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How to plan, develop, and lead a guerilla warfare combat mission (plus a dictionary of tactical tasks and how to effectively conduct them).

Group of snipers hiding under grass camouflage with spotter

Guerilla warfare involves leading a small group of soldiers, such as armed civilians, while using unorthodox military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, and hit-and-run attacks, to fight a larger, more organized (and typically state-sponsored) enemy. Operations typically include a variety of strong surprise attacks against transportation routes, individual groups, and enemy installations and structures. While attacking in small groups and using camouflage and often captured weapons of the enemy, the guerrilla force can keep constant pressure on its foes and diminish its numbers, while still allowing quick escape possibilities. To succeed against a larger and better-armed foe, guerilla warfare units must be organized and prepared.

Mission objective

Preparation begins with a mission objective. Using no more than one-third of your time for this stage, construct the mission objective including initial instructions for the mission. When constructing the order, be sure to consider weather, daylight, and travel time in your mission statement.

Next, notify the guerilla unit that a mission is imminent (called the “warning order”). State the overall nature of the operation and name all personnel who will likely be participating in the mission. Finally, provide a general timeline and location that the operation will occur. Offer the unit enough information so they can begin preparation for the mission.

Understand that surprise is almost always a primary objective in guerilla warfare missions. If it is discovered that the operation has been betrayed, it must be called off immediately.

Tentative planning phase

Next, make a tentative plan. Plan the group’s tasks including security during movement, resupply operations, and any potential coordination with adjacent groups. Make a list of any limitations that could hinder the mission. Identify mission-critical tasks that must be completed to rate the operation as a success.

Create a mission statement which documents the task, participants, timeline, location, and purpose of the mission. Think of the mission statement as the who, what, when, where, and why declarations. For example, a mission statement may state: “Our group will attack X to seize their supply garrison on Tuesday at 5:00 AM in order to procure supplies for our area.”

Develop a sketch of the operation – identify courses of action

Next, develop potential courses of action (COA). COAs describe the strategies and leadership actions required to achieve the mission’s objective.  COAs are similar to the mission statement and consist of the type of action, the time the action begins, the location of the action, the method to be used, and the leader’s intent.


Design COAs that are feasible and reasonable. Make sure each COA is distinguishable and unique – not just minor variations of another COA.  They are the foundation of the plan.

Start with a sketch of operations which should include intelligence – everything that is known about the enemy. Document what you know about their forces including their available weapons, position and known defenses, unique strengths, and recent activities. Document any potential reinforcement capabilities they may have and their possible courses of action. Don’t forget to consider the enemy’s disposition and morale – sympathizers can provide a steady flow of information before and after the attack.

Consider how terrain and weather could affect the operation. Identify obstacles you may encounter along the way and during the operational movement. Identify cover and concealment areas (terrain of course, should be used to provide cover and concealment).

In your operations sketch, determine and document locations that provide optimal observation points and locations that offer the best attack positions. Then determine how to reach and move about these areas (called “avenues of approach”). Consider the following: How can these avenues support movement? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option? What routes will the enemy likely use to counterattack?

Next, consider defensive aspects of the avenues of approach. Consider how the enemy could use these approaches and then decide which avenue is the most dangerous – and the least.

Finally, wargame the plan. Analyze courses of action against the enemy’s most probable courses of action. Compare the potential courses of action and select the one that is most likely to succeed.

Guerilla soldier movement and reconnaissance

Sniper wearing a ghillie suit carrying rifle, book, and backpack

Guerrillas must plan carefully for withdrawal once an operation has been completed or if it is going badly. The withdrawal phase is sometimes regarded as the most important part of a planned action – to get entangled in a lengthy battle with superior forces is usually fatal to guerrilla operatives. Withdrawal is usually accomplished using a variety of different routes and methods and may include quickly scouring the area for loose weapons, evidence cleanup, or disguise as peaceful civilians.

If time permits, rehearsals can be used to reveal weaknesses or problems with the plan and to ensure subordinates understand the plan’s operation. However, it is possible, likely even, that the unit may need to begin movement while the leader is still planning. Determine when movement of the unit should begin and at the appropriate time, give the order to move out.

Preferably the leader of the unit makes a reconnaissance run first but if time does not allow this, the leader may make a reconnaissance map from general knowledge. If neither option is available, a scout can be sent to conduct reconnaissance.

