JSOU Report – Decision-Making Considerations in Support to Resistance

JSOU paper Support to Resistance Will Irwin

The Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) has published a new publication by Will Irwin that augments previous reports about ‘resistance’. This new monograph explores “. . . the variety of considerations facing decision makers, the approaches used in strategic- and operational-level decision making, and how . . .” to better inform and influence that process with regard to special warfare.

This report describes some of the factors that decision makers consider when exploring support to resistance as a foreign policy option. The report describes how national security officials have arrived at certain conclusions in the past and why (in some instances) presidents have directed actions that were especially risky.

Foreword. LTG Kenneth Tovo, U.S. Army (Ret SF) provides the foreword. Tovo describes the three pubs dealing with ‘resistance’ that Will Irwin has authored. He comments that UW options generated by a TSOC rarely get passed up the chain of command for consideration at the national decision-making level. He also argues that it is important to truly understand the operational environment before embracing any policy but especially one of support to resistance. Tovo also stresses the importance of nesting support to resistance to a strategic framework. He concludes the foreword stating that “. . . supporting resistance movements will be an increasingly attractive policy option as we seek to compete with our adversaries while avoiding general war.”

Report Contents. Irwin uses some past examples of unsuccessful and successful UW campaigns to illustrate the points of his report. The Bay of Pigs event is an example of support to a resistance gone wrong; while the successful removal of the Taliban regime in 2001 shows how to do it right. He then discusses two important aspects of supporting resistance movements – recognizing an opportunity and the role of timing. Once again Irwin provides historical examples to make his point. Later in the paper the elements of risk, planning considerations, and legality are explored.

The paper highlights many of the considerations that decision makers typically face when considering an unconventional or support to resistance course of action. This paper, and the two previous papers on support to resistance published by JSOU, are excellent references and tools for special warfare planners and leaders.


Will Irwin is a Resident Senior Fellow at the Joint Special Operations University. He is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer with experience as a defense analyst, researcher, historian, instructor, and writer.

Decision-Making Considerations in Support to Resistance, by Will Irwin, JSOU Report 20-1, March 2020, 86 pages, PDF.


Image: Front cover of the JSOU report.

About John Friberg 201 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.