who engaged in criminal activities in civilian communities. The earliest MTGMs in the United States received their training in the colonial militia. One group started as a New York City street gang, received military training and experience in Mexico during the Mexican-American War, and were released from active duty in San Francisco, just before the Gold Rush of 1848. An individual MTGM started as a well-known crime boss in New York and joined the military to fight in World War I. Contemporary MTGMs challenge military discipline and threaten community security.
by Garrett Nada | Fri, 02/14/2020 - 9:06am | 0 comments
Iranians head to the polls on February 21 to elect their next parliament. Following the violent suppression of protests in November and the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January, many are deeply disillusioned with Iran’s political system.
by Matthew A. Hughes | Fri, 02/14/2020 - 12:36am | 0 comments
Power is a relative term, especially when referring to the amount of control and influence a nation wields in the global community. In analyzing nations’ sources of power, American political scientist Joseph Nye popularized the concepts of hard power, or “the ability to use carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will,” and soft power, an influence which “co-opts [nations] rather than coerces them.”
by Alexander Boroff, by Austen Boroff | Thu, 02/13/2020 - 11:29am | 0 comments
Leaders need to examine an array of options when confronted with a problem or an opportunity. Such behavior will increase the likelihood of landing on the best course of action going forward. In turn, what is proposed here is that in a fictional or ambiguous setting leaders may be more apt to brainstorm and free-wheel ideas. If the intent is to force leaders to think outside of their comfort zones and express viewpoints that differ from mainstream conventional responses, place leaders in a military setting removed from modern military practices.
by Michael Gladius | Thu, 02/13/2020 - 8:52am | 9 comments
For a Pioneer nation like America, built on exploration and a seemingly endless frontier, the romance of expeditions is part of our national psyche. The term “Expeditionary Force” sounds cool, as it evokes feelings of adventure and risk-taking in far-away places. Expeditionary forces are comprised of tough, competent men who travel light in remote areas, and rely on their wits to survive and win in unfamiliar environments. Thus, it’s only natural we want to call everything our military does abroad an “Expeditionary Force.”
by Thomas A. Drohan | Wed, 02/12/2020 - 11:55am | 0 comments
The case method of teaching and learning is used in business schools and law schools because they engage participants in active thinking about complex problems. Since the publication of Teaching and the Case Method by Christensen, Hansen and Moore in 1987, case method teaching has grown in popularity. The approach lends itself to meaningful assessment for businesses and government agencies seeking to improve effectiveness. In an uncertain, information-rich dynamic environment, open-ended learning guided by key questions can produce competitive solutions.
by John P. Sullivan | Tue, 02/11/2020 - 1:59am | 0 comments
The challenges to governance and states posed by gangs are increasingly recognized as a global concern. No longer just local, turf-oriented groups of local youths, seeking protection and forging a common identity, gangs are involved in the drug trade and other illicit economic interests. These ‘third generation gangs’ protect their markets and align with a range of transnational criminal organizations.
by Michael V. Phelan, by Barmak Pazhwak, by Belquis Ahmadi | Mon, 02/10/2020 - 12:28pm | 0 comments
Rising tensions between the United States and Iran—illustrated and exacerbated by the January 3 assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani—are rippling out beyond the Middle East. Now, American officials are voicing growing concern about Iranian activities in Afghanistan.
by Haseeb Humayoon, by Mustafa Basij-Rasikh | Mon, 02/10/2020 - 1:07am | 0 comments
Recent efforts at settling the decades-long conflict in Afghanistan have featured an increasingly vibrant and visible display of women’s activism. Even with the support of the government and its international partners, Afghan women still face tremendous challenges to realizing their aspirations for a role in peacemaking. Based on extensive interviews throughout Afghanistan, this report attempts to better understand the changing public role of Afghan women today and their contributions to peacebuilding and ending violence.
by Brandon C. Patrick | Sun, 02/09/2020 - 7:27am | 0 comments
While the true social and economic origins of the Syrian civil war stretch back decades, the longstanding culture of government corruption and purchased loyalties hastened the final spiral toward war. Like in pre-war Iraq under Saddam Hussein, loyalty and favor had been traded like currency among the upper echelons of Syrian society since the early days of Hafez al-Assad’s rule.
by W. R. Baker | Sat, 02/08/2020 - 10:29am | 0 comments
This gripping, eyewitness narrative and unique, deeply researched analysis of one of the least known large battles at the height of the Vietnam War radically contradicts all the other misinformed and misinterpreted accounts of it. This book is well written containing extensive end notes to backstop assertions.
by Hilary Mossberg, by John Prendergast | Sat, 02/08/2020 - 8:31am | 0 comments
Its been nearly a year since Sudan’s longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir, was ousted from power. As the country moves to transition to democracy, its civilian government and Sudanese civil society have called on the U.S. government to remove Khartoum from the State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) list. The Sentry’s Hilary Mossberg and John Prendergast recently argued that although delisting is an important for Sudan’s transition, it is just one of multiple steps needed—from both the U.S. and Sudan—in order for pro-democracy forces to achieve their goals.
