View Full Version : Disarming the Local Population

11-01-2005, 07:15 PM
I am a student at the USMC Command and Staff College. Command and Staff College is conducting a "Small Wars Manual" project. Like the original SWM, individual chapters are being assigned to different students.

My topic is "disarming the local population". I am looking for military members with first hand experience in disarming the local population in the following areas:

1) Iraq
2) Afghanistan
3) Balkans
4) Somalia

I am trying to discern what worked and what did not. The hope is to find some common patterns across conflicts that may assist future operations. I welcome any input

Tom Odom
11-02-2005, 02:40 PM
As the Defense Attache in Zaire, I witnessed a massive disarming of the former Rwanda Army as it crossed into Zaire on 17 or 18 July 1994. The Zairian Army (FAZ) was nominally in charge. The former Rwandan Army--some 25-20000 troops came across the border in good column order. They stacked small arms in piles as they did; most of these were taken back to Kinshasa. No vehicle searches or individual searches occurred. Larger weapons (37mm AAA trucks or small Panhard armored cars) systems came through without search.

I reported that the former Army was at best 80% disarmed; my reports were disputed by persons not on the scene. The confiscated weapons were later, I believe, sold back to the reforming Army and militias as they initiated cross border operations back into Rwanda in 1994-1996. Ultimately those operations led to full scale invasion of Zaire/Congo in 1997 by the new Rwandan Army and its clients in Zaire.

This is discussed in detail in my book, Journey into Darkness: Genocide in Rwanda.

I will be happy to answer any further questions you mighty have.

Tom Odom

PS as a student there, you have access to one of the best minds on the Middle East, Dr. Norman Cigar. Norm was a close friend and team member with me on the Army Staff G2 section for the Middle East during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Don't miss the opportunity to talk to him!

11-02-2005, 03:02 PM
Just e-mailed you contact info for Col Scott Moore (USMC Ret.). He has worked this issue. Scott is also a member of the SWC...

11-05-2005, 07:33 PM
This is the draft outline I am going with for the CSC Small War Project
Any comments are welcome

“Disarming the local population-
Lessons Learned and Trends”

1. Introduction (1 page)
a. Role of the Weapon in local context
b. Not going to discuss if disarmament program work, but how to better conduct them if ordered
c. Cultural Factors are the single greatest variable/friction point on whether disarmament programs work
i. Centers of authority
ii. Trust in local/national government
iii. Trust in U.S./Coalition Security forces
iv. Cultural view of weapons in history
2. Case Studies
a. Types of Disarmament Programs (1 page)
i. Phase 1
1. Tactical by military Units
2. Ad-hoc - driven by
a. Locally gathered intelligence
b. Search and seizure
c. Heavy patrolling
d. More likely to disarm by force
ii. Phase 2
1. Strategic by international organizations
2. Well-funded
3. Run by large international organizations
a. U.N.. NGOs. NATO, etc
b. Programs may overlap
c. May likely use to cash for guns/ carrot and stick
b. Iraq (3 pages)
c. Afghanistan (2 pages)
d. Somali (1.5 pages)
e. Balkans (1.5 pages)
3. Trends
a. Role of Culture (2 pages)
i. Role of gun in local culture
ii. Centers of authority
iii. Trust in local/national government
iv. Trust in U.S./Coalition Security forces
v. Cultural view of weapons in history
vi. Weapon as symbol of political power
vii. Long term local cultural view vs. short term U.S. policy view
viii. Unstable post conflict environment
b. Non-culture Trends (2 pages)
i. Political Atmosphere impact program success
ii. Needs to be part of large security and assistance program
iii. Carrot and stick methods
iv. Persistent patrolling
1. Provide security assurance to locals
a. Gain local trust
2. Understand local environment
4. Conclusion (1 page)

Bill Moore
11-11-2005, 05:52 AM
I look forward to reading your paper, and trust you are reviewing the UN’s lesson’s learned concerning DDR, since they have the most experience in it, at least for the phase II you outlined in your topics.

I don’t know if this will be valuable to you, but I’ll share my experience with disarming a town in Iraq. First I need to set the scene by pointing out this was in 03, and those of us on the ground were primarily trying to provide at least a semblance of security and stability, so some sort of political process (other than through a barrel of a rifle) could emerge. We had little guidance from higher at that time, so many small units simply did the best they could during these very chaotic and confusing times.

The town I was in was a mix of Turkomen, Kurds (both PUK and PDK), and Arabs, so needless to say there were tensions that were exacerbated by our lack of any phase IV plan at that time. These tensions rapidly escalated to ethnic violence and political intimation, and of course purely criminal acts. I constantly went out and spoke to whomever I could find trying to get a pulse for the town as rapidly as possible. People were afraid to come out, so the streets were quiet due to the lack of commerce taking place.

