“Analogically, the guerrilla fights the war of the flea, and his military enemy suffers the dog’s disadvantages: too much to defend; too small, ubiquitous, and agile an enemy to come to grips with. If the war continues long enough-this is the theory-the dog succumbs to exhaustion and anemia without ever having found anything on which to close his jaws or to rake with his claws.”
The War of the Flea-Robert Taber
After winning the
two World Wars, the
In spite of this
Sun Tzu advised that the first step to winning any war is to “know the enemy.” In an effort to help prevent such defeats in the future this paper is devoted to understanding the guerrilla militarily and psychologically.
Little practical instruction on guerrilla warfare exists. Most of the existing literature either addresses guerrilla high command regarding big picture strategy issues or is so sterilely academic that it is of little use to the guerrilla Lieutenant or Captain in urgent need of tactical insight. There are some exceptions: Che Guevara’s “Guerrilla Warfare” thoroughly addresses tactics, some of the studies and manuals published by the American military, “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” and “The Other Side of the Mountain” a compilation of accounts of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan from the small unit leader’s perspective, and Robert Asprey’s work “War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History,” are a few examples of the most helpful literature.
II. Basic Principles of Guerrilla War
What is guerrilla warfare? Guerrilla warfare is a type of asymmetric warfare in which a technologically and numerically inferior force uses improvised small-scale tactics of harassment against a conventional military enemy, in coordination with a larger political-military strategy.
Along with terrorism and revolution, guerrilla war falls under the umbrella of insurgency. The main difference among the three is the degree of popular support needed to sustain each. Terrorism requires only a few hard-core adherents. On the other extreme, revolution requires the most popular support; guerrilla warfare lies in between. Although insurgency does not necessarily progress one by one through these stages, the continuum is a helpful conceptually.
Far from being a
new phenomenon, guerilla warfare is nearly as old as foreign invasion or
domestic oppression: in 512
a. The Guerrilla’s Central Tactics
Most guerrilla battlefield doctrine can be traced to the two inherent characteristics of almost any guerrilla movement. First, the guerrilla, at least initially, fights from a position of weakness. Second, the guerrilla’s goal is primarily political rather than military.
i. Guerrilla Warfare is the “weapon of the weak”
“The weaker the forces that are at the disposal of the supreme commander, the more appealing the use of cunning becomes.”
Guerrillas fight guerrilla war because they have few other options. Conducting a traditional conventional war is futile; revolution is not yet possible, and terrorism, for all its utility, is a last resort that could do more harm than good. Without a congress to appropriate war funds, or access to the latest technology, guerrillas are forced to either transform weakness into strength or become extinct. This gives birth to an arsenal of guerrilla tactics and weapons characterized by second rate, and sometimes primitive, technology, but abundant cunning and resourcefulness: rocks instead of real shrapnel, punji sticks instead of land mines, sewers instead of bunkers, the Molotov instead of cruise missiles. This hunger forces the guerrilla to be cunning while the counter guerilla, because of his abundance of resources, risks martial atrophy. Night vision, missiles that strike from thousands of miles away with pinpoint accuracy, and numbing firepower go to the wealthy; but the night, the element of surprise, and audacity, are free to the most cunning.
1. Guerrilla Weakness Forces Reliance on Terrain
In many theaters,
few things are cheaper and more readily available than favorable terrain. Since the earliest wars, favorable terrain has been the friend of the
weak. In 480 B.C. 10,000 Greeks used a
narrow mountain pass at
In addition to the natural advantages of terrain, guerrilla fighters have intimate knowledge of the land, and because the guerrilla chooses when and where to fight, counter guerrilla forces need not be attacked unless the geography favors an engagement.
2. Dispersion and Concentration
Because the guerrilla is usually outnumbered and outgunned it should not present a massed target to the counter guerrilla. Tactically, this characteristic manifests itself in the use of dispersion. Dispersion is essential to the guerrilla defensively; forcing the counter guerrilla to disperse is important to the guerrilla offensively. The guerrilla’s survival depends on being dispersed, blending in with the population, making it as difficult as possible for the counter guerrilla to engage him unless it is on the guerrilla’s terms. Offensively, the guerrilla forces the counter guerrilla to disperse by engaging him throughout the theater, rather than in one region of the theater.
Analogically, the counter guerrilla faced with the task of rooting out a dispersed guerrilla force is in the same predicament as the doctor trying to cure a cancer. If all the malignant cells could be separated from the healthy cells, the doctor could easily excise them. Because the malignancy is dispersed throughout the otherwise healthy body of the patient, the doctor must attack the cancer at the expense of healthy surrounding tissue and sometimes at the expense of the patient’s life.
There is a tension between dispersion and concentration. While dispersal is the safest state for the guerrilla, the essence of warfare is the use of locally superior concentration of power against an opposing force of inferior power. Guerrilla armies who lack the audacity to swiftly concentrate and take advantage of the inevitable vulnerability, face demoralization and a slow death.
ii. The Guerrilla’s Goal is Primarily Political
In T.E. Lawrence’s view, only a third of guerrilla warfare is military. And the nature of even this military aspect “depend[s] fundamentally on the political two-thirds.” One way to understand Lawrence of Arabia’s theory is to divide a guerilla war into three sub wars. First, a war attacking the morale of the counter guerilla army and its regime’s political will to fight, second, the war to win the hearts and minds of the people, and finally, the actual contest of arms between guerrilla and counter guerrilla. In some cases, a fourth sub war is fought, the battle to influence international opinion. The over arching goals of attacking the counter guerrilla’s political will to fight and winning the people’s support, dictate the conduct of the actual contest of arms.
Almost without exception, all guerrillas and guerrilla theorists agree that modern guerrilla warfare is a temporary means to an ultimate political goal: independence, a change in government, or the withdrawal of foreign forces. Whether guerrilla war leads directly to the desired political goal or is merely a transition phase to conventional war is the subject of debate.
