The Threat in Jungle Areas


Section I. GENERAL
The jungle is an environment which stretches in a broad belt around the tropical areas of the world. Each of these areas has its own military, political, and economic conditions. As a result, it is impossible to describe one threat which applies to all jungle areas. Potential enemies which US forces might face in the jungle run the spectrum from lightly armed guerrillas all the way to conventional forces.
This chapter describes the main features of guerrilla and conventional forces as they are found in the jungle, and briefly outlines the types of potential threat forces in various jungle regions.
Guerrillas are irregular forces. They normally constitute the military faction of a political resistance or a subversive movement. These forces engage in unconventional operations in order to undermine the power of an established government or to take political control away from other factions. Their goal is normally to establish a new government, often according to a radical political philosophy.
The basic guerrilla organization is a three-to five-man cell. These cells are capable of independent action. They also can be brought together for larger operations and dispersed later. Guerrillas are organized into cells for two reasons. One is for security. The fewer the people who can identify members of a guerrilla force, the better the chances are that it will survive. The second reason is for support. Guerrillas must live off the land to a large degree, and small cells are easier to support in this manner.
I. General
II. Guerrilla Forces
III. Conventional Forces
IV. Potential Enemies in Three Jungle Regions
V. Weapons Used by Potential Jungle Enemies

Guerrillas are usually weaker than conventional forces in terms of total resources. For that reason, guerrillas will not attempt to overwhelm large units of their opponents in combat. They will instead try to inflict as much damage as possible in lightning actions, withdrawing before the opposing forces can react. Guerrillas are most effective when they strike widely separated targets over a long period of time. This type of action will confuse, demoralize, and frustrate their opponents.
Typical missions which guerrillas conduct to accomplish their goals include:
• Destroying or damaging vital installations, equipment, or supplies
• Capturing supplies, equipment, or key governmental or military personnel
• Diverting government forces from other operations
• Creating confusion and weakening government morale
These missions are not normally accomplished by the use of conventional attacks and defenses. Instead, guerrillas rely on speed, surprise, and security. Guerrilla operations include raids, ambushes, mining and boobytrapping, and sniping.
Targets are selected by the guerrilla based on an analysis of how much the elimination of the target will disrupt the government, what the effect on the populace will be, the risk of being killed or captured, and the amount of weapons or supplies which can be seized. This analysis calls for timely intelligence, which is gained by active patrolling.
The retention of the initiative is the key to success in guerrilla operations. Guerrillas rely on their ability to strike where they are least expected, at points where the government forces are least prepared. If the guerrillas lose the initiative, and are forced to react to the operations of conventional forces, their effectiveness is greatly reduced.
Guerrillas are not normally organized or equipped for stand-and-fight type defensive operations. They prefer to defend themselves by moving, by dispersing into small groups, or by diverting the opponent’s attention while they withdraw. Whenever possible, these operations are accomplished by offensive operations against the opponent’s flank or rear. If the government forces persist in their attack, the guerrillas are prepared to disengage to keep their freedom of action. If forced to disperse into small groups, the guerrilla forces become less effective until they regroup to resume offensive operations.
One of the most important needs of guerrilla forces is support. This support can come from a number of sources. Food, for example, can be stolen or supplied by political sympathizers. Weapons can be gathered from raids on government installations. A foreign power may provide secret training, and shipments of food, weapons, ammunition, and equipment. If the guerrillas can be cut off from these sources of support, they will be much less effective.
To protect their operations, jungle guerrillas will normally establish bases from which they can operate. These bases will be in remote areas. The bases will be secured by a combination of guerrilla outposts and by a grapevine intelligence network established by political sympathizers. Although they may be difficult to find, there will normally be concealed routes into the bases, from which the guerrillas have access to their targets and sources of support.
Guerrillas operate most effectively in countries where the people are discontented with government policies. If the people are apathetic or passively hostile to their government, the guerrillas will seek to develop this feeling into a popular base of support. If no such feeling exists among the people, it will be much harder for guerrillas to set up operations.