It seemed appropriate to me to put all the parties and ethnic groups on equal footing if were going to move to a political process vice a localized civil war, so I implemented an aggressive disarming operation where we went house to house, set up road blocks, had a volunteer turn in program (it worked also), etc. We got information out through the mosque and our normal interaction with citizens on the streets through our interpreters.

I also had all political flags and posters removed from public premises except at the one authorized political house/bldg per party, since these were used generally forced upon people as a form of intimidation.

I readily admit my method was crude and accept your criticism, but the results exceeded my expectations. The streets became vibrant, businesses opened, people were shopping, and even the people that we disarmed praised us and told us that they felt safe for the first time. This ties into your comments about trust in coalition forces. If we had a lazy, don’t go outside the wire unit, this would of failed miserably, but when we got a 911 call, we rolled every time.

As I stated earlier, we did this on our own, because there was no guidance coming from higher. Shortly after we effectively disarmed the town, Mr. Bremer puts out that every Iraqi is authorized to own a weapon. We actually had citizens in our town complain about this, but the damage was already done. We didn’t disobey the Csar, we simply added some restrictions, you could only maintain a weapon at home, if you had one on your person or in your car (without a permit) we would take it.

My take away was disarmament made sense on my little part of the battlefield, and I remain satisfied that we made the right decision based on the local conditions; a decision that was actually endorsed by the citizens themselves “after” they saw the results. Again we were an occupying power responsible for safety of the citizens, and of course our own people.

At the strategic/operational level these policies should be well thought out before beginning what was phase IV in OIF. They are not trivial matters, so planners need to be all over this, along with assorted other subjects such as managing currency, getting the hospitals up and running etc. As for cultural concerns, I’m sure it is culturally appropriate for boy soldiers in Liberia to carry weapons and pillage villages. This is an extreme example, but it illustrates there are other concerns and culture may not be the decisive factor on whether we decide to disarm or not. Furthermore, for a country as diverse as Iraq, maybe a single policy locked in stone does not suffice during the initial periods? I think a commander needs the authority to disarm certain areas if it is required to reduce the violence to an acceptable level (but if he does, then he is responsible for providing security for the people).

These are a hodgepodge of thoughts on the subject, I know there are many more out there who had much more experience at this than I have, I just wanted to share a tactical viewpoint with you.

11-11-2005, 07:33 PM

Thank you for your detailed account of your experiences. I would like to use you as a source from my thesis. Several of your lessoned learned mirrored what others have said and I would like to include them in my product.

Could you let me know what unit your were with, your billet, and during what timeframe. This is so I can accurately cite you as a direct source. Thanks again for taking the time. I will post a draft in the late December timeframe. If I am happy with the end product (15-20 pages) I might turn parts of it into a 4-5-page Gazette article.

_Art Speyer
Conference Group 9

08-01-2006, 01:52 AM
Attached are the first few chapters of my 2005-2006 USMC Command and Staff College thesis. I will post the other chapters if their is interest. I deleted the names of my sources for this posting, since many active duty officers, including several members of this site, were research sources and agreed to be interviewed. Any questions, let me know. I hope some find it helpful. I enjoyed working the project. My advisor was Doctor Johnson, the small wars guru at CSC. I continue to be amazed at the creativity and drive of our Marines.




Disarmament is a critical component of security and stability operations (SASO). Since the 1990s, the U.S. military has been tasked with disarmament in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. While disarmament was not a pre-deployment priority for any of these operations, U.S. forces found themselves conducting large-scale disarmament during each operation. As SASO becomes a major focus of the U.S. military, the frequency of disarmament operations will increase.

Despite the frequency and importance of disarmament missions to SASO, limited guidance or doctrine exists to aid commanders tasked with conducting these sensitive operations. Historically, a 10-page chapter in the 1940 edition of the United States Marine Corps Small Wars Manual is one of the few official publications on disarmament. The lack of official procedures forces small-unit leaders to rely on ingenuity, discretion, and flexibility to complete disarmament missions.

This thesis will attempt to develop an analytical framework for disarmament by examining recent U.S. and international operations. The focus will be at the operational and tactical level, to provide the most benefit to expeditionary forces.

