guerrilla warfare

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guerrilla warfare
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{{hatnote|"Guerrilla" and "Guerrilla War" redirect here. For other uses, see Guerrilla (disambiguation).}}{{distinguish|Gorilla Warfare (disambiguation)}}File:6-de-junio-1808.jpg|thumb|upright=1.6|Spanish guerrilla resistance to the Napoleonic French invasion of Spain in 1808, where the term "guerrilla" was first used in warfare.]]{{History of war}}Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which small groups of combatants, such as paramilitary personnel, armed civilians, or irregulars, use military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility, to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military. Guerrilla groups are a type of violent non-state actor.


The Spanish word "guerrilla" is the diminutive form of "guerra" ("war"). The term became popular during the early-19th century Peninsular War, when the Spanish and Portuguese people rose against the Napoleonic troops and fought against a highly superior army using the guerrilla strategy. In correct Spanish usage, a person who is a member of a "guerrilla" unit is a "guerrillero" ({{IPA-es|ɣeriˈʎeɾo|}}) if male, or a "guerrillera" ((Help:IPA/Spanish|[ɣeriˈʎeɾa)]) if female.The term "guerrilla" was used in English as early as 1809 to refer to the fighters (e.g., "The town was taken by the guerrillas"), and also (as in Spanish) to denote a group or band of such fighters. However, in most languages guerrilla still denotes the specific style of warfare. The use of the diminutive evokes the differences in number, scale, and scope between the guerrilla army and the formal, professional army of the state.{{original research inline|date=July 2016}}

Strategy, tactics and methods

{{Revolution sidebar}}File:Afrikaner Commandos2.JPG|thumb|left|Boer guerrillas during the Second Boer WarSecond Boer WarFile:Kovpak partisanki.jpg|thumb|left|Soviet partisans operating under Sydir Kovpak in German-occupied Ukraine ]]{{See also|Strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare}}


Guerrilla warfare is a type of asymmetric warfare: competition between opponents of unequal strength.JOURNAL, Tomes, Robert, Spring 2004, Relearning Counterinsurgency Warfare,weblink Parameters,weblink" title="">weblink 7 June 2010, It is also a type of irregular warfare: that is, it aims not simply to defeat an enemy, but to win popular support and political influence, to the enemy's cost.The Irregular Warrior, 4 October 2015 [1] Accordingly, guerrilla strategy aims to magnify the impact of a small, mobile force on a larger, more-cumbersome one.BOOK, Van Creveld, Martin, The Oxford History of Modern War, Technology and War II:Postmodern War?, Charles Townshend, Oxford University Press, 2000, New York, USA, 356–358, 978-0-19-285373-8, registration,weblink If successful, guerrillas weaken their enemy by attrition, eventually forcing them to withdraw.{{See also|Asymmetric warfare}}


Tactically, guerrillas usually avoid confrontation with large units and formations of enemy troops, but seek and attack small groups of enemy personnel and resources to gradually deplete the opposing force while minimizing their own losses. The guerrilla prizes mobility, secrecy, and surprise, organizing in small units and taking advantage of terrain that is difficult for larger units to use. For example, Mao Zedong summarized basic guerrilla tactics at the beginning of the Chinese "(Chiang Kai-shek#Chinese Civil War: 1927–1937|Second Revolutionary Civil War)" as:"The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue."Mao Tse-tung, "A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire", Selected Works, Eng. ed., FLP, Peking, 1965, Vol. I.{{rp|p. 124}} At least one author credits the ancient Chinese work The Art of War with inspiring Mao's tactics.{{rp|pp. 6–7}} In the 20th century, other communist leaders, including North Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh, often used and developed guerrilla warfare tactics, which provided a model for their use elsewhere, leading to the Cuban "foco" theory and the anti-Soviet Mujahadeen in Afghanistan.McNeilly, Mark. Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare, 2003, p. 204. "American arming and support of the anti-Soviet Mujahadeen in Afghanistan is another example."

Unconventional methods

{{see also|weapons of mass migration}}In addition to traditional military methods, guerrilla groups may rely also on destroying infrastructure, using improvised explosive devices, for example. They typically also rely on logistical and political support from the local population and foreign backers, are often embedded within it (thereby using the population as a human shield), and many guerrilla groups are adept at public persuasion through propaganda.NEWS,weblink Pentagon braces for Islamic State insurgency after Mosul, Detsch, J, 2017-07-11, Al-Monitor, 2018-01-24,weblink" title="">weblink 2017-07-12, dead, en-us, Many guerrilla movements today also rely heavily on children as combatants, scouts, porters, spies, informants, and in other roles,WEB,weblink A law unto themselves? Confronting the recruitment of children by armed groups, Child Soldiers International, 2016, 19 January 2018, which has drawn international condemnationWEB,weblink Report of the Secretary-General: Children and armed conflict, 2017, United Nations Secretary-General, 2017,, 2018-01-24, (although many states also recruit children into their armed forces).WEB,weblink Louder than words: An agenda for action to end state use of child soldiers, Child Soldiers International, 2012, 19 January 2018, Guerrilla groups also use displace people to solidify power or politically destabilize an adversary.

