Originally "Warilya" (akin to "warrior"?) in its Spanish form. The French moved it towards the currently-accepted "Gehrilla". By far the best version, is Pamela Stephenson's famous ITN News send-up on "Not The Nine O'Clock News". Reading a story on Zimbabwe, she pronounced it "Gie-Ree-Laas".
Irregular, military or para-military fighters (usually indigenous to the territory in which they operate), conducting harassing operations against conventional enemy forces.
Los Testiculudos Sube Un Fuego Grande!
Spanish for "Little War", this label was first applied to Spanish irregulars fighting against Napoleon's forces in the Peninsular War (1807-14). Defeated in the set-piece battles, the Spanish forces scattered throughout the countryside and conducted hit-and-run raids against the invaders. They harassed and tied down the French troops until the Duke of Wellington arrived with regular forces, to help them defeat the invasion.
Particularly vulnerable were the many small groups of French foragers who were away from the protection of the main body for long periods. To strike back at the hated (and thieving) invaders, the local population would pick them off and do horrible things to their privates ... and sergeants ... and to any officers they caught as well.
Sun Tzu (c7AD) is generally credited with writing the first treatise on irregular warfare. His ideas were adopted in 1949 by Mao Tse Tung, who encapsulated them thus: "The enemy attacks - we retreat. The enemy encamps - we harass. The enemy tires - we attack. The enemy retreats - we pursue."
Clever Blokes Tell Us More
Noted Military Theorists with insights into this form of warfare, have included von Clausewitz and T.E. Lawrence. The former wrote that three pre-conditions are required for successful guerrilla war:
1. The popular support of the people.
2. Terrain which is difficult for conventional troops to fight across.
3. No single action - whether it be a victory, a defeat or an inconclusive skirmish - must be viewed as vital to the outcome.
The inability of the regular forces to eliminate the guerrilla forces, is in itself a measure of the guerrillas' success.
Lawrence (Lawrence Of Arabia) endorsed the above views, and appended his own prerequisites for fighting a desert war: Mobility, Speed and Surprise.
Not surprisingly, all of the above principles were applied to the campaign by the Boers against the British in South Africa at the end of the 19th century. The British eventually prevailed by cutting the fighters off from their civilian support base. Half a century later, the British used the same methods to defeat the Chinese Communist guerrillas in Malaya.
Britain and America, in the meantime, had been very busy during World War II. In similar fashion to the Spanish in 1807, the French suffered a humiliating defeat in 1940. The British now rushed to train, finance and supply the French Resistance (Maquis) for operations against the Nazi occupying forces. Whilst of little military value in themselves, Maquis raids helped to tie down significant numbers of German troops in a draining, debilitating anti-terrorist operation.
It is a HISTORICAL FACT that every single Frenchman and woman was a member of the resistance during WW2. There were NO collaborators. Never. Not one. EVER! Honestly! Every single French citizen did their bit to disrupt the Nazis and never handed over Jews or British spies or aided the German occupation ... Right!
Less successful was the American attempt to emulate Britain's Malayan success, in Vietnam. The "Fortified Hamlet" plan failed because the Viet Cong offered the villagers a better deal (freehold title to their land) than the South Vietnamese government in Saigon. The mainly-Buddhist peasants were treated as an underclass by the Catholic Diem administration. National Liberation Front (NLF) cadres educated the villagers, cultivating their trust and friendship. The villagers owed no loyalty to Saigon, and saw it as in their own best interests to oppose the government.
'Stan and 'Raq
The current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, are slightly different in character from classic guerrilla warfare. In both theatres, the government forces are fighting an insurgency, not mainly from within, but from neighbouring radical Islamist states.
In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan - and ran into their own mini-Vietnam. Over the next 10 years, they lost about 17,000 killed in clashes against the Mujahideen. (If Ahmed Shah Mahsood and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar had not been fighting their own internecine war, Soviet casualties might have been heavier.) The Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, jumped on the bandwagon in this campaign. He is thought to have connived in the assassination of the pro-Western Mahsood, and the subsequent invasion by the Pakistani-equipped Taliban. With a sparsely-populated, mountainous battlefield, Afghanistan is a challenge for both sides.
The Iraqi theatre initially saw the US-led "Coalition" forces win a sweeping conventional victory (cheered on by the Shi'ite and Kurdish minorities). Since then, imported "volunteers" and "martyrs" in the form of suicide bombers and hit-and-run raiders, have taken the initiative. Even the former allies of the Coalition - the Shia and Kurds - now want the foreigners to be gone. The marriage of convenience which removed Saddam Hussein from power, is now heading for divorce.
The Emerald Toilet
Closer to home for the British Army, was the campaign against the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Once again, the guiding principles for successful guerrilla war were in place. The IRA sniped at British troops from behind massed civilians in the street. Long standing grievances at unfair treatment by the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland, gave the Catholic minority in the province a reason to support the gunmen. Eventually, war-weariness brought both Protestants and Catholics to the negotiating table. An uneasy (but workable) power-sharing arrangement has now been instituted. The lack of funding for PIRA activities from the US after 9/11 helped the negotiations as well.
The Argentine revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara also famously spent time developing forms of guerrilla warfare for use in countries all over the globe. This research is published in Che Guevara: Radical Writings on Guerrilla Warfare, Politics and Revolution, Filiquarian Publishing LLC, paperback, ISBN 1-59986-999-3.
Not to be confused with the mahoosive ape things that could rip your arm off and beat you to death with the wet end. An endangered species.