Buying a Stalemate: U.S. aid may still save Afghanistan

In an article on War on the Rocks, Dominic Tierney argues that an American troop withdrawal does not have to spell the end of the Afghan government. Tierney argues that continued U.S. financial aid may be enough for the Afghan government to hold off the advance of the Taliban, as happened when the Soviets withdrew in 1989. Following their withdrawal, the Soviets continued to provide substantial aid in cash, arms and other equipment. The result was that the government of President Mohammad Najibullah and his People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) held off the Mujahideen for several years. It was only the fall of the Soviet Union and the resulting end of Soviet aid that led to Najibullah’s defeat.

A U.S. aid program to Afghanistan of around $4–5 billion per year is affordable — even indefinitely so. The figure equates to less than one percent of the U.S. defense budget. Indeed, to put the number in perspective, Washington spends over $300 million every year just on military bands. The aid program is also much cheaper than deploying U.S. troops. Washington can pay for around 50 to 100 Afghan soldiers for the same cost as stationing a single American soldier there (about $1 million per year). The aid program is only a tiny fraction of the expenditure in Afghanistan a decade ago.

Continuing aid to Afghanistan does not guarantee success, but curtailing aid guarantees failure. $4 billion is a lot of money. But it buys Washington a reasonable chance at creating military deadlock in Afghanistan, forcing the Taliban to make peace, and avoiding a repeat of Saigon 1975, with all the associated trauma and recrimination.

One major oversight in Tierney’s argument is the distinct difference between the fractious Mujahideen that Najibullah fended off, and relatively cohesive Taliban facing the current Afghan government. This time there is much less hope of peeling off local commanders and driving wedges between rival factions.

That said, the continued provision of aid and other “over the horizon” aid does appear at this time to be the best option that is politically salable to the American people. And as Tierney argues committing to that assistance for the long term will maximize the odds of ultimate success.

IW Roundup — May 24, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Myanmar military targets rebels as coup resistance intensifies; Investigations held on reports claiming death of Boko Haram’s leader; Chad accuses Libyan fighters of undermining terrorism fight; Iran rejects Canadian ruling of Ukrainian plane shot down as act of terrorism; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. As always, we hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. Now on to the roundup:

Myanmar military targets rebels as coup resistance intensifies

The nature of the protests against the recent coup in Myanmar is changing. The once-peaceful protest movement, which had been employing various forms of non-violent resistance, is now increasingly turning into an armed resistance after months of the military junta responding with a heavy hand, killing around 800 of the protestors. The military has now planned to target the militia groups and protestors in the town of Mindat. Military bombardment forced both resistance fighters and civilians to flee the town. The junta has labelled the militia members as terrorists in a bid to legitimize the use of military force. The Washington Post, May 21. [Myanmar conflict sends thousands fleeing as military targets rebels – The Washington Post]

While Myanmar has had armed ethnic groups fighting government authority for decades, this armed resistance is new. The recent fighting not only included a resurgence of conflict with well-established groups like the Karen National Union and the Kachin Independence Army, but has also emerged in areas that were once peaceful. These new resistance groups are of various strength and technical capability, and it remains to be seen how well they will be able to stand up to (or evade) the military. At this time, they appear to have the moral support of the people of Myanmar, but in addition to support, an effective insurgency requires that the resistance survive government pressure while building relative strength.

Investigations held on reports claiming death of Boko Haram’s leader

Nigerian local intelligence reports claim the death of Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, who has been leading the terrorist organization since 2009. Shekau has been allegedly killed in a clash with Islamic State Western Africa Province’s (ISWAP) members. The military, nonetheless, is investigating the matter as Shekau has been declared dead multiple times in the past which later turned out to be false. Al Jazeera, May 21. [Nigerian army investigates reports of Boko Haram leader’s death | Nigeria News | Al Jazeera]

Boko Haram has a complex past regarding affiliation and competition with ISIS and al Qaeda. The gist as it applies here: Boko Haram had become an official affiliate of ISIS in March, 2015, becoming ISWAP, but by August, 2016, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had replaced Shekau as leader of ISWAP due to his overly aggressive use of “takfiri” ideology and targeting of civilians. Rather than accept the demotion, Shekau split off from ISWAP under the old name of the group. There has been a rivalry between these two (and another anti-Baghdadi Boko Haram) ever since, although periods of cooperation have occurred as well.

