Bouncing Back after a Thumping: Resiliency among Guerrilla Units

By Grau, Lester W. | Infantry, September/October 2012 | Go to article overview

Bouncing Back after a Thumping: Resiliency among Guerrilla Units


Grau, Lester W., Infantry


"If we have to fight, we will fight You will kill 10 of our men and we will kill one of yours, and in the end it will be you who will tire of it. "

- Ho Chi Minh

Prison Diary1

"As a nation, we believed that history repeats itself. What happened in the 19th century to the invading British would also be the fate of the Soviet invaders. Philosophically, the Soviets believed that history is unidirectional, progressive and does not repeat itself. History did repeat itself and we did prevail. "

- General Abdul Rahim Wardak

The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War 2

Ho Chi Minh led the movement against the reestablishment of French colonial rule in Vietnam after World War II. The French Indochina War was a fight between different ethnic groups with different ideologies or faiths. The Soviet-Afghan War was also a fight between different ethnic groups with different ideologies or faiths. Both contests demonstrate that guerrilla warfare is a test of will and commitment.3 Yet, will and commitment are not always enough to prevent defeat. What compels the guerrilla to fight on after tactical defeat? Is it a natural and cultural thing? It is ideology or religion? Is it monetary or political gain? Is it preservation of the family at the sacrifice of the individual? Why do some guerrilla movements survive and grow after severe defeats while others quickly fold after an apparently minor setback? Why are some peoples better at it than others? The answer may lie in history, with its thousands of guerrilla movements throughout recorded time.

What is a Guerrilla Force?

After the past decade, this seems a pretty obvious question. During this decade the United States has been involved in four guerrilla wars - one in Iraq, one in the Philippines, one in Columbia, and one in Afghanistan. The Iraqi guerrilla movement originated with the government-trained, government-armed, and government-led Fedayeen organization. It spread into a large-scale resistance backed by neighboring states, outside organizations (such as al Qaeda), religious groups, ethnic groups, dismissed soldiers, malcontents, and criminals. The Philippine insurrection was the continuation of a decades-old resistance by Islamic peoples. The Columbian insurgency began as a communist movement which supported itself through the production and sale of narcotics. It has evolved into a narcotics syndicate that occasionally justifies its behavior by citing a communist ideology. The guerrillas in Afghanistan organized themselves in part based on shattered conventional Taliban and al Qaeda forces, but more often based on local Pushtun communities justifying their struggle with the defense of Islam and the neighborhood. Guerrilla movements can be state-sponsored, ideologically derived, ethnicity-based, or created from local xenophobia or political or criminal opportunism.

A guerrilla force is usually not in uniform and blends with the local populace when not fighting. The guerrilla may be untrained or well trained, paid or unpaid, locally based or drawn from different regions or countries, armed with whatever is available or armed with the latest in weaponry. Some guerrilla forces are defeated tactically and quit. Others hang on despite repeated defeats. Factors that are common to resilient guerrilla forces are base camps/safe houses, redundant logistics, sanctuary, secure lines of communication, effective leadership, ethnicity, ideology/ religion, geography, patience, recruitment, anonymity, and collective resolve.

Base Camps/Safe Houses

Base camps are normally areas that provide logistics, immediate medical care, and a staging area from which to mount ambushes, attacks, raids, and propaganda efforts. Safe houses are the urban equivalent. Base camps are usually located on difficult terrain with limited access routes and often double as forward logistics points for a larger area. Consequently, they are engineered for a stiff conventional fight and contain crew-served weapons, field fortifications, obstacles, and road blocks. …

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