At one end of the spectrum, the founding fathers of guerrilla war, Che Guevara (“Che) and Mao Tse-tung (“Mao”), insist that guerrilla war does not lead directly to the desired political change but is rather a stepping-stone to conventional armies, which in turn lead directly to the desired political change. Mao wrote that insurgency progresses through three stages. In the first phase the insurgents concentrate primarily on building political strength; military action is limited to surgical politically motivated strikes. In the second phase the insurgents consolidate, set up bases, and conduct more extensive military operations. In the final phase, the insurgents employ regular forces in a final conventional offensive against the government. Che agreed saying, “it is clear that guerrilla warfare is a phase that does not afford in itself opportunities to arrive at complete victory. It is one of the initial phases of warfare and will develop continuously until the guerrilla army in its steady growth acquires the characteristics of a regular army.”
Mao rose from the
faceless anonymity of the peasant caste to become ruler of one of the largest
nations in the world; he was arguably the most influential political
philosopher of his time. At one point, Che’s guerrilla force was decimated to 16 guerrillas with
12 weapons between them. Through iron discipline, determination, and a
natural gift for tactics, the doctor, along with Castro, recovered from almost
imminent defeat and conquered
Mao and Che are the founding fathers of modern guerrilla theory, but they are not gods and they were not infallible. Their insistence that guerrilla war must necessarily lead to conventional war in order to achieve a political goal is dead wrong and an anachronism. At most, guerrilla warfare as a phase on the way to conventional war is the exception rather than the rule.
Revolution, in spite of what Che writes in his
treatise on guerrilla war, never matured into conventional war. The only battle of the whole revolution
resembling conventional war occurred in December, 1958, over control of the
Mao’s insurgency did progress through his three stages ultimately reaching conventional war. After many years of guerrilla war, the Communists eventually smashed the Nationalists with conventional tactics culminating in the battle of Hwai-hai. Still, Mao was a prisoner of his own experience. He assumed that because his insurgency reached conventional war that it was a necessary progression for all insurgencies.
The reality is that the Chinese progression is an anomaly. Around and after the years of the Chinese and Cuban revolutions, guerrilla wars that never matured into a full conventional conflict have regularly achieved victory by doing one, all, or a combination of the following: (1) demoralizing the counter guerrilla army to such an extent that it surrenders en masse, it becomes ineffective militarily, the regime withdraws it, or that the army stages a coup, (2) exhausting the counter guerrilla regime’s will to fight, and (3) inciting revolution or uprising by winning the people’s active support through a coherent political message and an effective dissemination of that message to the intended audience.
a. A Better Approach: Conventional Tactics as an Option within Guerrilla War
This paper advocates a third way. One that is in between the two extremes of, on one hand, guerrilla war as a purgatory on the road to conventional war, and on the other hand, a war of exclusively guerrilla tactics. Instead, guerrillas should wage a primarily guerrilla war, but should, if profitable given the totality of the circumstances, also incorporate conventional tactics. This approach discards Che and Mao’s rigid model of a necessary progression through watertight compartments to ultimate conventional war while salvaging some its more fluid features.
I use the North Vietnamese “Tet Offensive” (“Tet”) as a model and starting point to outline the considerations that should be weighed in deciding whether and how to adopt conventional tactics. The next section sets out a factored analysis for deciding whether conventional tactics should be incorporated into a guerrilla insurgency.
In a subsequent section, this paper applies the analysis in context, examining the Kosovo Liberation Army’s, (“KLA”), decision to adopt conventional tactics in their July 1998 offensive and testing the proposes analysis.
b. The Tet Offensive-Political Brilliance, Martial Suicide
During the 1968 Tet Offensive, the North Vietnamese temporarily abandoned guerrilla tactics in favor of a conventional offensive. A force of about 60,000 North Vietnamese struck over 100 South Vietnamese towns. In some areas, the North Vietnamese held territory for as long as a month before they reverted back to guerrilla tactics.
In a purely military sense, the offensive was an insurgent disaster, and an American victory. General Vo Nguyen Giap (“Giap”) and his Vietcong (“VC”) had lost over 50,000 men; over twice that number were wounded or taken prisoner. General Westmoreland (“Westmoreland”) lost only 4,500 U.S. and South Vietnamese Army (“ARVN”) troops, and over 16,000 wounded, well below what Giap had intended to inflict.
within a year of Tet, the
Tet was successful because its objectives were
political. On the high end, the
Communists hoped it would incite a general uprising in the South; at the very
least the offensive was designed to exhaust the American will to fight, both at
home, within the army, and within the administration. Although the uprising never materialized,
the Communists did achieve their other objectives. Shocked and confused Americans watched an
enemy their administration had declared hamstrung, carry the fight not only
straight into the heart of
c. Factors to Weigh in Deciding Whether a Guerrilla Movement Should Adopt Conventional Tactics
What lessons and considerations can be extrapolated from Tet’s planning and execution?
The first factors
is an assessment of whether the guerrilla force is ready to launch a
conventional offensive. This is a double
inquiry. First, the guerrilla force,
before the major conventional offensive, should at least be battle
hardened. Ideally they should have some
experience in conventional tactics. For
the Vietnamese, the Americans were the latest in a long line of would-be
occupiers. The generation before had
fought the French, and the generation before that, the Chinese. Fighting was in their blood and it showed on
the battlefield. In addition, the
Communists even had some experience with conventional tactics. Months before Tet,
moving in regiments and even divisions, the North Vietnamese launched a
conventional offensive against American outposts in central
Second, history shows that guerrilla forces suffer heavy casualties when they adopt conventional tactics. A conventional offensive means heavy casualties. Can guerrilla morale absorb such a loss? The North Vietnamese lost over half of their attacking force. Not only were losses heavy, they were concentrated among the leadership. VC troops were “disenchanted by the realization that, despite their enormous sacrifices during the campaign, they still faced a long struggle ahead. Official report express alarm at the erosion of morale.” Only a firmly rooted movement can afford such risk or absorb such loss.