by Leanne Erdberg | Fri, 02/07/2020 - 11:31am | 1 comment
As governments continue to search for ways to tackle the spread of violent extremism, increasing development efforts can help counter the belief that violent extremists present the only available option to improve one’s livelihood and bring about societal change. International assistance can address grievances that foster violent extremism, as well as help build resilience in practical and effective ways.
by Benjamin Ordiway | Fri, 02/07/2020 - 10:05am | 23 comments
The findings of the recent ethics and culture review maintain a drumbeat that there is not a systemic ethics problem. As the report would have it, Congress and the public are encouraged to believe that the headlines are owed to the actions of a few bad apples. Should we expect and accept these spoiled fruits as an inevitable consequence of a strained force facing deployment after deployment?
by Mona Yacoubian | Fri, 02/07/2020 - 12:28am | 0 comments
Of the three million people in Idlib province, U.N. sources estimate more than one million have been displaced—with approximately 586,000 displaced since December 1, and the number is rising rapidly. With Turkey and other nations closing their borders, and harsh winter conditions in the region, what is the humanitarian situation in Idlib?
by Michael Gladius | Thu, 02/06/2020 - 8:01am | 1 comment
In this essay, we will discuss how the Navy and Marines can play a unique and necessary role in America’s 21st-Century security. The Navy will straddle both conventional and unconventional conflicts at sea, hand over all brown-water missions, and become the primary institution for nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the Marines will become America’s dedicated COIN Force and transfer the mission of conventional amphibious warfare over to the Army. These roles and missions don’t have a start and end date like the Army’s, and so will require a different sort of leadership.
by Robert Bunker | Thu, 02/06/2020 - 7:43am | 1 comment
Fentanyl and other highly potent synthetic opioids— primarily sourced from China and Mexico—continue to be the most lethal category of illicit substances misused in the United States. Fentanyl continues to be sold as counterfeit prescriptions pills as traffickers—wittingly or unwittingly—are increasingly selling fentanyl to users both alone and as an adulterant, leading to rising fentanyl-involved deaths. Fentanyl suppliers will continue to experiment with other new synthetic opioids in an attempt to circumvent new regulations imposed by the
United States and China.
by Carlos Frederico de Oliveira Pereira | Wed, 02/05/2020 - 5:19am | 0 comments
Our country [Brazil] has not been involved in international armed conflict for a long time, but could, or can, it be experiencing a non-international armed conflict (NIAC), considering the confrontations against violent organized crime and between these same groups of criminals? That would be the only hypothesis, as there are no cases of armed political insurgency in our territory. In other words, the very common phrases seen on the news, such as: we are experiencing a real war; in Brazil, more is killed than in many wars; Rio de Janeiro is witnessing a war on drugs, among others, are these expressions merely rhetorical or would they, in fact, express a situation that fits the concept of NIACs
by Lazar Berman | Mon, 02/03/2020 - 12:39pm | 0 comments
Iraq is returning to the attention of Israel's decision-makers. Speaking publicly at a conference in Herzliya, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi emphasized in no uncertain terms Iran's transfer of precision weapons into Iraq. "The weaponry from Iraq passes through freely and we cannot allow this to happen without a response…," stressed Kochavi. "We will not let Iran secure a foothold in the northern theater at all, not even in Iraq."
by Mahmut Cengiz | Sun, 02/02/2020 - 10:11am | 0 comments
"The Small Wars Journal" has published two articles by the author. After publication of the first article, “Who Was Behind the July 15 Uprising in Turkey,” a British tourist who stayed at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hotel on the night of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt reached out to the author. The tourist’s contributions, which were published in the second "SWJ" article, “Dark Points in the July 15 Military Uprising: Was President Erdogan Really at the Hotel?,” shed light on whether Erdogan had stayed at the hotel until late at night on July 15. After the second article was published, several Turkish Air Force Academy (AFA) cadets who witnessed the unsuspecting involvement of fellow cadets in the coup attempt reached out to the author and shared their experiences and knowledge.
by Maria J. Stephan, by Jonathan Pinckney | Sun, 02/02/2020 - 12:48am | 0 comments
Since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the nonviolent action team here at USIP has been reflecting on what Dr. King’s life and legacy teach us about the deep links between nonviolent action and peacebuilding. As we watch protesters in Hong Kong, Iraq, or Lebanon directly confront their governments, there may not seem to be much connection between people hitting the streets and building lasting peace. But for King, the connection was inevitable and inseparable, and practitioners of both disciplines have much to offer one another.
by Omar S. Mahmood | Sun, 02/02/2020 - 12:18am | 0 comments
The Gulf states increased assertiveness in the Horn of Africa has garnered substantial attention of late, particularly the proliferation of military installations and ports and the increase in military and economic aid. Less attention has been paid, however, to the role Middle Eastern countries have played in attempting to resolve some of the Horn’s most intractable conflicts, efforts that in some cases pre-date the more recent security and economic engagements.
