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Fundamentals of Unconventional Warfare: Target Selection and Analysis

September 8, 2012
(Originally published at the old site, March 2012–J.M.)
Too often, when keyboard commandos and militia “commanders” discuss the implications of applying unconventional warfare methods in the coming hot phases of the fight for individual liberty and the restoration of human rights, they simplify the discussion by stating that they will use raids and ambushes, sniper attacks, etc, to destroy the power and structure of a totalitarian regime. While the ancient dictum of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is valid, oversimplification is a flaw of amateurs training novices, resulting directly from a lack of experiential knowledge.
Yes, raids, ambushes, sniper attacks (a form of ambush, really), and sabotage, ARE the fundamental tactics of guerrilla/insurgent/resistance combat, but a sound grasp of the fundamental realities of these methods, as well as a solid grasp of strategic target selection and analysis is critical to prevent a waste of limited material and manpower resources on tactical level targets of insignificant worth. The level of potential effectiveness of resistance offensive operations against a regime that can be sustained over time depends largely on the guerrilla base camp support and auxiliary support available to the resistance (it is hard after all, to sustain on-going combat operations, when your fighting men haven’t eaten in two weeks, have been barefoot all winter, due to a lack of footwear, and have nowhere to hide long enough to get some sleep after weeks of continuous combat. The guerrilla base MUST be located in order to maximize isolation, as well as difficulty of approach by regime forces (thus precluding the use of a suburban neighborhood as an effective guerrilla base). The base camp area must be inherently defensible, and tenaciously defended by well-trained, highly-motivated forces. This provides the resistance’s fighting elements with a safe haven to operate from, ensuring they have the time and ability to properly plan offensive operations (this does NOT mean that resistance forces will be conducting their offensive operations in remote, rural areas, if that is not where the enemy is concentrating his forces).
Guerrilla element leaders must consider the nature of the terrain in their operational area (METT-TC), as well as the level of training and tactical expertise of their forces, when considering suitable targets for offensive operations (sending a bunch of 40-somethings with no combat experience and little realistic, tactical training, up against an AFV-equipped security forces element, with close-air support and reinforcements only a radio call and helicopter ride away would be a ridiculous waste of assets, regardless of their marksmanship abilities and/or motivation levels).
The current doctrinal method of target analysis/selection is the CARVER matrix. An analysis of any potential target, using this matrix will provide a planning organization with a method to categorize the cost-benefit value of potential regime targets in a hierarchical manner, allowing the greatest emphasis to be placed on the targets that offer the greatest political value to the resistance’s efforts (i.e. hitting as fuel depot that re-supplies occupation force Strykers or BMPs will be of much greater value to the resistance than ambushing a squad-sized element of conscripted infantrymen. In turn however, a sniper attack that assassinates key members of a special operations element within the regime security forces may have greater value than a raid on a vehicle park that results in destruction of a half-dozen armored vehicles).
Criticality. A potential target can be considered critical when its destruction or severe damage will create a SIGNIFICANT negative impact on the enemy’s ability to continue projecting military force in the operational area. Criticality is dependent on several key factors:
  1. How rapidly/soon will the destruction/damage of this target impact and affect enemy operations in the operational area? Will it happen immediately (i.e. the destruction of his armored vehicles may preclude continued mounted patrolling the next day, especially in areas that require lengthy, time-consuming travel, such as in much of the western U.S.A.) or will there be a noticeable delay (destruction of a fuel storage depot might negatively impact the enemy’s ability to continue operations, but not until the fuel supplies maintained at the unit level are expended…and they may be able to replace the fuel depot before that happens)?
  2. What percentage of enemy operations will be curtailed by target damage or destruction? What level of damage must be incurred in order to ensure a given percentage of curtailment (if I destroy ALL of their vehicles, will it curtail operations 100%, or will they continue with foot-mobile operations? If I destroy x percentage of rotary-wing assets, will it create a y percentage reduction in their operating ability)?
  3. Do substitutes for the damaged/destroyed material/manpower assets exist within the enemy’s logistics trail? How long will it take for those to be put into place?
  4. How many targets exist, and what is their position/value within the greater scheme of the enemy’s order of battle?
Accessibility. The target, in order to realistically be the subject of a planned attack, must be accessible. While it has been accurately stated that NO target is completely inaccessible, some high-value targets must, after being weighed on an objective cost-benefit basis, be considered as practically inaccessible, due to the cost involved with actually damaging/destroying them, in terms of resistance force manpower/material assets. A target can be considered accessible to resistance attack when it is possible for the maneuver element to physically infiltrate the target’s immediate area, or the target can be successfully engaged via direct or indirect fire weapons (the current focus on the development of open-source UAV technology by some elements within the liberty movement will greatly expand the accessibility of future targets for the resistance, due to the inherent “guided missile” nature of these force multipliers).
Critical concerns when considering the accessibility of a potential target include infiltration and exfiltration routes/methods, route security concerns for the maneuver element, the requirements for barrier penetration, obstacle negotiation, and survival/evasion considerations during exfiltration of the maneuver element.
Recuperability. The ability of the enemy to repair and return the target to service should be a critical element in target selection and analysis. This will vary, depending on the target, as well as other variables present only during the planning process. The effects of economic downturns/depressions, sabotage by the subversive underground in the manufacturing facilities that build the necessary repair parts, and the ability of the resistance to continue interdiction missions to prevent repair of the damaged/destroyed targets are all factors that must be considered when determining the recuperability of a given target.
