US Defense Officials Discuss Special Operations Irregular Warfare Initiatives
US Defense Officials Discuss Special Operations Irregular Warfare Initiatives

US Defense Officials Discuss Special Operations Irregular Warfare Initiatives

This year, the U.S. Defense Department released a declassified summary of its Irregular Warfare Annex to the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The annex details how the department seeks to institutionalize and operationalize this form of warfare amid the ongoing recalibration of its focus on peer and near-peer adversaries. In the annex, irregular warfare is defined as “a struggle among state and non-state actors to influence populations and affect legitimacy.” The DOD is currently working on crafting a new irregular warfare annex to the next NDS.

Kristen R. Hajduk, national security innovation network director of operations; Daniel ”Deak” Roh, acting principal director for special operations and combating terrorism; and David Stephenson, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s office of irregular warfare, spoke about the topic on a National Defense Industrial Association panel discussion yesterday. Irregular warfare doesn’t necessarily mean that the struggle by a state or non-state actor has to involve violence, although it can, Stephenson said. It could also include influencing populations through propaganda or intimidation.

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US Defense Officials Discuss Special Operations Irregular Warfare Initiatives
Special operations forces from Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. conduct a simulated raid on a defended objective during exercise Eagle Resolve in Kuwait, April 2, 2017. (Photo by U.S. Army Master Sgt. Timothy Lawn)

In order to influence a population, they have to be able to trust you. They have to understand where your motivations are coming from, Haiduk added.
To succeed at irregular warfare, the department can’t rely solely on special operations forces, Stephenson said. Partnerships play a bigger role —meaning with the joint force, industry and interagency partners including the State Department, Treasury Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as allies and partners.

It is not necessary for every warfighter to understand the concepts of irregular warfare, Roh said, but noncommissioned officers and field-grade officers should have a basic knowledge of why it is important and what it means in shaping the battlespace and the feelings of the local populace. The young generation entering the military is digitally savvy and has an understanding about what role social media can play in influencing populations. The NDS and the annex are not political documents,

U.S. soldiers with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade conduct an emergency exercise with the Udairi Landing Zone emergency medical technician team at an airfield in Kuwait, Dec. 16, 2020.
U.S. soldiers with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade conduct an emergency exercise with the Udairi Landing Zone emergency medical technician team at an airfield in Kuwait, Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Stanford Toran)
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