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Guerrilla is a term invented in Spain to describe the tactics used to resist the French regime instituted by Napoleon Bonaparte (one should however remember, that the tactics themselves were known and used even centuries earlier). The Spanish word means "little war". Guerilla warfare operates with small, mobile and flexible combat groups called cells, without a front line. Primary contributors to theories of guerrilla war include Mao Zedong and Che Guevara. Guerrilla warfare is one of the oldest forms of asymmetric warfare.

Guerrilla tactics are based on ambush and sabotage, and their ultimate objective is usually to destabilize an authority through long, low-intensity confrontation. It can be quite successful against an unpopular foreign regime: a guerrilla army may increase the cost of maintaining an occupation or a colonial presence above what the foreign power may wish to bear.

Examples of successful guerrilla warfare include conflicts in Indonesia, Angola, Mozambique and Algeria. However, it has generally been unsuccessful against native regimes, which have nowhere to retreat to. The rare examples of successful guerrilla warfare against a native regime include Cuba and China. More common are the unsuccessful examples which include Malaysia, Bolivia, Argentina, and the Philippines.

Guerrillas in wars against foreign powers do not principally direct their attacks at civilians, as they desire to obtain as much support as possible from the population as part of their tactics. Civilians are primarily attacked or assasinated as punishment for collaboration[?]. Often such an attack will be officially sanctioned by guerrilla command or tribunal. An exception is in civil wars, where both guerrilla groups and organized armies have been known to commit atrocities against the civilian population.

Guerrillas are often characterised as terrorists by their opponents. Guerrillas are in particular danger of not being recognized as combatants because they are outnumbered and may take off their uniforms to mingle with the local population.

Guerrillas usually control rural areas with lots of places to hide, such as forests and mountains. Guerrillas rely on a friendly population to provide supply and intelligence. Often the difference between a successful and doomed guerrilla movement is the availability of outside logistics support from foreign opponents of the local regime.

Maoist theory of people's war divides warfare into three phases. In the first phase, the guerrillas gain the support of the population through attacks on the machinery of government and the distribution of propaganda. In the second phase, escalating attacks are made on the government's military and vital institutions. In the third phase, conventional warfighting is used to seize cities, overthrow the government and take control of the country.

Guerrillas in Europe In centuries of history, many guerrilla movements appeared in Europe to fight foreign occupation forces. In the 19th century, peoples of the Balkans used the tactics to fight the Ottoman empire. The Spanish used it to fight Napoleon in the Peninsula War.

In World War II, several guerilla movements operated in the countries occupied by Nazi Germany. These included Yugoslav partisans[?], French resistance or Maquis, Italian partisans[?], ELAS[?] and royalist forces in Greece.

Currently, the Basque ETA and Corsican FLNC[?] could be called guerrillas, but the governments prefer to call them terrorists.

Guerrillas in Latin America

In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Latin America had a number of urban guerrilla[?] movements whose strategy was to destabilize democratic regimes and provoke a counter-reaction by the military. The theory was that a harsh military regime would oppress the middle classes who would then support the guerrillas and create a popular uprising.

Unfortunately, while these movements did destabilize governments, such as Argentina, Uruguay, Guatemala, and Peru to the point of military intervention, the military generally then proceeded to wipe out the guerrilla movements, often committing atrocities among both civilians and the armed insurgents in the process.

Guerrillas and the Vietnam War

Within the United States, the Vietnam War is commonly thought of as a guerrilla war. However this is a misleading simplification of a much more complex situation which followed the pattern outlined by Maoist theory.

The Viet Cong or "VC" used guerrilla tactics in the early phases of the war. However, by 1965 when American involvement escalated, the Viet Cong were in the process of being supplanted by regular units of the North Vietnamese Army.

The NVA regiments organized along traditional military lines, were supplied via the Ho Chi Minh trail rather than living off the land, and had access to weapons such as tanks[?] and artillery which are not normally used by guerrilla forces.

Over time, more of the fighting was conducted by the North Vietnamese Army and the character of the war become increasingly conventional. The final offensive into South Vietnam in 1975 was a completely conventional military operation with no elements of guerrilla warfare.

By the end of the Vietnam War, most of the Viet Cong had been killed in action or were no longer combat-effective. One of the first acts of the new North Vietnamese-dominated unified Vietnamese government was to hunt out former Viet Cong and imprison them to consolidate the regime's hold on South Vietnam.

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