Completing the objective

The plan is considered complete after taking into consideration any new information gleaned from reconnaissance. Once the plan is complete, the “complete order” is announced. Typically, within sight of the objective or while positioned in defensive terrain, the unit leader issues orders directing movement and objectives using the sketch developed earlier.

The leader should ask the subordinates to repeat the orders not only to ensure they are understood, but to reinforce the directions they’ve been given. Finally, question the soldiers to ensure they understand the mission.

Additional information

Tactical mission task list

These tactical mission tasks describe the results or effects the commander wants to achieve. Below is a list of words or terms to describe the what and the why of a mission statement. The commander, however, is not limited to the tactical mission tasks listed here.

Attack by fire

Attack-by-fire is a tactical mission task in which a commander uses direct fire, supported by indirect fire, to engage an enemy. A commander assigning this task to a subordinate must also state the desired effect on the enemy, such as neutralize, fix, or disrupt. A commander normally employs this task when the mission does not dictate or support close combat and occupation of a geographical objective by another friendly force.

An attack by fire closely resembles the task of support by fire. The chief difference is that one unit conducts the support-by-fire task to support another unit so it can maneuver against the enemy. The attack by fire task includes—

  • Assigning sectors of fire to each subordinate weapon system to include the enemy’s defensive positions or avenues of approach.
  • Designating control measures to allow massing, distributing, and shifting of direct and indirect fire.
  • Designating battle positions, area of operations (AO), or axis of advance to allow the friendly force to engage the enemy.
  • Providing for security and all-around defense, including control measures to ensure tie-in of subordinate elements and maximum use of hide positions.
  • OPSEC to deceive the enemy about movement, occupation, and intent of the operation.
  • Reconnaissance, preparing and securing movement routes and firing positions before the movement of the main body, and stocking Class V items.
  • Movement instructions to the initial battle positions.


Breach is a tactical mission task in which the unit employs all available means to break through or secure a passage through an enemy defense, obstacle, minefield, or fortification. A commander attempts to bypass and avoid obstacles and enemy defensive positions to the maximum extent possible to maintain tempo and momentum. Breaching enemy defenses and obstacle systems is normally his last choice.


Bypass is a tactical mission task in which the commander directs his unit to maneuver around an obstacle, position, or enemy force to maintain the momentum of the operation while deliberately avoiding combat with an enemy force. A commander orders a bypass and directs combat power toward mission accomplishment. A bypass can take place in offensive or defensive actions.

The commander bases his bypass decision on—

  • The requirement to maintain momentum and aggressive action.
  • Knowledge of enemy strength, intent, or mission.
  • The degree to which the bypassed enemy can interfere with the advance.
  • The general state of the enemy force; for example, if enemy resistance is crumbling, the friendly force can take greater risks.
  • Any bypass criteria established by a higher headquarters.

The force conducting the bypass immediately reports any bypassed obstacles and enemy forces to its higher headquarters. The force normally keeps the bypassed enemy under observation until relieved by another force unless as part of a raid.

Before approving the bypass, the commander ensures that the bypassing force checks the bypass route for enemy presence and trafficability. At no time can the bypassing force allow the bypassed enemy force to interfere with the moving friendly force.

The two bypass techniques that the force can employ are—

  • Avoiding the enemy totally.
  • Fixing the enemy in place with fires and then conducting the bypass.

If the force cannot avoid the enemy, the bypassing force must fix the enemy with part of its maneuver elements and bypass with the balance of the force. Generally, a commander will not attempt to bypass an enemy force if more than a third of his combat power is required to fix the enemy.

Occasionally the commander may direct the fixing force to break contact with the enemy after the bypassing force completes the bypass. This occurs when the bypassing force has no requirement to maintain an uninterrupted logistics flow, such as in a raid. In this case, the fixing force fixes the enemy by employing defensive and limited offensive actions in synchronization with all available fire support until ordered to rejoin the bypassing force.


Clear is a tactical mission task that requires the commander to remove all enemy forces and eliminate organized resistance within an assigned area. The force does this by destroying, capturing, or forcing the withdrawal of enemy forces so they cannot interfere with the friendly unit’s mission. In all cases, this task requires a thorough reconnaissance to discover the enemy’s locations. After discovering the location, the clearing force maneuvers against the enemy force.

This task requires significant time and other resources. In his mission statement, a commander can modify the objective associated with this task to destroying, capturing, or forcing the withdrawal of only enemy forces larger than a stated size. In this case, the clearing force keeps smaller enemy forces under observation while the rest of the friendly force bypasses them.


