7.4.1.2 Guerrilla Tactics: ‘Asymmetric Warfare’

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/7412.htm)

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.

Guerrilla tactics are effective against military forces:

  • Sophisticated aircraft and missiles, which were designed for conflicts between nations, are ineffective against guerrillas or insurgents who can easily hide among the civilian population.
  • 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 have to be anticipated when planning an invasion and assessing whether it has a reasonable chance of success.

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