Hit-and-run tactics are a tactical doctrine of using short surprise attacks, withdrawing before the enemy can respond in force, and constantly maneuvering to avoid full engagement with the enemy. The purpose is not a decisive victory against the enemy or a capture of territory but the weakening enemy forces over time through raids, harassment, and skirmishing and limiting risk to friendly forces. Such tactics can also expose enemy defensive weaknesses and achieve a psychological effect on the enemy's morale.
Hit-and-run is a favored tactic if the enemy overmatches the attacking force and any sustained combat is to be avoided, such as guerrilla warfare, militant resistance movements, and terrorism. However, regular army forces often use hit-and-run tactics in the short term, usually in preparation for a later full-scale engagement with the enemy when and where conditions are more favorable. Examples of the latter include commando or other special forces attacks, reconnaissance-in-force, or sorties from a fortress, castle, or other strongpoint. Hit-and-run tactics were also used by the lightly-armed horse archers, typical of the Eurasian steppe peoples, who excelled at them. That is especially true for such troops that were not part of a large army (such as scouting parties), but it was common to see them used in such a way even as part of a major force.
Romans first encountered that tactic in the Lusitanian War in which Lusitanians used the tactic called concursare ("bustling"). It involved charging forwards against the enemy lines, only to retreat after a brief clash or without clashing, which would be followed by more attacks in a similar cadence. The Lusitanians drove the Roman armies to break formation and chase them, leading them to traps and ambushes.
The Seljuk victory over the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert was preceded by hit-and-run attacks of Seljuk cavalry, which threw the Byzantine army into confusion and proved fatal once it started to retreat. Similarly, the earlier Parthian and Sassanid Persian horse archers paved the way for their cataphracts' attack, which achieved the decisive victories at the Battle of Carrhae and Battle of Edessa. The use of hit-and-run tactics dates back even earlier to the nomadic Scythians of Central Asia, who used them against Darius the Great's Persian Achaemenid Empire and later against Alexander the Great's Macedonian Empire. The Turkish general Baibars also successfully used hit-and-run during the Battle of Ain Jalut, the first defeat of the quickly expanding Mongol Empire. Vastly outnumbered in North America, the French made effective use of hit-and-run raids during the various French and Indian Wars. In the Turkish War of Independence, the Turks fought against the Greeks by hit-and-run tactics before a regular army was set up. Marathas under shivaji and his successors also resorted to hit and run tactics against Mughal Empire.
During the Vietnam War, Viet Cong forces used hit-and-run tactics to great effectiveness against the anticommunist military forces.. The United States Navy SEALs of the American military during the Vietnam War also used hit-and-run tactics to great effect against the Viet Cong in return. With the element of surprise, the United States Navy SEALs would raid or ambush their communist adversaries in communist held areas to eliminate Viet Cong fighters, kill/capture high ranking Viet Cong members, destroy certain targets, attack the enemy supply lines, or gathering intelligence such as documents from the Viet Cong fighters they killed. Then the SEALs would withdraw back to friendly territory by medium boats, sampans, or helicopter. Usually with great success. The tactic was also used in Afghanistan by rebel forces during the Soviet–Afghan War. Various Iraqi insurgent groups have also used hit-and-run tactics as part of their tactics against Iraqi security forces and American-led coalition forces in Iraq. Improvised fighting vehicles, called "technicals", are often used in such operations.
- Parthian shot
- Fire and movement
- Demoralization (warfare)
- List of military tactics
- Drive-by shooting
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