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 Brandon Quintin | Mon, 02/25/2019 - 7:54am | 0 comments
There are certain events in military history that rise above the rest. They are not merely battles, campaigns, or wars. They teach more than the specifics of military science. There are certain events that teach an art and address moral and philosophical topics of a timeless nature. It is very well to know how to turn the flank of an advancing army. It is something altogether different to understand and balance the competing interests of victory and mercy, efficiency and morality.
by Jason Rivera, by Wanda Archy | Thu, 02/21/2019 - 5:02pm | 0 comments
Warfare has always and will always continue to evolve. A recent evolution that this paper will focus on is the “Dark Web”, to include how this aspect of the Internet has affected national security over the last decade as well as how it may affect national security in the years to come. We use quotations in our initial introduction of Dark Web because it is known by many names and is often conflated with similar terms that characterize other related concepts (such as the Deep Web). Accordingly, this paper will seek to establish a conceptual framework of the Dark Web as a sort of landscape characterized by a series of threat issues and threat actors that national security professionals should be aware of. We will then build upon this framework of viewing the Dark Web as a landscape so that we may illustrate its applications to both the kinetic and digital aspects of human warfare.
by Nilofar Sakhi | Thu, 02/21/2019 - 12:32am | 0 comments
Although the process toward peace in Afghanistan has been punctuated by several key junctures beginning in 2010 that continue today, much of the peace-oriented discussions have remained the same with little to no real movement on tangible issues at the negotiating table. Nevertheless, it is possible to point to some of the positive and, of course, negative aspects of the ongoing negotiation process, which must be addressed to avoid repeating past mistakes and fill existing gaps.
by W. R. Baker | Thu, 02/21/2019 - 12:22am | 0 comments
Franklin C. Annis’ recent article (SWJ, February 16, 2019) “Who is to be Trusted with Military History?” is a good start, but it fails to address a number of items and takes a slap (intended or not) at Vietnam veterans.
by Gary Anderson | Wed, 02/20/2019 - 12:13am | 0 comments
It is time to reconsider the use of NLW, not as stand-alone tools to wage “kinder and gentler” conflict, but as tools in the combined arms kit. We should reinvigorate advanced NLW development and place advanced NLW in the tables of organization of our ground and air combat units.
by Tamim Asey | Tue, 02/19/2019 - 8:49am | 0 comments
With each passing day attaining a sustainable, inclusive and broad-based peace seems distant and farther away in Afghanistan primarily because of a divided political elite in Kabul, a deceptive Pakistan, an emboldened Taliban playing the long game and an impatient America in a hurry to declare victory and bring US service members back home. Nobody underestimated that the Afghan peace process will be a straight line and if history is any guide it shows that almost all of the Afghan peace negotiations have failed in the process whether it was the Geneva accords in the 1980s or the Jeddah peace deal between the warring mujahidin factions during the civil war in the 1990s.
by Kyle T. Gaines | Tue, 02/19/2019 - 7:36am | 0 comments
The defense contracting industry undeniably plays a critical role in the nation’s defense. From research and development, acquisitions, consulting, intelligence, cyber, logistics, and information technology, there are myriad ways the private sector makes valuable contributions that advance U.S. national security policy goals and keep Americans safe. But there are also many problems with how these operational support contracts are executed on the ground, which various U.S. government agencies have acknowledged for years. Unfortunately, the model the U.S.-led coalition is relying on for employing contractors in Afghanistan remains rife with poor accountability, ineffectiveness, and fundamental strategic communications issues.
by Max G. Manwaring | Tue, 02/19/2019 - 12:04am | 0 comments
Venezuela is basically what it always has been—only worse under Nicolas Maduro. As a consequence, Venezuela has moved into a downward spiral from an aspiring New Socialist state to failing state status.
by Said Sabir Ibrahimi | Mon, 02/18/2019 - 2:02pm | 0 comments
Pundits who urge the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan argue national security interests and point out to threats emanating from Afghanistan. Indeed, 17 years ago, it was national security that took the U.S. military to Afghanistan. To date, the presence of more than 20 transnational terrorist groups in the region continue to justify the American military involvement in the country. However, a broader question that is rarely asked is whether counterterrorism is the only issue that brings the two nations together?
by Patricia H. M. Morrissey | Mon, 02/18/2019 - 4:52am | 0 comments
In order to make a clear case that the aggregate efforts of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS (or Daesh as they are called in some countries) are showing progress towards “defeating” ISIS, we must understand the nature of this movement as a competition between its local jihadist groups and existing government leaders and institutions, at all levels, for the allegiance or submission of the population. In other words, we must address it for what it is: a networked global insurgency.
by Lydia Kostopoulos | Sun, 02/17/2019 - 1:21am | 0 comments
Technologically, the world in 2051 was even more interconnected, operating on 5G and leveraging the spatial web where augmented and virtual realities served as mediators between the real ‘touch and feel’ world and the digital world. All the while, artificial intelligence was approaching ‘general’ intelligence and scientists around the world cautioned that it was imminent and that the existing global infrastructure was not going to be able to respond to the potential risks that have been hypothesized to arise.