Vulnerability. The vulnerability of a specific target refers to the actual ability of the maneuver element, given its organic or available inorganic weapons and assets, to actually cause the requisite damage/destruction needed to accomplish the stated mission (if a unit is limited to individual small arms, a tank unit in a vehicle park will not be particularly vulnerable, while a unit that has access to stockpiled HE munitions, or battlefield recovered munitions and/or anti-tank weapons will be much more dangerous to those vehicles. On the same hand, while an in-flight UAV will not be particularly vulnerable to resistance threats, the personnel that run the UAV, and the UAV itself, while grounded, may be particularly vulnerable to various resistance threats). A target can ultimately only be considered vulnerable if the maneuver element has the capability and expertise (or can acquire/borrow the expertise) to successfully attack the target. Vulnerability will be predicated on the nature and construction of the target (soft-skinned patrol vehicles will be inherently more vulnerable than armored vehicles. Personnel are often more vulnerable than material assets), the amount of damage required to affect it’s recuperability (it’s a lot easier to slash tires and punch holes in the oil pan of a soft-skinned vehicle than it is to damage a M1A2 Abrams MBT), and the assets available to the resistance force (the use of open-source UAV technology to provide the resistance an indirect-fire/air support mechanism, locally-manufactured HE weapons, and the availability of heavy-caliber, long-range sniper systems all provide interesting force multipliers to future resistance elements).
Effects. The positive or negative influence on the civilian population of the operational area, as well as the PSYOP value on enemy personnel is defined as the effect of a specific targeting operation. The effects paragraph of the CARVER format must consider public perception of the destruction of the target (i.e. destruction of a critical bridge in the area may have a severely detrimental effect on the ability of the local civilian population to continue their daily lives. While it will also impact the ability of the enemy to conduct vehicle-borne patrolling operations, it will more negatively impact the civilian population, since the security forces can always resort to airborne transportation methods, using rotary-wing assets, while the local civilian population is simply out-of-luck. Obviously, this would be a negative effect when looked at from the PSYOP angle, since it would negatively impact the public opinion towards the resistance). The effects paragraph must also consider the regime’s reaction to the destruction of a specific target, in relation to their actions towards the local civilian population however.
  1. Will regime forces retaliate against the local civilian population? To what degree? Will that impact the civilian population’s willingness/ability to aid the resistance (harsh enough reprisals may terrorize the local population enough that they no longer feel the risk is worth the potential rewards of aiding the resistance. On the other hand, reprisals that result in the death of family members may drive some members of the civilian population to more actively support the resistance. There is an extremely fine balance that must be considered during all operational planning)?
  2. Will the resistance’s PSYOP themes be reinforced by the destruction of this target (is one of the major themes that the regime cannot protect themselves, let alone the public? Is a theme that the government is inept, and so the people have no reason to fear reprisals)?
  3. Will the local civilian population be alienated from the regime, or more closely supportive of the regime? There is a fine balance that must be kept in the forefront of all planning during UW missions, with the effect on the local civilian population being at the forefront of everyone’s mind, from the highest planner, to the lowest trigger-puller (For the record, doing things that are inherently inimical to the civilian population’s core beliefs….say, pissing on corpses, or burning religious items/texts, or murdering a dozen innocent non-combatants…is ALWAYS going to have a negative effect…just sayin’).
Recognizability. This pertains to the degree to which a target can be easily identified under adverse conditions, including inclement weather, low-light conditions, and other factors, without being confused for other nearby targets (a mission to assassinate a critical member of the regime’s local leadership will be difficult to effect if he has a member of his staff with a close physical resemblance who may be accidentally targeted due to low recognizability. On the same hand, a raid on a commandeered local home used by regime leadership may backfire if the next-door neighbor has a similar-looking house, full of kids, and it gets hit instead. This happens…a lot. For one simple example, look at the number of LEO warrants served on the “wrong house.”).
Once the evaluation criteria for a specific target has been established, the guerrilla planning cell use a numerical ranking system to to rate the CARVER factors for each potential target. In a 1-10 rating, a 10 indicates a highly desirable factor (from the insurgent’s PoV), while a 1 means the target is fundamentally off the chart for mission success. The analysts must tailor the criteria and rating system to suit the particular strategic/tactical situation in their operational area, for their elements, as well as the particular target(s) being analyzed.
 Leadership within the guerrilla element must consider the potential adverse effects of a particular target selection, on both future resistance operations and the civilian population. Targets that will hinder civilian population life must be attacked ONLY AS A LAST RESORT!!! The goal is to diminish the regime’s ability to project military force in the operational area, not to piss off the locals. Similarly, unsuccessful guerrilla operations will have a tremendously bad impact on fighter morale within the resistance, probably leading to desertion by less committed individuals. Successful operations, on the other hand, will raise morale, even in the face of other morale-crushing factors, such as insufficient material re-supply, as well as raising the status of the resistance in the perception of the civilian population.
 For the resistance element training to conduct necessary future offensive operations to ensure the adequate defense of their community against incursions by regime security forces, proper target analysis/selection, utilizing the doctrinal CARVER process, is a critical element in maximizing the cost-benefit application of necessarily limited manpower/material assets. Think strategically, plan operationally, act tactically.
Nous Defions!
John Mosby
Somewhere in the mountains

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