Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Disclaimer: Although this article is being published during a time of great upheaval, this is by no means an endorsement by the author or publication of any of the actions described in this article. This article is purely for academic purposes and to allow law-abiding citizens to make more informed choices regarding the defense and security of their communities.
Guerrilla warfare has been the bane of empires since the beginning of recorded history. When conventional forces fail or cannot be reasonably employed, and when a will to fight remains amongst the people, it can be expected that irregular warfare, or guerrilla warfare, will occur.
For Americans, the concept isn’t new. Americans have spent the better portion of the last fifty years fighting against guerrillas in Vietnam and the Middle East. The overwhelming firepower of the United States military has forced modern insurgents, terrorists, and revolutionaries to almost exclusively employ guerrilla tactics.
At the same time, The United States was forced to utilize guerrilla warfare in order to combat the British and likely wouldn’t exist if such tactics didn’t prove so effective.
While the terminology we use for guerrilla warfare originated in the early 19th century with Napoleon’s occupation of Spain (in Spanish it means, “little war”) and subsequent uprising of irregular forces to oppose him, records of such warfare can be found as far back as Alexander the Great’s campaigns in Afghanistan.
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Learning about guerrilla warfare is the next logical step for those who understand the importance of utilizing their second amendment rights when it is constitutionally called for. If you can understand why the second amendment and training with your firearm are necessary, you should also understand the necessity of learning to employ your protective weaponry in more complex scenarios.
For any SHTF scenario, you will need an understanding of employable tactics. Since you will likely be operating with a small group of like-minded community members, guerrilla tactics will be the ones that you can employ to best defend your neighborhoods.
To this end, we are going to explore guerrilla warfare and the tactics involved. This will be a two-part piece, with the first piece (this one) covering the goals, methods, and stages of guerrilla warfare. The second part will spend more time looking at specific tactics and techniques utilized in guerrilla warfare.
- Why Should All Citizens Have a Basic Understanding of Guerrilla Warfare?
- What is Guerrilla Warfare? What are Guerrilla Tactics?
- The Stages of Guerrilla Warfare
- A Guerrilla Warfare Case Study: 1969 Belfast
Why Should All Citizens Have a Basic Understanding of Guerrilla Warfare?
An understanding of guerrilla warfare allows well-drilled groups of the local populace to defend against organized militaries, as well as react against groups of militarized criminals.
While most of us understand the first scenario, like Red Dawn, where a scrappy militia fights back against soldiers, the latter is just as likely for us in North America if things collapse. Gangs taking over chunks of territory is nothing new, and the cartels are often well-armed and well manned.
For example, in 2014, drug cartels had more or less dominated a large portion of Mexico. Luckily, after the government proved inept, the local populace rose up and began to push the drug lords out of their towns.
Sadly, the Mexican government took control of the militias, and they once again became ineffective, but the example is still a good one. From this case study, we can see that in the Americas, these cartels are capable of dominating swathes of territory, but also that organized populaces are capable of resisting them with the right strategies.
As we stated earlier, if you can understand why the second amendment is necessary, you should also understand the necessity of learning to effectively employ your weaponry for any SHTF conflict that goes beyond your personal property.
By understanding guerrilla tactics, you can better understand how to defend your community and how bad actors may be planning to work against you.
The military and police need to understand these tactics for much the same reasons. In the Marine Corps Manual: The Guerrilla and How to Fight Him the Marines emphasize the importance of learning how to deal with constant hit and run tactics and how devastating they can be to both life and morale when left unchecked.
What is Guerrilla Warfare? What are Guerrilla Tactics?
“Two weapons today threaten freedom in our world. One is the 100-megaton hydrogen bomb; it requires vast resources, technology, effort, and money… The other is a nail in a piece of wood buried in a rice paddy.” – The Guerrilla and How to Fight Him, USMC Manual
Guerrilla warfare is a form of war that is indirect. Guerrilla warfare is ‘irregular,’ it involves small groups of armed personnel (often not official soldiers, though soldiers can fight as guerrillas) who utilize tactics such as ambushes, booby-traps, hit-and-runs, assassinations, and more to maximize damage with minimized risk and the minimal resources on-hand.