After assessing the
guerrilla force, assess the counter guerrilla force and its sponsor
regime. A conventional strike is most
effective when the counter guerrilla army is over-extended. On the eve
of Tet, the VC had fought the Americans to a
stalemate. The Americans were too dispersed to cripple
the North Vietnamese, and Giap estimated that the
Bold conventional offensives should be timed to capitalize on discontent in the counter guerrilla regime. The North Vietnamese did this by attacking the administration’s credibility. Tet was launched on the heels of great optimism from American leaders. Westmoreland’s assurances to the American public illustrate the administration’s prevailing optimism at the time: “the enemy’s hopes are bankrupt,” and of, “the beginning of a great defeat for the enemy.”
Assess what effect
a conventional offensive will have on the domestic population. According to General Tran Do, co-architect of
the Tet offensive and one of the North’s most
the “main objective [was to] spur uprisings throughout the south.” Communist leadership was convinced that Tet could capitalize on anti-American sentiment in the
South by demonstrating not only that the Americans were vulnerable, but also
that a Communist victory was a strong possibility. Specifically, one way in which this was
achieved was to make a spectacular attack on the American embassy in downtown
The Communists also hoped to benefit diplomatically from Tet; they predicted that at the very least, confronted with an undeniable show of Communist power and American vulnerability, President Johnson would begin negotiating. The timing was no coincidence; the Vietnamese used the same tactic against the French when they launched a conventional war timed to improve their leverage at the Geneva Conference.
A general consideration, one that does not fit when
Therefore, the political will of a purely domestic counter guerrilla is the more durable and therefore less attractive target.
IV. Guerrilla Doctrine in Action
A series of three vignettes comprises this section. The first is an ambush illustrating a KLA guerrilla ambush on a Serbian patrol.
scenario is in two parts. The first part
illustrates guerrilla urban combat in
a. The KLA July 1998 Conventional Offensive
July of 1998 was
witness to stunning tactical triumphs in the Kosovar war for independence. The deliberate shift of tactics from purely
guerrilla to conventional war seemed to be a smashing success: KLA guerrillas attacked and seized the town
response, the Serbs launched what appears to be a pre-planned three-pronged
counter-offensive. The first prong
concentrated on the town of
KLA command turns to Lieutenant Mustafa and a force of ten guerrillas. Following Mao’s recommendation to allow small
units leeway to act independently and retain the initiative,
the orders are no more specific than to blunt the Serbian counter
offensive. Mustafa decides to plan an
ambush on the
The Lieutenant chooses this site for several reasons.
i. Strategic Reasons for Choosing
The site is important
because it links Pristina with
Mao advised the
guerilla to avoid focusing all guerrilla activity on one theater of the conflict
and instead “make war everywhere [in the theater]”, in order to cause
“dispersal of [the counter guerrilla’s] forces and dissipation of his
strength.” The Serb offensive concentrates primarily on
Tactical Reasons for Choosing the
The Milosevo bridge site is tactically a good candidate for an ambush for several reasons. (See Map 2 and Map 3). First, the Lap River’s lie creates a slight salient on the northern shore which is favorable to defenders of the south shore of the river because “it allows friendly fires from a wide stretch of the near shore to concentrate against a small area on the far shore and limits the length of enemy shore that must be cleared to eliminate direct fire and observation.” Although the salient is somewhat less pronounced than would be ideal, this terrain feature still offers some opportunity for flanking fires.
In addition, the
site offers some defensible terrain. To
the northeast is a forest, and to the southwest an abandoned farmhouse
surrounded by a forest. Filling the
areas in between is tall grass. Hills
lie 7.5 kilometers to the east on either side of the
iii. Battle Preparations
With the site chosen, Lieutenant Mustafa turns his attention to the battle preparations. The first priority is to contact informants. The Lieutenant has contacts on the road between Mitrovica and Prishtina who observe Serb movement and inform the Lieutenant through the use of ordinary cell phones. They report that squads of about 15-20 well armed paramilitary Interior Ministry Special Police, (“MUP”), travel the road to Prishtina almost every other day, sometimes at night; the contacts also warn that lately, heavy armor and infantry have traveled the road. The contact furthest north agrees to inform Mustafa the next time such a police patrol leaves Mitrovica during the evening.
ideal ambush accomplishes two things, (1) to retreat with zero casualties and
(2) to inflict some damage on the patrol in order to instill fear and break
morale. Such an objective obviously
necessitates a sound plan of retreat. Of his ten men, four grew up in the immediate
vicinity, and four more know the area and terrain intimately. In contrast, few Serbs live in Kosovo, most
of the invading police and soldiers come from the north from
On July 22, , 2 days after receiving his orders
from his Zone Commander, the Lieutenant’s northern contact reports a Serbian
police force of four vehicles, heading south towards
Mustafa’s force is armed with grenades, AK 47’s, one crew served machine gun and two sniper rifles. The Lieutenant never operates without at least one crew-served machine gun. The Lieutenant instructs his men to tape two Kalashnikov clips together, once empty, the first clip is to be removed, the assembly quickly switched 180 degrees, and the other clip plugged in the weapon. The instructions are quickly to fire the first clip on automatic, and hold the ammunition in the second clip in reserve for single-shot firing. The force also has two trucks.
outline of Lieutenant Mustafa’s ambush is inspired by a tactic used by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro with much success in the war
against the Batista regime in
operates under more restricted circumstances than Che
and will therefore use a modified version of his Minuet. He has only ten men, eleven including
himself. More importantly, Che had the jungles of the Sierra Miestra,
the Lieutenant has only a small building, some forests, tall grass, and hills
to cover his retreat. Instead of placing
guerrillas on all four points of the compass, the Lieutenant splits his force
and arms evenly in two. Five of his
troops will set up in the
The danger of such a tactic in the current ambush is the chance of friendly fire; the benefits include increased lethality through crossing fire. In this case however, the chance of friendly fire is especially great because the two zones with defensible terrain are at directly opposite corners from each other. The Lieutenant is careful to mitigate against the danger of friendly fire. He gives precise instructions. The eastern group is not to fire on the Serb patrol until it crosses the river and is well past the abandoned farm, at which point it unloads everything it has on the Serbian rear: grenades, mortars, sniper fire, and machine gun fire. Once the group has expended a good portion of its ammunition, leaving only what is necessary for self-defense, they are to immediately and permanently retreat east towards the designated safe houses and the rolling hills. At this point, assuming the eastern force has maintained cover, the Serb force will do one of two things, either flee towards Prishtina, or give chase to the eastern force. If they flee, the western force attacks the routed patrol’s rear. If the Serbs give chase, the Serbian front is now their rear and the western force is in an excellent position to attack the patrol and then immediately retreat.
