Small Wars Journal

From Guerrilla to Maneuver Warfare: A Look at the Taliban’s Growing Combat Capability

From Guerrilla to Maneuver Warfare: A Look at the Taliban’s Growing Combat Capability by Alec Worsnop - Modern War Institute

The growing territorial reach exercised by the Taliban poses a notable threat to the stability of the Afghan government. The insurgents’ persistence and adaptability points to an underappreciated trend.  While guerrilla warfare has been consistently identified as a way for less powerful actors to counter much stronger fighting forces, treating the tactic as a “primitive’” weapon of the weak underestimates the complexity involved in fighting guerrilla wars, let alone transitioning into movement warfare. Guerrilla warfare requires reliable small units that can fire and maneuver to retain the tactical offensive against much stronger foes.

Beyond the role of social networks or material resources such as weapons, my research points to the importance of well-designed training programs in crafting such insurgent military power. While some have begun to probe the role of training in re-socializing insurgent fighters, training also plays a fundamental role in developing military skill. What is more, insurgents with explicit training regimens are positioned to adapt and transition to new methods of warfare. As discussed below, there is evidence that the Taliban is already beginning to take the steps necessary to re-orient the group’s forces for the type of movement warfare they employed in the 1990s to take Afghanistan in a military storm.

Militarily successful insurgents engage in complex operations. For example, ambushes require careful planning to identify vulnerable targets or chokepoints and then a well-staged division of labor that allows an attacking element to move forward and quickly withdraw, with the assistance of suppressing fire from other squads and sometimes the use of explosives as a diversionary tactic or as part of the assault. This demands dispersed small units that are well trained and prepared for the challenges—and instability—of combat. This need will come as no surprise to US military combat planners and trainers. As S.L.A. Marshall identified in Men Against Fire, the transition from close-order formations to dispersion of units and a reliance on fire and maneuver means that “the mechanisms of the new warfare . . . are ever at the mercy of training methods which will stimulate the solider to express his intelligence and spirit.” Despite the similar requirements for small-unit skill and dynamism among insurgents, reporting and analysis on these actors—which tends to treat all insurgent or terrorist groups as “like” entities—rarely recognizes variation in training regimens and preparation…

Read on.