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Colonial war is a blanket term relating to the various conflicts that arose as the result of overseas territories being settled by foreign powers creating a colony. The term especially refers to wars fought during the nineteenth century between European armies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

The wars may be split into several categories.

First, a revolt of the indigenous population against rule by the Imperial power. In the 19th century these were rarely successful due to the technological and organisational superiority of the Imperial forces. One notable success was the Haitian slave revolt against French rule. In the 20th century these types of conflict were often termed "Wars of National Liberation" and due to better armaments and a heavily politicised leadership strategy achieved much better results by wearing down the will of the Imperial power to continue with an expensive and politically unpopular struggle rather than militarily defeating them, although the Vietnamese also managed the latter against the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 leading to their expulsion from Indo-China.

Second, war of self-determination by settlers and descendants of settlers against rule by the "mother country". This did not necessarily involve any of the indigenous population but often took the form of a civil war between supporters of the status quo and separatist revolutionaries. The prime example of this was the American War of Independence against British rule followed by the various Latin American wars of independence against the Spanish Empire. Success was often dependent on external factors and alliances; the rebellious North American colonists were helped by their French allies winning naval superiority at a crucial time.

Third, a conflict with neighbours of the colony as part of Imperial policy, either expansionism such as the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer wars of the late nineteenth century and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia or as part of a wider conflict such as the World War I campaigns between British/Belgian/French colonial forces and their German neighbours in Africa and Asia.


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