For military analysts like myself the two most interesting conflicts of the last twenty years have been the First Chechen War of 1994-1996 and the Second Lebanese War of 2006. In the former conflict the tiny Chechen Republic of Ichkeria found itself taking on the decaying colossus of the Russian Federation in the aftermath of the collapse of the old Soviet Union. Despite the received wisdom of popular myth guerrilla armies do not always defeat regular armies, no matter how lengthy the conflict. In fact more often than not it is the irregular forces that succumb in one form or another, unless they manage to gain support from significant backers, invariably meaning a nation-state or states.
The United States lost in Vietnam because of the political, military and financial backing for the Viet Cong guerrillas and party in the south by the government of North Vietnam as well as the USSR and the Peoples Republic of China. The USSR was defeated in Afghanistan because of the support for the Mujahideen that flowed from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Britain and China. Likewise the support from Iran for the insurgency in Iraq was a major cause of the precipitous withdrawal of Coalition forces there.The evolving “defeat” (or at least “drawdown”) of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan was and is in part due to the backing of the Taliban / anti-Kabul forces by Pakistan and latterly Iran.
Without a national backer most historic insurgencies simply fizzle out. A notable exception is to be found in Ireland’s War of Independence which was fought by the revolutionary Irish Republic through Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the British Empire as a whole. Despite considerable sympathy around the globe, especially in the United States, Australia, France, Germany and Italy, very little direct aid was supplied to the Irish cause, and none from government sources. Instead the Irish Revolution was largely self reliant and self-sustaining, with help from individual Irish emigrant communities overseas, making its (partial) success all the more remarkable.
In contrast both the Chechen and Lebanese wars mentioned above relied on the succour of one or more nation-states to succeed. The Chechen guerillas had at their core the resources of their former Republic and initially the struggle was fought between two conventional military forces. They also had sympathetic neighbouring states, at least in the early stages of the conflict. When the Israeli Defence Forces or IDF invaded (or was lured into) southern Lebanon in July of 2006 it found itself confronted by Islamic Resistance, the military wing of Hezbollah, a nominally guerilla grouping. However thanks to the military and financial aid supplied by the Islamic Republic of Iran the Israelis were delivered a series of tactical defeats by a force that bordered the line between irregular and regular eventually producing something of an ignoble retreat by Israel.
The links below lead to PDF downloads of chapters from “Russia’s Chechen Wars 1994-2000: Lessons from Urban Combat” by Olga Oliker for the RAND Corporation. They present a detailed military and political analysis of the failures (and successes) surrounding Russia’s military expeditions in Chechnya.