Asymmetric Warfare

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The 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war in Afghanistan are among the best-known recent examples of asymmetric warfare: conflicts between nations or groups that have disparate military capabilities and strategies. RAND investigates political and military responses to — and the impacts of — counterinsurgency, terrorism, and other forms of irregular warfare.

  • Members of Kurdish Peshmerga force stand guard at Sulaiman Pek front line, August 31, 2014. Iraqi security forces backed by Shi'ite militias on Sunday broke the two-month siege of Amerli by Islamic State militants, photo by Stringer/Reuters

    Commentary

    A Broad Approach to Countering the Islamic State

    Sep 2, 2014

    Recent analysis about how to defeat the Islamic State tends to be based on no more than intuition, a general sense of history, or a small number of cases of questionable comparability. A study of 71 historical cases of counterinsurgencies should help provide empirical evidence to this important debate.

  • CH-47 Chinook helicopters land outside of the village of Abd al Hasan, Iraq, to pick up U.S. and Iraqi Army Soldiers, photo by Staff Sgt. Dallas Edwards/U.S. Air Force

    Report

    Lessons from Past 13 Years of War Can Improve Future Strategy

    Oct 14, 2014

    Lessons from the past 13 years of war provide insight into the future operating environment and identify critical requirements for land and special operations forces to collaborate successfully with various partners in future conflicts.

Explore Asymmetric Warfare

  • Iraqi special forces soldiers drive in a desert near Mosul, Iraq, October 25, 2016

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Lose Mosul and Still Win?

    The loss of Mosul would be a serious blow for the Islamic State but past insurgencies suggest it is far too early to count the Islamic State out.

    Oct 31, 2016

  • A member of the Peshmerga forces inspects a tunnel used by Islamic State militants in the town of Sinjar, Iraq

    Commentary

    Islamic State May Be Down, but It's Far from Out

    The Islamic State's loss of territory, money, and recruits would seem to demonstrate significant progress by the U.S.-led coalition. But if there is one accepted truism in the battle against the group, it is that its leaders intend to fight to the death to establish an Islamic caliphate.

    May 23, 2016

  • Report

    Leveraging the Past to Prepare for the Future of Air Force Intelligence Analysis

    This report describes steps the U.S. Air Force can take to help ensure that it has the capability needed to provide intelligence analysis support to a broad range of service and combatant commander needs.

    Apr 27, 2016

  • Syrian army soldiers inspect the site of a two bomb blasts in the government-controlled city of Homs, Syria, on February 21, 2016

    Commentary

    A New Kind of Battlefield Awaits the U.S. Military — Megacities

    Megacities are urban areas that seep into one another and have more than 10 million inhabitants. To counter violent non-state actors operating in megacities in the future, the U.S. military will have to be able to piece together a comprehensive and actionable intelligence picture, and under enormously challenging circumstances.

    Apr 6, 2016

  • Journal Article

    Confessions of a Hybrid Warfare Skeptic

    The vocabulary of hybrid warfare and hybrid threat has been adopted fairly widely, including formal use in NATO discussions and across the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Special Operations Command.

    Mar 10, 2016

  • U.S. Army soldiers participate in a live-fire exercise in Konotop, Poland, January 18, 2016

    Commentary

    Planning for the 'Army of the Future'

    What must the Army be ready to do as part of a joint force, now and in the future? What capacities and capabilities should the Army have in order to be ready? The NCFA comes up short in its answers to both of these questions.

    Feb 17, 2016

  • Estonia's Defence League volunteer soldiers attend training drill near Rabasaare, Estonia, September 12, 2015

    Report

    Unconventional Options for the Defense of the Baltic States

    Unconventional options from the Swiss defense strategy during the Cold War could benefit Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. These include training and equipping local defense units and preparing transportation infrastructure for demolition to prevent an invasion.

    Feb 5, 2016

  • U.S. Special Forces soldiers prepare to leave Haji Aslam village in Khakarez district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, March 24, 2014

    Report

    A Counterinsurgency Win in Afghanistan?

    The 2015 counterinsurgency (COIN) effort in Afghanistan ranks among the low end of historical COIN winners. The Afghan government and security forces are capable of maintaining the current stalemate with the Taliban. This is the first step on the most promising path to peace: a negotiated settlement.

