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Low-intensity conflict (LIC) is a limited politico-military struggle to achieve political, social, economic, or psychological objectives. It is often protracted and ranges from diplomatic, economic, and psycho-social pressures through terrorism and insurgency. LIC is generally confined to a geographic area and is often characterized by constraints on the weaponry, tactics, and level of violence. LIC involves the actual or contemplated use of military capabilities up to, but not including, combat between regular forces. (For a detailed discussion on the LIC, see FM 100-20.)


The Army mission in LIC can be divided into four general categories:

  • Peacekeeping operations.
  • Foreign internal defense (FID).
  • Peacetime contingency operations.
  • Terrorism counteraction.

Peacekeeping Operations

Increasing world tension, continuing conflicts, scarce resources, and general distrust have created environments in which a military force may be employed to achieve, restore, or maintain peace. A peacekeeping mission may require forces to deal with extreme tension, sabotage, and minor military conflicts from known or unknown belligerents. The two common missions in peacekeeping operations are cease-fire supervision and law-and-order maintenance.

Peacekeeping forces can be deployed to observe and report on compliance with diplomatically arranged cease fires. The force must be able to deploy rapidly to perform its peacekeeping function. It must be initially self-sufficient, have a self-defense capability, and have effective internal and external communications. The terms of the cease-fire agreement may call for the peacekeeping force to supervise withdrawals and disengagements of the belligerents, to supervise exchange of prisoners of war (POWs), or to monitor demobilization.

Peacekeeping operations also include restoration or maintenance of law and order. Traditional civilian law enforcement functions are generally not performed by US military personnel. However, situations may arise that require limited support to duly authorized law enforcement authorities of a receiving state.

Foreign Internal Defense

Insurgency is an extremely dangerous and complex form of LIC. An environment that gives rise to insurgency is one in which a government tries to reduce political instability and internal conflict among its citizenry during a period of rapid societal development or change. This instability stems from a perception by a segment of the population that the established government is unwilling to resolve those perceived injustices. These issues are not always economically centered but may include political, social, and religious issues. The government may be unwilling or unable to satisfy the demands for change. Often, the government does not recognize the depth of unrest nor the potential for political violence.

The potential for insurgency to occur is greatest in Third World countries, where fragile political structures, fluctuating economic conditions, and rapid population growth rates aggravate long-standing political and social instabilities. These problems give rise to internal unrest, revolutionary movements, and insurgencies. Two types of combat assets can be used--special forces and conventional forces. Special forces can be used before and after the introduction of conventional combat forces. US light forces are ideally suited and optimized in an FID environment.

Peacetime Contingency Operations

In certain environments, peacetime contingency operations become necessary when diplomatic initiatives have been, or are expected to be, ineffective in achieving extremely time-sensitive, high-value objectives. Failure to influence a belligerent nation or activity through diplomatic means may necessitate the use of military forces to protect US national interests, rescue US citizens, or defend US assets. These operations encompass intelligence-gathering missions, strike operations, rescue and recovery, demonstrations or shows of force, unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, and noncombatant evacuation.

Terrorism Counteraction

These operations would be conducted by specially trained forces and are not discussed in this publication.

Overall Threat

In LIC, the tactical threat facing light forces within target nations ranges from national and international terrorism to armed forces conducting tactical operations. The commander can expect to learn more about his opponent from extended operations than from a doctrinal profile. Battle management practices and the habits, preferences, and idiosyncrasies of commanders who oppose friendly light forces must be studied. The demonstrated capabilities of particular units must be evaluated as part of the intelligence estimate. Generally, the enemy in LIC is characterized by the type of opponent, his strategy, his organization, and his weapons.


The types of opponents that light forces might fight in a low-intensity conflict are discussed below.


The terrorist uses violence and threats, generally for ideological purposes, to paralyze the political sector and population. The terrorist is unpredictable. Terrorists refuse to recognize neutral territory, noncombatants, and innocent bystanders. Their violent acts are meant to impact on the minds of the people. Terrorism may signify the first stage of LIC, and it is often a tactic of the enemy throughout the conflict spectrum. Terrorists are limited only by resources, skill, and imagination.


The guerrilla organization uses a higher level of sustained violence than do terrorist organizations, although it may use terrorism as a tool. A guerrilla organization will usually have a more sophisticated organizational infrastructure, better weapons and financing, and greater legitimacy, which results from having more popular support than a terrorist group. The guerrilla organization ranges in size from one-or two-person cells to regiments and possibly larger groups. Offensively, in the initial stages, rather than try to capture physical objectives, the guerrillas stress raids and ambushes. Guerrillas prefer to operate under conditions that offer them an overwhelming numerical advantage. By using secrecy and surprise, they try to gain the advantage over their enemy. Guerrillas rely heavily on the support of the population. They can make use of urban and rural terrain in which conventional forces find it difficult to move and operate (for example, in deep jungle with good canopy, in large marshy areas, in remote mountains, and in cities). Light forces are designed to operate effectively in these types of terrain.


Insurgencies do not follow specific guidelines. Methods are developed to meet the circumstances of the region in which the movement takes place. Insurgents manipulate circumstances such as ethnic, tribal, or religious differences and political or economic weaknesses. They do this to change the loyalties of the population, to destroy or neutralize the government security forces, and to overthrow and replace the existing government or regime. The insurgent will use terrorism, guerrilla warfare, subversion, and any other techniques available to achieve this end. An insurgent organization has three essential parts.

Leadership Party. An insurgent organization must be founded on a strongly disciplined party. The party controls the armed forces and the mass organizations. The cell is the base of the mass insurgency party structure, and party groups are formed from two or more party cells. The party groups are responsible to an interparty committee. The party revolutionary committee carries out the day-to-day activities of the party.