These tactics allow a small and less organized force to deal with more substantial and more traditional militaries. As far back as the biblical age and the Roman conquests of Judea, you can see the use of guerrilla tactics to strike back at an overpowering military.
The organization of a guerrilla unit has some similar characteristics, whether you are talking 19th century China or 1st century Judea. The guerrilla unit may originate in any the following ways:
- From the people upset at the law or an occupation.
- Regular army soldiers put behind enemy lines for that purpose.
- Combination of A and B, with groups of A typically being trained by elite units of B.
- From the local militia.
- Deserters from the ranks of the enemy.
Realities Vary By Conflict, But Similarities Remain
Every conflict is informed by the culture and weapons of the age. The guerrillas who fought against Napoleon in Spain looked and thought quite differently from the ISIS fighters who took over sections of the Philippine Capital. However, many of the methods, strategic goals, and tactics will remain quite similar from conflict to conflict.
“The guerrilla band is an armed nucleus, the fighting vanguard of the people. It draws its great force from the mass of the people themselves. The guerrilla band is not inferior to the army which it fights simply because it is inferior in firepower. Guerrilla warfare is 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.” – Che Guevara
Are Guerrillas Terrorists?
The simple answer is: sometimes. In my opinion, you should think of guerrillas as a force designation, like a militia or cavalry, and terrorism more as a set of tactics. Terrorism is the act of spreading terror, typically through violence, in order to further political goals.
Guerrilla forces specialize in hit-and-run tactics that go after supply lines and symbolic targets; this often overlaps with terror tactics. While some guerrilla forces may utilize terrorism, others may not.
When Che Guevera talked about terrorism, he noted that killings of enemies of ‘small importance’ would typically gain noting and only lead to reprisals. Rather, he emphasized strategic sabotage when possible—though history shows his forces were the cause of much terror.
Regardless, in almost all cases, guerrilla forces will be labeled as terrorists by the government they oppose. This is typically done as a public relations move rather than due to any precise definitions.
Guerrilla Warfare Has Political Goals
The circumstances that lead to guerrilla warfare, an armed sector of the populace against a much larger force, will 99% of the time be a political fight on some level. Traditionally, guerrilla leaders have spent as much time on instruction, agitation, and propaganda as they have on fighting, “for their most important job is to win over the people.”
Guerrilla warfare is typically not conducted in an effort to defeat the opposing force, but to either make the occupation too expensive or too politically untenable—and these goals often overlap. More supplies, information, and ultimately victory can occur when you can make your efforts are politically popular.
Even the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), who have a multi-step plan for controlling large areas of drug production (and have spent decades operating mainly as a drug cartel and hostage-taker), plan to eventually rely on a popular general uprising to overthrow the government. All guerrilla wars eventually need to engage in politics to succeed.
To this end, Mao made some interesting points regarding how his guerrilla forces should act and how this benefits them. Basically, Mao said that guerrillas must train to be polite and courteous to the people. Shut doors after yourself, pick up things you knock over, replace items and pay for food, etc.
By doing this, guerrillas can operate behind enemy lines for extended periods since their presence isn’t disruptive or upsetting to the local people. If you are the local people, these acts keep you in the good graces of your community.
Food for Thought: Is It Worth It?
If you are employing guerrilla warfare in defense of your community, that means a superior military force is currently dominating your community. Deciding to engage in this form of combat means you must think of your goals in the long-term (i.e., eventual freedom) because immediate actions will likely increase the violence and danger in your community.
Engaging in guerrilla warfare to protect your neighborhood will often be counterproductive as it will likely ensure a more extensive response. However, large-scale guerrilla warfare on multiple fronts and protracted long-term resistance have all proven to be effective at combating even the most potent forces in the modern age.
The Stages of Guerrilla Warfare
Goal: Raise Awareness, Gain Sympathy, and Gain Resources.
In this stage, symbolic attacks and attempts to obtain weapons or money are the most common. Attacking foreign embassies and emblematic buildings, as well as symbolic assassinations, are standard methods. The terrorists we see launch attacks from time to time are usually attempting some sort of propaganda message via their attacks, although reckless violence will often turn a populace against you.
These may not need to be violent attacks at all. The internet can be very useful, and you can see during the Syrian civil war how multiple groups used various forms of propaganda (including video games) to grow their cause and gain recruits.
The surrounding culture and nature of the supposed conflict will typically dictate what the propaganda stage looks like as it is less about being tactically efficient and more about winning over ‘hearts and minds.’
In this stage, the guerrilla forces are able to put enough pressure in one area (let’s say we are working with a rural and urban sector) to draw troops from another. If the guerrillas can put enough pressure on the urban area, they can draw enemy soldiers away from the rural sector.
Once they can move in and dominate one of the sectors, the guerrilla forces are able to increase their supplies and recruits exponentially. Or, if they do not intend to stay and occupy, the guerrilla forces can at least ensure that the one sector is no longer aiding their opposition.
You can see during the occupation of Afghanistan how roadside bombs and ambushes were done in an attempt to isolate American outposts and occupied cities so that insurgent forces could draw attention away from other areas and soften them up for a more significant assault.
By doing so, the Taliban was able to occupy U.S. built power plants and other infrastructure and even began to tax the surrounding area.
Attacks move from symbolic to strategic. Attacks on police stations or barracks force government troops out of more areas. In many cases, guerrillas will begin to take over sections of government in the areas they have started to control. Radio stations and media points are often targeted in an attempt to take control o the airwaves.
From here war is fought over territory, equipment, and messaging for control of the state.
Sometimes, the goal may not be to overthrow an existing state, but to establish a separate one or to simply survive (as we saw with the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and in the Russian forests). In either case, the end goal is to hold off government forces long enough to make conflict no longer tenable for them, not to necessarily dominate on the battlefield.
A Guerrilla Warfare Case Study: 1969 Belfast
This is a summary of a piece in the U.S. Army’s Urban Operations Handbook.
During the Irish uprisings against the British, Belfast became a hotspot full of explosions, shootings, barricades, petrol bombs, and other tactics that challenged the British forces. The British were able to defend infrastructure targets, which opened more military targets up to attack. These relatively isolated soldiers made for easy targets and were more legitimate targets for violent attacks in the public eye.
In response, the British were forced to increase the armor and armaments their soldiers were equipped with, which in turn made them look even more like a brutal occupier. As force-protection increased, the region’s stabilization decreased, and guerrillas were then offered better targets for attack.
The lesson here is that guerrillas can take advantage of this defense/public-relations balancing game and force the hands of the security forces to further their long-term goals.
Next week we’ll talk about guerrilla tactics and strategies.
Sources Used in this Article:
These sources are a great place to start to get a more in-depth understanding of the subject.
- U.S. Army Field Manual: Urban Operations
- Marine Corps Field Manual: Mao Tse-tung On Guerrilla Warfare
- Marine Corps Field Manual: The Guerrilla and How to Fight Him
- NPR Article: Militias In Mexican State Keep Up Fight Against Cartel
- NPR Article: American Revolution Reinvents Guerrilla Warfare
- Odi Report: Life under the Taliban shadow government
- Guerrilla Warfare Tactics In Urban Environments by Major Patrick D. Marques
- Guerrilla Warfare by Ernesto Che Guevara
- RAND: The Five Stages of Urban Guerrilla Warfare: Challenge of the 1970s
- Georgetown University Presentation on Guerrilla Warfare
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