Control is a tactical mission task that requires the commander to maintain physical influence over a specified area to prevent its use by an enemy or to create conditions necessary for successful friendly operations. That influence can result from friendly forces occupying the specified area or dominating that area with their weapon systems. Control of an area does not require the complete clearance of all enemy soldiers from the specified area. The tactical mission task of control differs from that of secure because secure does not allow enemy fire to impact on the secured area. The enemy can engage targets within the controlled area but cannot move his ground forces through that area.

Counter reconnaissance

Counter reconnaissance is a tactical mission task that encompasses all measures taken by a commander to counter enemy reconnaissance and surveillance efforts. Counter reconnaissance is not a distinct mission, but a component of all forms of security operations. It prevents hostile observation of a force or area. Counter reconnaissance is an element of all security operations and most local security measures. It involves both active and passive elements and includes combat action to destroy or repel enemy reconnaissance units and surveillance assets.

Destroying enemy ground reconnaissance assets while denying the enemy information through other collection systems allows friendly force commanders to operate against an enemy who is operating blindly. The enemy commander’s inability to see the battlefield eventually desynchronizes his actions and renders his command vulnerable to aggressive action by friendly forces.


Disengage is a tactical mission task where a commander has his unit break contact with the enemy to allow the conduct of another mission or to avoid decisive engagement. It involves moving to a location where the enemy cannot engage the friendly force with either direct fires or observed indirect fires. Disengaging from the enemy while displacing from one position to the next is a difficult procedure. A disengagement plan includes—

  • The maneuver concept of operations for tactical elements after disengagement, along with the movement routes for each subordinate unit.
  • Fires to suppress the enemy and cover the unit’s movement.
  • Screening smoke to conceal the unit’s movement, as part of a deception operation, or to cover passage points.
  • Contact and passage points if moving through friendly lines.
  • The time disengagement starts.

The senior headquarters conducts operations to support the disengaging forces and relieve pressure on units in contact with the enemy. For example, if a division is conducting a delay, the division commander uses his aviation assets to help a ground maneuver brigade disengage from the close fight. Simultaneously, the division uses its long-range artillery, rocket, and EW systems to destroy or disrupt enemy follow-on echelons to prevent them from interfering with the disengagement. The intent is to create conditions that allow the unit to disengage while avoiding decisive combat.

To facilitate disengagement, the commander suppresses the enemy in contact by bombarding him with large volumes of both direct and indirect fire provided by forces other than the disengaging unit. In open terrain, the unit generally moves its short-range systems first. In close terrain, it generally moves its long-range systems first to support by fire positions.

The time involved to move a system to its next position also affects when that system moves. Small unit leaders usually direct this movement because of the limited range of combat net radios and the fact that the tactical situation varies across a unit’s front. The process repeats as necessary. Once disengagement starts, units must complete it rapidly. The commander can employ supporting units or reserves to protect the disengaging unit’s flanks and assist in freeing any closely engaged elements. The unit then moves to its next position using the appropriate movement techniques.

Speed of execution and continued coordination are essential to the success of this task.


Exfiltrate is a tactical mission task where a commander removes soldiers or units from areas under enemy control by stealth, deception, surprise, or clandestine means. Friendly forces exfiltrate when they have been encircled by enemy forces and cannot conduct a breakout or be relieved by other friendly forces. Forces returning from a raid, an infiltration, or a patrol behind enemy lines can also conduct an exfiltration.

The commander exfiltrates an encircled force to preserve a portion of the force; it is preferable to the capture of the entire force. A force exfiltrates only after destroying or incapacitating all equipment (less medical) it must leave behind. Only as a last resort, when the alternative is the capture of the entire force, does a force conducting an exfiltration leave its casualties in place with supplies, chaplain support, and medical attendants.

Exfiltration is most feasible through rough or difficult terrain in areas lightly covered by enemy observation and fire. These conditions often allow undetected movement of small elements, when movement of the entire force would present more risk.

Exfiltration requires resourcefulness, a high degree of discipline, expert land navigational skills, and motivation. It is unlikely that the entire force will be able to exfiltrate, since part of it may have to create a diversion. Good, small-unit leadership is essential in this type of operation.

The exfiltrating force first establishes its rally points and exfiltration lanes. It coordinates its linkup plans with other friendly units. The commander designates exfiltration lanes as restricted fire areas (RFAs) or no-fire areas (NFAs). The exfiltrating force uses preparatory fire to cover its movement and to expend stockpiled ammunition.

Based on reconnaissance and available intelligence, the exfiltrating force subdivides into small groups and exfiltrates during periods of limited visibility, passing through or around enemy defensive positions. If detected, it tries to bypass the enemy. Exfiltration may be more difficult with combat and tactical vehicles because of the noise they make and the limitations they impose on exfiltration routes, making detection more likely.

Follow and Assume

Follow and assume is a tactical mission task in which a second committed force follows a force conducting an offensive operation and is prepared to continue the mission if the lead force is fixed, attritted, or unable to continue. The follow-and-assume force is not a reserve but is committed to accomplishing specific tasks.

Tasks for a follow-and-assume force include—

  • Preparing to execute all missions of the followed unit.
  • Maintaining contact with the trail elements of the leading force.
  • Preparing to conduct a forward passage of lines through the force it is following.
  • Monitoring all combat information and intelligence being provided to and from the force it is following.
  • Avoiding engaging enemy forces bypassed by the force it is following.

A commander assigns a follow-and-assume mission to ensure that he can maintain the momentum of his offensive operation. The follow-and-assume force ensures that it can immediately execute a forward passage of lines and assume the mission of the lead force.

The commander assigning a unit the task of follow and assume has two options in establishing the relationship between the lead and trail units. He normally retains command of both units and requires that all requests for support from the supported unit to the supporting unit pass through his headquarters. Alternatively, in situations where the commander will not be able to maintain control over both units, he places the supporting unit in a standard command relationship with the supported unit, such as attached or operational control. An example of this occurs when both units are trying to encircle a retrograding enemy force and the commander remains with the direct-pressure force.

Follow and Support

Follow and support is a tactical mission task in which a committed force follows and supports a lead force conducting an offensive operation. The follow-and-support force is not a reserve but is a force committed to specific tasks.

Tasks for a follow-and-support force include—

  • Destroying bypassed enemy units when the lead unit does not clear the AO as it advances.
  • Blocking movement of enemy reinforcements.
  • Relieving in place any direct-pressure or encircling force halted to contain the enemy.
  • Securing lines of communication.
  • Clearing obstacles.
  • Guarding prisoners, key areas, and installations.
  • Recovering friendly battle losses.
  • Securing key terrain.
  • Controlling dislocated civilians.

A commander assigns a unit the task of follow and support to keep the supported force from having to commit its combat power to tasks other than the decisive operation, which would slow the offensive operation’s momentum and tempo. The follow-and-support force must accomplish its tasks to prevent the enemy, obstacles, and other factors from interfering with offensive operations, especially along the lines of communications.

The commander assigning the follow-and-support task has two options in establishing the relationship between the supported and the supporting units. He can place the follow-and-support unit in a standard command relationship with the supported unit, such as attached or operational control. Alternatively, he can retain command of the follow-and-support force and require that all tasking requests from the supported unit go through his headquarters.


Occupy is a tactical mission task that involves moving a friendly force into an area so that it can control that area. Both the force’s movement to and occupation of the area occur without enemy opposition. A unit can control an area without occupying it, but not vice versa. That is the difference between the tactical mission tasks of occupy and control.


Reduce is a tactical mission task that involves the destruction of an encircled or bypassed enemy force. There is no tactical mission graphic for this task. This task can occur at any location on the battlefield. Reduce is also a mobility task that involves creating sufficient lanes through an obstacle to negate its intended effect.


Retain is a tactical mission task in which the commander ensures that a terrain feature controlled by a friendly force remains free of enemy occupation or use. The commander assigning this task must specify the area to retain and the duration of the retention, which is time- or event-driven.

While a unit is conducting this task, it expects the enemy to attack and prepares to become decisively engaged. A unit tasked to retain a specific piece of terrain does not necessary have to occupy it.


Secure is a tactical mission task that involves preventing a unit, facility, or geographical location from being damaged or destroyed as a result of enemy action. This task normally involves conducting area security operations.

A force given the mission of securing a unit, facility, or geographical location not only prevents enemy forces from over-running or occupying the secured location, but also prevents enemy direct fire and observed indirect fire from impacting the secured location. This is the primary difference between control and secure. The control tactical mission task allows enemy direct and indirect fires to affect the location being controlled. A unit does not have to physically occupy the area immediately around the unit, facility, or geographical location it is securing if it can prevent the enemy from occupying or firing at that location by other means. The commander states the mission duration in terms of time or event when assigning a mission to secure a given unit, facility, or geographical location.


