Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which a small
group 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.
2 Strategy, tactics and methods
2.3 Unconventional methods
2.4 Growth during the 20th century
4 Counter-guerrilla warfare
4.1.1 Classic guidelines
6 Relationship to terrorism
7 See also
9 External links
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 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" ([ɡeriˈʎeɾo]) if male, or a
"guerrillera" 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?]
Strategy, tactics and methods
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Guerilla warfare is a type of asymmetric warfare: competition between
opponents of unequal strength. 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.
Accordingly, guerilla strategy aims to magnify the impact of a small,
mobile force on a larger, more-cumbersome one. If successful,
guerrillas weaken their enemy by attrition, eventually forcing them to
See also: Asymmetric warfare
Tactically, guerrillas usually avoid confrontation with large units 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
"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.":p. 124
At least one author credits the ancient Chinese work The Art of War
with inspiring Mao's tactics.: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
Mujahadeen in Afghanistan.
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, are often embedded within it
(thereby using the population as a human shield), and many guerrilla
groups are adept at public persuasion through propaganda. Many
guerilla movements today also rely heavily on children as combatants,
scouts, porters, spies, informants, and in other roles, which has
drawn international condemnation (although many states also recruit
children into their armed forces).
See also: Human shield, Children in the military, and Propaganda
Growth during the 20th century
Irregular warfare, based on elements later characteristic of modern
guerrilla warfare, has existed throughout the battles of many ancient
civilizations. The growth of guerilla 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
Main article: History of guerrilla warfare
Sebastiaan Vrancx and Jan Brueghel the Elder's painting depicts "An
assault on a convoy" during the
Dutch Revolt - effectively an instance
of guerrilla warfare, though the term did not yet exist.
The Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzu, in his The Art of
century BC) or 600 BC to 501 BC, was the earliest to propose the use
of guerrilla warfare. This directly inspired the development of
modern guerrilla warfare. Guerrilla tactics were presumably
employed by prehistoric tribal warriors against enemy tribes.
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. 
One of the most remarkable guerrilla warfare warriors was Viriatus, a
Lusitanian who led the resistance against the
Roman Empire by
obtaining several victories between 147 BC and 139 BC in the region of
Zamora, Spain. Because of the innovative tactics[example needed] he
used during his command, he made himself the name of Terror Romanorum
(Terror of the Romans).
Main article: Counter-insurgency
Mass shootings of Vendée royalist rebels in western France, 1793
The Third of May 1808
The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya, showing Spanish resisters
being executed by Napoleon's troops during the Peninsular War.
Polish guerrillas from
Batalion Zośka dressed in captured German
uniforms and armed with captured weapons, fighting in the Warsaw
Viet Cong base camp being burned, My Tho, South Vietnam, 1968
A counter-insurgency or counterinsurgency (COIN) operation
involves actions taken by the recognized government of a nation to
contain or quell an insurgency taken up against it. 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
Counter-insurgency may be armed suppression of a
rebellion, coupled with tactics such as divide and rule 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
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". The two most influential of scholars of
counter-insurgency have been Westerners whose job it had been to fight
insurgents (often colonized 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.
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. 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."
In the Vietnam War, the Americans "defoliated countless trees in areas
where the communist North Vietnamese troops hid supply lines and
conducted guerrilla warfare", (see Operation Ranch Hand). In the
Soviet war in Afghanistan, 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.
Some writers on counter-insurgency warfare emphasize the more
turbulent nature of today's guerrilla warfare environment, where the
clear political goals, parties and structures of such places as
Vietnam, Malaysia, and
El Salvador are not as prevalent. These writers
point to numerous guerrilla conflicts that center 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:
Insurgents may not be seeking to overthrow the state, may have no
coherent strategy or may pursue a faith-based approach difficult to
counter with traditional methods. There may be numerous competing
insurgencies in one theater, meaning that the counterinsurgent must
control the overall environment rather than defeat a specific enemy.
The actions of individuals and the propaganda effect of a subjective
"single narrative" may far outweigh practical progress, rendering
counterinsurgency even more non-linear and unpredictable than before.
The counterinsurgent, not the insurgent, may initiate the conflict and
represent the forces of revolutionary change. The economic
relationship between insurgent and population may be diametrically
opposed to classical theory. And insurgent tactics, based on
exploiting the propaganda effects of urban bombing, may invalidate
some classical tactics and render others, like patrolling,
counterproductive under some circumstances. Thus, field evidence
suggests, classical theory is necessary but not sufficient for success
against contemporary insurgencies.
Main article: Foco
Tuareg rebel fighter in northern Niger, 2008
Why does the guerrilla fighter fight? We must come to the inevitable
conclusion that the guerrilla fighter is a social reformer, that he
takes up arms responding to the angry protest of the people against
their oppressors, and that he fights in order to change the social
system that keeps all his unarmed brothers in ignominy and misery.
