Low intensity conflict

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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.


Low intensity operations

Low-Intensity Operations is a military term for the deployment and use of troops in situations other than war. Generally these operations are against non-state adversaries and are given terms like counter-insurgency, anti-subversion, and peacekeeping. Some, depending on political alignment, view LIC as a form of terrorism.[1] The term "low intensity operations" appears to have originated with General Sir Frank Kitson.

Official state definitions

US Army Field Manual

Low-intensity conflict is defined by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (as promulgated in the US Army Field Manual 100-20) 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.



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 the 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, communities rather than entire cities. Throughout the conflict there is a general need for the armed forces to operate in a manner to which they are not well-suited or adequately trained - police-work, individual assassination, arrests, interrogations and torture being problematic and often leading to human rights abuses and unnecessary deaths.


Examples of low-intensity operations include the British campaigns against the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950s, the Malayan Peoples Anti British army led by the Communist leader Chin Peng in Malaya in the from 1948 to 1960 known as the Malayan Emergency, Aden in the 60s, Oman in the 70s Cyprus in the 1960s, Northern Ireland since the late 1960s. Since World War II, the British military has engaged in over fifty low intensity campaigns. The U.S. 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 and achieved overwhelming results. The Israeli SHABAK has successfully created a large network of HUMINT agents for the purpose of extracting intelligence to enable IDF identification and termination insurgent leaders.

LIC Doctrines

  • Urban warfare:
    • MOUT : the "macro" of urban warfare, how to utilize infantry, tanks, snipers and bulldozers in order to clear a populated area from armed enemy's forces with minimal casualties to raiding forces and civilian population.
    • CQB : the "micro" of urban warfare, how a squad of infantry should fight in narrow alleys, houses and tunnels.
  • Counter terror
  • Intelligence gathering
    • HUMINT : HUMINT stands for Human Intelligence, and refers to intelligence-gathering by means of: interrogations, espionage and usage of secret agents network from the local population.
    • SIGINT : SIGINT stands for Signals Intelligence, and refers to intelligence-gathering by interception of signals, whether by radio interception or other means.
    • ELINT : stands for Electronic Intelligence, and refers to intelligence-gathering by use of electronic sensors.

Further reading