In this edition of the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) Special Operations newsletter, we will examine the special operations forces (SOF) perspective of irregular warfare (IW) at the operational and tactical levels through a selection of articles and an academic study by military and civilian authors.
IW is "a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations. IW favors indirect and asymmetric approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capabilities, in order to erode an adversary's power, influence, and will."1
Countering Irregular Threats Joint Operating Concept (JOC) version 2.0 identifies the problem of IW as "adaptive adversaries such as terrorists, insurgents, and criminal networks as well as states increasingly resort(ing) to irregular forms of warfare as effective ways to challenge conventional military powers. Advances in technology and other trends in the environment will render such irregular threats ever more lethal, capable of producing widespread chaos, and otherwise difficult to counter. These threats are enmeshed in the population and increasingly empowered by astute use of communications, cyberspace, and technology, such that their impact extends regionally and globally. Many of these conflicts are essentially contests for influence and legitimacy over relevant populations."2
SOF attempt to solve the problem of IW by preventing, deterring, disrupting, or defeating irregular threats, with the primary emphasis on prevention. There are five activities SOF employ to counter the threat: counterterrorism (CT), unconventional warfare (UW), foreign internal defense (FID),3 counterinsurgency (COIN), and stability operations. Four out of these activities (CT, UW, FID, COIN) are considered SOF core activities, with SOF also leading the effort in stability operations.4
This newsletter should not be considered all-inclusive. This is an effort to capture relevant articles published in recent professional journals and from the CALL and other joint archives to inform Soldiers on relevant observations, insights, and lessons and provide a historical document for future reference.
In many instances, the ideas presented in these articles are personal opinions and in some cases not approved joint or Army doctrine. The recommendations in these articles should always be validated with the latest approved Army and joint doctrine.
CALL acknowledges and thanks the professional journals and authors who permitted the reprinting of these articles and in some instances were personally involved in assisting CALL in the formatting process.
Note: Minor modifications were made to support the CALL newsletter format. In some instances, pictures not referenced in the narrative were deleted to save space. Additionally, biographies were eliminated to avoid release of personal information.
1. Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, 12 April 2001 (as amended through 30 September 2010).
2. Irregular Warfare: Countering Irregular Threats Joint Operating Concept (JOC) version 2.0, 17 May 2010.
3. Security force assistance, a term that overlaps with foreign internal defense, is defined as activities that directly support the development of the capacity and capability of foreign security forces and their sustaining institutions. (Department of Defense Draft Instruction).
4. Civil affairs operations, information operations, and military information support operations (formerly known as PSYOP, or psychological operations), three of 12 SOF core activities, are essential components of stability operations. See Michele Malvesti, "To Serve the Nation: U.S. Special Operations Forces in an Era of Persistent Conflict," Center for a New American Security, June 2010.
Last Reviewed: May 18, 2012