Secrecy News

Pentagon Moves to Support War in the “Grey Zone”

The Department of Defense issued a directive this month based on new authority granted by Congress last year to engage in “low-visibility, irregular warfare” operations.

In the FY2018 defense authorization act (PL 115-91, sect. 1202) Congress specifically authorized the Secretary of Defense “to provide support to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals engaged in supporting or facilitating ongoing irregular warfare operations by U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF).”

The new authority was needed, Congress said, in order to fill a perceived gap in the US military’s ability to fight in conflicts that are below the threshold of war.

“Adversarial nations are becoming more aggressive in challenging U.S. interests and partnerships and destabilizing regional order through the use of asymmetric means that often fall below the threshold of traditional armed conflict, often referred to as the ‘grey zone’,” according to the Senate Armed Services Committee report (115-125) on the 2018 defense bill (section 1201).

“The committee notes that the ability of U.S. SOF [special operations forces] to conduct low-visibility, irregular warfare operations in politically sensitive environments make them uniquely suited to counter the malign activities of our adversaries in this domain.”

“However, the committee is concerned that the Secretary of Defense lacks sufficient authority to provide support for irregular warfare operations by U.S. SOF to counter this growing threat and therefore believes that granting this authority will provide the Secretary with the necessary options and flexibility to achieve U.S. military objectives,” the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote last year.

The amount of money that was authorized for this purpose — $10 million per year for three years — is minuscule by conventional U.S. military standards, but it could still be meaningful in the context of irregular warfare.

To begin implementing the new authority, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan this month issued Directive-type Memorandum 18-005 that defines the policies and procedures for employing the funding authorized by Congress. See Authority for Support of Special Operations for Irregular Warfare (IW), DTM-18-005, August 3, 2018.