FORT BRAGG, N.C. – In an ever-changing global environment, it is critical to conduct professional gatherings to discuss the issues and challenges that America faces. Last week, one such gathering occurred during a three-day event featuring top educators and military leaders in the Department of Defense and throughout the special operations community.
The Irregular Warfare Forum is co-hosted by the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, commonly referred to as SWCS, and the National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs. SWCS is the Army’s premier education institution for all Army special operations soldiers, including Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the College of International Security Affairs is the Department of Defense flagship institution that educates student professionals on a variety of defense topics, with a special emphasis on irregular warfare.
Irregular Warfare is not a new concept, and its roots trace back to the Revolutionary War and beyond. It is also not unique to special operations or the U.S. military. It is a combined effort focused on partnerships, including the Department of Defense, interagency services, and our global allies and partners.
“Successful irregular warfare campaigning in competition cannot happen without a trusted and capable [special operations force] contingent working with our conventional counterparts and interagency partners,” said Brig. Gen. Will Beaurpere, SWCS Commander. “How can we organize to be more coherent in the ways we work with our partners and allies to advance the understanding of irregular warfare?”
To try and answer that question and more, last year the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, headquartered here at Fort Bragg, established the core of a new Irregular Warfare proponent at SWCS. Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations all have their own proponents. The Irregular Warfare proponent, led by Lt. Col. Knox, is responsible for the development and oversight of all doctrine, training, leader development, and education associated with irregular warfare across the entire U.S. Army.
“The proponent is in the very early stages of developing an irregular warfare manual for the U.S. Army,” said Knox. “We are also focused on assessing any material already in our military institutions and education systems, and if any changes might be needed.”
One concept SWCS is exploring is the establishment of an Irregular Warfare organization, similar to an academy, designed to give wider education and training opportunities to a broader military audience. Leaders see education as the key to the proposed academy, and the College of International Security Affairs is an instrumental part of that plan. The college prepares military personnel, interagency personnel, and foreign partners to address the challenges of the international security environment. Ambassador (Ret.) Greta C. Holtz, who served 36 years as a U.S. diplomat, including as the U.S. Ambassador to Oman, currently serves as the Chancellor of CISA.
“CISA provides the opportunity for students to attend the Joint Special Operations Master of Arts Program here at Fort Bragg,” said Holtz. “The program’s location at Fort Bragg ensures collaboration with the [operational] force, including Special Forces, the Joint Special Operations Command, [and others].”
During her career, Holtz also served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communications for the Middle East and North Africa. She has extensive knowledge of irregular warfare and the evolution it has taken in recent decades across the globe. Recently, irregular warfare has been associated with terrorism, particularly in recent years during the Global Wars on Terrorism. However, irregular warfare is much more commonplace.
“Irregular warfare is used as an indirect form of attack, targeting the credibility, legitimacy, and influence of an opponent rather than confront them head-on,” said Holtz.
Central to irregular warfare is the art of influence and mastering the information environment remains crucial to global competition or potential conflict. Today, there is no better example of the vital role that information plays on the battlefield than the War in Ukraine.
“Recently, it’s become abundantly clear that military inferior states face a similar dilemma to insurgents and are therefore using a similar offset strategy, yet on a global scale,” said Holtz.
“The dilemma facing the U.S. is therefore how to retain our irregular warfare capabilities against non-state actors while also defending against state-based subversion. In many cases, the two are actually closely intertwined.”
The next Irregular Warfare Forum will take place in 2024. As war and unrest continue around the world, the need for study and collaboration between U.S. military, educators, partners, and allies is more important than ever.
“The War in Ukraine has shown us how impactful information can be on domestic and foreign audiences,” said Beaurpere. “The war of physical attrition is what we see every day on the news…but the war for influence on the human minds and behaviors of populations and individuals is also emerging- with irreversible momentum.”
Maj. Rick Dickson is the Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Army John. F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.