— Che Guevara
In the 1960s, the
Che Guevara developed the foco
(Spanish: foquismo) theory of revolution in his book Guerrilla
Warfare, based on his experiences during the 1959 Cuban Revolution.
This theory was later formalized as "focalism" 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 mobilize and launch attacks from rural
areas, many foco ideas were adapted into urban guerrilla warfare
Relationship to terrorism
There is no commonly accepted definition of "terrorism",
and the term is frequently used as a political tactic by belligerents
to denounce opponents whose status as terrorists is disputed.
An attempt at a global definition appears in the working draft of
Comprehensive Convention Against International Terrorism, which
defines terrorism as a type of act, rather than as a type of
group. Specifically, "terrorism" in the draft refers to the
threatened or actual intentional injury to others and serious damage
to property resulting in major economic loss, "when the purpose of the
conduct, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or
to compel a Government or an international organization to do or to
abstain from doing any act".
Since the definition encompasses the actions of some guerrilla
movements (and of some state actors) and not others, disagreements
remain and the treaty has yet to be agreed. For example, the
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has called for acts of terrorism
to be distinguished from "the legitimate struggle of peoples under
foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination in the exercise of
their right to self-determination in accordance with the principles of
Terrorism and Violent non-state actor
History of guerrilla warfare
List of guerrilla movements
List of guerrillas
List of revolutions and rebellions
Violent non-state actor
^ Simandan, D., 2017. Competition, contingency, and destabilization in
urban assemblages and actor-networks. Urban Geography, pp.1-12.
^ Tomes, Robert (Spring 2004). "Relearning Counterinsurgency Warfare"
(PDF). Parameters. US Army
War College. Archived from the original
(PDF) on 7 June 2010.
^ The Irregular Warrior, 4 October 2015 
^ Van Creveld, Martin (2000). "Technology and
War II:Postmodern War?".
In Charles Townshend. The Oxford History of Modern War. New York, USA:
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^ Mao Tse-tung, "A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire", Selected
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^ a b McNeilly, Mark.
Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare, 2003, p.
204. "American arming and support of the anti-Soviet
Afghanistan is another example."
^ Detsch, J (2017-07-11). "Pentagon braces for Islamic State
insurgency after Mosul". Al-Monitor. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
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Confronting the recruitment of children by armed groups". Retrieved 19
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^ Child Soldiers International (2012). "Louder than words: An agenda
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Guerrilla Warfare. ISBN 9780842026789.
^ 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."
^ Snyder, Craig. Contemporary security and strategy, 1999, p. 46.
"Many of Sun Tzu's strategic ideas were adopted by the practitioners
of guerrilla warfare."
^ Lawrence H. Keeley,
War Before Civilization, p.75, Oxford University
"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."
^ Boot, Max (2013). Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla
Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present. Liveright.
pp. 10–11, 55. ISBN 978-0-87140-424-4.
^ See American and British English spelling differences#Compounds and
^ An insurgency is a rebellion against a constituted authority (for
example an authority recognized as such by the United Nations) when
those taking part in the rebellion are not recognized as belligerents
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary second edition 1989 "insurgent B. n. One
who rises in revolt against constituted authority; a rebel who is not
recognized as a belligerent.")
^ 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, CA: Greenwood/Praeger, 2010),
ISBN 978-0-275-99826-4, pp. 124-146.
^ Thompson, Robert (1966). Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons
of Malaya and Vietnam, Chatto & Windus, ISBN 0-7011-1133-X
^ Snyder, Timothy. "Holocaust: The Ignored Reality"
^ Failoa, Anthony (13 November 2006). "In Vietnam, Old Foes Take Aim
at War's Toxic Legacy". The Washington Post. Retrieved 31 October
^ Kakar, Hassan. The Story of
Genocide in Afghanistan
^ Malhuret, Claude. Report from Afghanistan
^ Kilcullen, David. "
^ Guevara, Ernesto; Davies, Thomas M. Guerrilla Warfare, Rowman &
Littlefield, 1997, ISBN 0-8420-2678-9, p. 52
^ Emmerson, B (2016). "Report of the
Special Rapporteur on the
promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms
while countering terrorism" (PDF). www.un.org. Retrieved
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corporate security professional's handbook on terrorism (illustrated
ed.). Elsevier (Butterworth-Heinemann). pp. 4–5.
ISBN 0-7506-8257-4. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
^ Williamson, Myra (2009). Terrorism, war and international law: the
legality of the use of force against
Afghanistan in 2001. Ashgate
Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7546-7403-0.
^ Sinclair, Samuel Justin; Antonius, Daniel (7 May 2012). The
Terrorism Fears. Oxford University Press, USA.
^ a b
United Nations General Assembly (2005). "Draft comprehensive
convention against international terrorism" (PDF). www.un.org.
^ a b European Parliament (2015). "Understanding definitions of
terrorism" (PDF). www.europa.eu. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
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