Some common guerrilla strengths include:
• Highly motivated leadership
• Strict, swift discipline among the guerrillas and sympathizers
• Strong belief in a political, religious, or social cause
• Capability to raise or lower the level of intensity from subversion to open warfare Some common guerrilla weaknesses include:
• Mental and physical stress, caused by long periods of isolation in an unstable environment
• Fear of criminal prosecution by the government, or of reprisals against friends and family
• Feeling of numerical and technological inferiority to counterguerrilla forces
• Uncertain public base of support
• Requirements to secure supply lines, transport means, and storage facilities or caches

Conventional forces committed to jungle operations can perform any one of a number of missions. The lowest level of involvement is the use of conventional forces to advise and assist native guerrilla or paramilitary forces, teaching them either how to fight or how to operate sophisticated equipment. A higher level of involvement is the use of conventional forces as a military cadre in units which are composed of native forces. Finally, the highest level of involvement is the operation of conventional forces in a conventional role, fighting major battles in the jungle.
Conventional jungle enemies may come from a number of places. It is possible that US forces committed to jungle operations will fight native conventional forces. It is also possible that US forces will fight conventional forces brought in from a sponsoring hostile power. In either case, most potential jungle enemies are infantry forces, supported with artillery, mortars, and armored vehicles, organized along the lines of Soviet forces. These forces may also have a capability to conduct tactical air (TACAIR) operations and nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) warfare. They may be equipped with weapons and equipment that are a generation or two older than those found in more modern armies.
The way in which a potential conventional threat army fights in the jungle depends on the terrain, the combat experience of that army, and the degree to which it models itself after the forces of a sponsoring power.
In general, however, jungle enemies can be expected to follow these tactical principles:
• Maintain the offensive; defend only to gain time.
• Embrace the enemy; stay close to reduce the effects of his firepower.
• Infiltrate at every opportunity.
• Operate during periods of limited visibility.
• Use surprise tactics; raids, ambushes, and patrols.
A jungle enemy can be expected to be skilled in the art of camouflage, the chief means he has to evade his opponent’s firepower. Camouflage will be for him a way of life. He will probably use bunkers and tunnels as protective survival measures. To slow opposing forces, he may use obstacles, mines, and boobytraps. He will move on covered and concealed routes, using darkness to conceal most of his operations. He will probably depend heavily on streams and rivers to provide concealed routes of movement and drinking water.
He can be expected to remove all intelligence indicators from the battlefield. He will go to great lengths to remove his dead, wounded, weapons, and even expended cartridges from the battlefield. He will try to leave no information relating to order of battle, strength, dispositions, or intentions.
“We captured numerous enemy documents which either condemned or commended certain units for the police of the battle field.”
–Report, 25th Infantry Division, Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam
Jungle enemies have also used deception means, such as explosive bullets and firecrackers, to mislead US units as to the size and disposition of the forces opposing them. Communications deception and jamming have also been used by jungle enemies against opponents.
Since the US Army is noted for employing an abundance of firepower, jungle enemies in the past have preferred to engage US units at extremely close range. At times, it is impossible for US commanders to use their supporting indirect fires without taking friendly casualties. The specific effects that this technique has on offensive and defensive operations will be discussed later. In general, however, the US ground commander must operate in such a manner that all his fire support can always be used effectively.
Jungle enemies can be expected to train hard to use the jungle to their advantage. In the offense, for example, they use the thick foliage to infiltrate positions and eliminate command posts (CP), key weapons, and vital facilities. These operations are conducted to take away their opponent’s advantages in command and control, fire support, and logistical means. The intent is to put their forces on a more equal footing with their opponents. This situation can be exploited by a force with superior knowledge of the terrain.
When forced to defend, these forces will quite often prepare elaborate defensive positions, well camouflaged and concealed. In addition, defenders may use snipers, boobytraps, and ambushes to delay, create a sense of confusion and insecurity, and cause the attacker to surrender the initiative.
