What is Guerrilla Warfare?

          Guerrilla warfare is waged by irregular forces, generally in small-scale operations, often in enemy held territories. The word guerrilla is a Spanish word which means ‘little war’. The word came into use during the Duke of Wellington’s campaigns to help the Spanish – Portuguese guerrillas to drive the French out of the Iberian Peninsula. Lawrence of Arabia, a great force behind the guerrillas in their struggle against the Turks in the First World War, once remarked, ‘Guerrilla war is much more intellectual than a bayonet charge’.

          Guerrilla warfare is generally preferred when the enemy is a large well-organized force with sophisticated weapons and it becomes practically difficult to defeat the enemy in a conventional warfare. Guerillas are hit-and-run fighters or use similar methods as they lack the manpower and other resources to face their powerful adversaries. The guerillas seldom use regular uniforms and secretly take the help of friendly local people. Sometimes they attack under the cover of darkness of the night and do agricultural or pastoral work along with the local people in daytime to avoid their enemy’s notice. They are an extremely mobile force. Earlier they were using indigenous and self-made weapons — at times relying on the arms and ammunition captured from the enemy and at times helped by their sympathizers with modern weapons. The technical organization of guerrilla units varies according to their operational demands. They may be in a squad of 4, 5, 11 or more. They usually live in places where they can easily hide, such as forests and mountains.

          Guerrilla warfare underwent significant changes after World War II when it received the intellectual support, direction and guidance from some quarters. Also the fight was for some revolutionary causes like to overthrow an oppressive government or to change the social order of the time. If Shivaji, the great Marattha warrior, used the technique of guerrilla warfare to fight the powerful Mughals, Mao-tse-Tung of China favoured it to establish communism in China. The LTTE militants used this warfare in their fight against the Sri Lankan army.

         The guerrillas won their wars whenever they got the support of the people. But over the years, the nature of guerrilla warfare has changed completely as it has become more city-oriented and individualistic but less idealistic.

        A guerrilla force cannot fight all the time. They control safe areas where they can retire for rest, recuperation and repair of arms and where new recruits can be indoctrinated, trained and equipped.

          One of the most famous guerrilla leaders of our times was Che Guevara of Cuba who led guerrilla armies at many places of the world and was very popular with the masses. He was killed while leading a band of guerrillas against the Bolivian army in 1967. Among the other famous leaders who led guerrilla wars at some point of time were Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Tito, Ho Chi Minh and Yasser Arafat etc.