An informal and somewhat ambiguous combatant classification, the gunman, in common usage, is a lightly armed irregular fighter operating outside of traditional force structures. These warriors often operate in small bands, either independently or as part of a loosely-structured force in the service of a political organization, warlord, or other leader. Some gunmen organize into autonomous groups and support themselves on the basis of raids, kidnappings, and extortion, taking on the role of those who might in other days be considered brigands or bandits, though many otherwise "purposed" groups engage in these activities as a sideline. Gunmen are typically employed in civil wars, power struggles, or low-intensity conflicts - Palestinian resistance fighters, the average troops (on all sides) of the Afghan civil wars of the past few decades, and the forces of any of a thousand African or South American strongmen and insurgencies could properly be considered "gunmen". Fighters operating as part of an army or similar structure with a clear hierarchy of command, however, are less likely to be considered gunmen, as are fighters operating in a defensive militia capacity with the clear support of the communities they are protecting.

The prototypical "gunman" is a local male between the ages of 15 and 40, relatively poorly trained and typically unversed in any tactics above the squad level, meaning that in large-scale combat sheer numbers often must be counted on to carry the day. He, and rarely she, wears no armor of note, and is armed with a simple assault rifle (most commonly the AK-47), though hand or rocket propelled grenades are not unknown. Some forces may be able to field heavier equipment, but access to these weapons, or to the expertise needed to use them in a productive fashion, is often limited. When employed by gunmen, vehicles are usually limited to a transport role, though makeshift weapons platforms like the "technical", a pickup truck-mounted heavy machine gun, have proven both effective and within the capabilities of such ragtag forces. Of course, unless their sponsor is rich enough to hire mercenaries, armor and air are entirely out of the question.

The rise of the cheap, accurate automatic rifle, which like the polearm and longbow before it, has changed modern warfare. Add these weapons, the simple, brief training required to use them, knowledge of the local territory, and the mobility and flexibility of a light fighting force, and what do you have? An inexpensive, quickly raised fighting force capable of holding its own against an opponent superior in numbers and equipment. In its modern incarnation, you have a guerrilla force like the Viet Cong, able to fight off one of the premier armies of the world. Unfortunately, you do not have the gunman. Add all those but subtract the coherent structure or leadership that brings it all together, and you're closer. This still leaves you with a lot of guys with guns, and sometimes that's all you need. It doesn't matter how weak you are, as long as the other guy's weaker. You might not be able to defeat a superior force, but you can probably still do a bit to hold it off and make its invasion or occupation that much more miserable. Alternately, depending on how bad your general region is, you might still have the strongest force in the area, freeing you to expand until you run into a more formidable opponent.

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