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Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict

Course number: U6799

This course is intended to provide an understanding of two of the major components of warfare and international security since World War II. The first is special operations, defined broadly as military operations whose high risk and potential high pay-off require forces with extraordinary capabilities. The second is low-intensity conflict, defined broadly as conflict conducted by or against organizations other than conventional or nuclear forces. This includes terrorism and counterterrorism, insurgency and counterinsurgency, support to law enforcement against criminal organizations, and certain types of paramilitary operations. The two are grouped together in this course both because of their inherent relationship and because the U.S. government organizes itself in this way, having an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD SO/LIC). The focus of the course is largely but not exclusively on U.S. special operations and low-intensity conflict. There are three principal reasons for this. First, the U.S. special operations community is larger than many countries' entire military establishment and as of 2009 it is roughly one third the size of the entire British Army. This quantity thus has a quality all its own. Second, the United States has since World War II been heavily involved in low-intensity conflict around the globe and this involvement has only intensified since 2001. Third, the instructor's personal experience and knowledge of the subject are, for idiosyncratic reasons, mostly with U.S. special operations and low-intensity conflict. That said, both Russian/Soviet and British special operations and low intensity conflict are discussed in the course, and students are further encouraged to examine non-U.S. cases in course work if they are so inclined. The basic outline of the course is that the first half will provide students with a general understanding of both special operations and low-intensity conflict. The second half will then apply that understanding to six case studies.