Air University Press


Parallel Lives in the Indo-Pacific: Edward Lansdale, Donald Wurster, and the Irregular Warfare Mind-set

  • Published
  • By Maj Joseph R. Tomczak, USAF
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The 2020 Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy acknowledges that the US military historically repeats a “boom-and-bust” cycle in its institutional competency for irregular warfare. The annex charges special operations forces to avoid the mistakes of the past by embracing and institutionalizing the mindset of irregular warfare—but does so without explicitly defining or describing it. To understand the attributes of the irregular warfare mind-set, particularly within the context of strategic competition, this work analyzes two American military leaders and influencers who developed an approach to irregular warfare within a complex international security environment. Two Airmen, Major General Edward G. Lansdale and Lieutenant General Donald C. Wurster, successfully navigated the intricacies of supporting a partner nation to achieve American political objectives in the Philippines during two different eras in that country’s history. First, then–Lieutenant Colonel Lansdale significantly aided the government of the Philippines in suppressing the Hukbalahap Insurrection in two separate tours of duty between 1946 and 1953. A half-century later, then–Brigadier General Donald Wurster led a joint task force in the initial US effort to counter the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Southern Philippines from 2001 to 2002. Both Lansdale and Wurster employed effective information operations, civic actions, and partner force capacity-building to achieve their military objectives and further American interests in the Indo-Pacific. In comparing the approaches of both leaders, five key attributes stand out: communicating a vision and controlling a narrative; relationship building and networking for effect; strategic listening, empathy, and respect; willingness to question assumptions and reevaluate approaches; and a bias for understanding. By comparing and contrasting the performance of these two leaders, this paper spotlights implications for the modern military: orienting organizations on problems instead of platforms, valuing preaccession and mid-career diversity of experience, and prioritizing media training and strategic communications.


Author(s)Maj Joseph R. Tomczak, USAF
AU Press CodeKP-5

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