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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 is a military term for the deployment and use of troops and/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. Some, such as Noam Chomsky, view LIC as state terrorism. The term "low intensity operations" appears to have originated with a British soldier, General Sir Frank Kitson.

Official State 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.

The manual also states that "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."



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. (see also Counter-insurgency, Divide and rule, Fourth generation warfare and Military operations other than war.



The British campaigns against the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950s, against the Malayan Races Liberation Army led by the communist Chin Peng in Malayamarker during the "Malayan Emergency" from 1948 to 1960, Adenmarker in the 60s, Omanmarker in the 70s, against EOKA in Cyprusmarker in the 1960s, and "the Troubles" in Northern Irelandmarker from the late 1960s to mid-1990s. Since World War II, the British military has engaged in over fifty low intensity campaigns. The US Rapid Deployment Forces were formed to deal with low intensity conflicts.


The Israeli Defence Forces have performed hundreds of low-intensity operations during the al-Aqsa Intifada, including the creation by SHABAK of a large network of HUMINT agents to better enable Israel Defence Forces identification and targeted killings of insurgent leaders.


(see the Chiapas conflict)

See also


  • 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 [40387], October 2004.
  • Hammes, Thomas X.. The Sling and the Stone, Zenith Press, 2004. ISBN 0760320594
  • van Creveld, Martin. The Transformation of War. The Free Press, 1991. ISBN0-02-933155-2

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