Small Wars Journal


Journal Articles are typically longer works with more more analysis than the news and short commentary in the SWJ Blog.

We accept contributed content from serious voices across the small wars community, then publish it here as quickly as we can, per our Editorial Policy, to help fuel timely, thoughtful, and unvarnished discussion of the diverse and complex issues inherent in small wars.

by Richard Burchill | Tue, 10/06/2020 - 8:09pm | 0 comments
The impact of the COVID-19 upon the world in 2020 has been profound. Across the globe the day to day lives of people have changed dramatically and it is unlikely these changes will diminish anytime soon. There has been an extensive range of action taken in response to COVID such as stay at home orders, including working from home; limitations on movement within and between countries; limited access to various public and private services. These measures have had knock-on impacts such as a major downturn in economic activity, stressed supply chains, and disruptions to transport networks, amongst others. Both the threat posed by COVID-19 and the impact it has on our day to day lives appears set to continue for a considerable period of time.
by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan, by David Kuhn, by Alma Keshavarz | Mon, 10/05/2020 - 8:41pm | 0 comments
The Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) is alleged to have attempted to deploy two weaponsized drones with C4 or similar type explosives against their rivals—the Carteles Unidos (United Cartels)—in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán on 25 July 2020. The weaponized drones were not successfully deployed and were found by a local self-defense group (autodefensas) known as El grupo de autodefensa en Tepalcatepec.
by Pamela Ruiz | Thu, 10/01/2020 - 9:56pm | 1 comment
In January 2020, Guatemalan President Dr. Alejandro Giammattei proposed legislation to categorize the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs as terrorist organizations.In the United States, the Department of Treasury categorized MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization in October 2012 and in July 2020, for the first time, an MS-13 member was charged with terrorism-related offenses. The Constitutional Chambers of the Supreme Court of Justice in El Salvador ruled to reclassify these gangs as terrorist organizations in August of 2015 and in February 2017 Honduras sanctioned terrorist activities by these gangs. This article argues MS-13 and Barrio 18 lack the core component to be classified as terrorist organizations: a political or religious ideology guiding their violence.  
by Alma Keshavarz | Mon, 09/14/2020 - 5:55pm | 0 comments
There are a variety of definitions for hybrid warfare. Some are using the concept more haphazardly while others are applying a number of classifications. In 2005, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis identified hybrid wars as a blending of modes of warfare.  This SWJ Book Review assesses Orenstein's analysis and Mattis's construct of hybrid war.
by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan | Tue, 09/08/2020 - 7:40pm | 0 comments
An MS-13 leader in El Salvador—Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz (a.k.a. “Blue” or “Clipper”)—has been indicted on terrorism charges for his role as the Corredor (Leader) of the gang’s United States East Coast Program. The indictment, by the United States Department of Justice (US DOJ), represents the first ever charging of an MS-13 member for ‘material support to terrorists’ along with other terrorism related offenses in addition to the more traditional racketeering (RICO) and narcotics trafficking charges. It also provides detailed information about the East Coast Program’s command and control (C2) structure and links to El Salvadoran elements of the gang while describing identified US MS-13 cliques and their geographic distribution.
by H I Sutton | Mon, 08/31/2020 - 7:38pm | 0 comments
This open source intelligence (OSINT) report documents the development of narco-submarines in Spanish waters. These vessels, known as LPVs (Low Profile Vessels) or alternatively SPSS (Self-Propelled Semi-Submersible) vessels, are proliferating globally. These 'narco-submarines' now include three types: Fully Submersible Vessels (FSVs), Low Profile Vessels (LPVs), and hybrid Low Profile Vessels/Go-Fast Vessels (LPV/GFVs).
by Anibal Serrano | Sun, 08/30/2020 - 10:29pm | 1 comment
Eighteenth Street (18th Street) is a gang originating in the Pico-Union District of Los Angeles. It is one of the gangs frequently mentioned in a transnational context and often referred to as a mara—a type of sophisticated gang—due to its presence in El Salvador and other parts of Central America. Eighteenth Street is known as 18th Street, Barrio 18, Calle 18, Mara 18, and M-18 in its various locations. This article summarizes its origins and national and transnational migration/diffusion.
by Nathan P. Jones, by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker | Mon, 08/17/2020 - 10:30pm | 0 comments
José Antonio Yépez Ortiz (aka “El Marro”) was arrested by elements of the Mexican Army (Sedena) in Guanajuato on Sunday, 2 August 2020. “El Marro,” which means the sledgehammer or mallet, is the leader of the Cártel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL). The CSRL are widely known for their role as ‘huachicoleros’ or participants in the illicit fuel trade. The CSRL has been embattled for the past year as government forces sought its leader’s arrest and it fought against its rival the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) for control of Guanajuato’s illicit economy.
