Hit and Run Strategy

The “hit and run” tactic is one largely used by the military. The purpose of the tactic is not to acquire territory but to “hit” an opponent, causing damage and then “run” before they can retaliate. This approach is most commonly used when a strong opponent must be attacked by a weaker force.

The attack and withdraw method allows the smaller / weaker force to achieve sometimes significant results while sustaining minimal casualties themselves. Over a period of time the enemy is weakened, frustrated and demoralized. It was not conventional warfare that brought about the fall of apartheid in South Africa but the ANC’s use of military and non-military hit and run tactics that eventually broke the ruling government’s will to resist change.

The same tactic can be used to disrupt the enemy and destabilize their position prior to a conventional assault. It is for this reason that commando units are often sent in to hit communications posts, blow-up bridges and generally damage the enemy’s ability to react when the main attack occurs.

“Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination. This is the war of the future.”

The hit and run tactic has always existed but in more recent years it has become the foundation tactic of terrorists, guerrilla warfare, armed resistance movements and has even started appearing more-and-more in the media and business.

Just a few recent wars where large powerful armies have been reduced to failure by hit and run tactics include:

The Arab / Turkish Revolt (1916 -1918)

Made famous by the film “Lawrence of Arabia”, the Arab revolt against the Turks used limited men and resources to “keep busy” many thousands of turkish soldiers while at the same time inflicting loss-after-loss on the enemy.

The Vietnam War (1959 – 1975)

The vietcong hit and run tactics made the cost of the war so high for the Americans that public oppion in the USA demanded the troops be brought home.

Russian/Afganistan War (1979– 1988)

The leaders of the Mujahideen focused on hit and run sabotage operations. The more common types of target included pipelines, power lines, radio stations, government office buildings and air terminals. It is believed that between 1985 and 1987 more than 600 attacks a year were recorded.

The components of an effective hit and run tactic are as follows:

  • Use surprise
  • Be successful – a successful “hit” on a less important target is infinitely more valuable than a failed attack on an important one.
  • Use the minimum force required to create maximum negative impact.
  • Always have an escape route / exit strategy.
  • Maintain secrecy – keep the enemy guessing regarding who’s responsible.
  • Avoid creating patterns – vary the targets.
  • Don’t be afraid to suddenly, and for no obvious reason, suspend activity to create a false sense of security.
  • Never stay long enough for a retaliation to be effected.
  • Never be where the enemy thinks you are.

This last point is of absolute importance. For a good example of this it is worth watching the 1994 film “Clear and Present Danger” starring Harrison Ford. In the film a crack commando team is used to assassinate Columbian drug dealers with devastating hit and run attacks until their position is betrayed and they are all but wiped out.

While the above points are derived from military thinking, they are also applicable to the civilian sector. In 2005, Indian Prime Minister. Manmohan Singh openly accused the media of using this tactic. (The Hindu – 25 September 2005).

This is when journalists write damaging stories, often under the byline of “A staff Reporter”, that are designed to damage a company or organisation. When the company tries to respond, the complaint is ignored or deflected. Sometime later, the process is repeated while the target company or organisation becomes increasingly frustrated at its lack of ability to counter the accusations, revelations, etc.

In business hit and run tactics are a favourite for political infighting. One story of where in-house hit and run tactics were used is as follows: About a year before his retirement the President of the company announced that his successor would be the very unpopular, Vice President of Business Development. From that moment the poor VP was the target of many of hit and run attacks. The audio visual equipment failed during his keynote presentation. An e-mail he’d written critising poor standards of media reporting found its way to the press. His department was suddenly chosen for an external audit. One of the people he was trying to recruit turned out to have faked their degree.

So it went, on-and-on. Within six month the Vice President felt besieged and demoralized. He knew he was under attack but could never quite find the source. In the end his stress levels got in the way of his work and the President of the company reassessed his initial decision.

This is a clear example of how hit and run can be used in business. There are many variations that become obvious if a little brain-power is applied to a situation.

In brief, a hit and run is basically getting in and doing damage and then getting out before being caught. Its beauty is that it can be used repeatedly until the objective is achieved.