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. 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 the key process - the basis of operation instructions and ultimately overall success or failure. The intelligence gathered is largely HUMINT, the 'opposition' do not typically act in a way that is susceptible to extensive SIGINT or ELINT gathering.
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-organising, 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 un-necessary deaths.
Examples of low-intensity operations include the British in Kenya in the 1950s, the British in Malaya in the 1950s, the British in Cyprus in the 1960s or the British in Northern Ireland since the 1960s. since World War II the British army has engaged in over fifty non-war operations, mostly against colonial insurgency.