Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Paul Jemitola is a lecturer at the Air Force Institute of Technology. He can be reached on Linkedin. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.

Title:  Assessing the Role of Civil Government Agencies in Irregular Warfare

Date Originally Written:  August 5, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  November 9, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The authors believe that governments engaged in countering violent extremists must pair hard and soft power to consolidate gains and bring about lasting peace.

Summary:  There are no recent success stories of a multifaceted approach to irregular warfare as leaders have been unwilling to engage in the work required. Responses to militant non-state actors will be ineffective without a whole of government effort that emphasizes military and nonmilitary interventions in appropriate measures to defeat violent threats, stabilize territories and restore the lives of affected populations.

Text:  As the world resumes Great Power Competition, irregular warfare will continue to be a means for states and groups to project power beyond their conventional means[1][2]. As in the Cold War, powerful nations will continue to employ indirect means to counter adversaries and shape events in the wider world[3]. As political leaders deal with the new global order, states can move from a military-first model of countering violent non-state actors and move to a whole of government approach that encompasses every facet of state power[4][5].

Countries confronting irregular warfare usually have underlying socio-economic difficulties[6][7]. Often, the authority of governing structures has been discredited by discontentment[8]. Both terrorists and insurgents usually seek to achieve political objectives by violence, either against the civil population, representatives of government, or both[9]. This violence to political transition implies that while military forces may defeat the irregular combatants and shape events on the ground, other means of power projection options are required to bring about durable peace. Without integrated and synchronized political, economic, legal, security, economic, development, and psychological activities[6], strategies against guerrillas, insurgents, and militias will not be effective.

Law enforcement agencies are often the most visible symbols of a government’s authority and the target of most attacks by insurgents and terrorists[10]. Historically, police action is the most effective strategy that ends terrorist groups that don’t abandon violence for political action[11]. The police organization’s ability to maintain a significant presence on the ground undercuts any narrative of strength insurgents may seek to project. Police Officers may carry out their usual functions of enforcing the law, mediating in disputes between locals, and protecting the population from criminals looking to take advantage of security vacuums.

Paramilitary forces can protect critical infrastructure, assist in force protection, expand the capacity of law enforcement, and deter militant activity with expanded presence and routine patrols. As these groups are often made up of volunteers from the local population, they can also serve as invaluable sources of intelligence and are less intimidating than armed forces[12][13].

Intelligence agencies can gather information about the combatants to facilitate a proper understanding of what the government is confronting how best to address them[14]. Human Intelligence from interrogations and agents, Signals Intelligence from intercepted communications, and other means of data gathering can help develop the picture of the guerillas, their leadership structures, the forces, the equipment available to them, and their support system both local and international[15][16]. These intelligence activities will include working with financial authorities to cut off their sources of funding and supporting military, security, and law enforcement tactical and operational actions[17].

The government can deploy its diplomatic corps to ensure international support for itself while dissuading foreign actors from intervening in support of the insurgents. These diplomats will ensure that the government’s narrative finds receptive audiences in foreign capitals and populations. This narrative can be converted to concrete support in terms of aid for securing military materiel and social-economic interventions in areas affected by the conflict. These diplomats will also work to dissuade foreign actors from providing aid to the militants and prolonging the conflict unduly[18].

Government agencies may provide social and economic interventions to support refugees and returnees seeking to rebuild their societies. The provision of health care, nutritional aid, job training, and economic opportunities will go a long way to break the attraction of militants and ensure that the population is invested in keeping the peace[19].

The government may encourage well-spirited Non-Government Organizations (NGO) and international agencies seeking to assist people caught up in the conflict. These agencies usually have vast experience and technical knowledge operating the areas of conflict around the world. While ensuring that these groups are acting in good faith, the government does not unduly burden them with regulatory requirements. Security for NGOs can be guaranteed to the extent possible[20].

Political leaders can ensure their words and deeds do not inflame tensions. They can seek to forge national identities that transcend tribal and ethnic leanings. They can address the concerns of indigenous population in the areas under attack work to separate legitimate grievances from violent acts. The governed must be able to advocate peacefully for change without resorting to violence. Governing structures can be focused on meeting societal needs to ensure peace and prosperity. Military and nonmilitary forces can be properly resourced and adequately overseen. They can facilitate understanding and unity of purpose. Concerns raised by security agencies can get the desired attention and support for measured actions to address them. The advent of nationalism and the non-applicability of democracy to all cultures demands that peoples be given sufficient avenues and support to organize themselves and that their demands be respected.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, built up the appetite of politicians for military interventions at home and abroad. This emphasis on military powers was to the detriment of other levers of power. Unfortunately, the abuse of military power to achieve goals best left to civilian or political institutions unfairly discredited the use of force in the eyes of the general public. This discrediting made it harder for politicians to justify military interventions even in situations where its deployment could be justified. While the military may continue to have a legitimate and even necessary role in countering irregular warfare, any successful strategy requires every element of national power. There are no recent success stories of a multifaceted approach to irregular warfare. This is because national leaders have been unwilling to engage in the work required. Political leaders can lead the way to move from violent responses to civil but more effective means to address conflicts.


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[2] Goodson, J. (2020, May 20). Irregular Warfare in a New Era of Great-Power Competition. Retrieved July 02, 2020, from https://mwi.usma.edu/irregular-warfare-new-era-great-power-competition

[3] Fowler, M. (2019, November 4). The Rise of the Present Unconventional Character of Warfare. Retrieved July 02, 2020, from https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2019/11/4/the-rise-of-the-present-unconventional-character-of-warfare

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[8] Nyberg, E. (1991). Insurgency: The Unsolved Mystery. Retrieved July 04, 2020, from https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1991/NEN.htm

[9] Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2020, June). DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Retrieved July 04, 2020, from https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/dictionary.pdf

[10] Celeski, J. (2009, February). Policing and Law Enforcement in COIN – the Thick Blue Line. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from https://www.socom.mil/JSOU/JSOUPublications/JSOU09-2celeskiPolicing.pdf

[11] Jones, S. and Libicki, M. (2008). How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG741-1.pdf

[12] Espino, I. (2004, December). Counterinsurgency: The Role of Paramilitaries. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://calhoun.nps.edu/bitstream/handle/10945/1269/04Dec_Espino.pdf

[13] Dasgupta, S. (2016, June 6). Paramilitary groups: Local Alliances in Counterinsurgency Operations. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/06_counterinsurgency_dasgupta.pdf

[14] Clark, D. (2008, June 27). The Vital Role of Intelligence in Counterinsurgency Operations. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA448457.pdf

[15] White, J. (2007, April 14). Some Thoughts on Irregular Warfare. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/96unclass/iregular.htm

[16] Steinmeyer, W. (2011, August 5). The Intelligence Role in Counterinsurgency. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol9no4/html/v09i4a06p_0001.htm

[17] Department of the Army. (2006, December) Counterinsurgency. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=468442

[18] Murray, S. Blannin, P. (2017, September 18). Diplomacy and the War on Terror. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/diplomacy-and-the-war-on-terror

[19] Godson, J. (2015, August 16). Strategic Development and Irregular Warfare: Lessons from the High Water Mark of Full-Spectrum COIN. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/strategic-development-and-irregular-warfare-lessons-from-the-high-water-mark-of-full-spectr

[20] Penner, G. (2014, July 07). A Framework for NGO-Military Collaboration. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/a-framework-for-ngo-military-collaboration