Secrecy News

Army Rethinks Unconventional Warfare

The conduct of unconventional warfare is explored in depth in a major new U.S. Army Field Manual on the subject (pdf).

Unconventional warfare (UW) is defined as “Operations conducted by, with, or through irregular forces in support of a resistance movement, an insurgency, or conventional military operations… This definition reflects two essential criteria: UW must be conducted by, with, or through surrogates; and such surrogates must be irregular forces.”

Thus, U.S. support of the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s constituted unconventional warfare, as did U.S. support of anti-Soviet mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“The United States has considerable experience in conducting UW,” the new manual observes. “The best known U.S. UW campaigns include OSS activities in Europe and the Pacific (1942-45), Philippines (1941-44), Guatemala (1950), Cuba (1960-61), North Vietnam (1964-72), South Vietnam (1967-72), Iraq (1991-96), Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-02), and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2002-03).”

The 248-page manual presents updated policy and doctrine governing unconventional warfare, and examines its “three main component disciplines”: special forces operations, psychological operations, and civil affairs operations.  Appendices include an historical survey of unconventional warfare as well as an extensive bibliography.

The unclassified manual has not been approved for public release.  But a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare,” U.S. Army Field Manual FM 3-05.130, September 30, 2008.