Comparison of guerrilla warfare and terrorism

There is no commonly accepted definition of "terrorism",WEB,weblink Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Emmerson, B, 2016,, 2018-01-24, BOOK,weblink The corporate security professional's handbook on terrorism, Halibozek, Edward P., Jones, Andy, Kovacich, Gerald L., Elsevier (Butterworth-Heinemann), 2008, 978-0-7506-8257-2, illustrated, 4–5, 17 December 2016, BOOK, Williamson, Myra, Terrorism, war and international law: the legality of the use of force against Afghanistan in 2001, Ashgate Publishing, 2009, 978-0-7546-7403-0,weblink and the term is frequently used as a political tactic by belligerents (most often by governments in power) to denounce opponents whose status as terrorists is disputed.BOOK,weblink The Psychology of Terrorism Fears, Sinclair, Samuel Justin, Antonius, Daniel, 7 May 2012, Oxford University Press, USA, 978-0-19-538811-4, JOURNAL, Freedom fighters and rebels: the rules of civil war, 1279138, 11773342, 95, 1, 2002, J R Soc Med, 3–4, Rowe, P, 10.1258/jrsm.95.1.3, Contrary to some terrorist groups, guerrillas usually work in open positions as armed units, try to hold and seize land, do not refrain from fighting enemy military force in battle and usually apply pressure to control or dominate territory and population. While the primary concern of guerrillas is the enemy's active military units, terrorists largely are concerned with non-military agents and target mostly civilians. Guerrilla forces principally fight in accordance with the law of war (jus in bello). In this sense, they respect the rights of innocent civilians by refraining from targeting them. According to the Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies, terrorists do not limit their actions and terrorise civilians by putting fear in people's hearts and even kill innocent foreigners in the country.WEB,weblink The Differences Between the Guerrilla Warfare and Terrorism, 2017-09-25,

Growth during the 20th century

File:游击战争03540.jpg|thumb| Zhu DeZhu DeIrregular warfare, based on elements later characteristic of modern guerrilla warfare, has existed throughout the battles of many ancient civilizations. The growth of guerrilla warfare in the 20th century was inspired in part by theoretical works on guerrilla warfare, starting with the Manual de Guerra de Guerrillas by Matías Ramón Mella written in the 19th century and, more recently, Mao Zedong's On Guerrilla Warfare, Che Guevara's Guerrilla Warfare, and Lenin's text of the same name, all written after the successful revolutions carried by them in China, Cuba and Russia, respectively. Those texts characterized the tactic of guerrilla warfare as, according to Che Guevara's text, being"used by the side which is supported by a majority but which possesses a much smaller number of arms for use in defense against oppression".BOOK,weblink Guerrilla Warfare, 9780842026789, Guevara, Ernesto, Loveman, Brian, Thomas m. Davies, Jr, 1985,


File:Jan Brueghel (I) and Sebastian Vrancx - Assault on a Convoy.jpg|upright=1.8|thumb|Sebastiaan Vrancx and Jan Brueghel the Elder's painting depicts "An assault on a convoy" during the Dutch RevoltDutch RevoltThe Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzu, in his The Art of War (6th century BC), was the earliest to propose the use of guerrilla warfare.Leonard, Thomas M., Encyclopedia of the developing world, 1989, p. 728. "One of the earliest proponents of guerrilla war tactics is the Chinese master of warfare, Sun Tzu." This directly inspired the development of modern guerrilla warfare.Snyder, Craig. Contemporary security and strategy, 1999, p. 46. "Many of Sun Tzu's strategic ideas were adopted by the practitioners of guerrilla warfare." Guerrilla tactics were presumably employed by prehistoric tribal warriors against enemy tribes.Lawrence H. Keeley, War Before Civilization, p.75, Oxford University Press, 1997"Primitive (and guerrilla) warfare consists of war stripped to its essentials: the murder of enemies; the theft or destruction of their sustenance, wealth, and essential resources; and the inducement in them of insecurity and terror. It conducts the basic business of war without recourse to ponderous formations or equipment, complicated maneuvers, strict chains of command, calculated strategies, time tables, or other civilized embellishments." Evidence of conventional warfare, on the other hand, did not emerge until 3100 BC in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Since the Enlightenment, ideologies such as nationalism, liberalism, socialism, and religious fundamentalism have played an important role in shaping insurgencies and guerrilla warfare.The Moroccan national hero Mohamed ben Abdelkrim el-Khattabi, along with his father, unified the Moroccan tribes under their control and took arms and resistance against the Spanish and French invaders of the early 20th century. For the first time in history, tunnel warfare was utilized alongside modern guerilla tactics which caused considerable damage and annoyance to both of the invading armies in Morocco. BOOK, Boot, Max, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, 2013, 10–11, 55, Liveright, 978-0-87140-424-4, Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, widely regarded as the "father of guerrilla warfare",BOOK, Laqueur, Walter, Guerrilla Warfare: A Historical & Critical Study, 1976, Transaction Publishers, 978-0-76-580406-8, 7, devised the Fabian strategy which was used to great effect against Hannibal Barca's army.BOOK, His Excellency, Joseph J. Ellis, 2004, Vintage Books, 978-1-4000-3253-2, 92–109, BOOK, Laqueur, Walter, Guerrilla Warfare: A Historical & Critical Study, 1976, Transaction Publishers, 978-0-7658-0406-8, 7, The strategy would further influence guerrilla tactics into the modern era.