The whole action is to last only five to ten minutes regardless of the degree of success achieved because of the presence of Serbian stations in the vicinity which can quickly send reinforcements to the beleaguered patrol.
b. Should the KLA Have Adopted Conventional Tactics into their Guerrilla War?
The ambush is a success. Three of the Serbian force is killed, Mustafa’s force retreats with no dead or wounded.
ambush is temporarily overshadowed by recent KLA setbacks, the territorial
gains have evaporated, Rahovec is now in Serbian
hands, access to the rear base in
As stated above, the July Offensive, culminating in the capture of Rahovec, was the result of a deliberate shift in tactics. As one KLA commander, Hasim Thaqi, also known as Snake, explained, “This is the first step taken to intensify the quality of the war from warfare against rural areas to the stage of moving against urban areas.” The commander went on to explain that the strategy was now to take over other cities and eventually to capture the provincial capital, Prishtina.
Were these short-term losses outweighed by the offensive’s long-term gains? Should the KLA have incorporated conventional tactics into their guerrilla war?
In short, the offensive’s long-term benefits vindicated a decision that in the short-term was condemned as a blunder. It convinced the local population that the KLA was real and powerful. For the Vietnamese, Tet’s diplomatic element, inducing negotiations, was ancillary to their main objective, sparking a general South Vietnamese uprising. In contrast, the KLA’s objective was primarily the diplomatic element, persuading the international community to intervene, and secondarily to win the support of the Kosovar people.
Like Tet, the KLA’s conventional offensive is a prime example of how successful guerrilla war can incorporate conventional tactics without necessarily morphing into conventional war. How do the factors the Communists used in executing Tet compare with those the KLA used in executing their July Offensive? Finding commonalities between the two is the starting point in developing a working framework for analyzing when conventional tactics should be adopted in guerrilla war.
One reason Tet succeeded was because of the qualities of the guerrillas themselves: their years of resistance to foreign counter guerrillas and their experience with conventional tactics. The KLA on the other hand had no previous experience with conventional tactics. Still, like the Viet Cong, the KLA, at least the cadre if not its rank and file, had been fighting the Serbs for nearly a decade at the time of the July Offensive and were necessarily well acquainted with armed resistance. What its rank and file lacked in military experience, it made up for in courage and enthusiasm. Perhaps most importantly in assessing the moral element of the Kosovar guerrillas was that, unlike the Serbs, the KLA fought for independence, and in defense of their homes, instead of some bloodless political abstraction like the domino theory or the recovery of a centuries old battlefield. At the time of the July Offensive, the independence movement had come a long way from its initial core of a few hundred armed villagers. Fifteen thousand KLA fighters, still seething to avenge the massacre months before of a Kosovar patriot, were eager to engage the Serbs full on. Surely, if there was ever a time when KLA morale could recover from a fierce counter offensive, this was it.
ii. An Assessment of the Serbian Army Weighed in Favor of Incorporating a Conventional Offensive
Unlike Tet, there is little evidence to show that the July
Offensive struck at a time when Serb forces were physically stretched thin. Like Tet, however,
the July offensive did coincide with growing disgust with the war to crush
Kosovar independence not only among the Serbian people but also among the
Serbian army. The words of one draft-age
college student illustrate the increasingly dominant mood among Serbian youth
around the time of the offensive: “I
don’t like the Albanian people. We are
two different religions, two different nations…
But this is not a fight in the interest of the Serbian people, it’s a
fight in the interest of Slobodan Milosevic.” The Serbian military’s morale and will to
fight showed similar deterioration. On
the eve of the July Offensive, hundreds of Serbian and Montenegrin policemen
and soldiers abandoned their posts in Kosovo and returned home to
iii. The Time was Right for a Conventional Offensive to Consolidate Power
The architects of Tet, considered the effect on the domestic population, the South Vietnamese, their most important objective. They hoped to spark a general uprising. In a different but no less important way, the effect on the people of Kosovo was probably foremost in the minds of the July Offensive’s architects.
First, the offensive helped consolidate power in KLA hands. For most of Kosovo’s recent history, two philosophies have contended for the people’s endorsement. One on hand, the pacifists, led by Ibrahim Rugova; in the other camp, the KLA, obviously the more hawkish of the two.
Pacifism. A preposterous ideology suitable only in an ideal world, against an army of empty-headed dreamers, or in a functioning democracy. Since men, “wretched creatures that they are,” are driven by the “dread of punishment” much more than reason, compassion, or critical thought, pacifism in the face of a ruthless enemy must die out as surely as natural selection would cull a toothless lion or a blind hawk.
Indeed, the people
of Kosovo instinctively knew as much.
The first seed of doubt regarding pacifism was planted in 1995, when the
Kosovo issue’s exclusion from the
To come full circle to the original point, the time was perfect for a spectacular show of force and strength, something, above all, defiant, to appeal to the people’s overwhelming desire for independence.
