The Defense Department doesn’t want to lose its irregular warfare edge, honed through more than a decade of conflict across the Middle East, even as it directs its armed forces to refocus on state-level adversaries.
Retaining the U.S. military’s hard-fought knowledge of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism was a priority for former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who helped design a new national defense strategy in 2018 that prioritizes countering peer-level adversaries like China and Russia.
“Sec. Mattis specifically wanted to end this boom-bust cycle in IW [irregular warfare] that we’ve all experienced,” Owen West, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said at a defense industry symposium Tuesday.
The boom-bust cycle refers to the U.S. military’s preference for fighting traditional, high-end forces, rather than insurgents, according to Andrew Knaggs, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism.