Asymmetric Guerrilla Warfare

Asymmetric guerrilla warfare is a tactic whereby defenders can inflict disproportionately heavy losses on an invading army.

Major John W Reynolds’ paper, Deterring and Responding to Asymmetrical Threats, described a strategy chosen by an enemy which is militarily weaker:

“Asymmetric threats will seek approaches that offset the advantages of a stronger force; these threats will rely on indirect approaches in order to achieve their aim.” (article page 19, PDF page 25)

The paper described the guerrilla warfare that dragged on for years in the insurgency after the invasion of Iraq.  It identified some countermeasures, but the conflicts have continued.

Asymmetric guerrilla warfare is effective against military forces which were equipped to fight another army:

●  Sophisticated aircraft and missiles, which were designed for conflicts between armies, are ineffective against guerrillas or insurgents who can easily hide.  For example, six weeks after Israel invaded Gaza in an attempt to root out Hamas terrorists: 9 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza City ambush in sign that Hamas resistance is still strong.

●  Guerrillas who use terrorist techniques, such as roadside bombs and suicide bombings, can inflict heavy losses on organised and visible troops without losing many of their own people’s lives.  A New York Times article, Makeshift Bombs Spread Beyond Afghanistan, Iraq, noted that “Improvised explosive devices, as the military calls them, have been the largest killer of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan” and that their use is spreading elsewhere.

Such problems must be anticipated when planning an invasion, to assess whether it has a reasonable chance of success.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7412.htm.