A Shot in the Dark: A History of the U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Group

by Paul Jeffrey Cook (Temple University)

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This book presents the U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG) as an example of successful change by the Army in wartime. It argues that creating the AWG required senior leaders to create a vision differing from the Army’s self-conceptualization, change bureaucratic processes to turn the vision into an actual unit, and then place the new unit in the hands of uniquely qualified leaders to build and sustain it. In doing this, it considers the forces influencing change within the Army and argues the two most significant are its self-conceptualization and institutional bureaucracy.
The work explores three major subject areas that provide historical context. The first is the Army’s institutional history from the early 1950s through 2001. This period begins with the Army seeking to validate its place in America’s national security strategy and ends with the Army trying to chart a path into the post-Cold War future. The Army’s history is largely one of asymmetric warfare. The work thus examines several campaigns that offered lessons for subsequent wars. Some lessons the Army took to heart, others it ignored. As the AWG was a direct outgrowth of the failures and frustrations the Army experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq, the book examines these campaigns and identifies the specific problems that led senior Army leaders to create the AWG.
Finally, the work chronicles the AWG’s creation in 2006, growth, and re-assignment from the Army staff to a fully-fledged organization subordinate to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command in 2011 to its deactivation. This action resulted not from the unit’s failure to adapt to a post-insurgency Army focusing on modernization. Rather, it resulted from the Army failing to realize that while the AWG was a product of counterinsurgency, it provided the capability to support the Army during a period of great strategic and institutional uncertainty.

List of Figures

DOTMLPF Explained
Book Organization

Chapter 1 A Changing Army
The Pentomic Army
The Reorganization Objective Army Division (ROAD)
The Vietnam Army
The Late-Cold War Army
The Post-Cold War Army

Chapter 2 The Army’s Historical Experience with Asymmetric Warfare
Asymmetric Roots
The American Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1867
The Philippines, 1899-1913
The Mexican Punitive Expedition, 1916-1917
Vietnam, 1950-1974

Chapter 3 Afghanistan and Iraq - 1990 to 2005
Backgrounds and Beginnings
Afghanistan—The Invasion
Iraq—The Invasion
Afghanistan and Iraq—Continuing Operations
Tactical Problems: Strategic Implications—Improvised Explosive Devices and Information Operations

Chapter 4 Creating the Asymmetric Warfare Group
Setting the Stage
First Efforts
The Initial Concept
The Mission Statement
The Operational Concept
The Organizational Concept
Subsequent Actions

Chapter 5 Growing the Asymmetric Warfare Group
Assembling and Shaping the Group
Supervising the AWG
Building Capacity
Initial Operations

Chapter 6 Transitioning The Asymmetric Warfare Group
Changes in Senior Army Leadership
The Asymmetric Warfare Group’s First Change of Command
Group Operations and Activities
Reassigning the AWG from the Army Staff to a Permanent Command
Continuing Operations and Another Change of Command
Assignment to TRADOC

The Asymmetric Warfare Group Since 2011
Considering the Forces of Change
Implications—Uncontrollable External Forces
Implications—Controllable External Forces
Implications—Internal Forces: Bureaucratic Processes
Implications—Internal Forces: Self-Conceptualization
Implications—Internal Forces: Senior Leadership
Implications—Internal Forces: Unit Leadership
Implications—Internal Forces: Institutional Norms, Branch Parochialism, Tribal Culture, and Soldier Acceptance
Implications—Contracted Expertise
The Final Analysis


Selected Bibliography
Press Releases
Web Sources
Personal Papers and Archive Collections
Further Reading


Paul J. Cook is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and military historian. He holds master’s degrees in military history and theater operations. Cook also holds a doctorate in history from Temple University. He has written on the 1916-17 Punitive Expedition, issues of race in the World War II U.S. Army, officer commissioning programs, the Korean War, intelligence organization and structures to support military operations in urban terrain, and terrorism.

Asymmetric Warfare, TRADOC, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Peter Schoomaker, Richard Cody, Army Strategic Planning Board, JAAR Review, IED, Information Operations, military contractors, G-3/5/7

See also

Bibliographic Information

Book Title

A Shot in the Dark: A History of the U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Group





Number of pages


Physical size

236mm x 160mm


2 B&W

Publication date

January 2024