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.

  • Essay

    Civilian Casualties: Lessons from the Battle for Raqqa

    The United States' emphasis on minimizing civilian harm in Raqqa, Syria, was quite clear and strong up and down the chain of command. But the way in which the U.S. military waged war in Raqqa too often undercut that commitment. The Pentagon asked RAND to find out what happened.

    Jul 1, 2022

  • Report

    Ukrainian Civilians' Contributions to Resisting Russia

    Civilian-based resistance in Ukraine began in the first hours of Russia's 2022 invasion. Civilians' actions have potential value in helping ensure victory by regaining territorial integrity and maintaining political sovereignty. And this war offers insight into what civilian contributions in future wars could look like.

    Aug 15, 2023

Explore Asymmetric Warfare

  • A map depicting Russian influence over Europe

    Report

    How to Counter Russia's Hostile Measures in Europe

    Russia has a range of tools and methods short of conventional war that it can use to achieve its goals in Europe. There is no way to predict what Russia will do, but it's possible to analyze its motives and opportunities, the means it might employ, and how the United States should respond.

    Jan 28, 2019

  • U.S. Army SOF take the hill while training in the elements at Panzer Kaserne, photo by Jason Johnston/U.S. Army

    Report

    Improving the Understanding of Special Operations

    An analysis of U.S. decisions related to the development or use of special operations forces can assist in future planning by the Army Special Operations Forces, the U.S. Army, and the joint special operations community.

    Feb 8, 2018

  • A C-130J Super Hercules aircraft flies over a formation of Airmen during a ceremony to remember veterans of World War II on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Picauville, France, June 6, 2014

    Commentary

    The Chairman the Pentagon Needs

    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford says that to fight and win 21st century wars, the department should find a way to globally integrate below the secretary of defense. To do so, the chairman's role would have to expand to allow him to advise the secretary on the allocation and transfer of forces for transregional, multi-functional, and multi-domain operations.

    Jan 5, 2018

  • Journal Article

    Journal Article

    The Implications of Iran's Expanding Shi'a Foreign Fighter Network

    Well-trained and resourced, Iranian-directed Shi'a foreign fighters pose a significant potential threat to U.S. interests. The more robust this network grows, the more opportunities it will have to expand abroad.

    Dec 7, 2017

  • Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from Ashkelon in southern Israel, October 9, 2023, photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

    Research Brief

    Israel-Hamas War: Insights from RAND Research

    On October 7, Hamas launched a sweeping attack on Israel. As his government responded with strikes in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu warned of a “long and difficult war” ahead. A 2017 RAND report offers context for this violence, the latest eruption in a cycle that has long plagued the region.

    Oct 18, 2017

  • Israeli soldiers training for urban wafare

    Commentary

    Five Lessons from Israel's Wars in Gaza

    After a decade of operating against Hamas in Gaza, the Israel Defense Force has learned many lessons about urban warfare against hybrid adversaries. The last confrontation teaches five basic lessons that apply well beyond Gaza.

    Aug 3, 2017

  • An Israeli tank drives near the border as it returns to Israel from Gaza, August 3, 2014

    Report

    Lessons from Israel's Wars in Gaza

    The Israel Defense Force had to evolve to meet an adaptive and determined hybrid adversary during its wars in Gaza. The U.S. Army and the joint force can learn from the IDF's challenge of balancing intense international legal public scrutiny and the hard operational realities of urban warfare.

    Jul 26, 2017

  • Ismail Haniyeh, newly elected head of Hamas' political office, arrives to visit a sit-in in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, Gaza City, May 8, 2017

    Commentary

    Hamas's Strategic Rebranding

    Hamas has unveiled a revised version of its charter that appears to soften the group's stance toward Israel. Does this represent a shift away from violence and toward a more lasting and peaceful political presence? Or is it a ploy to buy time to rearm?

    May 17, 2017

  • Hezbollah members salute during the funeral of Ali Fayyad, a senior commander who was killed fighting in Syria, Lebanon, March 2, 2016

    Commentary

    Hezbollah Is Winning the War in Syria

    Most parties have been on the losing side of the war in Syria. Meanwhile, Lebanese terrorist militia Hezbollah has cemented its status as a regional power player. The group has gained fighting experience and benefited from a growing alliance with the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia.

    Jan 30, 2017

  • 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

  • A senior airman who led a target analysis team that located and relayed the positions of more than 4,300 compounds to coalition forces at a workstation

    Report

    Preparing for the Future of Air Force Intelligence Analysis

    Given the recent focus on irregular warfare, it is essential that the United States Air Force has the capability to provide intelligence analysis in support of a broader range of operations. Past operations offer key lessons to help prepare for USAF intelligence in the future.

    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

    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

    Commentary

    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