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Low intensity conflict (LIC) is the use of military forces applied selectively and with restraint to enforce compliance with the policies or objectives of the political body controlling the military force. The term can be used to describe conflicts where at least one or both of the opposing parties operate along such lines.

Low intensity operations

Low-intensity operations consist of the deployment and use of troops or assets in situations other than war. Generally these operations are against non-state actors and are given terms like counter-insurgency, anti-subversion, and peacekeeping.[1]

Official definitions

United States

Low-intensity conflict is defined by the US Army as:

... a political-military confrontation between contending states or groups below conventional war and above the routine, peaceful competition among states. It frequently involves protracted struggles of competing principles and ideologies. Low-intensity conflict ranges from subversion to the use of the armed forces. It is waged by a combination of means, employing political, economic, informational, and military instruments. Low-intensity conflicts are often localized, generally in the Third World, but contain regional and global security implications.[2]

The manual also says:

... successful LIC operations, consistent with US interests and laws, can advance US international goals such as the growth of freedom, democratic institutions, and free market economies. ... US policy recognizes that indirect, rather than direct, applications of US military power are the most appropriate and cost-effective ways to achieve national goals in a LIC environment. The principal US military instrument in LIC is security assistance in the form of training, equipment, services and combat support. When LIC threatens friends and allies, the aim of security assistance is to ensure that their military institutions can provide security for their citizens and government. ... The United States will also employ combat operations in exceptional circumstances when it cannot protect its national interests by other means. When a US response is called for, it must be in accordance with the principles of international and domestic law. These principles affirm the inherent right of states to use force in individual or collective self-defense against armed attack.[2]



As the name suggests, in comparison with conventional operations the armed forces involved operate at a greatly reduced tempo, with fewer soldiers, a reduced range of tactical equipment and limited scope to operate in a military manner. For example the use of air power, pivotal in modern warfare, is often relegated to transport and surveillance. Artillery is often not used when LIC occurs in populated areas. The role of the armed forces is dependent on the stage of the insurrection, whether it has progressed to armed struggle or is in an early stage of propaganda and protests.


Intelligence gathering is essential to an efficient basis of LIC operation instructions. Electronic and signal gathering intelligence, ELINT and SIGINT, proves largely ineffective against low intensity opponents. LIC generally requires more hands-on HUMINT methods of information retrieval.


In the first stages of insurrection, much of an army's work is "soft" - working in conjunction with civil authorities in psychological operations, propaganda, counter-organizing, so-called "hearts and minds." If the conflict progresses, possibly into armed clashes, the role develops with the addition of the identification and removal of the armed groups - but again, at a low level, in communities rather than throughout entire cities. This is roughly the definition of terrorism.



The Union of Myanmar (the official name of Burma) has regularly conducted limited low-intensity military campaigns against the independence movement of the Karen people in an area of southeast Burma (roughly corresponding to a Burmese administrative region called the Kayin State), which has actively pursued independence since January 1949. While allegedly limited and low-intensity in that the territories occupied in force by central government forces are returned (as they cannot be held permanently as yet) at the end of the offensives (with the stated, but sometimes unstated, purpose of weakening the opposition and independence movements), human rights organizations and national governments outside of Burma question the veracity of, and sometimes outright refute (based on clear evidence[citation needed]) these claims.


The governments of Sudan have also engaged in limited military offensives (analogous to Burma's "annual dry season offensives") against various armed opposition and independence movements, which have often escalated into full-scale warfare, particularly in the south and Darfur, but also until recently in the east. These military actions (First Sudanese Civil War and Second Sudanese Civil War) have, over time, continued to ravage the areas in dispute and contribute greatly to the poor conditions in those regions as well as the various human rights violations that have occurred (and in some cases are still occurring) there.

German occupation of France

German occupation of Western Europe during World War II, notably the occupation of France, shared many aspects with more recent cases of LIC, such as the "Hearts and minds" stage early on, establishment of puppet governments, strong propaganda aimed at isolating resistance movements, and support to domestic friendly forces (such as the Milice in France).

See also


  1. G.V. Brandolini (2002). Low intensity conflicts. CRF Press, Bergamo, 16 p.
  2. 2.0 2.1 United States Department of the Army (5 December 1990). "Field Manual 100-20: Military Operations in Low Intensity Conflict". 
  • Asprey, Robert. War in the Shadows, ISBN 0-595-22593-4
  • British Army (ed.). Land Operations, Volume III, Counter Revolutionary Operations, 1969.
  • Buffaloe, David. Conventional Forces in Low-Intensity Conflict: The 82nd Airborne at Firebase Shkin, Afghanistan [1], October 2004.
  • Hammes, Thomas X.. The Sling and the Stone, Zenith Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7603-2059-4
  • van Creveld, Martin. The Transformation of War. The Free Press, 1991. ISBN 0-02-933155-2

External links

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