Mass Organizations. Mass organizations are used by insurgents to achieve control and influence over the population. They exploit them for intelligence, logistics, and recruiting requirements. Types of mass organizations are special-interest groups, local militia, and large popular organizations.

Armed Element. Military forces are but one of several instruments used by insurgents to achieve power. Military forces fall into two categories--the main force and regional forces. Insurgency allows for military reversals and the possible need to retrench, restructure, or temporarily disband its military force should the government prove too powerful.

Organized Forces

Another threat may be found existing in newly emerging nations. Because of varying degrees of ability to sustain armed forces, the organization will vary. Generally, it mirrors a Cuban model which could be encountered in any area of the world.

Emerging nations start the formation of their armed forces as light units (battalions) with limited organic weapons support, normally a mortar battery of six tubes (82-or 120-mm) and two antitank guns (57- or 76-mm). Nonorganic support to a battalion normally takes the form of small artillery and armor units. Whether a battalion receives direct support from any of these elements depends on the mission, terrain, and enemy situation. Support available in the Cuban model would ideally be in the types and quantities shown in the graphic below.

Above battalion level, forces would normally be organized into infantry regiments or brigades. Armor support would be drawn from the attachment of armor companies or a tank battalion to the infantry regiment. Artillery support is allocated from an artillery regiment to the infantry regiments or battalions as Threat missions require.

Threat Assets

It must be remembered that emerging nations or counterinsurgency forces may well be armed with a wide variety of weapons. Many of these may be of western or even US manufacture, obtained through various sources. It is also likely that the sophistication of weapons within a given force will vary widely. Because of the importance of identifying enemy strengths, the intelligence officer will have to carefully identify the assets belonging to the enemy, their organization, and their effects when employed against light forces.

Threat Concepts

Three factors guide Threat maneuver forces:

  • In offensive operations, attempts are made to get as close to the enemy as possible to deter his use of superior firepower to offset numerical inferiority.
  • Infiltration is used to reduce enemy morale and to block routes of withdrawal.
  • Most movement and operations are conducted at night or in limited visibility to lessen the effects of enemy air operations.

Fire Support

In counterinsurgency operations, the techniques of conventional fire support operations require some modification because of the frequent movement of guerrilla forces and consideration of METT-T. Field artillery provides one of the most rapid means of placing accurate fire on moving guerrilla forces. The fire support personnel must fully understand the rules of engagement (ROE).

Missions for fire support assets normally center around consolidation and strike campaigns conducted by the maneuver forces.

Strike Campaign

During a strike campaign, the tactics associated with fire support in the offensive phase of a maneuver operation apply.


During consolidation operations, the tactics associated with fire support normally shift to defense tactics. The centralization of fire support assets in support of host country population centers and resources are extremely important. Also, because of the increased population density in such areas, restrictive fire measures become extremely important. Fire support can be used for effective support as discussed below.

Security Posts, Checkpoints, Roadblocks, and Patrols and Ambushes. In May of 1970, Viet Nam Lessons Learned Number 77, on fire support coordination, stated: "The requirement for military and political clearances for artillery fire on or near populated areas has an adverse effect on the responsiveness of artillery fire." The goal of responding within 2 minutes after receiving a fire request was "seldom met for targets near any populated areas." Clearance requirements commonly delayed missions up to 10 minutes. "In fact," the report continued, it was "not uncommon for the artillery to be unable to fire at all because of lack of clearance." To reduce the time lost in firing, liaison with local government agencies and with allied forces was established. The creation of combined fire support coordination centers in some areas minimized the delays. "But," the report concluded, "the lack of responsiveness is a source of constant concern and frustration at all echelons of command."

Deception Plans. Artillery fires may be placed in areas other than those in which an operation is planned to distract guerrilla forces from the main effort.

Populace and Resources Control Operations. These operations may provide illumination and other munitions as required for police-type cordon and search operations or raids. FSOs can plan the use of illumination for defense against guerrilla attacks on installations such as air bases, power plants, communications centers, supply points, bridges, and communities. Planned fires may be provided to defend a convoy or tactical column. An overriding issue in any counterguerilla action is winning the people's loyalty for their government. They must be shown that the government can improve their lot as well as protect them from the insurgents. Field artillery firing units may be positioned to provide maximum coverage of population centers, lines of communication, and government installations. Firing units answer calls for fire support from any friendly party, civil or military, within range. Positioning of each firing unit has to be carefully planned in relation to the positions of all others to provide for mutual support.

Fire Support Coordination

Fires must be closely coordinated not only with tactical operations in the area but also with civilian activities. Counterguerilla operations normally dictate the following:

  • Host country rules of engagement.
  • Reduced capability for brigade-level control and coordination of fires within the operational area.
  • Greater security requirements for firing positions of indirect fire weapons, to include planning direct fires for defense.
  • Requirement to fire in all directions (6,400-mil capability).
  • Avoidance of indiscriminate use of fire support to preclude noncombatant casualties. These would alienate the population and produce hostile attitudes toward US units and the host government.
  • Close coordination with host country official in the operational area.

Fire Support Planning

Lack of time may preclude the preparation of a formal coordinated and integrated fire support plan for every contingency; however, SOPs should provide for all likely contingencies. Close liaison and continuous contact between the supported commander and the fire support coordinator provide the required coordination.


Counterguerilla operations place a burden on communications and fire control. Communications must be maintained with the local host country forces and area control center (ACC) or equivalent civilian control center. Innovation will be the key to maintaining adequate communications. At times, aircraft may have to be used as radio relay stations.

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