The general term for overall FMLN strategy was "Prolonged Popular War." This term, borrowed directly from Asian revolutionary thought, particularly Ho Chi Minh, did not have the same meaning to the FMLN as it did to the Vietnamese. Basically, the FMLN implemented its strategy of Prolonged Popular War with three different operational modes: guerrilla warfare, maneuver warfare, and attrition warfare. The FMLN was flexible with these three operational modes, and combined all of these elements on the five war fronts. Basic to all of these modes was the idea of nonlinear military tactics.
FMLN military strategy was a product of three major lines of thought on revolutionary process, corresponding to three of the factions of the FMLN. During the early 1970s, the guerrilla groups had experienced bitter internal arguments about which strategy to adopt. The result had been bloody feuding and intrigue that led to the splintering of the revolutionary groups and the creation of the five separate Salvadoran guerrilla factions. During this time, the operational mode of Prolonged Popular War consisted of violent mass action supported by urban terrorist cells. Each faction had its own variant of this theme. In 1980, the Cuban ultimatum of unity or no aid brought the five factions reluctantly back together. The resulting strategy of this unity was the product of the integration and compromise of the three major strategic lines of thought of the major FMLN factions.