Counter-guerrilla warfare

File:Fusillades de Nantes.jpg|thumb|Mass shootings of Vendée royalist rebels in western France, 1793]]File:El Tres de Mayo, by Francisco de Goya, from Prado in Google Earth.jpg|thumb|left|The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, showing Spanish resisters being executed by Napoleon's troops during the Peninsular WarPeninsular WarFile:AK-soldiers Parasol Regiment Warsaw Uprising 1944.jpg|thumb|Polish guerrillas from Batalion Zośka dressed in captured German uniforms and armed with captured weapons, fighting in the Warsaw UprisingWarsaw UprisingFile:My Tho, Vietnam. A Viet Cong base camp being. In the foreground is Private First Class Raymond Rumpa, St Paul, Minnesota - NARA - 530621 edit.jpg|thumb|A Viet Cong base camp being burned, Mỹ ThoMỹ ThoA counter-insurgency or counterinsurgencySee American and British English spelling differences#Compounds and hyphens (COIN) operation involves actions taken by the recognised government of a nation to contain or quell an insurgency taken up against it.An insurgency is a rebellion against a constituted authority (for example an authority recognised as such by the United Nations) when those taking part in the rebellion are not recognised as belligerents (Oxford English Dictionary second edition 1989 "insurgent B. n. One who rises in revolt against constituted authority; a rebel who is not recognised as a belligerent.") In the main, the insurgents seek to destroy or erase the political authority of the defending authorities in a population they seek to control, and the counter-insurgent forces seek to protect that authority and reduce or eliminate the supplanting authority of the insurgents.Counter-insurgency operations are common during war, occupation and armed rebellions. Counter-insurgency may be armed suppression of a rebellion, coupled with tactics such as "hearts and minds" designed to fracture the links between the insurgency and the population in which the insurgents move. Because it may be difficult or impossible to distinguish between an insurgent, a supporter of an insurgency who is a non-combatant, and entirely uninvolved members of the population, counter-insurgency operations have often rested on a confused, relativistic, or otherwise situational distinction between insurgents and non-combatants.


Theorists of counter-insurgency warfare have written extensively on the subject since the 1950s and 1960s but as early as the 1720s the third Marques of Santa Cruz de Marcenado (1684–1732) wrote that insurgencies were often the result of state failure and that the goal of those fighting the insurgents should be to seek the people's "heart and love".Excerpts from Santa Cruz's writings, translated into English, in Beatrice Heuser: The Strategy Makers: Thoughts on War and Society from Machiavelli to Clausewitz (Santa Monica, California: Greenwood/Praeger, 2010), {{ISBN|978-0-275-99826-4}}, pp. 124-146. The two most influential of scholars of counter-insurgency have been Westerners whose job it had been to fight insurgents (often colonised people). Robert Thompson fought during the Malayan Emergency and David Galula fought during the Algerian War. Together these officers advocated multi-pronged strategies to win over the civilian population to the side of the counter-insurgent.