It is also possible that US forces committed to jungle operations will fight Warsaw Pact forces, probably members of airborne divisions. Although these troops will have newer and more sophisticated weapons than some of the troops native to jungle areas, they probably will not be familiar with the local terrain and may not be well trained in jungle operations.
Much of a conventional jungle enemy’s effectiveness depends on familiarity with the terrain. In general, this means that armies native to a battlefield area will be more effective than forces from outside. Even if these outside forces have a greater amount of firepower than the native forces, the lack of terrain familiarity may limit their ability to use that firepower.
Weaknesses of potential conventional jungle enemies will probably include:
• Larger units, much more difficult to live off the land
• Bigger targets for close-air support or artillery
• More difficulty in evading detection
• Less information from local sympathizers Strengths of potential conventional jungle enemies will probably include:
• Adequate firepower for conventional attacks and defense
• Knowledge of the terrain and area
• Well-trained and disciplined soldiers
• Independence from local support
The threat defense is a temporary measure, adopted only when necessary. This does not imply, however, that the threat defense consists of half measures or that he is unskilled in defense techniques. Jungle enemies will use every trick possible to survive against massive amounts of firepower. His defense will be cleverly and carefully prepared.
A typical jungle enemy defensive position consists of a complex series of earth and timber bunkers, spider holes, and tunnels. These are positioned to achieve mutual support. Bunkers are built low to make them more difficult to see and engage by fire. They are well camouflaged–even the fields-of-fire may be cut from the waist down, so that they will be unnoticeable to a standing man. Weapons positions are planned to provide interlocking fires–lethal even during limited visibility. Boobytraps and obstacles are integrated into the defense to slow, demoralize, and confuse the attacker.
The jungle threat’s concept of the defense is to trap the attacker by allowing him to move into prepared fields-of-fire. Fire is opened at extremely close range, sometimes at 50 meters or less. This is done for two reasons–first, to bring fires to bear from all sides, and, second, to force the attacker to remove himself before he can call for supporting fires.
While the key part of the jungle threat’s defense is automatic weapons positions in bunkers, the enemy will also put snipers in the trees. In this way, the attacker cannot devote his full attention to the bunkers, because he must also deal with the snipers.
If the attacker is too strong, the jungle threat will attempt to withdraw over routes that have been planned and scouted to make the withdrawal as rapid as possible. Stay-behind ambushes, snipers, mines, and obstacles are used to slow the attacker.
Attack is the preferred form of combat for potential jungle enemies. Because most of these forces expect to have a disadvantage in firepower and technology when fighting US forces, most of them have developed special techniques to help make up the difference through surprise. They may, for example, probe a defensive position until the defender reveals the location of his key weapons. These weapons are then eliminated by infiltrators before the main attack. They may use firecrackers to create a diversion, drawing the defender’s fire and deceiving him as to the size of the attacking force. They may infiltrate the defense to eliminate command posts, mortars, or artillery units.
“Decoy the Americans from one direction by smoke, firing, or shouting. Then attack him from an unexpected direction.”
–Captured Japanese Document, World War II
Threat units will avoid attacking prepared defenses when possible. They prefer to attack a weak point, using the jungle, weather, and their own special training as much as possible. Sapper squads are specially trained to infiltrate minefields and obstacles in order to neutralize key positions or create a gap in the defense. The enemy may also isolate a position, so that their opponents will be tied down in trying to relieve it, or they may conduct raids to disrupt operations and lower the defender’s morale. Darkness, poor weather, and rough terrain will be used to conceal these operations.

A commander should never assume that any jungle area is impassable to a well-trained jungle enemy. Experience has shown that such enemies are very adept at using extremely difficult terrain effectively as avenues of approach.
“Use fog and rain to catch the Americans off guard. Make an assault suddenly, from positions which the Americans believe unapproachable, such as cliffs, rivers, and jungles.”
–Captured Japanese Document, World War II
Although the jungle enemy attacks swiftly, his attacks are planned in minute detail. If he is allowed to attack according to plan, the jungle enemy is an effective force. If the defender can interrupt even a minor part of the plan, the enemy will have difficulty in adjusting, and the attack will probably fail. This aspect of enemy operations places a high premium on the struggle for the initiative at all levels.
