Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 20 of 55

Thread: Is Irregular Warfare Really "Irregular" Anymore?

  1. #1
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Posts
    15

    Default Is Irregular Warfare Really "Irregular" Anymore?

    This is obviously a loaded question. Like most who contribute to this site, I’ve spent the better part of my career studying and occasionally participating in actions that many would classify as “irregular” warfare, yet I've never been able to quite put my finger on what defines a particular conflict or action as "irregular." The root of my question is that the word “irregular” implies that the alternative would be “regular.” However, in characterizing the conflicts that have occurred over just the past 20 years, it seems to me that very few actually fit the mold of what is generally considered to be “traditional” or “conventional” warfare. With the notable exceptions of the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, and a scant few others, the age of Napoleonic-like formations and even traditional Westphalian state-on-state warfare seems to have devolved into the exception rather than the norm.

    In other words, has what was once considered to be “regular” warfare become “irregular” itself? Likewise, have the conflicts that we once considered to be “irregular” morphed into “regular” warfare? I ask this because as we all have seen, DoD in general and specifically those of us stationed down here continue to struggle with the definition of “irregular” warfare. Does warfare itself fundamentally remain dominated by states in their role as the sponsor or target of aggression? States with democratic ideals would affirm such a notion, but those states and non-state entities with limited to no democratic leanings would surely disagree. Moreover, who actually defines a conflict as “regular” or “irregular”? Undoubtedly, there are many cases where a state has considered itself to be embroiled in an insurgency while the very insurgents or guerrillas with whom they were fighting viewed the conflict as essentially a conventional battle for their own survival.

    Ultimately, and I do not intend to tread on the feet of those 4GW specialists who are far more well-versed in that topic than I ever will be, perhaps it is time to start treating “irregular” warfare as the norm rather than the exception; recent history would surely support such a supposition. Of course, if this were to occur, then true adherence would require a significant shift in resources dedicated to studying, training, equipping, and manning because as we all know, the only true way to find where priorities actually exist is to follow the money…However, back to the question at hand, I was just wondering what the members here thought of this one...Is Irregular Warfare really "irregular" anymore?

  2. #2
    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Fort Leavenworth, KS
    Posts
    1,512

    Default

    I think having the utility in in considering opposites is still useful. War/Counter-War, Insurgency/Counter-Insurgency, Conventional/Unconventional and Regular/Irregular are useful ways to think - as long as you don't constrain yourself to an either / or position. The key is to understand not only the characteristics that may indicate which side of a description the action is more akin to, but more importantly to try and understand the conditions and the environment in which they take place - the action(s) should not be divorced from the context of when and where they take place.

    DoD will soon issue DoD directive 3000.08 on Irregular Warfare. I've seen the Draft (I think it is FOUO), and I think its good enough. It looks like 3000.08 may replace 3000.05. One of its best attributes is that it defines what is "regular" and what is "Irregular". This may seem trivial in some respects, but I think it can only really be appreciated in the context of the Joint, Inter-Agency and Multi-National environments where being able to converse using the same language turns so many other wheels. My opinion is 3000.08 is a better document then 3000.05, and shows we have a better sense of things maybe then we did in late 2005.

    Best, Rob

  3. #3
    Council Member TROUFION's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    212

    Default

    By historical review it would seem that:

    1) Irregular warfare is the norm
    2) Regular warfare is the exception
    3) Irregular warfare kills with a thousand small cuts (queitly like cancer)
    4) Regular warfare kills far quicker and dramatically (loud like a car crash or sudden like a heart attack)

    Regular warfare tends to get the most attention becuase it is dramatic, it is loud, the results tend to be decisive and it is generally short 4-6 years.

    Irregular warfare tends to be forgotten about, pushed to the back pages of the newspapers, footnotes on the news. Generally a few people killed here and there brief flare-ups on occasion, hard to keep people interested. Last 10, 20 or more years. The level of conflict becomes accepted, the death toll becomes the price of doing business like the annual US Highway Deaths.

    Basically irregular warfare exists to some extent all the time and when a regular war breaks out the two blend together. This is when difficulty arises-when the two blend to create, to steal the current phrase, a 'hybrid' war.

    My best assesment is to view irregular warfare as a style of war similiar to the idea that Judo is a style of martial arts. As in Mixed Martial Arts you can fight with any style you want, but you can only fight with the style you know. If a Judo practitioner gets himself into a street fight, no holds barred, guns, knives, kitchen sink kind of fight he will use everything and anything. He'll just have to adapt and overcome to survive.

    Regular warfare is also a type of war, and the same concept applys but becuase it is seen as so destructive and so costly it is most often avoided and can generally only be fought by Nation States because of the costs involved.