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker, by José de Arimatéia da Cruz | Tue, 08/04/2020 - 9:16pm | 0 comments
A facção (drug trafficking faction) in Rio de Janeiro led by Álvaro Malaquias Santa Rosa, known as Peixão (Big Fish), is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to consolidate control over a group of favelas (slums) in the Northern Zone of Rio de Janeiro. The result is a complex of five favelas: Cidade Alta, Vigário Geral, Parada de Lucas, Cinco Bocas, and Pica-Pau known as the "Complexo de Israel" (Israel Complex or Network of Israel). The favelas comprising the “Complexo de Israel” have a combined population of about 134,000 inhabitants. Peixão’s gang employs a mix of religious imagery and targeted confessional violence to exert territorial control and dominate the illicit market.
by Tim Nichols | Sun, 08/02/2020 - 5:53pm | 4 comments
This paper discusses how our special operations professionals should transition from two decades of counter-terrorist operations to emerging great-power threats. Nichols argues that there are some significant areas of mis-alignment in terms of training and resources, and that senior leaders should address this.
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker, by Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht | Fri, 07/31/2020 - 6:40pm | 0 comments
On Monday, 20 July 2020, suspected members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) attacked a military police guards at a prison—la Peniteciaría Nacional de Támara—north of Tegucigalpa, according to the Instituto Nacional Penitenciaro (INP – National Penitentiary Institute). The attack, by prison inmates, involved firearms (assault rifles and pistols, as well as grenades). One sergeant received firearms injuries.
by Elina Driscoll | Sun, 07/26/2020 - 12:37pm | 1 comment
This paper explores the 1994-1996 Chechen War, which was the first large-scale military conflict involving post-Soviet Russia and played a crucial role in reshaping Russia's military and political strategy. The war, also known as the First Chechen War, resulted in the unexpected victory of Chechen insurgents, who managed to defeat the better equipped Russians due to their skillful use of guerrilla tactics, clever use of geography and urban warfare, and deep understanding of Russia's political and military vulnerabilities.
by Daniel Harris | Sat, 07/25/2020 - 10:06am | 0 comments
Although since 2009 the Pakistani military has partially shifted from its conventional force posture to a modern COIN approach in its conflict with the TTP insurgency, coercive tactics are still employed today. As a result of their initial tactics and current human rights abuses, the military succeeded in routing TTP strongholds but failed to address the insurgency’s root-grievances, alienating the population and ensuring post-conflict regional insecurity.
by Allyson Christy | Mon, 07/20/2020 - 9:07am | 3 comments
This paper analyses the timeframe of American manufacturing decline matched to China's rapid power gains against US economic and national interests and security vulnerabilities.
by Randy Noorman | Fri, 07/17/2020 - 10:29am | 1 comment
The battle of Debaltseve is the largest battle of encirclement in contemporary European military history. This article focuses on the composition of the Russian backed separatist forces, the units and equipment deployed, and subsequent proof of Russia’s military involvement in the conflict.
by Magdalena Defort | Tue, 07/14/2020 - 4:17pm | 0 comments
This assessment seeks to answer questions about how social programs run by Venezuela’s Chavista regime became a perfect mechanism for building a widespread international corruption network to benefit the president and his cronies. It examines the pivotal role played by foreign powers—i.e., Iran, and Turkey—in these clandestine illegal operations.
by John P. Sullivan, by José de Arimatéia da Cruz, by Robert Bunker | Sat, 07/11/2020 - 4:33pm | 2 comments
On 3 June 2020, Brazilian police in Greater São Paulo launched Operação Soldi Sporchi (Operation Dirty Money), serving search and arrest warrants against members of the First Capitol Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC). The PCC was alleged to have used medical and dental clinics to launder money earned from the gang’s drug trafficking activities and treat injured gang members to avoid detection by the police. The investigation also exposed corrupt connections to public officials and transnational links to the ‘Ndrangheta.