Seize is a tactical mission task that involves taking possession of a designated area by using overwhelming force. An enemy force can no longer place direct fire on an objective that has been seized.

This task differs from secure because it requires offensive action to obtain control of the designated area or objective. It differs from the task of occupy because it involves overcoming anticipated enemy opposition. Once a force seizes a physical objective, it clears the terrain within that objective by killing, capturing, or forcing the withdrawal of all enemy forces.

Support by fire

Support-by-fire is a tactical mission task in which a maneuver force moves to a position where it can engage the enemy by direct fire in support of another maneuvering force. The primary objective of the support force is normally to fix and suppress the enemy so he cannot effectively fire on the maneuvering force. The secondary objective is to destroy the enemy if he tries to reposition. The commander must specify the desired effect on the enemy when assigning this task to a subordinate.

A unit conducting the task of support by fire does not maneuver to capture enemy forces or terrain. The commander gives this task to another unit as part of a larger maneuver. When assigning a support-by-fire mission, the commander designates the enemy, when to attack, the general location from which to operate, the friendly force to support, and the purpose of the task, such as fixing or suppressing.

Once the commander gives an element the task of support by fire, it should occupy support by fire positions that have cover and concealment, good observation, and clear fields of fire. Elements occupying support-by-fire positions should—

  • Check the security of the position.
  • Search for targets.
  • Orient weapons on likely or suspected enemy positions.
  • Assume fighting positions that provide some degree of protection. Heavy forces occupy hull-down firing positions, while light forces use trees, natural berms, buildings, and similar existing terrain features.
  • Assign observation sectors to each soldier or weapon system in the support-by-fire element.
  • Use its available thermal sights to locate heat sources not visible to the naked eye, such as vehicles concealed in tree lines or other wooded areas or personnel serving at OPs.

Support by fire closely resembles the task of attack by fire. The difference is that support by fire supports another force so it can maneuver against the enemy, while an attack by fire does not support the maneuver of another friendly force.


Block is a tactical mission task that denies the enemy access to an area or prevents his advance in a direction or along an avenue of approach. A blocking task normally requires the friendly force to block the enemy force for a certain time or until a specific event has occurred. The line perpendicular to the enemy’s line of advance indicates the limit of enemy advance. A blocking unit may have to hold terrain and become decisively engaged.

Block is also an engineer obstacle effect that integrates fire planning and obstacle effort to stop an attacker along a specific avenue of approach or prevent him from passing through an engagement area.

A blocking force may employ blocking obstacles to assist in the task. Blocking obstacles are complex, employed in depth, and integrated with fires to prevent the enemy from proceeding along an avenue of approach, or to proceed only at unacceptable cost. When employed, blocking obstacles should serve as a limit, not allowing the enemy beyond that point. Obstacles alone cannot accomplish a blocking task.

Block as a tactical mission task differs from the tactical mission task of fix because a blocked enemy force can move in any direction other than the obstructed one, while a fixed enemy force cannot move in any direction.


Canalize is a tactical mission task in which the commander restricts enemy movement to a narrow zone by exploiting terrain coupled with the use of obstacles, fires, or friendly maneuver.


Contain is a tactical mission task that requires the commander to stop, hold, or surround enemy forces or to cause them to center their activity on a given front and prevent them from withdrawing any part of their forces for use elsewhere. Containment allows an enemy to reposition himself within the designated geographical area, whereas fixing an enemy does not. Geo-graphic terms or time may express the limits of the containment. The contain graphic encompasses the entire geographical area in which the commander desires to contain the enemy during the development of alternative courses of action.


Defeat is a tactical mission task that occurs when an enemy force has temporarily or permanently lost the physical means or the will to fight. The defeated force’s commander is unwilling or unable to pursue his adopted course of action, thereby yielding to the friendly commander’s will and can no longer interfere to a significant degree with the actions of friendly forces. Defeat can result from the use of force or the threat of its use.

A commander can generate different effects against an enemy to defeat him:

  • Physical. The enemy loses the physical means to continue fighting. He no longer has the personnel, weapon systems, equipment, or supplies to carry out his assigned mission.
  • Psychological. The enemy loses the will to fight. He becomes mentally exhausted, and his morale is so low that he can no longer continue to carry out his assigned mission.

These effects typically occur as a result of catastrophic losses inflicted over a very short time or from sustained attrition. An opponent who is not ideologically motivated opponent may be defeated psychologically on observing preparations for the delivery of clearly overwhelming combat power on his position. Defeat manifests itself in some sort of physical action, such as mass surrenders, abandonment of significant quantities of equipment and supplies, or retrograde operations.


Destroy is a tactical mission task that physically renders an enemy force combat-ineffective until it is reconstituted. Alternatively, to destroy a combat system is to damage it so badly that it cannot perform any function or be restored to a usable condition without being entirely rebuilt. The amount of damage needed to render a unit combat-ineffective depends on the unit’s type, discipline, and morale. Destroying armored or dug-in targets with area fire weapons requires considerable ammunition and time, so forces do not normally attempt it unless they have terminally guided munitions.


Disrupt is a tactical mission task in which a commander integrates direct and indirect fire, terrain, and obstacles to upset an enemy’s formation or tempo, interrupt his timetable, or cause his forces to commit prematurely or attack in a piecemeal fashion. This increases the enemy’s vulnerability to friendly fires. It may temporarily knock a unit out of the battle. Disruption is never an end; it is the means to an end.

The maneuver force attempting to disrupt an enemy must attack him with enough combat power to achieve desired results with one mass attack or sustain the attack until it achieves the desired results. It may involve attacking the enemy while he is still in his assembly areas or in an approach march before he can deploy into a combat formation. The commander determines the amount of risk he is willing to accept based on anticipated friendly losses, the location of the attack, and the number of attacks.

Disrupt is also an engineer obstacle effect that focuses fire planning and obstacle effort to cause the enemy to break up his formation and tempo, interrupt his timetable, commit breaching assets prematurely, and attack in a piecemeal effort. It also helps to deceive the enemy concerning the location of friendly defensive positions, to separate combat echelons, or to separate combat forces from their logistic support.


Fix is a tactical mission task where a commander prevents the enemy from moving any part of his force from a specific location for a specific period. This may occur by engaging him to prevent his withdrawal for use elsewhere, or by using deception, such as transmitting false orders. The commander uses fix in offensive and defensive actions; it is always a shaping operation.

Fixing an enemy force does not mean destroying it. The friendly force has to prevent the enemy from moving in any direction. This task usually has a time constraint, such as fixing the enemy reserve force until the decisive operation is secured. The tactical mission task of fix differs from that of block in that a fixed enemy force cannot move from a given location, but a blocked enemy force can move in any direction other than the one obstructed.

Fix is also an engineer obstacle effect that focuses fire planning and obstacle effort to slow an attacker’s movement within a specified area, normally an engagement area. The primary use of this effect is to give the friendly unit time to acquire, target, and destroy the attacking enemy with direct and indirect fires throughout the avenue of approach.


Interdict is a tactical mission task where the commander prevents, disrupts, or delays the enemy’s use of an area or route. Interdiction is a shaping operation conducted to complement and reinforce other ongoing offensive or defensive operations.

The depth at which the attacking force conducts the interdiction generally determines the friendly force’s freedom of action. Increasing the depth of operations reduces the danger of fratricide to air and surface forces, reduces the coordination required, and allows increasingly flexible operations. With more freedom of action, aerial forces leave the enemy with no location immune from attack.

The depth at which interdiction takes place also determines the speed with which its effects are observed. Normally, ground maneuver units first focus on targets close to the forward of line own troops (FLOT). Interdiction efforts there have immediate impact on enemy forces near the interdiction target but do not affect the enemy’s ability to mass force effects. Attacks at greater distances from the FLOT have a delayed impact on close combat but eventually degrade the enemy’s ability to mass effects.

The friendly force’s capability to interdict may have a devastating impact on the enemy’s plans and ability to respond to friendly actions. For example, interdiction efforts that result in the enemy’s maneuver being delayed or disrupted enhance the friendly force’s ability to achieve tactical advantages. Delaying or disrupting enemy resupply efforts limits his ability to sustain intense, high-tempo offensive or defensive operations and restricts the mobility of his forces.

Interdicting the movement of enemy units can be extremely effective in assisting their encirclement and eventual destruction. Fixed enemy ground forces-or those trapped by the loss of their mobility-provide lucrative targets. The commander should plan to interdict withdrawing enemy forces to enhance his pursuit. While interdiction can contribute to success by hampering reinforcement and resupply, it can also contribute by trapping enemy forces or canalizing their maneuvers, leading to their destruction in detail.