  4. #4
    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Carlisle, PA
    Posts
    1,488

    Default

    "Irregular" has two distinct connotations. One is that the combatants are fundamentally asymmetric--a state versus a non-state entity. The other is that it is "abnormal." Those who use it that way mean to suggest that eventually "normal" war (state on state) will again become the most common or strategically significant type.

    Within the U.S. military, I suspect both meanings are used (depending on the speaker).

  5. #5
    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Carlisle, PA
    Posts
    1,488

    Default

    Hey! I just noticed that my comment above is my Battle of Hastings post!

  6. #6
    Council Member Surferbeetle's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Posts
    1,111

    Default The term irregular warfare is an artifact of western culture?

    Bohdi,

    My take is that we in the west compartmentalize war into mental 'buckets' Regular, Irregular, MCO, COIN, etc. This leads to our inter-agency troubles among other things...

    I am not so sure that this mindset is the case in other parts of the world. China's full court press across the DIME spectrum in Latin America and Africa, and Russia's internet, energy, economics play seem to provide examples worth studying.
    Sapere Aude

  7. #7
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Hungary
    Posts
    69

    Default

    Do I go too far when I say regulars are soldiers, irregulars are everybody else who actively participates in fighting (ie militia, partisans, insurgents)?
    Nihil sub sole novum.

  8. #8
    Council Member TROUFION's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    212

    Default perhaps a little

    UrsaMajor--there have been many irregular forces made up of soldiers in history. It isn't what the unit is, or who is in it, it is how the unit acts and is utilized. Historically some main line units have switched back and forth between regular and irregular styles of fighting--it is a mission, a mindset and objective thing.

    I agree with many here in that it is the seeming need of western forces (perhaps all industralized militaries) to specialize and over specialize that prevents the flexibility of a multipurpose unit. It is almost as if we have a hidden referee waiting behind a bush who will jump out and penalize us "hey you, yeah you regular infantry that mission appears too much like a SOF mission, go to the penalty box for 5." Specialization has made us very good but the associated compartmentalization and turf wars have been detrimental to overall flexibility and coordination.

  9. #9
    Council Member charter6's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    Cambridge, MA
    Posts
    28

    Default

    I would argue that calling "regular" warfare "regular" has always been a misnomer. Over the course of human history, what we now term irregular or asymmetric is in fact far and away the dominant form of conflict. That's a throw-away point in the context of this discussion though.

    More importantly to my way of looking at things is the fact that our division of warfare into regular and irregular is itself entirely artificial and very, very modern. The idea that armies only fight armies within a limited sphere of engagement and that anything else constitutes an aberration only dates back a few centuries, and has only ever been applied selectively. Before that, the distinction between regular and irregular breaks down, and, more importantly, people didn't seem to have been thinking about warfare as being divisible in that way.

    Strategikon XI is a great example of what I'm trying to say. Maurice contrasts there the fighting styles of the different races the Byzantine Empire was at the time facing. His section on the Slavs has decidedly "irregular" undertones. He speaks for example of campaigning in the winter when enemy food supplies will be at their lowest, of how to deal with Slavic guerrilla warfare, and of how to pacify villages (clear and hold, rather than sweeping, incidentally). Go back a couple pages though, and he's talking about how to come to grips with Persian archer superiority, or how to deal with Frankish infantry in close battle. What I'm trying to get at is that the hard and fast line between fighting armies and fighting peoples just wasn't there, even in the most professional of pre-modern armies.

    Even getting into the modern era I don't think you see the same division that we've had over the last half century or so. The pacification of the Caribbean was a decidedly irregular affair, as was colonial expansion through the 18th and 19th centuries. The British colonial wars of the early half of the 20th century (Ireland and Palestine in particular come to mind) were considered to be at least partially military exercises, despite the lack of a regular opponent. We always considered the Marine Corps to be an expeditionary force, and used it very irregularly throughout Central and South America. Professional militaries don't seem to have fully shied away from the irregular until the last couple decades really, even if the irregular component of the military experience might not have been as heavily treated in doctrine as what we call the regular component.

  10. #10
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Posts
    3,169

    Default Irregular Warfare: Everything yet Nothing

    I'm transferring my post from the blog to the discussion panel, because I know most of us knuckle draggers are mo comfortable in this forum. However, please refer to the blog to see the article and some excellent posts.

    http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/200...ng-y/index.php

    Glenn, thank you for your words of wisdom. Since you already addressed my concerns about confusing reality with dated doctrinal references, I will address a couple of other areas.

    I found it interesting that the authors did not address recent IW examples such as Iraq where we initially made little to no progress when our effort was focused on the so called overt guerrilla elements. Progress wasn't made until the additional troops were sent in to protect the populace to break the coercive influence link between the insurgent and the populace.