Second, although the KLA leadership probably did not intend it to, conventional offensives can win the people’s support in a second, indirect way. A classic guerrilla tactic, described in Mao’s treatise on guerrilla war, is too win the battle over the hearts of the people indirectly by provoking the counter guerilla into adopting harsh counter measures, thereby driving the population deeper into the insurgent camp. The Serbs did not disappoint. In the wake of the July Offensive, the Serbs retaliated with “a new display of brutality by Serbian police and Yugoslav army troops against civilians.” Even before the July Offensive, the KLA was already enjoying the benefits of exactly the phenomenon that Mao described as a result of previous harsh Serbian counter measures, particularly the March 1998 Jashari Massacre: “By killing women and children and making a martyr of KLA leader Adem Jashari, Milosevic fueld the rapid growth of the armed ethnic Albanian independence movement.”
iv. The Conventional Offensive Helped to win the Support of the international community
Finally, the Vietnamese timed Tet with an eye towards influencing the international community. While the Vietnamese merely wanted to increase their bargaining posture for the Geneva Convention, the KLA desired, and achieved, something much more ambitious: attracting the intervention of the international community. That they succeeded, where so many other similarly situated insurgencies have failed, is a testament to their political vision and is no less worthy of examination than the Tet offensive’s effect on the American will to fight.
The July Offensive was instrumental in persuading the international community to intervene. One reason is that it gave the international press something real to document, to take pictures of and write about. The adoption of conventional tactics moved the KLA away from guerrilla tactics into the conventional realm. This made the Kosovo revolution look more like the celebrated western wars of independence while simultaneously making it harder to label as terrorism. In short, the July Offensive “produced the first whiffs of victory, as international intervention became inevitable.”
Movies are made in
The Russian advance sweeps
through the flat plains of northern
Analysts predict that by the year 2010, 75%
of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Urban combat is the inevitable future of
war. As General Krulak
of the United States Marine Corps remarked, “The future of war is not the son
of Desert Storm, but the step child of
Soon after Russian troops surrounded the city
As the capital,
The first Russian invasion was a total
disaster for the Russians. By
intercepting unsecured communications, the Chechen guerrillas had real time
information about Russian movement and intentions; they even had devices that
changed or imitated the voices of Russian commanders. During the first invasion the Russians tried
The Russians were stronger and smarter in the
1999 invasion than they were during the 1994-1996 war. From the top down, they were determined not
to make the same mistakes. Prime
Minister Putin and Russian high command convinced
Russian society that they would not be safe until the Chechen threat was
completely eliminated; their claims were backed up by terrorist attacks within
Worst of all for the guerrillas, the Russians assault on Grozny relied heavily on artillery fire and air power instead of tanks and infantry as they did in the 1994 invasion. They had little concern for collateral damage.
Nevertheless, the Chechens were determined to
During the two months preceding the Russian encirclement, the Chechens have prepared the city in earnest for the coming invasion. Snipers occupied the rooftops controlling strategically important intersections and narrow access ways. Snipers also occupied ditches under concrete slabs that could be raised and lowered with car jacks when Russians approach; this tactic made it hard for Russians to know what was an enemy position and what was rubble. Trenches and sewers allowed the guerrillas to move safely and quickly withdraw, move from house to house, and create interconnecting fire positions. The sewers and tunnels proved to be a huge asset for the guerrillas even during the heavy artillery pounding. Tracers were not used because they reveal Chechen positions.
develops a plan to counter the Russian invasion of
Captain Shamil, a 26-year-old Chechen, is assigned to the defense
The Captain is given
command of -man
groups. The first group is known as the
central group. This group carries small arms, two radio
transceivers, two pairs of binoculars, two compasses, two maps of
The first priority is to
select the site of the ambush. Guerrilla
forces generally retain the initiative, and Chechen fighters are no exception;
they fight when and where they want, or they do not engage at all. The Captain chooses
Tactically the site is a
good candidate for ambush for several reasons.
The tallest building in
Furthermore, the buildings
The Captain recognizes
some vulnerability in the Russian offensive and the general outlines of a plan
develop around exploiting these weaknesses.
The Russian offensive against
The Captain places one his main twenty-man group in building #3, placing three snipers on its roof. He divides up the other twenty-man force into three groups of about seven each. One group of about five is to be placed in the basement of each unboarded building, with two snipers on the roof of each building. (See Map 5).
In the event a suitably small Russian reconnaissance force approaches the square the Captain predicts it will do one of two things: either make brief contact with the square, passing through or only approaching it, or attempt to take advantage of the strategic heights by setting up in one of the buildings; it is after all a reconnaissance force, and from these buildings one can see most of Grozny. In the event the force does not stop, at least the rooftop snipers can have the benefit of the most commanding positions in the city from which to inflict some damage on the force. Ideally however, the plan is to allow them to seize some specially selected buildings around the square, rather than defend them outright. To funnel the Russians into specific buildings, he orders the first stories of all but two buildings, #1 and #2, are boarded up. This makes it harder for Russian troops to enter the buildings, forcing them to climb ladders or break in doorways to enter, making them easy targets for Chechen snipers. Their ideal objective is to ambush Russian troops that set up inside their building by drawing them into their underground tunnels. This tactic negates the Russian artillery advantage by hugging the Russian forces, ruling out the possibility that they will call down Russian artillery for fear of fratricide.
Once Russians flee the ambush, they are on open ground and the Captain can unleash his 20 man force in three groups in a standard Chechen attack formation: one central force of Rocket Propelled Grenade (“RPG”), and automatic riflemen and two similar flanking groups. An RPG gunner initiates fire after which automatic riflemen and RPG gunners fire steadily; acting together, the three groups catch the Russians in a crossfire. In the meantime, those guerrillas who had been waiting in basements fire from street level fire stations if they can avoid fratricide. By temporarily ceding control of the square and lulling a small reconnaissance force into entering, the guerrillas avoid the Russian tactic whereby “ground troops probed deep enough to draw Chechen fire and thus expose the enemy’s firing positions. The [Russian] troops then retreat to safety, calling in artillery or air strikes to destroy the enemy.”
In any event, the attack is not to last more than five minutes, so as not to be caught in a counter attack of Russian reinforcements; the Chechens have preplanned underground tunnel routes leading away from the battle scene to relative safety. However, the groups are interconnected and depend on each other. None of the three forces is to retreat if one of the forces is trapped. To do otherwise would be bad for morale.
iii. Chechen Guerrillas Regroup, The Importance of Bases
2000-After the largest and fiercest urban warfare operation since the end of
World War II, Russian control of
But it is a pyrrhic victory. By its own admission, over 3,000 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded in the battle for the city alone, in reality the number is much higher. The artless Russian offensive was harder on non-combatants than guerrillas, reducing much of the city to rubble. The Russians have fallen into Mao’s trap of adopting harsh counter measures; angry civilians openly curse and attack Russian commanders.
Nor can the battle
Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, decides to abandon the urban resistance
and withdraw the remaining 3,000 guerrillas before they are encircled. They turn to Shamil, now a Major after his
performance in the defense of
1. Should the Chechens Establish a Base?
The threshold question to be answered by Major Shamil is whether a base is feasible. If possible, a base can be very useful logistically both as a refuge and staging point. The Major, by now an almost slavish adherent of classical guerrilla theory, consults Che and Mao’s treatises in order to glean the essentials of base making. Combining Che and Mao yield two considerations in deciding whether a base is desirable at this stage in the war.
The first factor to consider is the strength of the guerilla force. Can the guerrilla force afford a territorial investment? Che says that, “At the beginning, the relative weakness of the guerrilla fighters is such that they should only endeavor to pay attention to the terrain in order to become acquainted with the surroundings, establish connections with the population and fortify the places which eventually will be converted into bases.”
But this is
hardly what Che calls “the beginning.”
The Chechens have been fighting
importantly in terms of Guevarian thought for deciding whether a base is
feasible, is the strength of the existing Chechen guerrilla force. There are 3,000 Chechen guerrillas
The second consideration in deciding whether to establish a base comes from Mao; the strength of the counter guerrilla presence. The weaker and more dispersed the counter guerrilla presence the more likely is that a base should be established. Mao said, “Because Japanese military power is inadequate, much of the territory her armies have overrun is without sufficient garrison troops. Under such circumstances the primary functions of guerrillas are three: […] second, to establish bases[.]”
For Mao, this factor weighed in favor of establishing a
But Mao also compared a guerrilla force’s need for a base with an individual's need for buttocks: "If an individual didn't have buttocks, he would have to run around or stand around all the time. His legs would get tired and collapse under him, and he would fall down." This unqualified endorsement of the virtues of bases, combined with the strength of Chechen forces, persuades the Major that its time to base guerrilla operations.
2. Where Should the Chechens Establish a Base?
precedent to inform this critical decision, the Major recalls the situation of
the Sandinistas in
The Maoists again tried to set up a mountain base. They were again easily defeated by Nicaraguan counter guerrillas. The Marxists attempted to set up an urban base. It too failed. The terceristas survived only because they based abroad.
Given the decision
to withdraw from
A fox (or a bear)
is not caught in the same snare twice, perhaps its time to change tactics. The Sandinista success with bases abroad is
inspiring. The Viet Cong used bases in
guerrilla theory shows that there are strong arguments in favor of both
theaters. The best option is to
establish both a guerrilla base in
a. Friendliness of Inhabitants to the Cause
Mao said, “[A] point essential in the establishment of bases is the co-operation that must exist between the armed guerrilla bands and the people.”
Mao’s advice greatly favors establishing a base in
of the friendliness of local inhabitants to the cause is one of the factors
explaining why the Maoist Sandinista attempt to set up a mountain base failed
and the tercerista Sandinista base
abroad succeeded. The Maoists were white
middle-class urban Communists. The indigenous inhabitants of the mountain
region did not trust these Sandinistas much less sympathize with their cause. Instead, they actively informed on the
mountain guerrillas for the regime. On
the other hand the tercerista base
abroad was successful because
In Ingushetia, the Chechen situation would be the reverse
of the Sandinista situation; the support of inhabitants abroad would be weaker
than support of the inhabitants at home.
Ingushetia is a republic within the
automatically rules out a base in
The second factor to consider is proximity. The guerrillas have to balance the antagonistic interests of security and striking distance. Che advises his readers that attacks should not be carried out more than six hours from a base. This means that bases should not be more than 12-15 miles from the areas that are to be attacked.
This factor weighs
in favor of establishing a base in
Georgian base in the Pankisi gorge is just under 50
Both a Southern Mountain base and a Georgian base offer excellent terrain; mountains cut by rivers.
Mao considered the benefits of placing a base in mountains self-evident. Among the three types of bases, mountain, plains, river/lake/bay, he considered the mountain base to be the best, and river bases second best.
Mountains are cut by the Argun and Vedeno gorges, narrow access ways into the heart of the
mountains, penetrating almost all of the way into
These gorges are
tactically useful for several reasons.
Like the four center squares of a chessboard, controlling these gorges
means controlling lines of supply and infiltration between the plains of
reflection and analysis the Major decides that the Southern Mountains of
Chechnya is the ideal site for a guerrilla base. The Georgian site is not as good, but it does
have some advantages. The Major decides
to set up a rear supply and medical base in
In the same way,
it is absolutely critical for a counter guerrilla facing a guerrilla whose goal
is political exhaustion of the counter guerrilla’s regime, to cultivate a
reputation for staying power. The
message sent to the world by the
Concentrating on this recent past, the analysts say we are in our decline. If they are right, the current war is doomed to failure. Are the analysts right? How will we win this war?
In the introduction, this paper asks the question of how an inferior guerrilla force could consistently defeat a superior conventional force. The introduction also says that in order to answer this question we had to first “know the enemy.” After having examined the guerrilla, we are now in a better position to answer this question.
As stated above, a guerrilla attacks the counter guerrilla for dominance in four theaters or sub wars: (1) the fight over the peoples’ hearts (2) counter guerrilla morale, both within the army and within the regime, (3) international opinion and (4) the actual contest of arms. This theme pervades this study of guerrilla war at almost every paragraph.
How is the
The American people provide the unshakable foundation for dominating all four of these sub wars.
In a government based on popular sovereignty, war is always a tricky business. Democracies are notoriously distasteful of wars with less than just causes. In such cases, it is inevitable that the fanatic guerrilla will smash the reluctant counter guerrilla. Only the most legitimate motivations for war provide the solid base of popular support with which failure is impossible, and without which, failure is inevitable.