by Alexander Elfes | Fri, 07/10/2020 - 3:43pm | 0 comments
Lieutenant Alexander Elfes, Platoon Commander, 1st Military Police Battalion, Australian Army provides an overview of the May 2020 Warrant Officer Class 1 Ken Bullman OAM lecture series (KBLS) on 'Mexico's criminal Insurgencies" by Dr John P. Sullivan.
by Thomas Dyrenforth | Fri, 07/10/2020 - 8:20am | 0 comments
By increasing IMET opportunities for sub-Saharan African partners, the U.S. can counter Chinese influence by building interoperability with African militaries, strengthening strategic relationships, developing English language capacities, and promoting American values—all directly supporting U.S. security interests in Africa. This increased engagement is especially timely during a period of global power competition as other countries will gladly fill this void.
by Angelo Thomas | Sun, 07/05/2020 - 8:51pm | 0 comments
A Year Inside MS-13 is the product of Juan Jose Martínez’s one year stay in 2011 with the Guanacos Criminales Salvatrucha (GCS)—an MS-13 clica (clique)—in the suburbs of San Salvador. Translated from Spanish, the book provides an inside perspective on MS-13 which unfolds through the telling of highly detailed vignettes.
by John P. Sullivan | Fri, 07/03/2020 - 12:06am | 0 comments
Review of P.W. Singer and August Cole's "Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution."
by Alma Keshavarz, by Robert Bunker | Wed, 07/01/2020 - 9:47pm | 0 comments
On 27 May 2020, Acting DEA Administrator Timothy J. Shea and United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman charged Adel El Zabayar—a former Venezuelan National Assembly member—in a Manhattan federal court with narcoterrorism, a cocaine importation conspiracy, a series of weapons related charges, and money laundering. The charges were based on a DEA agent’s testimony and his broader investigation into El Zabayara’s links to Venezuelan Cártel de los Soles, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), Hezbollah (Hizballah), and Hamas.
by Shawn Creamer | Wed, 07/01/2020 - 7:57pm | 0 comments
The United States needs a different North Korea approach that addresses American national security interests but limits the danger of strategic weapons use and does not default to hostilities, forceful subjugation, or occupation by the United States. This paper proposes an alternative path for America’s leadership to consider. 
by Robert C. Jones | Tue, 06/30/2020 - 4:54pm | 4 comments
This paper explores how ideas influence strategic thinking, using the example of how defining concepts such as "insurgency", "warfare", and "complexity" set a tone and framework for counterinsurgency strategy.
by Lemar Alexander Farhad | Thu, 06/25/2020 - 10:00am | 7 comments
Drawing from his career experiences of reforming military and security forces of partner and allied nations, LTC Lemar Farhad suggests a new way of thinking about policing in America; a novel paradigm for recruitment, training, evaluation, and monitoring of police officers.
by Sam Mullins | Thu, 06/25/2020 - 9:29am | 0 comments
Violent extremists and terrorists have undoubtedly seized upon the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to peddle their propaganda and try and exploit the situation to their advantage. But are we perhaps over-estimating the threat? This paper argues that while there is indeed much to be concerned about, there is also reason to believe that terrorists’ gains may be far more modest than many people seem to think, particularly in the short-term.
by Robert Bunker | Sat, 06/20/2020 - 9:19pm | 0 comments
This SWJ El Centro Review Essay looks at a recent book on Mara Salvatrucha, "Operation Devil Horns: The Take Down of MS-13 in San Francisco" in the context of MS-13 gang culture and organizational characteristics.
by Rose Croshier | Fri, 06/19/2020 - 12:17pm | 5 comments
This paper lays out why now is the perfect time for Combatant Commands, in particular U.S. Africa Command, to turn inward, and take advantage of this ‘tactical pause’ under COVID-19 to lead substantive reform of security cooperation at the operational level.
by Peter Kent Forster, by Gregory J. Kruczek, by Ava Sullivan | Tue, 06/16/2020 - 10:14am | 0 comments
This paper examines the emerging realignment within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), its control over the PMF, and the greater implications for US policy towards Iraq and Iran.
by Marta Kepe | Mon, 06/15/2020 - 11:57am | 2 comments
Marta Kepe examines what the advent of autonomous technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) may mean for military effectiveness and the ability to project power.