    In Vietnam securing and mobilizing the populace was critical (CIDG, Phoenix, etc.), and it was effective where applied, but unfortunately it was too little too late. Of course there were numerous parallels where the populace was critical in other IW conflicts such as Malaysia, the Philippines, El Salvador, Algeria, etc. How the counterinsurgent went after the population was different in each conflict. By focusing your efforts on the populace you are setting yourself in position to defeat the entire resistance organization, not just the overt guerrillas.

    While the construct of guerrilla, underground, and auxillary can be a useful model to visualize an insurgency's structure, it is not dogma, and not all insurgencies or resistence elements organize along these lines(apparently we still find it odd that other groups and countries do not feel obligated to follow our doctrine). The lines between these categories are blurred more frequently than not.

    Another disconnect in logic jumped out at me when the authors identified the strategic issue as the population, but wanted to narrow IW's definition to the tactical realm. First they claim that the strategic level of IW is the underground, and that the underground is largely focused on the populace (thus strategic victory = populace), but then they argue that IW should only be focused on the overt guerrillas, or at the tactical level? We tried that a few times in our history, and I can't think of a case where it was a successful strategy.

    As the authors probably know, there may be several relevant population groups that the competitors may want to influence, to include external actors. This also applies to conventional war, but more so in IW, where the opponent's primary objective may be influencing the populace versus defeating the oppoent's military forces. The Vietnamese didn't intend to defeat us by defeating our military, most of their activities directed against us were focused on influencing our home population, which effectively led to political paralysis in the end. The take away is that the violence is ultimately directed at relevant population group, not defeating the opposing military directly, and that is the difference between IW and conventional war.

    The terrorists who conducted the Madrid bombings were not focused on Spain's economy or security forces, but rather influencing the voting population, which in this case effectively resulted in the anti-war candidate being elected and the withdrawal of their military from Iraq. AQ's focus on various external population groups is plain to see, and they are trying to isolate their opponents by cutting off external support. War is war, but the strategy (not just the tactics) varies considerably between conventional and irregular warfare.

    Furthermore it is hard to kill the bad guys you can't see, and since we can't win by only defeating the overt forces we need to be able to find the underground. If you want to find and defeat the underground then you have to control the populace to get the human intelligence necessary to purge the threat. Drive by COIN and targeting only overt guerrillas is clearly a recipe for failure.
    Last edited by Bill Moore; 12-19-2008 at 08:47 AM. Reason: remove quotation marks and grammar corrections

  11. #11
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Location
    DeRidder LA
    Posts
    3,949

    Default

    Bill

    your baby is up on the net at CALL

    09-03: Special Forces Population and Resource Control (PRC) Handbook

    best

    Tom

  12. #12
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    4,818

    Default

    Tom, is this open to all or is it secret stuff?

  13. #13
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Location
    DeRidder LA
    Posts
    3,949

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    Tom, is this open to all or is it secret stuff?
    Slap it is FOUO limited to those with access to CALL.

  14. #14
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    4,818

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    Slap it is FOUO limited to those with access to CALL.
    As much stuff as I posted for him to read....that is all skint up an stuff probably gonna steal my SBW stuff next.......to quote the line from the movie Vol. 2......Where's Bill?

  15. #15
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Posts
    3,169

    Default The Secret Stuff

    Slapout, I converting slapout combat and slapout targeting into Bill Moore combat and Bill Moore targeting, then putting it on a password protected site so you couldn't see it Yet somehow you knew? I suspect it has something to do with your detective skills.

    I did borrow heavily from the ideas posted over the years on the SWJ council, and contacted many of the subject matter experts who contribute regularly to the SWJ to exchange ideas with them. The SWJ is mostly populated by an older and somewhat conservative crowd, but we're making the internet work for us very effectively.

    When it came to the nug work of compiling the information into what we hope would be a useful product I had two OLD salty Sergeants Major keeping me in line, so it was hard to get to far off track. They actually stopped me from putting the Slapout Combat stuff in the handbook

  16. #16
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    4,818

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    Slapout, I converting slapout combat and slapout targeting into Bill Moore combat and Bill Moore targeting, then putting it on a password protected site so you couldn't see it Yet somehow you knew? I suspect it has something to do with your detective skills.

    I did borrow heavily from the ideas posted over the years on the SWJ council, and contacted many of the subject matter experts who contribute regularly to the SWJ to exchange ideas with them. The SWJ is mostly populated by an older and somewhat conservative crowd, but we're making the internet work for us very effectively.

    When it came to the nug work of compiling the information into what we hope would be a useful product I had two OLD salty Sergeants Major keeping me in line, so it was hard to get to far off track. They actually stopped me from putting the Slapout Combat stuff in the handbook
    All I can say is it must be a really good manual I guess I will have to go to one of those websites that gangs use and get a fresh copy.

