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 Mona Yacoubian | Fri, 03/13/2020 - 8:22am | 1 comment
The engagement of external actors has protracted the conflict and Syrians civilians continue to bear the brunt. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian discusses the dreadful toll on the Syrian population and what the battle for Idlib means for the trajectory of the conflict.
by Colin Cookman | Thu, 03/12/2020 - 11:21am | 2 comments
Approximately five and a half months after Afghanistan held nationwide presidential elections in September 2019, incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and runner-up Abdullah Abdullah have held parallel inauguration ceremonies this week, with each side claiming the authority to form the next government. The current political crisis complicates efforts to open up broader power-sharing talks with the Taliban called for under an agreement signed in Doha at the end of February, as President Ghani seeks to consolidate his authority, and Abdullah and his supporters seek to claim a seat at the negotiating table.
by Kevin Gentzler, by Ken Turner | Thu, 03/12/2020 - 3:16am | 1 comment
Command is different from any other leadership challenge an officer may face. Command is more demanding than simply accepting the organizational colors. Command is different because of the level of authority, responsibility, and accountability inherent in command, the expectations placed on the commander, and the changes required in a how a commander must think to solve the problems faced by the organization. Successful commanders understand the role of commandership.
by Justin Baumann | Wed, 03/11/2020 - 12:36pm | 2 comments
This article attempts to produce a framework that can help public health officials and military leaders develop strategies and operations to counter and eradicate Covid-19 type viral pandemics or other future bioweapon threats we might face on the hybrid-warfare battlefield.
by Emilio Iasiello | Wed, 03/11/2020 - 8:18am | 1 comment
The question of attribution has always remained a murky effort, largely because of the difficulty in proving direct links between the activity and a specific state, but it appears that over the past few years the threshold for that rigor has significantly decreased.
by Nancy Lindborg | Sun, 03/08/2020 - 9:42pm | 2 comments
On International Women’s Day, reflecting on the long road ahead to equality—and how far we’ve come.
by Joseph J. Collins | Sat, 03/07/2020 - 5:45am | 1 comment
SWJ Book Review of Jason Bohm’s "From the Cold War to ISIL: One Marine’s Journey".
by Mark Knight | Thu, 03/05/2020 - 12:28pm | 2 comments
A dilemma is now facing western militaries, in-so-far as, the contextual terrain has shifted to such an extent that their enemies refuse to engage them in a manner that would ensure their own destruction. Focus on this modern Sphacterian-dilemma has led to discussions and debates that are encapsulated within the ‘War amongst the people’ arena.
by Lee Taylor | Thu, 03/05/2020 - 12:42am | 1 comment
An understanding of this particular case offers not only relevant lessons for the U.S. in our continuing small wars operations, but also on national interests in Colombia—including economic considerations and counter-narcotics efforts—could become threatened by FARC’s dissident groups.
by Morgan Smiley | Wed, 03/04/2020 - 10:40am | 1 comment
The “thousand-yard stare” from an infantry officer talking about his time in Iraq; routine bursts of anger from a former soldier who watch his friend step on an IED; a seasoned NCO who exited his track only to turn around and desperately scream to get back inside. Despite the myriad of training maneuvers, large-scale training center rotations, life-fire exercises, shoot-house drills, etc... nothing in training really prepares one for the visceral ugliness of combat.
by Robert S. Ehlers, Jr, by Patrick Blannin | Tue, 03/03/2020 - 11:01am | 1 comment
While the IE appears new as a reality and a concept, it is not. In fact, it is merely the latest defi-nitional means for making sense of how human beings use information to influence the direc-tion and outcome of competition and conflict.
by Andrew J. Bibb | Mon, 03/02/2020 - 9:47am | 1 comment
"The U.S. Army lacks sufficient doctrine and training on how conventional forces should productively engage with, or talk to, local populations across the range of military operations...The result is units that are unable to effectively interact in the human domain and unable to understand and influence their area of operations."
by Vikram J. Singh | Sun, 03/01/2020 - 8:11am | 1 comment
President Trump’s recent trip to India yielded no progress on a bilateral trade agreement, one of the main issues both leaders hoped to address. Despite the trade impasse, both President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi used the two-day trip to reinforce the positive relationship between the U.S. and India, as official discussions finalized several defense and energy deals. USIP’s Vikram Singh looks at the state of trade talks, the possibility of U.S. mediation in Kashmir, India’s regional stance on the Afghan peace process, and how China’s growing global influence impacts U.S.-India relations.
by Keith Nightingale | Sun, 03/01/2020 - 6:30am | 2 comments
Many people achieve positions of responsibility and manage their position but they don’t lead. Others may be superb leaders and be responsible for very little but significantly influential. It all depends on how the personality impacts the people within the sphere of influence and exposure.
by Mona Yacoubian | Sat, 02/29/2020 - 4:53am | 1 comment
Coinciding with Lebanon’s worst financial crisis in decades, popular protests in the country have been ongoing for more than four months. The protests were initially sparked by a government tax on the popular WhatsApp messaging service. They quickly evolved into Lebanon’s largest, sustained peaceful protest movement. The demonstrations were notable for being geographically diverse and starkly anti-sectarian.
by Hesham Youssef | Fri, 02/28/2020 - 5:05pm | 1 comment
The Trump administration’s vision for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has provoked diverse reactions from the parties and the international community, leaving opponents and supporters continuing to analyze the initiative and chart their next immediate moves. But taking the long view, some implications of the plan can be glimpsed on the horizon.
by Scott Harr | Thu, 02/27/2020 - 12:42pm | 2 comments
Iran, since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, has prioritized and dedicated significant resources to protecting the ruling regime from UW threats from within while (leveraging its empirically won UW principles) projecting highly capable UW forces abroad.
by Thomas A. Drohan | Wed, 02/26/2020 - 9:15am | 1 comment
A cultural “firebreak” between what is broadly branded as political, and what is narrowly construed as military, is undermining effective strategy and values. The firebreak is—military leaders avoiding political issues—being non-political. Military operations occur in deeply political contexts and narratives with long-term causes and effects, but senior military leaders generally don’t go there. The causes of this avoidance appear to be cultural, and cultural transformation tends to lag technology and threats. The firebreak shows up in policy, strategy, and doctrine — which leadership can change.
by Sean Parrott | Wed, 02/26/2020 - 5:59am | 3 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 | 1 comment
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 | 2 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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 3 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 | 2 comments
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 10 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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 1 comment
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 | 2 comments
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 | 46 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 | 1 comment
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 | 2 comments
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 | 2 comments
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.