by Crispin Burke | Wed, 06/10/2020 - 1:53pm | 0 comments
Crispin Burke lays out a comprehensive overview of various Private Military Contractors (PMCs) operating in Libya in light of recent news of Russian jets supporting Wagner Group mercenaries in the country.
by Anna Sergi, by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker | Thu, 06/04/2020 - 10:34pm | 0 comments
The COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities and challenges for transnational organized crime groups, and mafias worldwide. This strategic note assesses the situation among the Italian mafias, including the Sicilian mafia, camorra, and ‘ndragheta.
by Alexandra Phelan, by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker | Tue, 06/02/2020 - 11:50pm | 0 comments
The COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities and challenges for Criminal Armed Groups (CAGs)—criminal cartels, gangs, maras, and mafias—worldwide. This strategic note assesses the situation among Colombia’s revolutionaries (the FARC –Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, ELN – Ejército de Liberación Nacional, and dissident factions, and BACRIM – bandas criminales.
by Octavian Manea | Tue, 05/26/2020 - 4:07pm | 0 comments
SWJ interview with Dr. David Kilcullen, author of the newly published Dragons and the Snakes - How the Rest learned to fight the West, Oxford University Press, March 2020. He is a professor of practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University and a professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of New South Wales.
by Nathan P. Jones | Sat, 05/23/2020 - 6:52pm | 0 comments
SWJ–El Centro Fellow Nathan P. Jones reviews the new Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) Mexico and Central America Dataset.
by Robert Bunker, by Angelo Thomas | Sat, 05/23/2020 - 2:50pm | 0 comments
This research note seeks to provide some initial and exploratory insights—primarily but not exclusively via imagery interpretation—into 18th Street dark spiritual activities. 18th Street (Barrio 18) linkages to dark spirituality will be addressed from within the context of both United States (CONUS) and outside of the country (OCONUS) perspectives, with the latter focusing on the gang’s presence in the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA).
by David Kuhn, by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan | Thu, 05/21/2020 - 6:09pm | 0 comments
Search and seizure operations were conducted by Mexican federal agencies in San Andrés Cholula, Puebla state on 25-26 April 2020 due to an anonymous tip. These operations resulted in the seizure of a ‘terrorist arsenal’ (arsenal terrorista) of weapons and equipment including the components required to make weaponized drones. This arsenal is thought to be linked to ongoing organized crime bombings in Guanajuato state—with possible Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL) ties—and represents one more data point concerning the growing weaponized drone capabilities of the Mexican cartels and criminal gangs.
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker | Mon, 05/18/2020 - 3:37pm | 0 comments
Gangs in the Cape Town region have enacted a truce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. South Africa is in the midst of a lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak that is also leading to food shortages. The truce involves gangs throughout the Cape Flats, including Manenberg. The participating gangs are joining together to distribute food, soap, and essential goods in an effort to provide relief to the communities in which they exist.[
by Scott Crino, by Andy Dreby | Sun, 05/10/2020 - 4:39pm | 0 comments
Libya experienced a steep increase in fighting last month. The April fighting produced significant lessons learned, especially with respect to drones and counter drone technology. These included the employment of unmanned “kamikaze” loitering munitions by the GNA and HAF, the appearance of handheld counter drone systems, and advanced commercial-off-the-shelf flight components being used to support reconnaissance and surveillance.
by Robert Bunker, by Pamela Ligouri Bunker | Sun, 05/10/2020 - 3:26pm | 0 comments
This research note provides an update concerning new radical Islamist English-language online magazines appearing since the ebook publication of The Islamic State English-Language Online Magazine Rumiyah (Rome).
by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan | Fri, 05/08/2020 - 6:37pm | 0 comments
Various organized crime entities throughout Latin America, Europe, and Africa—including gangs, cartels, and mafias—are increasingly responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic in a number of ways. These include accounting for a shift in their illicit revenue streams and exploring new economic opportunities that are emerging. In the area of humanitarian response, a large number of the Mexican cartels are now actively engaging in these activities for their public relations and propaganda value in supporting their ‘protector of the community narratives’ targeted at the local citizenry under their control. These cartel activities are not without precedent and have taken place in Mexico in the past—though not as widespread and pronounced as they are now—and further reinforce ongoing criminal insurgency analysis related to this phenomena linked to Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘social banditry’ construct. 
