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.

  • Residents of Raqqa gather in the morning to drink tea after they had been allowed back to inspect their homes, photo by Aboud Hamam

    Essay

    Civilian Casualties: Lessons from the Battle for Raqqa

    Jul 1, 2022

    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.

  • Ukrainian soldiers and press after clashes between the Ukrainian and Russian Army in Irpin, outside of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 2, 2022, photo by Raphael Lafargue/ABACAPRESS.COM/Reuters

    Commentary

    Could Insurgency Offer Ukraine a Decisive Edge?

    Apr 6, 2022

    While insurgency rarely offers a path to early victory, a campaign of popular resistance that supports the continuing conventional battle could give overmatched Ukraine an edge in its fight against Russian occupiers.

Explore Asymmetric Warfare

  • USARAF commander meets with Mauritanian senior leaders

    Research Brief

    Addressing Commanders' Needs for Information on "Soft" Factors

    A framework for thinking about commanders' critical information needs in countersurgency operations, offering practical ways for commanders to integrate influence activities into combined arms planning and assessment.

    Dec 5, 2011

  • Report

    Report

    Heavy Armor in the Future Security Environment

    Through an examination of adversary capabilities in recent conflicts, the author explores whether heavy brigade combat teams are justified as a prominent component of the future U.S. Army.

    Nov 8, 2011

  • Report

    Report

    From Insurgency to Stability: Volume I: Key Capabilities and Practices

    This book identifies the procedures and capabilities that the U.S. Department of Defense, other agencies of the U.S.government, and its allies and partners require to support the transition from counterinsurgency to conditions of greater stability.

    Sep 7, 2011

  • News Release

    News Release

    RAND Book Provides Critical Review of U.S. Actions Since 9/11; Recommends Future Anti-Terror Path

    A new collection of essays by experts from the RAND Corporation examines America in the decade since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, focusing a critical eye on the nation's actions since the attacks and outlining changes in strategy needed to improve efforts against jihadist groups.

    Jul 26, 2011

  • Report

    RAND Book Provides Critical Review of U.S. Actions Since 9/11; Recommends Future Anti-Terror Path

    A new collection of essays by experts from the RAND Corporation examines America in the decade since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, focusing a critical eye on the nation's actions since the attacks and outlining changes in strategy needed to improve efforts against jihadist groups.

    Jul 26, 2011

  • Report

    Report

    How Does the Conflict in Afghanistan Compare to Counterinsurgencies of the Past 30 Years?

    An analysis of 30 insurgencies worldwide between 1978 and 2008 determined what factors were ultimately correlated with success or defeat. Comparing Afghanistan in early 2011 against this scorecard results in an uncertain outcome for the conflict there, but the findings may help provide additional guidance as operations continue.

    Jun 27, 2011

  • U.S. soldiers on COIN operation in Iraq

    Report

    Victory Has a Thousand Fathers: Sources of Success in Counterinsurgency

    Approaches to counterinsurgency from 30 recent resolved campaigns show that good counterinsurgency practices tend to "run in packs" and that historically, the balance of selected good and ineffective practices perfectly predicts the outcome of a conflict.

    Jun 18, 2010

  • Report

    Report

    Victory Has a Thousand Fathers: Detailed Counterinsurgency Case Studies

    Narratives on the 30 most recent resolved insurgencies, covering the period 1978 to 2008, and data on 76 factors hypothesized to be related to the success of counterinsurgency forces supplement analyses of historical and contemporary insurgencies.

    Jun 18, 2010

  • Report

    Report

    Observations on Recent Trends in Armored Forces

    Militaries from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Denmark, and Israel all see a role for heavy forces, including tanks, in irregular warfare and hybrid warfare environments because they reduce operational risk, minimize friendly casualties, and provide an intimidation factor against adversaries.

    Jun 14, 2010

  • Report

    Report

    Building Security in the Persian Gulf

    The U.S. must determine how best to promote long-term security and stability in the Persian Gulf region while seeking to reduce the risks and costs imposed by its role as a permanent regional power—particularly vis-à-vis Iraq's future, the role of Iran, asymmetric threats, regional tensions, and the roles of other external actors.

    May 18, 2010

  • Report

    Report

    Military Capabilities for Hybrid War: Insights from the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon and Gaza

    The experiences of the Israel Defense Forces against hybrid opponents -- Hezbollah and Hamas -- in the recent conflicts in Lebanon and Gaza will help the U.S. Army understand the capabilities that it and the joint force will require in the future.

    Mar 17, 2010

  • News Release

    News Release

    U.S. Strategy Should Avoid Inflating Iran's Role in Middle East Instability, Exploit Constraints on Iranian Power and ...

    Iran's rise as a regional power presents a key foreign policy and security challenge to the United States, but its reach may be more limited than Western conventional wisdom suggests, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today. U.S. strategy must recognize Iran's role as an influential, but not omnipotent, player in the Middle East and work to exploit existing barriers to Iran's harmful activities, while simultaneously seeking areas of engagement.

    May 20, 2009

  • solidiers in silhouette with flag

    Report

    Assessing Irregular Warfare: A Framework for Intelligence Analysis

    An analytic framework and procedure for the intelligence analysis of irregular warfare (IW) environments that can serve as the basis for a subsequent IW intelligence analysis curriculum development effort.

    Dec 11, 2008

  • Report

    Analytic Support to Intelligence in Counterinsurgencies

    An examination of the nature of the contemporary insurgent threat which provides insights on using operational analysis techniques to support intelligence operations in counterinsurgencies.

    May 22, 2008

  • Commentary

    Commentary

    The Real Analogy for Iraq

    The conflict raging in Iraq has been compared to many earlier wars, but the best historical comparison has been largely overlooked, write John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt in a commentary appearing in United Press International.

    Aug 24, 2007

  • Commentary

    Commentary

    Ad Men for U.S. Defense

    Improving the U.S. military's brand identity demands more than just a catchy new slogan. While communications can help explain U.S. policies, the behavior of every soldier, sailor, airman and marine is what ultimately determines how civilians view U.S. forces, write Todd Helmus, Russell Glenn and Christopher ...

    Aug 20, 2007

  • News Release

    News Release

    RAND Study Finds Terrorist Groups Teach Each Other Deadly Skills

    May 9, 2007 news release: RAND Study Finds Terrorist Groups Teach Each Other Deadly Skills.

    May 9, 2007

  • Commentary

    Commentary

    The View from Ground Zero: Is America Safer?

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Sep 12, 2004

  • Commentary

    Commentary

    Mao as Guide to Fight in Iraq

    And strange as it may seem, a look at the thoughts of Chairman Mao on battling an occupying army from 66 years ago may help us make some educated guesses about the challenges facing the United States and the next government of Iraq.

    Jan 4, 2004

  • Commercial Book

    Commercial Book

    The Dynamics of Coercion: American Foreign Policy and the Limits of Military Might

    Despite the lopsided U.S. edge in raw power, regional foes persist in defying the threats and ultimatums brought by the United States and its allies. This book examines why some attempts to strong-arm an adversary work while others do not.

    Jan 1, 2002