by Franklin C. Annis | Sat, 02/16/2019 - 2:26am | 0 comments
Georges Clemenceau once asserted that “War .. [is] much too serious a thing to be left to the military”. U.S. Service Members would recognize this assertion to be true as applied to modern warfare. Clemenceau’s assertion presents an interesting follow on question. If war exceeds the limits of the military, should the recording of military history also be perceived as a task exceeding the abilities of Department of Defense historians? In this paper, we will examine Clemenceau’s original assertion and if demonstrated to be true will examine the question of who should be responsible for the recording and the examination of military history.
by Pamela Ligouri Bunker, by Robert Bunker | Sat, 02/16/2019 - 1:18am | 0 comments
On the surface, while such low levels of unemployment may appear to represent the triumph of unfettered capitalism and the belief in the benefits of a globalized—and supranational—liberal economic order, something far more ominous for the Western middle classes is taking place. Full-time jobs with benefits and secure retirement packages are increasingly being replaced with low-paid and part-time “gig economy” positions as a new involuntary labor model. This labor model not only benefits predatory (i.e. hyper efficient extractive) capitalism but may also be considered a component of the larger transition to human worker replacement by robotic automation and artificial intelligence (AI) systems and the continued hollowing out of the Western welfare state by the plutocratic class.
by Michael van Ginkel | Fri, 02/15/2019 - 5:15am | 0 comments
The long-term deployment and regenerative capabilities of SFABs creates an opportunity to capitalize on situations short of conflict. According to USAID, premature attempts at democratization resulted mainly from failures to “develop the political and social infrastructure to a level that could absorb (manage, resolve or transform) the conflicts that arose” prior to hosting elections.
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker | Fri, 02/15/2019 - 12:09am | 0 comments
This incident highlights the traditional rivalry between the two LA-born gangs and demonstrates that this rivalry and violent competition continues among their NYC affiliates. Gang graffiti related to both gangs has been reported in neighborhoods near the subway shooting incident. Such graffiti has been targeted by the local NYPD precincts (110th PCT and 115th PCT) in neighborhood graffiti removal project.
by Samuel Casey | Thu, 02/14/2019 - 1:03am | 0 comments
The ACFT is a bold step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough in the areas of pragmatism and its use as a cultural node for the US Army. This event ties each of us in uniform together and serves to showcase that each of us deserve to be standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest. It is important that we use the lessons learned in the last decade plus of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq to better prepare ourselves for the next war. If we do not, then we risk being in the same position as the Army was in when we entered the war in Korea with Task Force Smith.
by Gary Anderson | Wed, 02/13/2019 - 1:36am | 0 comments
It is too early to draw conclusions about an agreement that has not yet been reached, but it is not too early to think about how to wage war by other means against the Taliban once some kind of peace agreement has been reached. Helping the Afghan government win the peace should be our next role in that troubled nation.
by Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam | Wed, 02/13/2019 - 1:02am | 0 comments
Since the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. and its allies have overthrown the totalitarian regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan and replaced it with a democratic government. Al-Qaida leader, Osama Bin Laden has been killed in Pakistan. Overall, Afghanistan is more prosperous than ever and there has not been a major terrorist attack in the U.S. So, does that mean the mission in Afghanistan is accomplished?
by Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. | Mon, 02/11/2019 - 9:31am | 0 comments
Despite the dangers of the current dynamic, observers say, retired officers should be free to express their views and policy ideas in a way that is respectful of the commander in chief. "Americans want and, really, need to be able to consider the views of those who served, along with others with expertise," Mr. Dunlap said. "It should be the brightness of their ideas, not that of the stars they previously wore, that should carry the day."
by W. A. Rivera, by Arnel P. David | Mon, 02/11/2019 - 5:41am | 0 comments
This article argues that a more comprehensive understanding of lethality is necessary to improve US strategic performance in present and future wars. We argue that central to lethality at the strategic level is influence. LtGen (ret) James Dubik emphasized foreign influence operations as the #1 strategic-level preparation civilian and military leaders must make for the next war. To view lethality only through a physical lens limits its full potential. Take the example of the Vietnam War.
by Tamim Asey | Sun, 02/10/2019 - 1:37pm | 0 comments
The United States is actively exploring options to end its engagement in Afghanistan and withdraw its troops from the country and at best keep a residual counter terrorism force. To this end, it has engaged with its seventeen-year adversary, the Taliban movement, to explore a peace deal - often termed by historians and experts as a troop withdrawal plan – in the absence of its partner and ally, the Afghan Government, undermining its legitimacy and further polarizing the Afghan polity.
by Barry Scott, by Naluahi Kaahaaina, by Christopher Stock | Sun, 02/10/2019 - 11:38am | 0 comments
Four concepts about innovation in the military are introduced in this paper. The first is called the Military Innovation Framework. It is used to determine what kind of innovation is desired, and why. The second tool is called the Military Innovation Engine, which describes who needs to participate for innovation to catch fire. The third concept is the Military Innovation Pathway. It is one way—not the only way—to let innovation happen organically in the military unit. Finally, the fourth concept describes special considerations needed for disruptive innovation to survive in the military environment.
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 | 0 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 | 0 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 | 0 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 | 0 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 | 0 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 | 0 comments
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 | 0 comments
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 | 0 comments
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 | 0 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 | 0 comments
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 | 0 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 | 0 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 | 0 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 | 0 comments
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 | 0 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.