Academic journal article Military Review

Irregular Warfare Information Operations: Understanding the Role of People, Capabilities, and Effects

Academic journal article Military Review

Irregular Warfare Information Operations: Understanding the Role of People, Capabilities, and Effects

Article excerpt


In this type of war ... the task is to destroy the effectiveness of the insurgents 'efforts and his ability to use the population for his own ends.

--Air Force General Curtis E. Lemay (1)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) do not qualify as conventional or unconventional warfare, but lie somewhere in between the two. Conventional U.S. military units in Iraq and Afghanistan find themselves engaged in operations best described as "special" rather than conventional or irregular. Labeled as irregular warfare, these conflicts actually have little resemblance to familiar doctrinal concepts. Once in theater, forces are required to engage using unfamiliar skills in political, economic, and social networking to complement military operations. We should not overlook the complexity of the enemy we face: a nexus of terrorism, insurgency, criminality, and negative transnational factors--a collective threat that does not always adhere to conventional ethics and rules. (2) Nor should we overlook the critical fact that all actors, state and non-state, are competing for the same objective: the people.

This set of circumstances requires information operations (IO) markedly different from those used in traditional conventional warfare. In irregular warfare, non-lethal capabilities have a more prominent and necessary role than in conventional warfare. Information operations directly influence the irregular warfare operational focus--the relevant populations. Current joint and Army IO doctrines do not adequately address the challenges long-term stability operations confront--irregular adversaries and asymmetric conflict. The doctrine still emphasizes the adversary decision-maker while minimizing the importance of the projection of public information to key non-adversarial audiences, especially foreign populations within the area of operations. These are critical tasks requiring greater expertise and an understanding of the irregular warfare information environment. To succeed in irregular warfare, IO officers need to understand how irregular warfare compares to conventional and counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare, the importance the population plays, how various adversaries project their information, and the importance for proficiency in cultural studies and studies of human behavior. Information operations planning must consider actions to support the tactical operation and the hierarchy of effects in the information environment that affect a unit's area of operations and influence.

We must reexamine IO officers' roles and education, proposed operations, and current IO doctrine, so that we do not continue to prepare Soldiers to fight today's war with yesterday's IO tactics, techniques, and procedures. An examination of irregular warfare IO must not just impart vignettes, lessons learned, and professional opinions: it must consider how IO challenges in current combat zones necessitate adjustments and adaptations. The current complex war environment indisputably requires this change.

Irregular Warfare and Relevant Populations

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has developed an irregular warfare joint operating concept to define and develop key elements and strategy for current and future conflicts that reside on the spectrum between conventional and unconventional warfare. The joint operating concept defines irregular warfare as "a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitmacy and influence over the relevant population." (3) Irregular warfare is a form of armed conflict, as well as a form of warfare encompassing insurgency, counterinsurgency, terrorism, and counter-terrorism. COIN, a spectrum of actions taken by a government to defeat insurgencies, is a component of irregular warfare, and therefore most COIN principles and models apply to irregular warfare, which is a different, but not a lesser form of conflict than conventional warfare. …

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