by Belquis Ahmadi, by Maria Antonia Montes | Sat, 02/01/2020 - 10:36am | 1 comment
Like Afghanistan, Colombia was mired in conflict for decades. But, in 2016 after five years of direct negotiations, the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) signed a historic peace agreement that sought to address the root causes of a 50-year conflict.
by Daniel Riggs | Sat, 02/01/2020 - 6:43am | 2 comments
For Pineland to come alive and deliver the dynamism students should receive requires creativity beyond the Pentagon and the Ivy Leagues. This submission is not intended to be the final word on this. This is a question, or a series of questions to be considered. I look forward to a robust, conversation with others to transform the way we train influence, and transform ARSOF more broadly.
by Keith Nightingale | Sat, 02/01/2020 - 6:18am | 1 comment
"He is a Grunt doing what he was sent to do and he does it very well for all of us."
by Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen | Fri, 01/31/2020 - 7:33am | 3 comments
Tuesday, at an East Room gathering, President Trump, alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unveiled his administration’s plan to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As promised at the outset of his remarks, the approach represents a vision “fundamentally different from past proposals.” The event itself—with the plan unveiled by U.S. and Israeli leadership—presented a visual that underscored this difference, and the challenge this plan faces if it is to chart a course to peace.
by Thomas A. Drohan | Fri, 01/31/2020 - 12:14am | 0 comments
Using concepts of complex warfare from previous SWJ articles on China and Japan, this article applies the same holistic approach to Korean security strategies in the information environment, with comparisons to strategies from China and Japan. To discern how the Koreas wage complex warfare using both cooperation and confrontation today, we’ll start with world view, threat assessment, and combined effects strategy. Understanding these aspects of the information environment is critical to producing superior effects—the great-results test of any “power” or actor.
by Brandon C. Patrick | Thu, 01/30/2020 - 12:50am | 0 comments
Lt. Col. Brendan Gallagher has dedicated much of his life to the study and practice of war. Through decades of soldiering on the battlefields that defined our modern era of war, Gallagher has experienced the various outcomes of war firsthand: victory, defeat and the excruciating in-between. Coupled with his extensive study on the topic, it is this experience that Gallagher offers as the foundation for his new book, "The Day After: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace".
by Robert Bunker | Thu, 01/30/2020 - 12:38am | 0 comments
The specialized encyclopedia on the Mexican cartels written by David F. Marley is described by the publisher thus: “This comprehensive reference work offers a detailed exploration of the vicious drug organizations that have enveloped Mexico in extreme violence since the 1980s.” The work holds much promise given the author’s background and expertise.
by Jonathan F. Lancelot | Wed, 01/29/2020 - 12:26am | 0 comments
The current possibility of the United States walking into a trap of a kinetic war is exceptionally likely, given the conditions that will be enumerated here, and the historical pattern of the US reacting to surprise attacks with the force of a giant rudely awakened from a deep slumber is not ahistorical. The Election of 2016 was a sure indicator of one phase of election manipulation.
by Louis René Beres | Tue, 01/28/2020 - 9:01am | 0 comments
Above all, such planning ought never be just a calculable contest of "mind over matter," never just a vainly reassuring inventory of comparative weaponization or presumptively superior "order of battle." Unless this point is more completely and quickly understood by senior US strategic policymakers, the next change of hands on the "Doomsday Clock" (at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) could take place at three seconds before midnight.
by Joanne Patti Munisteri, by Adad Alan Shmuel | Mon, 01/27/2020 - 12:50am | 0 comments
The blood price for “democracy and freedom” in Iraq continues to be steep. For over a decade “civil society” and “capacity building” programs paid for with American dollars have yielded few sustainable results.
by Jonathan C. Nielsen | Sun, 01/26/2020 - 7:57am | 0 comments
For the last two decades the perception that terrorist organizations operated as isolated, closely knit, and homogenous groups captivated the greater defense enterprise. Threats such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Boka Haram, and even Iran, China, and Russia are believed to be geographically limited and membership restricted. Regardless of the location, threat, or era, it is easy to conflate the attributes of current threats with those of past adversaries as one and the same. In doing so, there is the tendency to continue to apply well-understood and universal strategies to threats that are perceived as the newest version of a known idea, model, or practice. Why do we persist on this flawed logic?
by Mahmut Cengiz | Sat, 01/25/2020 - 9:11am | 0 comments
The IRGC and its military wing, the Quds Force, have been two of the top security issues in the Middle East for several years. The Quds Force, for example, is involved in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, maintains close relationships with terrorist groups in the Middle East and, in 2019, and was designated a terrorist group by the United States. The IRGC, meanwhile, has stepped up its efforts to target Americans and achieved its goal of increasing tensions in the region.
by Joseph J. Collins | Fri, 01/24/2020 - 8:51am | 0 comments
The war in Afghanistan is at an impasse. The current and next U.S. administrations will have to grapple with the aftereffects of an 18-year campaign in a country that has been at war for over 40 years. The war in the field is a stalemate. Neither side seems able to win. At home and abroad, among friends and even some enemies, war weariness and a desire for peace is very much in evidence, even as the fighting continues. Neither side has been able to find a path to a negotiated settlement.