This war is different from past wars waged in defense of some sterile political abstraction cooked up by the intelligentsia or an ambitious politician. This war, among other things, is driven by a popular desire for revenge, and this overwhelming need will only increase exponentially with the inevitable future attacks.
The Iraqi people
are also showing promise. The birthplace
of law is emerging from decades of lawlessness into a historic age; it will go
down in history as the first true democracy in the
And what of the
insurgents themselves? It is almost as
if they have never bothered to study past successful insurgencies. They have no political platform, no
charismatic leadership, and no viable plan.
In short they are completely uninterested in winning the hearts of the
Iraqi people. To take on example,
instead of using Mao’s tactic of provoking the counter guerilla into adopting
harsh counter measures, they “cut out the middle man” and purposely use
terrible amounts of power indiscriminately on Iraqi civilians. Last week, they launched a mortar attack on
 Sun Tzu, The Art of War 18 (Delacorte Press 1983).
 Guerrilla war is “a type of warfare characterized by irregular forces fighting small-scale, limited actions, generally in conjunction with a larger political-military strategy, against orthodox forces.” Robert B. Asprey, War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History xi (Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1975).
 Henry H.
Perritt, Jr., A Work on the Kosovo Liberation Army, Ch. 6, p. 2-3,
 Alexander the Great faced “a people’s war, a war of mounted guerrillas who, when he advanced would suddenly appear in his rear, […] and when pursued vanished into the Turkoman steppes.” J.F.C. Fuller, The Generalship of Alexander the Great 67 (Eyre & Spottiswoode 1958).
 Carl Von Clausewitz, On War Chapter 9.
Greeks eventually lost the battle but they managed to kill 10-20 Persians for
every dead Greek. In addition they
achieved their primary objective of delaying the Persian invasion of the Greek
 Decisive Battles: The Defeat of Queen Boudicca (History Channel television broadcast).
 For example, “Almost every KLA soldier fought in or near his own village and near his own family.” Perritt, supra note 4, at 36.
 Military historian Lidell-Hart analogizes the guerrilla tactic of dispersion and concentration to quicksilver, "Dispersion is an essential condition of survival and success on the guerrilla side, which must never present a target and thus can only operate in minute particles, though these may momentarily coagulate like globules of quick-silver to overwhelm some weakly guarded objective." B.H. Liddell-Hart, Strategy 365 (Praeger, 1967).
Chi Minh] spread American forces out by engaging them throughout
 Specifically, the North Vietnamese Army (“NVA”) incorporated this principle into a tactic known as “one slow, four quick.” The first step in this operation was “rapid movement, still in dispersed groups, to the battle area.” Second, a “sudden concentration on the field itself would deliver a violent and unexpected blow at the decisive point, covered by ambush parties on the flanks to confuse and delay enemy relief attempts.” After a quick scan of the battlefield to collect weapons and casualties there would be “an equally rapid withdrawal to a know rendezvous point.” Paddy Griffith, Forward into Battle 161 (XXX) The use of such tactic stretches back as far to the guerrilla tactics used by the Goths and Huns of the fourth and fifth centuries who “mounted on light, fast ponies, they traveled in small groups which rapidly concentrated to attack, then quickly dispersed again to meet by pre-arranged plan.” Asprey, supra note 4, at 38.
 John Baylis, Ken Booth, John Garnett & Phil Williams, Contemporary Strategy: Theories and Policies 133 (Croom Helm)..
 Two examples are the North Vietnamese and the Kosovo Liberation Army (“KLA”).
 Hammes, supra note 16 at 52.
 Che Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare 13 (University of Nebraska Press 1998).
 Supra note 4, at 951.
 Asprey, supra note 4, 948-976.
battle of Hwai-hai, fought by Chiang’s last real army
and involving over a million troops, lasted sixty five days before final
Nationalist defeat, which cost Chiang sixty-six divisions surrendered or
 See e.g.: The Cuban Revolution, The first Russian invasion of Chechnya 1994-1996, the seven coups launched by the Philippine army from 1986-1991, the 1974 Portuguese coup by army officers disgruntled by Portugal’s occupation of Mozambique, the 1976 coup in Brazil.
e.g.: America in Viet-Nam, America in
Somalia, American in Lebanon, the French Indochinese disaster, the French
agreement to Algerian independence in July 1962, Russia in Afghanistan, the
1958 British decision that Cyprus was not “worth the foreseeable cost of
 Che said that “It is not necessary to wait until all
conditions for making revolution exist; the insurrection can create them.” Che at 7. See e.g. the bloodless Philippine Revolution
of 1986, the 1949 Dutch withdrawal from
The people should not be neglected. For the virtuous guerrilla, they are the very
reason for the insurgency; for the unscrupulous guerrilla, the people “provide
an unbeatable intelligence network, a constant source of manpower, and
resources in the form of food and labor.”
Guerrillas can win the battle over the people in two
ways: directly and indirectly. Directly, guerrillas should stand for
something politically. Stated
differently, “A coherent, applicable message is central to [guerrilla warfare].”
Once the platform is set, the guerrilla should see
that it is effectively disseminated to the target audience. Mao recommended
distributing pamphlets; he even recommended that guerrilla units possess
printing presses. Mao Tse Tung, On Guerrilla
Warfare, available at http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/1937/guerrilla-warfare/. Indirectly, the guerrilla wins the people’s
support by frustrating the counter guerrilla regime into adopting harsh counter
measures: “Thus the enemy will never be
able to stop fighting. In order to
subdue the occupied territory, the enemy will have to become increasingly
severe and oppressive.”
 For example, Mao said that the three phases are not necessarily linear, that different parts of the country could be in different phases, and that regression to earlier phases is to be expected. Hammes, supra note 16, at 62.
 Asprey, supra note 4, 897
 Clash of Warriors: Westmoreland v. Giap (The History Channel television broadcast).
 For example, Tet and the KLA July 1998 conventional offensive.
