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The U.S. military defines sabotage as "An act or acts with intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of a country by willfully injuring or destroying, or attempting to injure or destroy, any national defense or war materiel, premises, or utilities, to include human and natural resources." It is a component of guerrilla warfare, often by clandestine members of an underground with access to factories or supply dumps.

Destroying a bridge or section of railroad could be part of a guerrilla raid, but covert placement of an improvised explosive device set to explode (and destroy the facility as well as the vehicles) is often not called sabotage, but mining or boobytrapping.

The term originates from the French word for wooden shoe, sabot, which were forced into machines to cause damage.