    Feb 4, 2016

  • Russian servicemen walk in formation as they take part in a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, April 16, 2015

    Commentary

    The Strange Debates of Strategy

    The United States and its allies confront a specific form of statecraft; not new, but real and relevant. And most observers who have looked at the problem tend to agree that the U.S. is ill-prepared for such tactics, in part because it simply has not thought of them as a coherent approach worthy of a tailored response.

    Jan 14, 2016

  • U.S. Army automatic rifleman with Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul in Shah Joy, Afghanistan, November 2011

    Commentary

    Ground Combat

    The U.S. Army needs to pay attention to state-sponsored irregular forces, whose numbers are growing. Such groups represent the type of adversary U.S. ground forces are likely to face.

    Dec 23, 2015

  • Protesters from the online activist group Anonymous

    Commentary

    Anonymous vs. ISIS: Wishing the Vigilante Hackers Luck Against the Murderous Jihadists

    While ISIL uses the Internet to recruit fighters and incite violence, the Anonymous counter initiative could lower the volume of the online echo chamber, and yield support for the war against ISIL and its extremist ilk.

    Dec 14, 2015

  • Marines scan the area for insurgent activity during a general support flight over Helmand province, Afghanistan

    Commentary

    To Defeat ISIS, Focus on Its Real Sources of Strength

    The threat ISIS poses today is graver than ever for two reasons: its war chest and its ability to attract foreign recruits are both at their peak. Redoubling international efforts to cut off ISIS from these two pillars of its war machine is necessary to sap the group's strength.

    Dec 4, 2015

  • The word 'war' in the middle of a maze

    Report

    Challenges for Democracies Facing Asymmetric Conflicts

    Contemporary asymmetric warfare poses critical challenges for democracies. Can it be addressed through an overarching strategic framework, or must separate strategies be formulated for each circumstance?

    Aug 12, 2015

  • Journal Article

    Rapid Regeneration of Irregular Warfare Capacity

    DOD should monitor resources and readiness levels associated with the pipeline to regenerate IW proficiency between maneuver and other rouces as needed.

    Jul 16, 2015

  • Two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors are launched during a successful intercept test in September 2013

    Commentary

    South Korea's Missile-Defense System Decision: Q&A with Bruce Bennett

    What might it mean if the U.S. deploys the terminal high-altitude air defense missile system known as THAAD in South Korea? Chinese pressure on South Korea to not allow THAAD deployment has become a major regional security issue.

    Apr 3, 2015

  • Protesters set fire to U.S. and Israeli flags to protest the Israeli offensive in Lebanon in front of Istanbul University after Friday prayers in Beyazit Mosque in Istanbul, August 4, 2006

    Blog

    Dialogue on Asymmetric Threats Concludes Two-Day Workshop on U.S. and Israeli Security Challenges

    Few nations have more experience with asymmetric conflicts than Israel and the United States. At the National Press Club in Washington, Brian Michael Jenkins of RAND and Admiral Amichay Ayalon, former director of Shin Bet, Israel's security agency, discussed the dynamics of the changing security environment.

    Jan 16, 2015

  • Events @ RAND Audio Podcast

    Multimedia

    Lessons from 13 Years of War

    In this podcast, Linda Robinson discusses how U.S. conventional and special operations forces have worked closely together during the past 13 years and how special operations forces could be used in current conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

    Dec 10, 2014

  • Research Brief

    Lessons from 13 Years of War Point to a Better U.S. Strategy

    This brief summarizes seven lessons from the past 13 years of war and identifies critical requirements for land forces, special operations forces, and partners to collaborate successfully.

    Dec 10, 2014

  • Events @ RAND Audio Podcast

    Multimedia

    The Challenges for Democracies Facing Asymmetric Conflicts

    In this podcast, Admiral Amichay Ayalon and Brian Michael Jenkins discuss lessons learned in using military force in response to terrorism, and their legal, ethical, and moral implications.

    Dec 4, 2014

  • Research Brief

    Evaluating Innovative Leader Development in the U.S. Army

    This brief summarizes an assessment of an Army program to enhance adaptability in leaders and promote innovative solutions in training for and conducting unified land operations.

    Nov 19, 2014