Abraham Mohale, Junior Curator, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History



An insurgency is a violent, armed rebellion against authority waged by small, lightly armed bands who practice guerrilla warfare from primary rural bases areas. It is a rebellious act that does not reach the proportions of an organized revolution. It can subsequently be applied to any such armed uprising, typically guerrilla in character, against the recognized government of a state or a country. Insurgent is derived from the Latin word insurgentem,” literally meaning” to rise against. In simple terms a fighter who rise against the people in power. Often insurgents are considered terrorists or rebels, even extremely called war criminals.

Figure 1. Boko Haram insurgents.



Regular warfare is familiar to most of us. Here troops fight on a front in accordance with the rules laid down, and employ strategy and tactics, in accordance with the codes of warfare. Guerrilla warfare knows no such rules; it has no formal pattern. It employs any methods of combat, often illegal, with the aim of harassing, confusing, demoralising and ultimately causing the downfall of a government and civil authority. Using Iraq and Afghanistan as case studies, this article explores the scope of the relationship among criminal organizations, terrorists, and insurgents; how the transitional period between post conflict, reconstruction and nation building created fertile grounds for strengthening the criminal-terrorist and insurgent continuum , and how the United States of America (USA) and its coalition allies continue until today to mitigate and contain security challenges posed by criminal, terrorist, and insurgent problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. Security gaps created across much of Iraq and Afghanistan have become fertile grounds not only for the well-equipped insurgents, but also for criminal networks with whom they have forged symbiotic alliances. The proliferation of criminal groups and their activities threaten the USA and global security. The link between criminal elements, insurgents and terrorists become blurred, and together these groups not only promote violent environments, but also become dominant actors in shadow economics.

Research suggests that although the operations and objectives of criminal groups, insurgents and terrorists may differ, there is mounting evidence that these groups interact for mutually beneficial reasons. They share the common goals of ensuring that post conflict countries have ineffective law enforcement, porous borders, profitable corruption, and lucrative criminal opportunities. Using the Afghanistan Iraq model, this article examines how the forces are playing out in distinctive ways. Current coalition strategies have largely defined the threats in narrow, separate, and often ambiguous terms. In most cases, the organized crime component has been artificially separated from activities of insurgents, Jihadists (holy warriors), warlords, and terrorists. The convergence of organized criminal networks with the other non-state actors requires a more sophisticated, interactive, and concerted response that takes into account the dynamics of the relationships, and adapts to the shifting tactics used by the various hybrid networks.

Figure 2. A group of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) insurgents: women, men, and fighters of all ages including children. (



  • Traditionally, rebels or guerrillas operate in small independent bands, their tactics not being to concentrate, but to disperse and strike a number of small blows at the security force from all directions at irregular intervals.
  • Bands draw their recruits, who are volunteers, from the area in which they operate. Normally bands do not operate away from their own district.
  • Guerrillas require room for manoeuvre. The bigger the area of operations, the more dispersed the security troops become, and the greater the possibilities for guerrillas to find suitable targets. They prefer difficult and closed terrains, instead of open terrains which can easily be patrolled by security forces.
  • Guerrillas invariably establish their bases in inaccessible places, e.g. mountainous areas. Their bases are not permanent, and they will move from place to place as their situation demand.
  • Their strategy and belief is that the best form of defence is to attack. They normally do not hold ground.
  • Whereas troops in conventional warfare can seldom choose their battle ground, guerrillas enjoy great freedom of action. They move rapidly, attack swiftly and can disappear quickly before troops can concentrate on their superior forces.
  • The objective is any action which can create intolerable conditions for the security forces and can drain their strength. It is always undertaken. Their targets may include industrial, military, administrative, and communication centres.



  • Guerrillas depend to a large extent on the support of the local population.
  • They frequently terrorise the civilians in order to sow distrust in the power of the security forces to help the civilians.
  • Deprive security forces of valuable sources of intelligence.
  • Their successes often incite the population to further unrest and disturbances.



In the past guerrillas often lived a lawless life, adopted cruel methods and carried out activities which placed their legal status in doubt. It can generally be said that guerrilla warfare is not considered an offence against the rules of land, provided they abide by the rules in terms of article 1 of The Hague Convention which provides, the laws, rights and duties of war. It applies not only to the armies, but also to the militia and volunteer corps fulfilling the following conditions. Firstly, to be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates, secondly to have a distinctive recognizable emblem at a distance, thirdly to carry arms openly, and lastly to conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.



  • To combat guerrillas as a systematic organization is necessary. The territory should be divided into regions or sectors, and troops allocated to these areas according to requirements.
  • The aim should be to cover the area concerned with a framework of military organizations working in close co-operation with the civilian authorities.
  • A thorough intelligence organisation is of the utmost importance. The sources of intelligence should be provided for, but particular attention should be paid to battle intelligence, long and short term intelligence concerning guerrilla’s locations, strengths and intentions.
  • Main sources are local agents employed as spies, patrols and captured guerrillas.



Security measures must be of the high order; propaganda should be countered by propaganda. In this respect agents should be exploited. Psychological warfare should be directed with the aim of influencing terrorists to desert and countering the ideologies and policies of guerrillas. Defensively, the scope of operations, and all economic, administrative, communications and military installations should be protected. Offensively, the aim of all operations should be to seek out and annihilate the guerrillas, and destroy their hideouts, food and ammunition dumps. In planning offensive operations, particular attention must be given to the following: intelligence, security, surprise. Traditional tactics and methods should be used when fighting guerrillas. Surprise and initiative are the main requirements. Intensive patrols are very important, denying the guerrillas any form of contact with the local communities, and locating their bases and hideouts is an effective tactic that have proven working record.



Guerrillas or insurgents are usually careless about death. Some are Islamic extremists like Al–Qaeda and Boko Haram of Nigeria and have taken the oath of death. They do not have mental doubts of their assignments and are less troubled by humanitarian sentiments. They are not moved by slaughter, mutilation, beheading of their captives, even extremely committing their own deaths by suicide bombings. Their extreme Islamic religious trainings and teachings prepare them for hardships and sacrifices for their course. Their standard of bush-craft is usually of a high order and they have a keen practised eye for their countries, and the ability to move across it at speed on feet. They are usually physically fit, being to cover long distances rapidly, carrying a heavy load. They are capable of being trained to use modern, complicated weaponry and communication technology to good use. The overall aim of all unconventional warfare operations is to bring the whole country or the affected parts of the country under control by systematically expanding controlled areas. The aim of operations in depth is to locate, disrupt and destroy hard core enemy elements in the groups. We must all understand that no man is born radical or militant; in most cases one is educated, inculcated and pulled into it. It does not matter whether we refer to or label these underground militant groups, guerrillas, rebels, insurgents, war criminals or terrorists. They are a creation of political, economic or social systems, and by the look of things they will always be part our human history.




http: // > topic > guerrilla-warfare.

James D. Fearon and David D. Latin: Ethnicity, Insurgency, and civil war, Political science review 97/1 (2003) pp. 75-90: https// www. E com

Jeremy Weinstein.: Inside rebellion, The Politics of insurgent armed violence (Cambridge cap 2007).

S A Army headquarters: Counter insurgency Operations Manual Sub-Unit, June 1977.

Chief of the army, Army headquarters, Pretoria: Unconventional warfare, Operations in rural areas, September 1972.

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