Irregular Warfare, Both Future and Present

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England approved a definition of
Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England approved a definition of "irregular warfare" that speaks of "asymmetric approaches" against an adversary. (By Sean Gardner -- Getty Images)
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By Walter Pincus
Monday, April 7, 2008

Prepare for "irregular warfare."

It is the newest Pentagon doctrine, one that has been under discussion for several years and has been the focus of little-publicized, multinational, computerized war games. Now it will be put to the test in Afghanistan and Iraq by United States Central Command.

Last week, Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert H. Holmes, Central Command's deputy director of operations, told reporters that an interagency task force on irregular warfare is about to be announced. He called it "our way at the combatant command to be able to focus all of the instruments of power in order to prosecute the irregular warfight in our region."

But what does "irregular warfare" mean?

Essentially, it is an approach to future conflict that the United States has been carrying out ad hoc in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two years ago, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England signed off on a Pentagon "working definition" that described it as "a form of warfare that has as its objective the credibility and/or legitimacy of the relevant political authority with the goal of undermining or supporting that authority."

In layman's terms, that means the United States is fighting to support or replace an existing foreign government by using, as the definition goes on to say, "the full range of military and other capabilities to seek asymmetric approaches in order to erode an adversary's power, influence, and will."

In short, this is the Defense Department's plan to be central to a coordinated approach to warfare in the post-Iraq world. Boots on the ground or bombs from the air would be only Step One. As Holmes put it, in the future there will be "operations that span the DIMES model: diplomacy, information, military, economic and societal-cultural development activities."

More specifically, he said, they range from "combat operations to . . . information operations and computer net-ops [operations] and then begin to expand into threat finance, economic development, criminalization and international law enforcement."

Unlike traditional warfare -- a confrontation between nation states -- we face an era of "chaos," Holmes said, in which "we would be engaged in irregular warfare, because we would be fighting adversaries, threat adversaries, that would present themselves as very globally organized networks. And that's exactly what we're in right now."

U.S. Joint Forces Command has been running a series of computer wargame exercises to explore the concepts of irregular warfare. One, "Unified Action -- 2007," was based on scenarios in sub-Saharan Africa and was designed "to identify significant gaps in U.S. capacity in the areas of security, governance and participation, economic stabilization and infrastructure, humanitarian assistance and social well-being, and justice and reconciliation," according to a command document.

Another, "Unified Quest 07," had some situations similar to what the United States has faced in Afghanistan. For example, it dealt with "the institutional challenges that limit U.S. capacity and capability for waging offensive IW [irregular warfare]" against "non-state enemy organizations operating within a non-belligerent state" -- which could be Pakistan -- and a "friendly state threatened by an irregular adversary (insurgency)," which could be Afghanistan.

Participating in the Unified Quest 07 war game with American commands were representatives of the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, Germany, Finland, Japan, Korea, Poland and Sweden, most of whom are also involved in Afghanistan.

In implementing the doctrine, the Joint Forces Command has dubbed the approach the "3 D's" -- Defense, Diplomacy and Development. A new document on improved war-fighting states that stabilizing a country "requires an integrated effort of all the actors."

The participants include the Defense Department and multinational partners; the State Department, backed up by U.S. government agencies; and partner nations and international government organizations such as the United Nations and European Union. Finally, there is development, led by USAID and sister organizations in other countries, supported by nongovernmental organizations and the private sector.

Talking to Pentagon reporters, Holmes described himself as "very excited" about the introduction of irregular warfare. Within the military, he is not alone. According to the Web site of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, "The irregular warfare specialty track has rapidly become the most popular choice among cadets who choose to pursue a Bachelors of Science in Military Art and Science."

Other academic departments at West Point have authorized students to take irregular-warfare courses as approved electives, making them "extremely popular choices among cadets," according to the Web site.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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