 Diane Yancey, The Vietnam War 120 (Greenhaven Press 2000).
 Karnow, supra note 34, at 544.
 Mike O’Connor, Rebels Claim First Capture of Kosovo City New York Times (July 20, 1998), available at http://www.nwc.navy.mil/balkans/bal72026.htm.
 Adam Brown, Heavy Fighting Resumes in Kosovo Associated Press (July 20, 1998), available at http://www.nwc.navy.mil/balkans/bal72026.htm.
 CAPT. R.C. Rigazio, Balkans Chronology-Executive Summary, Volume 1, Number 10, at http://www.nwc.navy.mil/balkans/bal72026.htm.
 While the preceding paragraphs depict reality, Lieutenant Mustafa is a fictional character.
 Mao, supra note 28.
 Mao, supra note 28.
 KLA commander Adem Jashari noticed the same thing and urged his soldiers to exploit the situation.
 “The Yugoslav army sent heavy weapons and infantry on Sunday to help police drive guerrillas from Orahovac in one of the biggest battles of the five-month-old conflict. Fresh Yugoslav army troops were sent in to relieve units coming from the area.” Balkans Chronology, at http://www.nwc.navy.mil/balkans/bal72026.htm.
 Interview with Ajet Potera, Brigade Commander, Lap Zone, by Henry H. Perritt, Jr. and Andrew T. Strong (March 16 2005).
 Perritt, supra note 5, at 36.
 “The Serbs are fighting a colonial war in Kosovo. Few live there any more." Balkans Chronology,at http://www.nwc.navy.mil/balkans/SUM80309.htm
 Ajet, supra note 57.
 Che, supra note 23, at 19. He continues “Thus, successively, it is possible to keep an enemy column immobilized, forcing it to expend large quantities of ammunition and weakening the morale of its troops without incurring great dangers.”
Reuters, Yugoslav Army, Police
 O’Connor, supra note 48.
 Balkans Chronology, at http://www.nwc.navy.mil/balkans/bal72026.htm.
is the site where the Serbs lost the battle of Kosovo Polje
in 1389 to the
The march 1998 Jashari Massacre.
possible reason could be logistical differences between the two wars, Kosovo
 Balkans Chronology, at http://www.nwc.navy.mil/balkans/bal72026.htm.
Brown, Some Serbs See Kosovo Slipping Baltimore Sun (
 Karnow, supra note 34, at 537.
uselessness of pacifism in the face of a vicious enemy is a regrettable
reality. Not only is peace more
profitable than war, but violence is something more suitable to animals. Some may protest and point to successful
non-violent movements in the past, for example, Ghandi’s
 Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince 76 (Everyman’s Library 1922).
 Perritt, supra note 5, at 1.
 Balkans Chronology, at http://www.nwc.navy.mil/balkans/bal72026.htm.
 This point is given the full treatment it deserves in footnote X.
 Mao, supra note 28.
 Brown, supra note 76.
 Karnow, supra note 34, at 538.
 Perritt, supra note 5, at 2.
 Stepehn Mulvey, Can
 Timothy L. Thomas, Grozny 2000: Urban Combat Lessons Learned, available at http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/fmsopubs/issues/grozny2000/grozny2000.htm.
 Military Operations on Urban Terrain [MOUT] available at http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/mout.htm.
 Arthur L. Speyer, The Two Sides of Grozny, p. 61, available at http://www.rand.org/publications/CF/CF162/CF162.appc.pdf.
 Supra note 90.
 Thomas, supra note 89.
 Thomas, supra note 89.
 Thomas, supra note 89.
 Thomas, supra note 89.
 Oliker, supra note 101, at 66.
 They also have cell phones, however these are
of limited use as the Russians have destroyed cellular relay stations in
 Thomas, supra at 89.
 Oliker, supra note 101, at 66.
 Tracers are special bullets that contain a phosphorous base that burns brightly during flight thereby increasing accuracy.
 Shamil is the name of a long dead Chechen Hero. The Captain is a fictional character. The preceding and subsequent paragraphs depict reality
 Oliker, supra note 101, at 67.
 Oliker, supra note 101, at 66.
In mid-December about 2,000 Chechen
guerillas actually carried out a successful ambush against Russian forces in
 Oliker, supra note 101, at 49.
 Oliker, supra note 101, at 48.
“In one of the [buildings in
 Thomas, supra note 89.
 Oliker, supra note 101, at 68.
 Oliker, supra note 101, at 71.
 Russian to Cut Chechnya Force, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/630949.stm.
In the Chechen war, Russian authorities under-reported federal losses. Eve Conant, Voice
of America (
 Thomas, supra note 89.
 Orla Guerin, Russians Move to the Mountains, (
 Che, supra note 23, at 154.
Jeff Thomas, The Chechen War After the Fall of Grozny (
Douglas S. Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era:
 Hammes, supra note 16, at 81.
 Major Johnie Gombo, USMC, Understanding Guerrilla Warfare, available at http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1990/GJ.htm.
 Mao, supra note 28.
 I forget the precise reference.
 Hammes, supra note 16, at 86.
 David Nolan, From FOCO to Insurrection: Sandinista Strategies of Revolution Air University Review (July-August 1986), available at http://www.airpower.au.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1986/jul-aug/nolan.html.
 Georgi Derlugian, From Afghanistan to Ingushtia (October 2001), available at http://www.csis.org/ruseura/ponars/policymemos/pm_0203.pdf.
Jean-Christophe Peuch, Chechnya: Armed Foray in Ingushetia Adds Fuel to
Russian Georgian Dispute (
The guerrillas would be perfectly safe in
 Che, supra note 23, at 27.
 Mao, supra note 28.
 Mao, supra note 28.
Chris Morris, Turkey Succors Wounded Chechens (
Stephen Mulvey, How the Rebels Keep Fighting (
 Meaning that he should win or die. A fleeing soldier throws his shield away to run faster. Dead soldiers are carried home on their shields.
 See p. 6-7.
 James Bennet, The Mystery of the Insurgency, New York Times.