Chad accuses Libyan fighters of undermining terrorism fight

Chad’s Foreign Minister cautioned the United Nations Security Council about the deteriorating security situation of the Sahel as Libyan mercenaries and foreign fighters have become more active in Chad after the death of President Idriss Deby. The Foreign Minister stressed that similar situations could occur across the whole of the Sahel as the terrorist elements crossing into the Sahel can undermine the security measures and the progress made up till now in the fight against terrorism. He urged the Security Council to finance and strengthen the Five Nation African Force in order to enable it to defeat the terrorists. The Washington Post, May 19. [Chad says Libya fighters risk undermining terrorism fight – The Washington Post]

Iran rejects Canadian ruling of Ukrainian plane shot down as act of terrorism

The Iranian Foreign Minister called the ruling shameful and stressed that Canada has no legal jurisdiction over the incident. The plane was shot down in January last year by IRGC’s foreign wing, Quds Force, killing 176 people on board. The accident was assessed by Iranian officials to be caused by to human error, as the system was not recalibrated during a night in which Iran expected a potential attack by United States. Al Jazeera, May 21. [Iran denounces Canada ruling plane downed an ‘act of terrorism’ | Aviation News | Al Jazeera]

German Police Officer accused of Far Right Terrorism

The German officer, Franco A, has been taken on trial and accused of far right extremism. The case highlights the infiltration of extremist elements in the German security forces. The alleged terrorist has been living a dual life, one as a police officer and other as a Syrian refugee. He has been planning and plotting political murders of Claudia Roth; Vice President of German Parliament, Heiko Maas; German Foreign minister and a few others in order to damage the political system of the country. New York Times, May 20. [German Officer Goes on Trial, Accused of Plotting Far-Right Terrorism – The New York Times (]

Senate confirmation hearing for ASD (SO/LIC)

The Senate Armed Services Committee will consider four pending nominations, including Christopher Maier to be assistant secretary of defense for special operations (ASD(SO/LIC)). [This week in Congress: Biden’s budget due out at last – Military Times]

There have been no reports of significant opposition to Mr. Maier’s appointment. However, this appointment comes only weeks after the partial reversal of late Trump-era policy changes to elevate the ASD (SO/LIC) to directly and independently report to the Secretary of Defense and exercise oversight of the U.S. Special Operations Command. Therefore, expect some questions from the committee on organization, command and control, and civilian oversight.

IW Roundup — May 17, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City kill nearly 200; Western intelligence agencies seek new Afghan allies; U.S. targets domestic extremism with new efforts; New Zealand calls for “ethical algorithms” to counter online radicalization; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. As always, we hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. Now on to the roundup:

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City kill nearly 200 people

Israel’s intense raids and strikes have destroyed multiple residential building and killed almost 200 civilians which include 58 children and 34 women. The home of Hamas Chief Yehya Al Sinwar was also targeted. Despite diplomatic efforts to restore peace, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the end of hostilities, going on for a week, was not imminent. Al Jazeera, May 16. [Gaza death toll nears 200 amid surge of Israeli raids | Conflict News | Al Jazeera]

Western intelligence agencies seek new Afghan allies

As United States withdraws from Afghanistan, Western intelligence agencies look for new entities to provide intelligence information about militias and terrorist threats. The hunt has become more essential as the Intelligence agencies are of the view that the peace will not last long in Afghanistan and ultimately the country will face civil war. Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shah Massoud head of Northern Alliance in 1980s, is among the considered candidates for intelligence information. The New York Times, May 14. [Spy Agencies Seek New Allies in Afghanistan as U.S. Withdraws – The New York Times (]

U.S. targets domestic extremism with new efforts

In the wake of Capitol Riot on January 6, President Biden pressed Federal Law enforcement agencies to figure out the threat of domestic extremism. The report launched by the department in March warned about amplified threat from white supremacists and Militias. The Department of Homeland Security on May 11 took new initiatives to curb the threat. These include the dedication of an intelligence wing to curb domestic terrorism and the opening of a new center to help local and state law enforcement. The New York Times, May 11. [Biden Targets Domestic Terrorism With New Initiatives – The New York Times (]

