In rural terms, a cutover is a patch of land with all of its timber cut off, normally to be replanted in white pine, but not always. Sometimes it leaves a barren wasteland of stumps, scrub trees and underbrush that’s the forest’s own way of healing itself. A lot of briars, venomous vegetation and all sorts of things to obscure our line of sight. For those who know, once you cross this barrier on the edge of a forest the woods seem to ‘open up’.
Throughout the rural southeast you’ll find these cutovers nearly everywhere- patchwork is sometimes the name given to it- of relatively small squares of land that are, aside from the waist-high underbrush, open terrain.
“It ought to be noted by those who maintain dogmatically that the struggle of the masses is centered in city movements, entirely forgetting the immense participation of the country people in the life of all the underdeveloped parts of America.” -Che Guevara
It has been asked, to the point of madness, how a conflict will manifest in the United States. Many, among the wholly ignorant to the realities of both war and the social conditions therein, cannot make sense of the issues before them. While the conflict in the cities will rapidly develop and serve as a shock factor for many, eventually, as we have seen in countless examples from Libya, Syria, and Ukraine, the lines will bog down to a stalemate. Eventually the oppressor state-backed security forces will re-establish order simply based on numbers alone, be it volunteers or conscripts. Nearly nothing can be expected to be achieved in the meat grinder of urban warfare absent a successful guerrilla campaign to secure and outmaneuver security or occupation forces in a rural area. Absent the popular support for such, it is wholly a futile effort.
Knowing this, an occupation’s focus will be on those same rural areas. Security forces can absorb and overcome a certain degree of losses whereas a guerrilla band cannot. Those same forces cannot, however, overcome a lack of morale created by the same lack of popular support. They can only hope to repress their way to compliance, which only offsets the conditions of revolution for a time. Such was the case in Ireland and Chechnya. From the perspective of the guerrilla, the ability to strike without warning, relying on mobility and local support must be the primary strategy.
The focus then becomes on the War of the Cutover. One of the fundamental truths of combat is that an adversary cannot shoot what they cannot see. This works both ways. Light Infantry troops are taught to avoid open areas as they are death traps from all directions. There is no cover nor concealment, and it also must be understood that the battlefield is in three dimensions. As MAJ H. John Poole keenly notes in both Phantom Soldier and The Tiger’s Way, the eastern methods of warfare, utilizing stealth and deception to multiply the small numbers of manpower, have always accounted for this principle, continuously outmaneuvering their western adversaries in the ‘counterinsurgencies’ where they’ve fought.
Both the guerrilla and occupation force must take into account this terrain feature. For the occupation force, the cutover serves a couple of functions- landing zones for rotary wing assets in flat terrain and lager points for mechanized assets. In both cases, they become rally points or casualty collection points, staging for infil and exfil operations. Knowing this, this should be the primary area for which a guerrilla plans attacks.
Cutover areas are normally not large in terms of macro-terrain features (hill, valley, saddle, ridge, depression) normally only a couple of hundred meters across on average. This is perfect terrain for a small team of trained marksmen to pin down a much larger force when they’re likely most vulnerable. There are two primary weaknesses of an occupation force in this terrain:
- They are exposed with little cover or concealment.
- Their force multipliers (close air support and indirect fire) are now at least within Danger Close range, if not unavailable. The use of such nearly insures fratricide, severely sapping morale.
A successful ambush in these areas requires prior knowledge of these particular zones. The guerrilla band must map them out, memorize them, and this plays to the reality that a successful guerrilla band must be of the area in which they operate. Their presence and dialect matches that of the rest of the populace. It is them versus the occupation at an innate level. Further, understanding how to use this terrain to its maximum effect afford the guerrilla a critical victory on many levels. Sapping the occupier’s morale on the ground and coupled with exploitation of such (a photo is worth a thousand words), as well as the conservation of ammunition with limited numbers of exposed fighters, ensures a long term victory.
From the occupier’s standpoint, with mounting casualties and an inability to maintain order among troops due to low morale, eventually they will abandon fighting in these areas and focus on more successful operations in repressing the local population, creating road checkpoints and cursory searches to harass the locals and isolate them from the guerrilla force. If Iraq and Afghanistan can be used as a guide, and I contend they are the perfect guides for mistakes on part of an occupation, this only causes the population to increasingly favor the guerrilla.
It is this terrain, limited to rural vegetated areas, where the critical victories at both the tactical and psychological level must be achieved. Destroying occupier morale and limiting their strategy to one of isolating the populace, a guerrilla force can build their ability to project force in larger numbers, enabling larger scale strikes and the insurgency grows. But absent the understanding of this terrain, and its favorable potential, a guerrilla will find himself at the mercy of all of tools that same occupation bears against him.
Be the Hunter, not the Hunted.