Isolate is a tactical mission task that requires a unit to seal off-both physically and psychologically-an enemy from his sources of support, deny him freedom of movement, and prevent him from having contact with other enemy forces. A commander does not allow an isolated enemy sanctuary within his present position but continues to conduct offensive actions against him.


Neutralize is a tactical mission task that results in rendering enemy personnel or materiel incapable of interfering with a particular operation. When assigning a task to neutralize, the commander must specify the enemy force or materiel to neutralize and the duration, which is time- or event-driven. The neutralized target may become effective again when casualties are replaced, damage is repaired, or effort resulting in the neutralization is lifted. The commander normally uses a combination of lethal and nonlethal fires to neutralize enemy personnel or materiel. The assets required to neutralize a target vary according to the type and size of the target and the weapon and munitions combination used.


Suppress is a tactical mission task that results in the temporary degradation of the performance of a force or weapon system below the level needed to accomplish its mission. It occurs when a commander employs direct or indirect lethal fires, offensive information operations, or smoke on enemy personnel, weapons, and equipment to prevent or degrade enemy fires, sensors, and visual observation of friendly forces. As opposed to the neutralization task, the original target regains its effectiveness without needing to reconstitute once the effects of the systems involved in the suppression effort lift or shift to another target.


Turn is a tactical mission task that involves forcing an enemy element from one avenue of approach or movement corridor to another. The commander relates obstacles, fires, and terrain to improve his tactical situation while degrading the enemy’s situation. For example, in the offense, a commander might want to turn an enemy force he is pursuing to place it in a position where he can destroy it. In the defense, a commander might want to turn an attacking enemy force to allow him to conduct a counterattack into its flank.

Turn is also a tactical obstacle effect that integrates fire planning and obstacle effort to divert an enemy formation from one avenue of approach to an adjacent avenue of approach or into an engagement area. Its development requires well-defined mobility corridors and avenues of approach. To achieve this effect, the obstacles have a subtle orientation relative to the enemy’s approach. The obstacles and their associated fire allow bypasses in the direction desired by the friendly scheme of maneuver. Finally, the obstacles tie into restrictive terrain at the initial point of the turn. A commander normally uses the turn effect on the flanks of an EA.

Sir Robert Thompson’s guidelines for battling counter-insurgents

The adage “keep your friends close and your enemies closers” rings true. It’s important to understand how the enemy will react to guerilla warrior’s ambitions. Sir Robert Thompson penned a widely distributed work that presented the basic principles of counter-insurgency warfare. Any guerrilla warfare leader should be familiar with Thompson’s guidelines which are presented below.

The people are the key base to be secured and defended rather than territory won or enemy bodies counted. Contrary to the focus of conventional warfare, territory gained or casualty counts are not of overriding importance in counter-guerrilla warfare. The support of the population is the key variable. Since many insurgents rely on the population for recruits, food, shelter, financing, and other materials, the counter-insurgent force must focus its efforts on providing physical and economic security for that population and defending it against insurgent attacks and propaganda.

There must be a clear political counter-vision that can overshadow, match or neutralize the guerrilla vision. This can range from granting political autonomy to economic development measures in the affected region. The vision must be an integrated approach, involving political, social and economic and media influence measures. A nationalist narrative, for example, might be used in one situation, an ethnic autonomy approach in another. An aggressive media campaign must also be mounted in support of the competing vision or the counter-insurgent regime will appear weak or incompetent.

Practical action must be taken at the lower levels to match the competitive political vision. It may be tempting for the counter-insurgent side simply to declare guerrillas “terrorists” and pursue a harsh liquidation strategy. Brute force, however, may not be successful in the long run. Action does not mean capitulation, but sincere steps such as removing corrupt or arbitrary officials, cleaning up fraud, building more infrastructure, collecting taxes honestly, or addressing other legitimate grievances can do much to undermine the guerrillas’ appeal.

Economy of force. The counter-insurgent regime must not overreact to guerrilla provocations, since this may indeed be what they seek in order to create a crisis in civilian morale. Indiscriminate use of firepower may only serve to alienate the key focus of counter-insurgency – the base of the people. Police level actions should guide the effort and take place in a clear framework of legality, even if under a State of Emergency. Civil liberties and other customs of peacetime may have to be suspended, but again, the counter-insurgent regime must exercise restraint, and cleave to orderly procedures. In the counter-insurgency context, “boots on the ground” are even more important than technological prowess and massive firepower, although anti-guerrilla forces should take full advantage of modern air, artillery and electronic warfare assets.