U.S. sanctions seven Lebanese men connected to Hezbollah

The United States Treasury Department has sanctioned seven Lebanese men connected to Hezbollah for participating in evasive “shadow banking” activity. the seven men had been involved in illicitly transferring as much as $500 million on behalf of Hezbollah. The sanctions imposed by the U.S. block all assets the individuals hold in any U.S. banking facility and any future transactions. The U.S. Treasury director said in a statement that Hezbollah persistently abuses and drains Lebanon’s financial resources. Al Jazeera, May 11. [US imposes sanctions on seven Lebanese men connected to Hezbollah | Hezbollah News | Al Jazeera]

New Zealand calls for “ethical algorithms” to counter online extremism

In order to get rid of extremist content online, New Zealand and France hosted an initiative called the Christchurch Call. The Initiative was initiated after the Christchurch attack where the attacker live streamed the attack. The commission of the Christchurch mosque attack found out that the attacker had been radicalized by watching white supremacist content online. New Zealand’s Prime Minister urged tech companies to work on algorithms to control the extremist content online. The Guardian, May 15. [Jacinda Ardern calls for ‘ethical algorithms’ to help stop online radicalisation | New Zealand | The Guardian]

IW Roundup — May 10, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Germany takes action against extremist group; U.S. Attorney General requests more funding to curb domestic terrorism; SOCOM knocks down a straw man; The Canadian Proud Boys dissolves; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. We’re coming to you late this week due to a family emergency. As always, we hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. Now on to the roundup:

German spy agency labeled Pegida as extremist group

German intelligence agency has decided to broaden its surveillance of Islamophobic group ‘Pegida’. The intelligence agency, known as LfV, labelled the group as extremist and said that it has become a platform for right-wing extremists to disseminate anti-constitutional ideologies. Dirk-Martin Christian, president of the agency, said everyone belonging to the group would be put under surveillance with the exception of those who are just protesting peacefully. The Hindu, May 7. [Islamophobic group Pegida is extremist: German spy agency – The Hindu]

Islamic group Ansaar banned by Germany as extremist group

The German interior ministry has banned and alleged that the Islamic organization Ansaar International has been financing terrorism across the globe. The interior minister, Horst Seehofer, tweeted that Ansaar and its affiliate spread Salafist world view and financed terrorism under the cover of humanitarian aid. The website of the alleged organization states that it provides humanitarian aid to the people of war-torn areas and those affected by crises. The Hindu, May 5. [Germany bans Islamic group Ansaar, suspected of financing terrorism – The Hindu]

U.S. Attorney General requests more funding to curb domestic terrorism

The United States’ top law enforcement officer, Merrick Garland, asked for increase in funding during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing about the justice department’s budget request The increased funding is intended to help the Justice Department investigate domestic terrorism and elevate civil rights enforcement. Garland submitted proposals for $45 million additional funding for FBI to curb domestic terrorism and $232 million to limit gun violence. The Washington Post, May 3. [Merrick Garland hearing: Attorney general seeks more funding for domestic terrorism, civil rights work – The Washington Post]

The Canadian chapter of Proud Boys dissolves itself

The Far-right extremist group, Proud boy’s Canadian branch has dissolved itself. The organization was added to the list of terrorist organization by Canada in February. The organization was accused of far-right extremism and holding anti-Muslim and misogynist rhetoric. In response to the dissolution of the network, the Canadian anti-hate network tweeted that it is important to recognize the dissolution but that does not mean that the members of the group have abandoned their perceptions. Al Jazeera, May 3. [Canada branch of far-right Proud Boys group dissolves itself | The Far Right News | Al Jazeera]

SOCOM study highlights struggle over civilian control of special operations

A study being conducted by Joint Special Operations University (the academic arm of the U.S. Special Operations Command) is set to review arguments for and against establishing a separate military branch for the special operations community. It also asks what SOCOM may be able to learn from then-President Donald Trump’s surprise campaign to establish a separate service for the military’s space professionals. Former and current officials see the study as an elaborate straw-man argument meant to keep civilian oversight at a minimum. [Internal study highlights struggle over control of America’s special ops forces | Politico]

This study comes as the top brass at SOCOM and the Pentagon are wrangling over how and how much to empower the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD(SO/LIC)). Congress has mandated that the ASD(SO/LIC) be given oversight authority over SOCOM and that they be placed in its administrative chain of command. SOCOM has been reluctant to give up the enormous autonomy that it has enjoyed since it’s central role in responding to the 9/11 attacks, and the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy is bristling at having one of its components cut away to act as a stand-alone policy enti.

IW Roundup — May 5, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Anti-poaching journalists killed in Burkina Faso; France to use algorithms to detect extremism; Seven Italian terrorists arrested in France; Close aide of ISIS leader caught in Istanbul; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. We’re coming to you late this week due to a family emergency. As always, we hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. Now on to the roundup:

Two Spanish journalists and Irish ranger kidnapped and killed in Burkina Faso

The journalists, David Beriain and Roberto Fraile, were filming a documentary on Anti pouching efforts with an Irish ranger when they were kidnapped and later killed. The security situation at the border of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali has been deteriorating, resulting in increased violence. Most of the recent attacks have been linked to the terrorist groups Islamic State and Al Qaeda. The terrorists are alleged to have conducted forceful conversion to Islam and killing in cases of non-compliance. The New York Times, April 27. [2 Spanish Journalists and an Irish Ranger Killed in Burkina Faso Ambush – The New York Times (]

France to use algorithms to detect extremism

The recent terror acts have brought French President Emmanuel Macron under pressure. The nature of attacks has majorly been changed from planned attacks conducted by terrorist organizations to young individuals using knives without any credible affiliation with any terror organization. The French government is planning to strengthen counter-terrorism laws by using algorithms to curb the extremist threats keeping in view next year’s Presidential elections. The Guardian, April 28. [France planning to allow use of algorithms to detect extremism online | France | The Guardian]

Seven Italians far-right terrorists arrested in France

Guerilla fighters involved terror activities of late 1960 and early 1980s in Italy hid in France for decades. Under the Mitterrand Doctrine the convicts were allowed to live in France as long as they were not involved in violent activities. The Italian government has been urging French government to detain and extradite terrorist for many years. The terrorists were arrested after a meeting between Italian and French Justice minister on April 8th.  The Guardian, April 28. [France arrests seven Italians convicted of far-left terrorism | France | The Guardian]

Close aide to ISIS leader Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi caught in Istanbul

According to the Turkish police, top ISIL figure has been caught in an operation in Turkey. Baghdadi’s close aide, who has been identified with a code name, Asim, is an Afghan national. He suspected to have been involved in helping Baghdadi hide in Syria after the group went through a decline in 2019. He is also believed to have organized training for ISIL in Syria and been a member of the decision-making council of the organization. Al Jazeera, May 2. [Turkish police say top ISIL figure captured in operation | ISIL/ISIS News | Al Jazeera]

Crypto firms added to terrorist funding regulations in Turkey

Under a Presidential decree, the Cryptocurrency trading platforms have been added to the list of firms covered by anti-money laundering and terror financing regulations. The trend of increasing tilt towards cryptocurrency has been seen in Turkey as a protection from the declining value of lira. The Central bank of Turkey banned the use of crypto assets for payments last month. Al Jazeera, May 1. [Turkey adds crypto firms to terror funding regulations | Business and Economy News | Al Jazeera]

IW Roundup — April 5, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

India supports the Afghan Peace Process; Polio workers killed in Afghanistan; TTP terrorists arrested in Pakistan; French airstrike hits wedding; The Islamic State claims responsibility in Palma attack; ASD(SO/LIC) and USSOCOM testify before SASC; and more…

Welcome to the latest installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest on Irregular Warfare and Special Operations. We hope you’ll find this collection to be interestingly broad in its scope, in addition to bringing you the stories most relevant to U.S. readers. To that end, we’ll be updating the format as we go in order to make this product as useful and informative as possible. Now on to the roundup:

Afghan Peace Process — India supports Afghan-Taliban talks

At the 9th Heart of Asia Conference held in Dushanbe, The Indian Minister of External Affairs asserted that India is supportive of the Afghan Peace Process, and intra-Afghan negotiations in particular. He exclaimed that the parties must engage in good faith. The minister also put forward his concerns regarding attacks on civilians in Afghanistan. The Pakistan Foreign Minister also present at the conference raised his concerns that gains made by IS and Al Qaeda could allow them to act as spoilers in the peace process. The Hindu, March 30. [India supports Afghan-Taliban talks: Jaishankar – The Hindu]

Meager representation of women in Afghan Peace process

As the Afghan Peace process proceeds, women see themselves increasingly marginalized in all sectors of society in the future. The U.S. peace plan has failed to significantly highlight the importance of gender equality and the representation of women in conflict resolution and in other fields. In the last six months representation of women in the peace process has been reduced from five women to just one. The space for women‘s participation in politics and other sectors is increasingly becoming narrow and may be completely erased if the Taliban get a significant share in a future Afghan government. Foreign Policy, March 30. [Women Cut Out of the Afghan Peace Process (]

Female polio workers killed in Afghanistan

After an attack in female journalists in the initial days of March, the month ends with an attack on three female polio workers in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. Officials have accused Taliban for the attacks however they have denied the claims. Taliban and other orthodox people are against the vaccinations, calling them part of a western conspiracy. However, the Islamic State (IS), who have also killed polio vaccine workers, is active in the province. Dawn, March 30. [Three women polio workers shot dead in Afghanistan – World – DAWN.COM]

Six TTP terrorists arrested in Pakistan

Six terrorists belonging to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have been arrested by Pakistan’s security agencies. The terrorists were plotting attacks in two main cities, Lahore and Rawalpindi mainly targeting army personnel. The terrorists revealed during investigation that they have been working for masterminds based in Afghanistan. The Hindu, April 1. [Pakistan arrests six terrorists for plotting attacks against army – The Hindu]

Attack in Palma, Mozambique — Responsibility claimed by ISIS

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility of an attack killing dozens of people including a few foreigners in Palma, located in the northern part of Mozambique. The town is in close proximity to the oil rich area where an energy project has been set up by International companies. The attack was carried out by IS’s local affiliate, Islamic State in Central Africa Province. Many analysts claim that the worsening security situation of Mozambique has deep links with the grievances of locals, who out of frustration are joining militant groups. New York Times, March 30. [ISIS Claims Responsibility for Mozambique Attack – The New York Times (]

The attack in Palma has brought this relatively new extremist group to the fore. The U.S. government, journalists, and most terrorist analysts are rushing to catch up on understanding this group, its relationship to IS, its operations, and its role in the region. Even the name of the group appears to be in flux, including al Shabab, Al-Sunna wa Jama’a, Islamic State in Central Africa Province, Ansar al-Sunna, and others. The most likely scenario appears at this point to be that a local insurgency has be seized upon by the Islamic State as an opportunity for growth and “diversification of its portfolio.” The deal would work well for both in that IS expands its reach and prestige at little cost, while Ansar al-Sunna likely receives training and some material support.

French airstrikes killed civilians instead of militants

France conducted airstrikes on January 3, claimed to be targeting militants near Bounti in the Mopti region of Mali. The French military asserted that the airstrikes targeted 30 men and all were militants. The Malian government seconded the statement. However local groups disagreed, claiming that the attack was conducted on civilians gathered for a wedding ceremony. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) also confirmed that the airstrikes attacked around 100 civilians out of which only 3 men were suspected to be members of a militant group. The Washington Post, March 30. [French airstrike in Mali killed 19 civilians, UN investigation finds – The Washington Post]

ASD(SO/LIC) and Commander, USSOCOM testify before Senate Armed Services Committee

Christopher P. Maier, the Acting Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Special Operations And Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD(SO/LIC)) and General Richard D. Clarke, the Commander of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) provided testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 25th, along with the Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, General Paul M. Nakasone. Too much was said to adequately summarize here, but you can read ASD(SO/LIC)’s Statement for the Record here and the USSOCOM Commander’s Statement for the Record here.

Maritime Civil Affairs: A Way Forward

This article is experted and modified from a longer, previously published at Small Wars Journal.

Maritime civil affairs capabilities can play an important supporting role in military operations. While each military service is required to maintain a civil affairs capability by DoD Directive 2000.13,[1] the US Navy in 2014 divested itself of its only civil affairs capability, the Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command (MCAST).[2] This article provides a rationale and recommendations for resuscitating the maritime civil affairs capability.

Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command “People Are Our Platform”

The US Navy’s plan for Maritime Civil Affairs

DoD Directive 2000.13 was promulgated in recognition that Maritime civil affairs, especially when partnered with its more traditional land-based counterparts, can enhance the effectiveness of military operations through engagement with civil components of the maritime environment and providing civil information management for use in planning military operations.

While it is disputable whether the structure of MCAST (a headquarters that would assemble civil affairs teams when requested) fully satisfied the formal requirement for civil affairs units, it did provide a niche capability that was clearly in demand by the Geographic Combatant Commands, particularly SOUTHCOM, AFRICOM, and PACOM. Its participation in efforts like Community Watch on the Water—a collaboration with the Kenyan government, local law enforcement, and local citizens to reduce crime and violent extremism[3]—proved its value as a member of the civil affairs community despite its small size and short lifespan.

However, the Navy’s position is that, instead of having a standing general-purpose civil affairs capability, Navy civil affairs will be available through the Request for Forces (RFF) process if the request identifies a specific maritime requirement. Assuming that an RFF adequately identifies the desired expertise, the Navy will provide an adaptive force package to meet the maritime civil affairs requirements detailed in the request.

But the Navy’s current means of fulfilling these requirements is not workable. The fact that the civil affairs role spans the breadth of the conflict spectrum, and that the required skill sets are difficult to build (or to find within the resident force), suggests that ad hoc measures to develop “tailored” civil affairs capabilities to a given operational requirement will result in capabilities being provided too little and/or too late.

Additionally, the Navy policy assumes that combatant commanders know that the ad hoc capability is available to them. However, it is unlikely that commanders are aware of this, given the sharp decline in requests for Navy civil affairs capabilities following the disestablishment of MCAST. Instead, anecdotal evidence suggests that commanders have shifted their requests for maritime civil affairs capabilities primarily to the US Army.[4] However, the Army lacks the depth of expertise in the maritime environment that is required for effective civil affairs operations in the maritime domain.

Policy Recommendations

The Navy could fulfill its obligation to provide maritime civil affairs in a variety of ways. One method would be to require that the training provided to maritime functional area specialists also include modules designed to ensure that they are able to integrate into maritime and multi-domain civil-military operations planning teams.

A second method would be for the Navy to provide “generalists” in civil affairs, with some training in all civil affairs functional areas, but focusing on maritime functional areas. This option would comport best with the Navy’s general approach to officer professional development practices, which favors generalization and broad professional communities that are then further narrowed as one drills down into the specifics.

In either case, without some standing method of generating civil affairs practitioners with adequate understanding of the maritime environment, there is little hope that the demand for maritime civil affairs will ever be satisfied. There are multiple ways of achieving such a capability at relatively low cost. For example, SeaBees seeking civil affairs capabilities are regularly admitted to the U.S. Marine Corps Civil-Military Operations School (CMOS). An agreement could easily be reached to set aside a certain number of seats at CMOS for Navy personnel. This, combined with a course (likely also hosted at CMOS) on the maritime functional areas, would generate maritime civil affairs practitioners at very low cost to the Navy. A similar partnership may be possible with the U.S. Coast Guard or the Army. [5]


Maritime civil affairs capabilities play an important supporting role in overseas operations. However, without an established method of generating and sourcing adequately trained practitioners, the demand for maritime civil affairs will never be adequately satisfied. However the result is achieved, the U.S. Navy should seriously consider developing a true civil affairs capability that is focused on the maritime domain, not only because it is required by DoD policy, but because of the evident demand for such a capability on the part of the combatant commands.

[1] “It is DoD policy that the DoD must maintain a capability to conduct a broad range of civil affairs operations necessary to support DoD missions and to meet DOD Component responsibilities to the civilian sector across the range of military operations.” (DoD Directive 2000.13, March 11, 2014)

[2] Navy Disestablishes MCAST, USN press release, (accessed September 26, 2016). Archive:

[3] MCAT 205 Keeping Partnerships with Kenyans Alive, USN press release, (accessed September 26, 2016). Archive:

[4] See, e.g., (accessed March 9, 2021)

[5] Vera Zakem and Emily Mushen, Charting the Course for Civil Affairs in the New Normal , July 2015, (accessed March 9, 2021); see also Rosemary Speers, Ph.D., Shaping the Future of Maritime Civil Affairs: Lessons Learned from the Maritime Civil Affairs Teams: 2006-2014, (accessed March 9, 2021).

New feature on The Irregular Warrior

Starting very shortly, we’ll be trying something new: a news digest of happenings around the world related to irregular warfare. This will probably be a weekly feature, but we’ll see what ends up working best. In any event, we have high hopes for this project, and we think you’ll find it a very useful snapshot of the week’s events.

Stay tuned for the first installment, coming soon!

Words Matter — Changing irregular warfare terminology can help the U.S. fight against its global competitors

Kevin Bilms argues in his recent article at War on the Rocks on irregular warfare terminology that redefining the core elements of irregular warfare (unconventional warfare, stabilization, foreign internal defense, counter-terrorism, and counterinsurgency) will help its practitioners and proponents to explain what it is they do, and why it is important.

By using clearer language, such as “support to resistance” in place of “unconventional warfare,” it will become much more obvious to decisionmakers and planners who are not well-versed in irregular warfare concepts how the activities and outcomes that irregular warfare approaches can provide great benefit throughout all stages of competition. According to Bilms, ”these revised names should make it easier for the Defense Department to envision irregular warfare’s contributions to competition short of armed conflict, for interagency and legislative counterparts to appreciate it as well, and for policymakers to understand this valuable tool set at America’s disposal in strategic competition.”

It’s no surprise that senior irregular warfare analysts like Bilms keep calling for changes in irregular warfare terminology. The field is, after all, a product of accretion, rather than of considered operational planning or theory. It was built bit by bit as new requirements were placed on military elements (particularly the U.S. Army Special Forces) because they had previously done something that required similar skills or knowledge. The theory was generated after the fact, usually as a way of defending the institutional equities of organizations facing budget cuts or dissolution once their immediate missions were over (looking at you again, Special Forces).

But irregular warfare does have an important place at the table in defense planning and operations. Particularly in the arena of global competition for influence that has come to the forefront of national security concerns. As Bilm’s reformulation makes clear, irregular warfare is at its core all about influencing populations and affecting legitimacy of a governing power — the very heart of the competition between the U.S. and Russia, Iran, and various terrorist organizations, if not also China and North Korea. Clarifying the role of irregular warfare in preparing for, shaping, and (most importantly) obviating large scale conflict is vital to ensuring that the U.S. military is competent to participate in the kind of competition below the level of armed conflict that is being waged against us as we speak.

Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service capture ISIS child recruiter

The Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service conducted a raid in late October in Fallujah, resulting in the capture of the suspected leader of an ISIS child recruitment ring, according to Stars and Stripes. And it did so without a single shot fired. This is evidence of its growing capability and independence from its U.S. trainers.

The Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) is trained and equipped primarily by U.S. Army Special Forces under the umbrella of Operation Inherent Resolve, a U.S.-led coalition. It is growing more capable and independent, but CTS still frequently checks its intelligence with the coalition and conducts missions alongside foreign troops, according to its commander, Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi. However, The U.S. Special Operations Advisory Group in Iraq noted that there was no coalition involvement in this operation. In fact, the raid on the ISIS child recruiter raid was one of the many that the Iraqis mounted on their own.

However, the DoD’s lead Inspector General has informed Congress that the Iraqi forces still need international help. Without foreign assistance, Iraqi’s will struggle to keep pressure on ISIS and prevent its resurgence. But CTS’s confidence in their capabilities, which according to LTG Saadi includes “the capability to execute any [ground] mission,” is well supported by recent official data. This data shows that the Counter-Terrorism Service detained 175 suspects and killed nearly 80 others in 151 independent operations. This is good news since the number of U.S. forces in Iraq has been steadily declining, and now sits at fewer that 3000, with another 900 or so in Syria.