Classic guidelines

The widely distributed and influential work of Sir Robert Thompson, counter-insurgency expert of the Malayan Emergency, offers several such guidelines. Thompson's underlying assumption was that the counter-insurgent was committed to improving the rule of law and bettering local governance.Thompson, Robert (1966). Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam, Chatto & Windus, {{ISBN|0-7011-1133-X}} Some governments, however, give such considerations short shrift. These governments are not interested in state-building and in extreme cases they have carried out counter-insurgency operations by using mass murder, genocide, terror, torture and execution. Historian Timothy Snyder has written, "In the guise of anti-partisan actions, the Germans killed perhaps three quarters of a million people, about 350,000 in Belarus alone, and lower but comparable numbers in Poland and Yugoslavia. The Germans killed more than a hundred thousand Poles when suppressing the Warsaw Uprising of 1944."Snyder, Timothy. "Holocaust: The Ignored Reality"In the Vietnam War, the Americans "defoliated countless trees in areas where the communist North Vietnamese troops hid supply lines and conducted guerrilla warfare"NEWS,weblink Anthony, Failoa, In Vietnam, Old Foes Take Aim at War's Toxic Legacy, The Washington Post, 13 November 2006, 31 October 2011, (see Operation Ranch Hand). In the Soviet–Afghan War, the Soviets countered the U.S.–backed Mujahideen with a 'Scorched Earth' policy, driving over one third of the Afghan population into exile (over 5 million people), and carrying out widespread destruction of villages, granaries, crops, herds and irrigation systems, including the deadly and widespread mining of fields and pastures.Kakar, Hassan. The Story of Genocide in AfghanistanMalhuret, Claude. Report from Afghanistan


Some writers on counter-insurgency warfare emphasise the more turbulent nature of today's guerrilla warfare environment, where the clear political goals, parties and structures of such places as Vietnam, Malaya, and El Salvador are not as prevalent. These writers point to numerous guerrilla conflicts that centre around religious, ethnic or even criminal enterprise themes, and that do not lend themselves to the classic "national liberation" template.The wide availability of the Internet has also caused changes in the tempo and mode of guerrilla operations in such areas as coordination of strikes, leveraging of financing, recruitment, and media manipulation. While the classic guidelines still apply, today's anti-guerrilla forces need to accept a more disruptive, disorderly and ambiguous mode of operation. According to David Kilcullen:

Foco theory

File:Nigerien MNJ fighter technical gun.JPG|thumb|A Tuareg rebel fighter in northern Niger, 2008]], p. 52}}In the 1960s, the Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara developed the foco () theory of revolution in his book Guerrilla Warfare, based on his experiences during the 1959 Cuban Revolution. This theory was later formalised as "focal-ism" by Régis Debray. Its central principle is that vanguardism by cadres of small, fast-moving paramilitary groups can provide a focus for popular discontent against a sitting regime, and thereby lead a general insurrection. Although the original approach was to mobilise and launch attacks from rural areas, many foco ideas were adapted into urban guerrilla warfare movements.

See also

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Further reading

  • Asprey, Robert. War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History
  • BOOK, Encyclopedia of Guerrilla Warfare, Hardcover, I. F. W., Beckett, Santa Barbara, California, Abc-Clio Inc, 15 September 2009, 978-0874369298, {{ISBN|9780874369298}}
  • Derradji Abder-Rahmane, The Algerian Guerrilla Campaign Strategy & Tactics, the Edwin Mellen Press, New York, USA, 1997.
  • Hinckle, Warren (with Steven Chain and David Goldstein): Guerrilla-Krieg in USA (Guerrilla war in the USA), Stuttgart (Deutsche Verlagsanstalt) 1971. {{ISBN|3-421-01592-9}}
  • Keats, John (1990). They Fought Alone. Time Life. {{ISBN|0-8094-8555-9}}
  • MacDonald, Peter. Giap: The Victor in Vietnam
  • BOOK, The Heretic: the life and times of Josip Broz-Tito,weblink
  • Oller, John. The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution. Boston: Da Capo Press, 2016. {{ISBN|978-0-306-82457-9}}.
  • Peers, William R.; Brelis, Dean. (Behind the Burma Road|Behind the Burma Road: The Story of America's Most Successful Guerrilla Force). Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1963.
  • Polack, Peter. Guerrilla Warfare; Kings of Revolution Casemate,{{ISBN|9781612006758}}.
  • Thomas Powers, "The War without End" (review of Steve Coll, Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Penguin, 2018, 757 pp.), The New York Review of Books, vol. LXV, no. 7 (19 April 2018), pp. 42–43. "Forty-plus years after our failure in Vietnam, the United States is again fighting an endless war in a faraway place against a culture and a people we don't understand for political reasons that make sense in Washington, but nowhere else." (p. 43.)
  • Schmidt, LS. 1982. "American Involvement in the Filipino Resistance on Mindanao During the Japanese Occupation, 1942-1945". M.S. Thesis. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. 274 pp.
  • Sutherland, Daniel E. "Sideshow No Longer: A Historiographical Review of the Guerrilla War." Civil War History 46.1 (2000): 5-23; American Civil War, 1861–65
  • Sutherland, Daniel E. A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerillas in the American Civil War (U of North Carolina Press, 2009). online
  • Weber, Olivier, Afghan Eternity, 2002

External links

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