While the presence of small arms and light weapons does not cause instability, the addition of large numbers of small arms into regions suffering from an array of instability factors increases the lethality and scope of the conflict’s potential. The Small Wars Manual states that disarmament is the most vital step in the restoration of stability. Additionally, the presence of large numbers of uncontrolled weapons is a significant force protection threat to U.S. forces. In a recent example, after the seizure of Baghdad, the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division removed 20,000 rifles, 995 RPG launchers (w/50,000 RPGs), and more than 7,000 artillery rounds. Eliminating insurgent access to weapon stockpiles is an obvious priority for field commanders. In Iraq and Afghanistan it was hoped that “weapons for cash” programs would quickly reduce the numbers of uncontrolled weapons. A deeper analysis demonstrates that these programs are often rife with problems.

The United Nations (UN) estimates more than 600 million small arms and light weapons are in circulation. International organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the UN have deemed small arms a significant factor in instability, crime, terrorism, warlordlism, and humanitarian disasters. In 1997, the UN declared that all future peacekeeping missions would have a disarmament component. The U.S. Department of State declared illicit small arms and light weapons major obstacles to peace, economic development, and efforts to rebuild war-torn societies.

The increased emphasis on SASO missions within the Department of Defense (DoD), coupled with the State Department’s more aggressive small arms policies, require a more focused effort on disarmament operations. The Department of State has the lead on coordinating strategic programs to reduce the spread of illegal weapons, but at the tactical level, the U.S. military conducts most U.S. disarming operations. The current ad-hoc nature of U.S. disarmament missions, especially at the operational and tactical levels, need to be replaced with a fully developed program consisting of doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs); specialized training; and equipment.

The term “disarmament operation” involves an array of missions differing widely in scope, direction, and philosophy. While disarmament usually occurs after large-scale conflict has ended, on today’s complicated battlefields, disarmament missions begin while combat missions continue. In Iraq, for example, disarmament began while major combat operations were still consolidating. In Mozambique during the 1990s however, such missions did not begin until years after a cease-fire.

Disarmament may be conducted by tactical units that raid a compound based on human intelligence, or it may be conducted by large international organizations such as the UN, which manages voluntary weapon buy-back programs. Before discussing methods for conducting successful disarmament missions, it is necessary to establish an analytical framework.
Disarmament operations are conducted by military, security, and law enforcement personnel to control the proliferation and use of small arms and light weapons. The aim is to further conditions that contribute to the development of a safe and secure environment. At the tactical level, disarmament operations are divided into five steps: locate, collect, transport, store, and dispose/destroy. These missions may be conducted as part of an international peace agreement, such as large NATO and UN disarmament programs in the Balkans, or they may be carried out unilaterally by a military government, as in Iraq. Successful disarmament operations are an essential part of larger stability and reconstruction efforts that seek to address root causes of the conflict. It is important to note, however that, operations that focus exclusively on disarmament as a means of stability often end in failure.

Disarmament operations can be divided into two sequential phases. Phase one operations exist during the immediate cessation of conflict or right after the introduction of intervention forces. They are more likely to involve military forces, involuntary disarmament, and the use of force. Phase two operations are run by international organizations or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and involve large, well-funded reconstruction and incentive programs encouraging disarmament. During phase two, military forces provide security and logistical support, but the actual disarmament is conducted by international organizations. Disarmament operations often occur for years after the cessation of combat, with significant overlap between phase one and phase two operations.

During phase one, tactical military units conduct the bulk of disarmament operations, often in an unstable and dangerous environment. Operations rely heavily on tactical intelligence and constant patrolling to conduct search-and-seizure missions to remove weapons from the environment. U.S. and multi-national forces, during the first years in Somalia, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, conducted extensive phase one operations.
Programs in Bosnia from 1996-2004 demonstrate both phases of disarmament operations. From 1996-1998 NATO forces in Bosnia conducted phase one operations, mainly through ad-hoc confiscations of illegal weapons using cordon-and-search techniques. Due to their organic logistical capability, rapid deployment options, and offensive capability, military forces are often the first tasked to conduct disarmament operations during the most unstable periods of post-conflict environments.

Phase one operations can be further divided into the two sub-missions of finding weapons caches and disarming the general population. Cache searches and general disarmament are very different missions that require a unique set of skills and procedures. For cache searches, platoon or company-sized units use grid searches to discover large hidden weapons caches. These are often highly visible, show of force operations conducted during the daylight with the help of combat engineers, military working dogs, and armored vehicles.

Disarming the general population requires a more subtle approach during phase one. These operations usually involve going onto somebody’s property and seizing personal weapons. This type of mission relies on the soft skills of negotiation, discretion, personnel contact, and understanding local culture. Personal disarmament operations work best when carried out by small teams of experienced personnel, often at night or inside individual homes.
As a region becomes more secure, phase one operations transition into phase two operations, which rely more on incentives and public awareness campaigns to encourage disarmament. In 1998, NATO began Operation HARVEST in Bosnia, which used deterrence and educational initiatives to encourage disarmament. NATO forces supported local police and international organizations by assisting at weapon collection points and with other voluntary programs. In 2003, The UN initiated a small arms project in Bosnia with similar objectives. A similar program in Afghanistan gives former insurgents $200, a medal, a change of civilian clothes, a box of food, vocational training, employment counseling, and a certificate of service. Phase two operations, such as in Bosnia, often continue for 5-10 years after the cessation of actual hostilities .

CPT Holzbach
08-01-2006, 02:12 AM
Sir, there is definatly plenty of interest, myself and Im sure plenty others will want to read the whole thing. Interesting topic. Perhaps the editors of this site will post a pdf copy to the "library".

08-01-2006, 05:07 AM
I would like to post the entire thesis in the library and a condensed version as an article in the next Vol. of the SWJ Magazine. I talked to Col Toolan and Doc Johnson about a special edition of the SWJ with 4-5 of the CSC Small Wars papers... Would still like to do this - I have one other so far... Doc Johnson mentioned that your paper was particularly noteworthy.

08-02-2006, 12:38 AM
I would be happy to offer my thesis to any journal that would like to publish it. I am no "John Keegan", but through my research I was able to capture and analyze the experiences and lessons learned from some fine Marine Corps and Army officers. If my thesis help get their stories out to others, than I am all for it.

Dave- You know how to contact me. Drop me a line, and the thesis is yours.


08-02-2006, 04:56 PM
I would be happy to offer my thesis to any journal that would like to publish it. I am no "John Keegan"

That I think is a good thing considering his ideas about Clausewitz! :)

I would also like to add my name to the list, I wrote my M.A. thesis on 4GW and the Conflict In Iraq, Dr. Terry Terriff was my tutor at Birmingham University, and I learnt a hell of a lot, he was also the person who put me on to this site.

08-02-2006, 06:04 PM
That I think is a good thing considering his ideas about Clausewitz! :)

I would also like to add my name to the list, I wrote my M.A. thesis on 4GW and the Conflict In Iraq, Dr. Terry Terriff was my tutor at Birmingham University, and I learnt a hell of a lot, he was also the person who put me on to this site.

Yes, I would like to put your thesis in the library and use an extract as an article in the SWJ Magazine. - we will review it of course. Please send to ddilegge@smallwarsjournal.com.

I received another Small Wars paper (3 so far) today from USMC Command and Staff College - so Vol 6 is shaping up nicely...

08-07-2006, 06:56 PM
I converted Art's thesis, Small Wars Project: Disarming the Local Population (http://www.smallwarsjournal.com/documents/speyer.pdf), into PDF and placed links from the COIN and SASO sections of the SWJ Reference Library (http://www.smallwarsjournal.com/reference.htm). Additionally, we will convert the thesis into article format for Voume 6 of the SWJ Online Magazine (http://www.smallwarsjournal.com/swjmag_current.htm).

Thesis: Disarmament operations are a critical component of security and stability operations (SASO). Despite the frequency and importance of disarmament missions to SASO, limited current guidance exists to aid commanders.


Disarmament operations do not lend themselves to simple checklists for success. The single, most significant factor in predicting a successful disarmament operation is the psychological aspects or perception of security by the local population. In addition, disarmament operations require the careful balance of incentives and punishments through voluntary and coercive methods.

Disarmament operations do not take place in a neutral environment, but inside a complex cultural, religious, historical context. To successfully conduct a disarmament operation, one must understand the role weapons play within the targeted culture. By working within local cultural hierarchies and understanding the cultural terrain, tact and diplomacy are powerful toolsets.


As Marines continue to conduct disarmament missions worldwide, more detailed guidance is needed so Marines do not have to re-learn the same lessons from conflict to conflict. Disarmament operations will be a central focus of future battlefields. The lessons learned go well beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.

The millions of unaccounted small arms will be a permanent feature on all future threat environments. The proper neutralizations of these weapons is a core tenet of SASO missions and critical to force protection. The absorption of these issues into training and doctrine is essential for Marines to succeed in the wars of the future.

Tom Odom
08-08-2006, 01:08 PM

I will try and pen (type) a piece on my experience in the Congo and Rwanda on this issue, especially when third parties (UN, NGOs, smugglers, and other countries) are involved.


08-08-2006, 01:10 PM

I will try and pen (type) a piece on my experience in the Congo and Rwanda on this issue, especially when third parties (UN, NGOs, smugglers, and other countries) are involved.


Thanks Tom!