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War of Attrition


Disciplines > Warfare > Strategies > War of Attrition

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A war of attrition works through steady erosion. As you wear down the other side they will hopefully realize that they are slowly being annihilated and will eventually capitulate.

This may be done through a series of open battles where you gradually exhaust and kill their military forces. It may also be done through multiple covert actions that slip in and cause limited mayhem time and time again.


The goal of this strategy is that repeated defeat, even on a small scale should lead the enemy to forecast eventual total loss and so submit. However, the sting of defeat and the cost of capitulation may be such that commanders fight on to the very bitter end. Against this, troops who also realize the inevitable may mutiny, desert or fight without spirit and so accelerate their doom.

Attrition also affects public opinion, which often the military resolve, and sentiment can turn against continued fighting.
A war of attrition can be very costly, especially where both sides are of similar size and neither will give in. This can easily lead to a Pyrrhic victory where the cost to the victor leaves little to celebrate.

A war of attrition is thus more common in asymmetric war where either side may use it, albeit with different tactics.


In the Iraq war, continued bombing and killing of troops turned public and eventually political opinion against continued American involvement, who sought to withdraw as soon as they could. Like the Vietnam war, where the great American army sought to wear down their enemy, they eventually struggled against an invisible, distant enemy and vanishing support at home.


In a negotiation wear down the other side by constant attacks and few concessions. Stress their negotiators until they have to retire, then do the same to the next one and the next until you get what you want.

See also

Battle War, Overwhelm in war

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