  17. #17
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Location
    DeRidder LA
    Posts
    3,949

    Default

    Bill

    note that ALL appendices will be printed--minor victory of mine and Brice as we moved to final. We were originally going to have to settle for digital appendicies only. Better and more complete package when all is printed.

    Best
    Tom

  18. #18
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Largo, Florida
    Posts
    3,989

    Thumbs up Random Thoughts on Irregular Warfare and Security Assistance

    Random Thoughts on Irregular Warfare and Security Assistance by Colonel David Maxwell, Small Wars Journal

    Random Thoughts on Irregular Warfare and Security Assistance (Full PDF Article)

    As we continue the debate on how we are going to organize our forces for operations in the Irregular Warfare and we think about enabling other forces would like to think a couple of things before we chase new “shiny things” as in new “designer organizations.”

    First we need to look at ourselves critically and ask if we have been able to develop effective strategies and campaign plans and then support and execute them, respectively. I think that most all of our challenges can be attributed to our strategies and campaign plans (and I will caveat this and say we need to understand that in this world of irregular warfare, complex operations and hybrid warfare there is no cookie cutter strategy or campaign plan template that will work the first time, every time. We need to be agile and flexible and be able to adapt to constantly morphing conditions). But I would say that this is where we need to focus most of all because our forces at the tactical level from all Services have proven very adept and capable and have demonstrated that they are truly learning organizations.

    The second point that no one talks about are authorities and processes. If we are going to truly be effective in the Security Force Assistance, Building Partner Capacity, Train, Advise and Assist, COIN, Foreign Internal Defense areas (or whatever we what to call these types of operations – what is the flavor of the month right now?? J But I digress with my sarcasm). Our security assistance processes are broken and not supportive of whatever strategies and campaign plans we may develop. We do not have agile processes that allow us to rapidly and effectively support our friends, partners, or allies. We have Congressional constraints and limitations placed on us for political reasons that are sometimes (and perhaps often) counter to objectives or end states we are trying to achieve from a security perspective. But all the talk of an Advisory Corps whether in the military or a combined civilian-military one will be moot if we do not update, simplify, streamline, and make effective our security assistance processes and redesign them so they can support national and regional and Country Team strategies and campaign plans...

  19. #19
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Posts
    12

    Default

    First, have I arrived at this debate a YEAR late...your post are all 2008?!

    I've finished recently a paper on IW...can't release it yet but I'm presenting it soon. Having spent some time thinking about it - like the rest of you - may I offer:

    The thing here is, I believe, that IW is a confusion of two issues...

    - The first is UrsaMaior's point of Irregular Forces...

    - The second is TROUFION's point of Irregular Actions.


    Some definitions on which I build my analysis:
    a. Definition: Regular forces belong to a nation state or some legally recognised entity (say UN).

    b. Definition: Irregular forces don't!

    c. For brevity I won't define Regular and Irregular Actions here, but I do in my paper.

    My paper sets out that IW is related to the combinations of these...so the crux of my analysis is...

    1. Regular Forces fighting Regularly (conventional state on state)...

    2. Irregular Forces fighting Regularly (Hezbollah 06, Balkans militias)...

    3. Regular Forces fighting Irregularly (I suggest SOF UW)...and

    4. Irregular Forces fighting Irregularly (Insurgents)

    The issue is then what is IW? 2..3..4 or some combination of two or all three? I argue for a specific combination, but I feel that the building blocks of a robust definition can be found above...

    If any of you are at a particular meeting next week discussing this, perhaps we can chat over a beer?

    LP

  20. #20
    Former Member George L. Singleton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    South of Mason Dixon Line
    Posts
    497

    Default Some scatter gun comments

    1. Use of human shields took place in the Korean War, Vietnam, and now today in Iraq, Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan.

    2. Today I think intel does a good enough job to target insurgent leadership who have/use human schields, to include members of their own families.

    3. If we are good enough to target insurgents off the so-called battlefield, at rest or at their "office" then the ways and means we target them suggests to me that we are doing much better at this war (irregular or whatever anyone wants to label it) than the media gives us credit for.

    4. Finally, winning "Hearts and minds" of often blood kin Pakhtuns, some of whom are belligerant Taliban, some of whom are not belligerants but grew up with those who have become belligerants...then the so called winning of hearts and minds gets "muddled" and ethnic loyalties, in common religion and such makes specific actions in specific places a matter of deciding to kill off enemy terrorist leadership and forgetting about the so-called hearts and minds aspect.

    5. The upside of such irregular actions by us against them is that the vast majority, over 85% of the Pakistan population (this is not true of course in Afghanistan) are not Pukhtuns, did not grow up and play with as children the terrorists, and would be glad to be rid of as many Puhtun terrorists as possible.

    My two cents. We have developed sufficient tools, ways and means, but are hindered by the difference in populations between and among Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the large "other areas" of Paksitan which are non-Pukhtun to repeat myself and shut down now.

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •