IW Roundup — April 26, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Afghan interpreters plead for visa to escape; Russia behind Czech munitions depot blasts; Navalny’s Russian opposition might be branded as extremist groups; President of Chad dies on frontline; Blast in luxury hotel in Quetta; 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 and sourcing, 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:

Interpreters plead for visa to escape before foreign troops leave Afghanistan

The Afghan interpreters who assisted Australian forces have pleaded for urgent humanitarian visas to the federal government to leave the country as fear of death lurks over. As the violence rise in the country, the interpreters fear that they would be killed by Taliban or other extremists once foreign troops leave the country.  An April letter stated that nearly 300 interprets and their families have been killed since 2016. The Guardian, April 23. [Interpreters who helped Australian forces in Afghanistan plead for visas to escape ‘extreme threats’ | Afghanistan | The Guardian]

Czech Republic finds Russia behind 2014 Czech munition depot blasts

Czech Prime Minister on April 17th announced that operatives from Russia have been found to be behind 2014 munition depot blasts amid souring relations. The Czech government expelled 18 Russians diplomats and called for the arrest of 2 others directly involved (who also are accused in the Skripal assassination attempt). The Russian government dismissed the accusations calling them absurd and responded by expelling almost the entire Czech embassy staff. The Czech opposition lawmakers have labeled Russian acts as State Terrorism. The Indian Express, April 20. [Is Russia behind the 2014 Czech munition depot blasts? | World News,The Indian Express]

Navalny’s Russian opposition might be branded as extremist groups

The jailed Russian opposition leader and Putin-arch-rival Alexei Navalny’s political and anti-corruption networks might be banned as “extremist groups” in a closed court hearing. The evidence used in the case has not been revealed as it is said to involve state secrets. If the court rules against the opposition group, the networks will be placed in the list of terrorist organizations such as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.  The Navalny’s workers will face six years in jail if they continued their work. The Washington Post, April 24. [Russia may ban political networks of jailed Kremlin critic Navalny. Even T-shirts could be outlawed. – The Washington Post]

Chad President dies on frontline as soldiers battle rebels

President of Chad, Idriss Deby, who had just won another term in the office on election held on Tuesday lost his life on the frontline while commanding his army against the rebel groups. On April 11, the election day, the rebels had launched offensive in the northern part of the country. The re-elected President postponed his victory speech and went out to assist the military fighting rebels. Mahamat Idriss Deby, late president’s son, has become the new head of state. Al Jazeera, April 20. [Chad President Idriss Deby dies visiting front-line troops: Army | Idriss Deby News | Al Jazeera]

Blast in luxury hotel in Quetta, Pakistan

On Wednesday, the explosives were set in a vehicle in the car parking area of the five-star Serena hotel located in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed the responsibility of the attack stating that the security officials were the target of the attack. The Interior Minister of the state hinted towards an involvement of a foreign element. A Chinese delegation was a staying in the hotel however, fortunately were not present at the time of the attack. The Hindu, April 22 [Pakistan Taliban claims deadly blast at luxury hotel – The Hindu]

Legal challenge dropped by Christchurch Shooter

Brenton Tarrant, an Australian national and the extremist gunman behind the Christchurch mosque attack in 2019, killings more than 50 people, has dropped his challenge over his prison conditions and his status as terrorist entity. Tarrant is the only person labeled as a terrorist in New Zealand. The white supremacist had filed the challenge last week but failed to appear in court for hearing. The Guardian, April 23. [Christchurch terrorist drops legal challenge over New Zealand prison conditions | New Zealand | The Guardian]

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 (foreignpolicy.com)]

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 (nytimes.com)]

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.

IW Roundup — March 30, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Saudi Arabia offers ceasefire to Houthis; U.S. intelligence predicts Taliban victory; Insurgency in Mozambique; Progress in Libya; 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:

Saudi Arabia offers a ceasefire to the Houthi Rebels

The Saudi Foreign Minister offered a ceasefire for the six-year war that has sunk the country into one  of the worst humanitarian crises in recent years. The ceasefire plan includes a partial lift of the blockade of the Sana international airport and some seaports. However, the offer does not appear to be appealing for the Houthis. The Houthis insist on complete lift of the blockade from the Hodeidah port and, more generally, a separation of humanitarian issues from political negotiations. The Guardian, March 22. [Saudi Arabia proposes ceasefire plan to Yemen’s Houthi rebels | Yemen | The Guardian]

Terrorism Warrants issued for exiled Algerian activists 

An Algerian court issued arrest warrants for three exiled activists under terrorism charges. The activists included a former diplomat, a blogger and a journalist. The three have been accused of turning a peaceful protest into a violent one.  The former diplomat, Mohamed Larbi Zeitout is the founder of the political movement “Rachad.” Its membership includes some former Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) members. Rachad is accused of sending these FIS members into the protest to stir up violence. The warrants come at the time when anti-government rallies are increasing as Algeria awaits parliamentary elections in June. Al Jazeera, March 22. [Algeria issues ‘terrorism’ warrants for exiled activists | Politics News | Al Jazeera]

US intelligence predicts Taliban take-over after withdrawal of foreign troops

As the Afghan peace process proceeds and enters its final rounds, an intelligence assessment has to surfaced in Washington. U.S. intelligence predicts the Taliban’s coming back to power if U.S. troops are evacuated without a proper power sharing mechanism. Some the U.S. officials against the withdrawal deal have relied on the assessment to argue that withdrawal might give ground to terrorist entities such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State to regain their strength, as well as allowing the Taliban to roll back gains in women’s rights. The New York Times, March 26. [Officials Try to Sway Biden Using Intelligence on Potential for Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

Mozambique responds militarily after Islamic State attack

There is ongoing fighting between Islamic State fighters, government security forces, and private militia in the town of Palma in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. The situation is dire, with bodies littering in the streets. The attack is part of an ongoing insurgency that has become a major threat for the region. Security forces are trying to restore law and order. All three parties have been accused of “war crimes” for civilian deaths and destruction of civilian property. Al Jazeera, March 25. [Mozambique military launches offensive after ISIL attack | Business and Economy News | Al Jazeera]

The insurgency in Cabo Delgado began after the discovery of large deposits of rubies andnatural gas. Expectations had been raised that the resources would lift the local community out of poverty, but few of the jobs ended up going to Cabo Delgado workers, while Mozambican elites and foreign investors reaped the vast majority of the benefits. Weak institutions, transnational crime, and heavy-handedness by the government have exacerbated the situation. It is little wonder, then, that the Islamic State would seize upon this classic case of the “resource curse” as an opportunity to spread its influence to yet another fragile region.

Libyan commander wanted for war crimes by ICC shot dead

Mahmoud al-Werfalli, Commander of Libyan National Army (LNA) and “a relentless and merciless killer,” was shot dead in Benghazi by unidentified attackers. The killing of al-Werfalli marks a turning point for a weakening LNA as it will have to face a number of social, political and military challenges. But it could also lead to a series of retaliatory attacks. Al Jazeera, March 24. [Libyan commander wanted for war crimes by ICC shot dead | Middle East News | Al Jazeera]

While the killing of al-Werfalli may remove a key figure in LNA’s power structure, the newly minted Government of National Unity (GNU) will be have to confront any violent reactions to his death at a time when it is already strained by a precarious security environment. And this additional strain is placed on the GNU at a time when it is already saddled with difficult tasks—effectively merging state institutions that were divided by years of competing governments and managing upcoming elections. Both of these tasks, if not conducted flawlessly, could rekindle the conflict.

Libyan government demands for complete withdrawal of mercenaries

In an effort to regain sovereignty and peace within the region, the new Libyan government demanded pull-out of the foreign forces. French, German, and Italian counterparts joined the GNU in the call for the withdrawal of all mercenaries, stating that there is no other solution to this crisis. To overcome the problem of crippling inflation and endemic corruption, the diplomats agreed that the departure of foreign forces is important to ending the crisis, as is the opening of the coastal road. Al Jazeera, March 25. [Libya demands mercenary pullout; Syrian militia on its way | Conflict News | Al Jazeera]

The reopening of various embassies, including France, Italy, Russia, Germany, and Egypt provide a good indicator that the security situation in Libya is improving. Additionally, the presence of these embassies will make foreign assistance and advice much more readily available to the newly-seated NGU. This will make the tough road ahead a little more manageable.

IW Roundup — March 22, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan; Al Shabab and U.S. Special Forces in Mozambique; Attacks in Mali, Niger; and more…

Welcome to the fourth 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:


Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan unlikely to meet agreed deadline

President Joe Biden said that it will be “tough” to meet the May 1st deadline for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, as negotiated by the Trump administration.  He explained that the negotiations by his predecessor were not effective and that now he is in position to make decisions regarding when the troops should leave the Afghan soil. This indicated that the new President might prolong the presence of troops in Afghanistan, although Biden says it would not be “a lot longer.” The New York Times, March 17. [Biden Says Withdrawing U.S. Forces From Afghanistan by May Deadline Is ‘Tough’ – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

Non-Compliance with troop withdrawal deadline will lead to “a reaction”—Taliban

As a response to the statement of President Biden relating to a possible delay in withdrawal of U.S. forces beyond the May 1st deadline, Taliban have issued a warning. At a press conference in Moscow, the Taliban negotiating team asserted that Washington must hold their part of the deal and leave on the agreed deadline. It was also conveyed that non-compliance with the deal will have repercussions. However, the nature of “the reaction” was not discussed. The negotiating team also emphasized on their demand of installation of Islamic government in the country. Dawn, March 20. [Taliban warn US against delaying troop pullout beyond deadline – Newspaper – DAWN.COM]

The Taliban’s threatened retaliation if the U.S. stays past the May 1st deadline should come as no surprise. The withdrawal of U.S. forces on this timeline would create an opening for the Taliban to freely attack the government just as the “fighting season” opens. Without direct and substantial support, the Afghan government forces may well collapse under the sudden strain. By way of comparison, last year there were four times the current number of US forces in Afghanistan.

Young children beheaded by terrorist group in Mozambique

Brutal activities and atrocities gain momentum in Mozambique as the world is distracted by COVID-19. The local insurgent group, Al Shabab, beheaded numerous children in the province of Cabo Delgado, some as young as 11 years old. Although the group has same name as the group operating in Somalia, no direct links have been found between them. However, the groups use techniques similar to those used by in the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Mozambican Al Shabab has reportedly received foreign fighters from the Islamic State (IS), and has recently been designated as Foreign Terrorist Organization by Biden Administration.  The Washington Post, March 16. [Cabo Delgado: Children as young as 11 beheaded by Mozambique militants, U.K. aid group says – The Washington Post]

US soldiers help Mozambican troops fight Islamic State

United States Special Forces have started training Mozambique’s troops in order to curtail insurgent elements. Over the course of two months, a dozen Green Berets have to train Mozambican marines in counterinsurgency tactics. Some of the insurgents are reported to be from Tanzania but most are Mozambican nationals who have joined due to extreme poverty and systemic corruption. The New York Times, March 15 [American Soldiers Help Mozambique Battle an Expanding ISIS Affiliate – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

Atlanta shootings mark rapid increase in Anti-Asian hate crimes

Anti-Asian hate crimes have risen exponentially in West, especially during the tenure of the Trump administration as violent voices perceived support from the White House. Adding to the list of violence against Asians, a shooting spree in  Atlanta took life of 8 people among which 6 were Asian women. According to some, the virus has come as an opportunity to turn micro-aggressions that existed previously into full-fledged violence.  The Washington Post, March 18. [A new focus on Asian communities in the West as Atlanta shootings continue year of heightened anti-Asian violence – The Washington Post]

Time has yet to tell wither the Biden Administration’s more empathetic tone and regular appeals to rationality will have a noticeable effect in reversing the racism that emerged under former President Trump.

Attack on military post in Mali killed 33 soldiers

A military post was attacked in Mali, at Tessit, near the border with Burkina Faso and Niger. The attack took lives of 33 soldiers, with 14 wounded. No one claimed responsibility for the attack. Nevertheless, evidence exists that IS and Al Qaeda fighters have been active in the area recently. The conflict started as a separatist movement in the northern part of the country. However, many armed groups seized upon the opportunity and joined in. The conflict has had a domino effect as it has spread to Burkina Faso and Niger, contributing to greater regional instability. Al Jazeera, March 17. [Attackers on trucks and motorbikes raid Mali base, kill 33 troops | Armed Groups News | Al Jazeera]

Attack on civilians in Niger — 58 killed

A group of civilians have been attacked in the villages situated in Tillaberi region of Niger. Gunmen on motorcycles launched the attack as people were returning from market day and claimed lives of 58 civilians. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but the region is known to have an Islamic State presence. As the situation of the country deteriorates, it adds to the challenges faced by newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum.  The Guardian, March 16. [Motorcycle gunmen kill at least 58 civilians on market day in Niger | Niger | The Guardian]

IW Roundup — March 18, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

March 8 – March 17

Welcome to the third 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:


Secretary of Defense faces a choice on SO/LIC reforms: Defy Congress or stand up to the Generals

Former Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD(SO/LIC)) Mark Mitchell has called out Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on his first bureaucratic dilemma. According to recent reporting, Secretary Austin is considering at least partially reversing reforms made by his predecessor, Acting Secretary Christopher Miller. Miller had instituted changes required by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which sought to rebalance the relationship between the ASD (SO/LIC) and Commander of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) by placing more power and responsibility in the ASD(SO/LIC). However, as with any change in power balances, the change has upset those who stand to lose in the deal. Mitchell says Austin has a “clear choice: eliminate the legally mandated Miller reforms and eviscerate civilian control of USSOCOM or stand up to his erstwhile colleagues in the general officer ranks.” [Will Lloyd Austin stand up to the generals? | Opinion | The Hill]

And it’s not just USSOCOM that is set against the changes. The powerful Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (USD(P)) also stands to lose. Until the recent reforms, ASD(SO/LIC) was subordinate to USD(P), and reported to the Secretary through USD(P). Upending the recent reforms could return the ASD(SO/LIC) to this subordinate position, weakening advocacy for SOF-related issues. [SECDEF Needs to Obey Congress and Not Undermine Special Operations | Opinion | SOFREP]

US has more troops in Afghanistan than it officially declared

As the Afghan Peace Process enters crunch time, new facts are uncovered about the number of US troops on ground. A special report of The New York Times stated that the disclosed number of troops on ground is less than those actually present. The officially declared number of troops is 2,500. However, the report establishes that there are 3,500 US troops on ground in Afghanistan. The difference reportedly is caused by some special operations forces having been put “off the books.” But the deadline of the withdrawal of troops is getting down the wire, according to the deal signed between Taliban and Trump administration. Under that deal, Washington has to withdraw its troops for the Afghan soil by May 1, New York Time, March 14. [U.S. Has 1,000 More Troops in Afghanistan Than It Disclosed – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

UNSC asks for withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya

The United Nations Security Council has urged states involved in Libyan conflict to withdraw their forces. All 15 parties to the conflict have agreed to implement the ceasefire agreement. This is an important and positive development in case of Libya but the post withdrawal scenario might be the one Libya is not ready for. The vacuum generated due to the withdrawal can aid terrorist entities grow stronger in the state. Al Jazeera, March 13. [UN urges withdrawal of foreign forces, mercenaries from Libya | Khalifa Haftar News | Al Jazeera]

Lacking concrete implementation powers, the United Nations so far seems to plans to lead this effort through the use of monitor teams and advocacy for observance of ceasefire agreements.

International and regional actors strive to bring political resolution to Syrian conflict

New developments are underway in the decade-long Syrian conflict, a hotbed of extremism, terrorism, and war crimes. The major stakeholders of the conflict Turkey, Russia, and Qatar, have come together to discuss how to bring an end to the conflict. Through their “trilateral consultation process” the states will strive to bring peace in Syria through political resolution. The foreign ministers of the three states agreed that the solution to the long-fought conflict is not military but political. They also reaffirmed their support of Syria’s “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.” Al Jazeera, March 12. [Turkey, Russia, Qatar push for political resolution in Syria | Syria’s War News | Al Jazeera

Despite having these three important international players at the table together, it is important for the sustainability and longevity of peace to include all domestic stakeholders in the process. Otherwise peaceful Syria would remain a dream. 

Bashar Al Assad‘s wife faces possible terror charges in UK

In other Syria-related news, Asma al Assad, wife of the Syrian President Bashar al Assad, faces investigation in UK. The investigation by British police was started in response to a referral by Guernica 37, a conflict-based law firm. The investigation centers on her alleged support for the Syrian army’s war crimes and crimes against humanity including use of chemical weapons. The allegations are supported by Ms. Assad’s own speeches. Ms. Assad is a dual British-Syrian national and as a result of these allegations, her British nationality could be canceled. The Guardian, March 14. [Asma al-Assad risks loss of British citizenship as she faces possible terror charges | Asma al-Assad | The Guardian]

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]

Conclusion

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, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=81067 (accessed September 26, 2016). Archive: http://irregularwarrior.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Navy-Disestablishes-MCAST.pdf.

[3] MCAT 205 Keeping Partnerships with Kenyans Alive, USN press release, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=54803 (accessed September 26, 2016). Archive: http://irregularwarrior.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/MCAT-205-Keeping-Partnerships-with-Kenyans-Alive.pdf.

[4] See, e.g., https://www.civilaffairsassoc.org/post/2019/11/15/framework-for-maritime-civil-affairs-activities (accessed March 9, 2021)

[5] Vera Zakem and Emily Mushen, Charting the Course for Civil Affairs in the New Normal , July 2015, https://www.cna.org/CNA_files/PDF/COP-2015-U-010995.pdf (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, http://www.faoa.org/Resources/Documents/2-Speers%20Maritime%20Civil%20Affairs%2014%20Nov%2014.pdf (accessed March 9, 2021).

IW Roundup — March 8, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

March 1 – March 7

Welcome to the second installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest. No summary can capture all the news related to irregular warfare around the world, but 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:


Counterterrorism drone strikes temporarily limited by Biden Administration

Just one week after authorizing his first military action, President Biden has temporarily limited counterterrorism drone strikes away from war zones. The military and intelligence agencies must now seek permission before conducting any drone strikes away from conventional battle fields like Afghanistan and Syria. The Biden administration hopes this will allow them time to formulate a new counterterrorism strategy and to understand pervious government’s strategy and analyze how it operated in theory and in practice. The Biden admiration has not yet formally announced the new limits for drone strikes. New York Times, March 3[Biden Secretly Limits Counterterrorism Drone Strikes Away From War Zones – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

German AfD party under watch for extremism

German domestic intelligence agency, BfV, has placed far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party under observation for extremism, to monitor its activities in this election year. The party has been accused of extremist links as some of the members were linked to Neo Nazi groups previously. The party members have accused the government of deliberately using the intelligence agency to damage party’s election chances, which have been improving dramatically in recent years. Washington Post, March 3. [German intelligence places far-right AfD on extremist watchlist – The Washington Post]

Three women journalists killed by Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan

Three more women journalists were killed on Tuesday in the Afghan province of Nangarhar—further evidence that Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world for media workers. Police arrested a man named Qari Baser for the three killing. Police initially claimed that he was Taliban, which was denied by the Taliban. However, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks later on Tuesday. The journalists worked for local TV and radio stations. The Islamic State claimed that the reason behind the killing of the journalists was their work for stations that support the “apostate Afghan government.” Dawn, March 4. [IS claims killing of three women media workers in Afghanistan – Newspaper – DAWN.COM]

Attack Saudi oil facility — claimed by Houthis

Spokesperson of Houti rebels, Brig. Gen Yahya Sarea tweeted on Thursday that Saudi Aramco oil facility has been attacked by a Quds 2 cruise missile. The attack was said to be conducted in response to Saudi-led atrocities and its blockade in Yemen. Along with this, two more sites were attacked on the same day, including an attack on King Khalid Air Base and an attack on Jazan. There have been no reported casualties for any of the three attacks. Washington Post, March 4. [Yemen’s Houthis claim attack on Aramco – The Washington Post]

A car bomb blast in Somalia killed 20 people

A suicide car bomb blast occurred in the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, on Friday. The blast killed at least 20 people and injured at least 30. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but the police believe that it was conducted by Al Shabab. Al Shebab, a terrorist organization affiliated with Al Qaeda and operating in Somalia, Yemen and Kenya, frequently carries out similar attacks as part of its campaign to establish its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Al Jazeera, March 5. [At least 20 killed by suicide car bomb blast in Somalia | Al-Shabab News | Al Jazeera]

IW Roundup — March 1, 2021

This Week in Irregular Warfare

22 – 28 February

Welcome to the first installment of The Irregular Warrior’s news digest. No summary can capture all the news related to irregular warfare around the world, but 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:


US strikes Iranian backed Militant site in Syria in response to rocket attack

Air strikes were carried out following the authorization of newly-elected US President, Joe Biden, in the eastern part of Syria where Iranian-backed militants were alleged to be present. The strikes were conducted in response to the rocket attack against American troops in Iraq by same militants. The rocket attack on February 15th killed a Filipino contractor and wounded 4 American contractors. The retaliation was conducted to clearly convey that President Biden will ensure safety of American citizens and personnel by any necessary action. New York Times, February 26. [Biden Orders Airstrikes in Syria Targeting Iran-Backed Militias – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

PKK killed 13 Turkish hostages – Turkey accused United States of supporting Kurdish militants

13 Turkish hostages were killed in Northern Iraq by Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). The US State department condemned the attack but did not confirm the PKK’s involvement in the attack. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President, called the statement “ridiculous” and alleged United States of backing the PKK by supporting Syrian Kurds who are also affiliated with PKK. Washington Post, February 15. [Turkey accuses U.S. of supporting Kurdish militants after 13 Turkish hostages are killed – The Washington Post]

Attack on UN convoy – Italian Ambassador to DRC killed

Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio, along with another embassy official and a driver, were killed in the attack in the DRC. The attack was launched on a World Food Program convoy near the city of Goma, in the Northern Kivu Province. The province is in close proximity with the border shared with Rwanda, a breeding ground for violent activities. Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda have been accused for the attack. New York Times, February 22. [Italian Ambassador Among Three Killed in Attack on U.N. Convoy in Congo – The New York Times (nytimes.com)]

Mass Shooting in Pensacola declared as an act of International Terrorism

In the lawsuit filed in Pensacola Federal Court by the families of victims, it was stated that the shooter had accomplices and facilitation from Saudi Arabia. The shooter, Royal Saudi Air Force 2nd Lt. Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani, was accused to be working with Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He and his facilitators had been planning the attack of five years. Washington Post, February 22. [Pensacola Navy base mass shooter had accomplices, help from Saudi Arabia, victims claim in terror lawsuit – The Washington Post]

Facilitator of Ehsanullah Ehsan’s escape convicted

Major General Babar Ifthikar, Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), claims that actions have been taken against those involved in Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan’s escape in January 2020 from a “safe house” where he was being held. Ehsan had been taken in custody in 2017 after he claimed the attack on Army Public School Peshawar in which hundreds of children were killed. The details of the soldiers alleged to be involved in the escape have not been shared with public. Dawn, February 24. [Action taken against army officers over Ehsanullah Ehsan’s escape: DG ISPR – Pakistan – DAWN.COM]

Venezuelan court orders trail of US citizen charged with terrorism

Mathew Heath, a US citizen has been detained in Venezuela on terrorism charges. He was alleged to be spying on OPEC nation’s oil refineries and carrying specialized weapons. Washington denies its involvement or support in the matter; however, the US State department’s spokesperson called for a fair trial for the detained US citizen. On Wednesday, the court ordered that a trial proceed for Mr. Heath, although no further dates have been set. Al Jazeera, February 25. [Trial of US citizen charged with terrorism in Venezuela to begin | Courts News | Al Jazeera]

FATF keeps Pakistan on Grey List

The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in its meeting on Thursday stated that Pakistan will continue to remain on its increased monitoring list as it has some serious deficiencies in keeping a check on terror financing. FATF also elaborated that Pakistan has made progress and addressed 24 out of 27 action items. However, country is yet to take serious actions against UN designated terrorist organizations. The Indian Express, February 25. [Serious deficiency on part of Pak in checking terror financing, will continue to remain on increased monitoring list: FATF | World News,The Indian Express]

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.