Big unit action may sometimes be necessary. If police action is not sufficient to stop the guerrilla fighters, military sweeps may be necessary. Such “big battalion” operations may be needed to break up significant guerrilla concentrations and split them into small groups where combined civic-police action can control them.

Aggressive mobility. Mobility and aggressive small unit action is extremely important for the counter-insurgent regime. Heavy formations must be lightened aggressively to locate, pursue and neutralize insurgent units. Huddling in static strongpoints simply concedes the field to the insurgents. They must be kept on the run constantly with aggressive patrols, raids, ambushes, sweeps, cordons, roadblocks, prisoner snatches, etc.

Ground level embedding and integration. In tandem with mobility is the embedding of hardcore counter-insurgent units or troops with local security forces and civilian elements. The US Marines in Vietnam also saw some success with this method, under its CAP (Combined Action Program) where Marines were teamed as both trainers and “stiffeners” of local elements on the ground. US Special Forces in Vietnam, like the Green Berets, also caused significant local problems for their opponents by their leadership and integration with mobile tribal and irregular forces. The CIA’s Special Activities Division created successful guerrilla forces from the Hmong tribe during the war in Vietnam in the 1960s, from the Northern Alliance against the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan in 2001, and from the Kurdish Peshmerga against Ansar al-Islam and the forces of Saddam Hussein during the war in Iraq in 2003. In Iraq, the 2007 US “surge” strategy saw the embedding of regular and special forces troops among Iraqi army units. These hardcore groups were also incorporated into local neighborhood outposts in a bid to facilitate intelligence gathering, and to strengthen ground level support among the masses.

Cultural sensitivity. Counter-insurgent forces require familiarity with the local culture, mores and language or they will experience numerous difficulties. Americans experienced this in Vietnam and during the US invasion of Iraqi and occupation, where shortages of Arabic speaking interpreters and translators hindered both civil and military operations.

Systematic intelligence effort. Every effort must be made to gather and organize useful intelligence. A systematic process must be set up to do so, from casual questioning of civilians to structured interrogations of prisoners. Creative measures must also be used, including the use of double agents, or even bogus “liberation” or sympathizer groups that help reveal insurgent personnel or operations.

Methodical clear and hold. An “ink spot” clear and hold strategy must be used by the counter-insurgent regime, dividing the conflict area into sectors, and assigning priorities between them. Control must expand outward like an ink spot on paper, systematically neutralizing and eliminating the insurgents in one sector of the grid, before proceeding to the next. It may be necessary to pursue holding or defensive actions elsewhere, while priority areas are cleared and held.

Careful deployment of mass popular forces and special units. Mass forces include village self-defense groups and citizen militias organized for community defense and can be useful in providing civic mobilization and local security. Specialist units can be used profitably, including commando squads, long range reconnaissance and “hunter-killer” patrols, defectors who can track or persuade their former colleagues like the Kit Carson units in Vietnam, and paramilitary style groups.

The limits of foreign assistance must be clearly defined and carefully used. Such aid should be limited either by time, or as to material and technical, and personnel support, or both. While outside aid or even troops can be helpful, lack of clear limits, in terms of either a realistic plan for victory or exit strategy, may find the foreign helper “taking over” the local war, and sucked into a lengthy commitment, thus providing the guerrillas with valuable propaganda opportunities as the toll of dead foreigner’s mounts. Such a scenario occurred with the US in Vietnam, with the American effort creating dependence in South Vietnam, and war-weariness and protests back home. Heavy-handed foreign interference may also fail to operate effectively within the local cultural context, setting up conditions for failure.

Time. A key factor in guerrilla strategy is a drawn-out, protracted conflict that wears down the will of the opposing counter-insurgent forces. Democracies are especially vulnerable to the factor of time. The counter-insurgent force must allow enough time to get the job done. Impatient demands for victory centered around short-term electoral cycles play into the hands of the guerrillas, though it is equally important to recognize when a cause is lost, and the guerrillas have won.

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

Sniper wearing a ghillie suit carrying rifle, book, and backpack via Wikimedia Commons by The Armée de Terre's Facebook page with usage type - Creative Commons License. March 16, 2021
Group of snipers hiding under grass camouflage with spotter via Wikimedia Commons by SAC Phil Dye with usage type - Public Domain. October 29, 2015

Featured Image Credit

Group of snipers hiding under grass camouflage with spotter via Wikimedia Commons by SAC Phil Dye with usage type - Public Domain. October 29, 2015


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