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker, by Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht | Tue, 05/05/2020 - 5:10pm | 0 comments
Salvadoran maras (gangs) have adapted to the COVID-19 outbreak by enforcing social control in the form of domestic quarantine (cuarentena domiciliar), curfews, and social distancing. The major maras, i.e. MS-13, and the Sureños and Revolucionarios factions of Barrio 18 (Eighteenth Street), have communicated this ‘public health’ dictate throughout the territories they control. In addition to enforcing domestic ‘quarantine,’ the Barrio 18 factions have suspended collecting ‘street taxes’ (extortion payments) while MS-13 continues to collect ‘renta’ (rent).
by Scott C. Buchanan | Mon, 04/20/2020 - 9:35am | 2 comments
Barring an unforeseen event or shift in policy, it seems likely that by May 2021, the United States will remove its military forces from Afghanistan. Despite claims of progress, the United States and its allies have undeniably made many mistakes over the past two decades. Some commentators have argued that Afghanistan has been an “undeniable failure.” While many commentators and policymakers have focused on getting out of Afghanistan, the past shows the potentially devastating consequences such actions could bring. Instead, the United States and its NATO allies should consider leaving a small presence of advisors to support institutional development at the ministries and institutions.
by Rex Bray III, by Jacques Singer-Emery | Sun, 04/19/2020 - 10:01am | 4 comments
Over the past several years, far-right extremists have leveraged online platforms ranging from social media to Stormfront to congregate with one another, convert new members, and concoct violent plans. They have been so effective that the FBI recently elevated “to top level priority racially motivated violent extremism so it is on the same footing in terms of our national threat banding as ISIS and homegrown violent extremism.”
by Douglas A. Livermore | Sat, 04/18/2020 - 8:39pm | 0 comments
The ability to leverage financial capabilities to bankroll both technological innovation and large-scale production of war materiel has increasingly driven the evolution of modern warfare. There is every indication that these interdependent elements will continue to have an even greater impact on the international security environment in the 21st century and beyond.
by Adam D.M. Svendsen, by Salem B.S. Dandan | Sat, 04/18/2020 - 10:14am | 1 comment
Today is an appropriate time for encouraging and indeed advocating some further innovative change both to and for contemporary intelligence. This article aims to accomplish that objective by featuring and further advancing an understanding of the recently introduced and developing concept of ‘Intelligence Engineering’, abbreviated henceforth as ‘IE’, and also known as the ‘Bridgehead Methodology’.
by Allyson Christy | Fri, 04/17/2020 - 10:08am | 0 comments
Worries over continued internal rifts and greater instabilities and provoking regional fallout remain consistent. Conflicts have widened over the divisional quagmire, with France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel similarly delineating concerns over risks and their offshore energy interests.
by Belquis Ahmadi, by Palwasha L. Kakar | Fri, 04/17/2020 - 9:01am | 0 comments
The COVID-19 crisis comes at a critical juncture for Afghanistan. The disputed 2019 presidential election has led to a stalemate between incumbent President Ghani and the chief executive of the last government, Abdullah Abdullah, both of whom claim the right to govern. At a time when the Afghan government should be focused on the best chance to bring peace in years, it’s distracted by a political crisis.
by Joseph J. Collins | Thu, 04/16/2020 - 6:23pm | 0 comments
In the last 20 years, we have twice suffered strategic surprise attacks. In each case, we were unprepared for what was an entirely foreseeable attack on the homeland. In each case, the national security bureaucracy --- Defense, State, Intelligence, and various homeland security entities --- paid inadequate attention to preparing for an event that its own Cassandras had declared as probable.
by Scott Crino, by Andy Dreby | Thu, 04/16/2020 - 11:59am | 0 comments
Since the Idlib operation, a number of articles have appeared with glowing reviews on the sophistication of Turkey’s homegrown drone force and its tactical effectiveness in Syria. While decidedly impactful, a review of the operation suggests there are some shortcomings as well. These include questions about the Turkish drones’ operational reach, lethality and survivability. Any analysis of the implications of Turkey’s demonstrated UAS strength, particularly their potential role in other conflict zones, should consider these potential vulnerabilities as well.