If the defending force can be pushed out of its positions and forced to retreat, the jungle enemy will probably make every effort to maintain contact through pursuit. He will harass the rear guard, at the same time sending forces to outrun and cut off the retreating force. He will then try to destroy the retreating force by ambush or encirclement.
It is impossible to describe one jungle threat which applies to all areas of the world. There are, however, certain characteristics of potential threat forces that are peculiar to specific jungle regions.
The most likely threat the US forces may face in Latin American jungles are insurgent movements. These movements aim at the overthrow of a wealthy ruling class to install a new regime. The US is often viewed by the insurgents as an ally of the government, and US facilities and institutions are often targets for these movements.
The military faction of these insurgent movements consists of guerrilla forces similar to those described earlier. They are organized into small cells, are lightly armed, and are capable of concentrating for acts against major facilities and then dispersing after the operation. Although their ultimate objective will often be the establishment of control over the urban areas, they may use the jungle to provide a concealed and secure base of operations. The support of the local people is very important to their survival.
At the time US forces are committed to fight in Latin American areas, guerrilla forces are likely to be augmented with military aid and personnel from other sponsoring countries in the region. These forces may perform any one of a number of roles: advisors, guerrilla cadre, or limited conventional combat. Logistical and intelligence support may also come from these forces.
The conflicts in this region since World War II have been waged by insurgent groups against perceived vestiges of colonialism or imperialism. Most of these colonialist and imperialist institutions are connected in the minds of the insurgents with the Western European powers. As a result, the instability in some areas of this region has provided a tempting target for provocation. To make matters more complicated, many of the conflicting factions are also struggling among themselves, due to political or ancient tribal differences. This in turn creates even more regional turmoil, and an even greater vulnerability for exploitation.
Conflicting factions in Subsaharan Africa consist primarily of guerrilla groups. These guerrillas, however, are often more heavily armed than Latin American guerrillas for two reasons. First, these groups have mortars, artillery, and recoilless weapons from national army formations which have been defeated or disbanded. Second, external powers have backed their favorite factions by supplying arms, ammunition, and equipment. For the most part, these guerrillas subsist by acquiring food and supplies from the countryside.
Foreign involvement in these guerrilla movements has consisted of advisors and cadre from sponsoring nations. Should US forces ever fight in this region, it is likely that they will encounter troops foreign to the nation. In addition, there is also a possibility that Warsaw Pact troops, primarily airborne or tactical aviation units, would be committed to such a region to fight US troops.
In many respects, the potential threat array in Southeast Asia is the most complicated of any jungle region. There are active guerrilla movements in most Southeast Asian countries as well as tribal and cultural conflicts. There is a good possibility of foreign support or intervention.
The unique development in this region has been the rise of a regional power. Since the end of US involvement in Southeast Asia, this power has developed a potent conventional force, using equipment captured from the US and its allies or supplied by communist countries. More than any other potential threat native in a jungle region, it possesses the ability for sustained conventional operations against any US forces which might be deployed in the area. Its capabilities span the range from clandestine guerrilla operations to large-scale conventional attacks, supported by tanks, motorized units, artillery, and aviation.
Because there are already strong forces in this region, the probability of involvement of large numbers of world power forces is not great. There is a good possibility, however, that US troops committed in these areas might encounter weapons and equipment supplied by a world power. They might also encounter advisors from world powers that instruct and aid the native forces in the use of sophisticated equipment.
Finally, of all the regions discussed thus far, the chemical warfare threat will probably be greatest for US forces conducting operations in Southeast Asia.
Although potential jungle enemy forces vary widely from region to region, there are certain types of weapons which are commonly found in jungle countries. US forces should become familiar with these basic types of weapons in order to be able to recognize them on the jungle battlefield. They should also have a basic knowledge of the weapons’ characteristics and know where the weapons are found in typical communist forces organizations.
Although guerrilla forces do not have the same type of organizational structure as conventional forces, they too will probably carry many of these weapons.