The whole issue of counterinsurgency as a doctrine and method is alive and well after the successful application of the resurrected doctrine in Iraq. This is an old, old doctrine in the US Army. It was thoroughly worked out in the 20th Century and successfully applied in many places by the US as it had been by the British and Frinch as well. This idea will be anathema to many, but classic counterinsurgency doctrine has always been a "winner." Logical thinkers should come to grips with the idea that France won in Algeria and America won in Vietnam employing this doctrine only to have public opinion at home and resulting political decision turn away from the fruits of victory. "Stab in the back?" "Nous sommes trahis? No, but the truth is that these counterinsurgency campaigns were won and then the results were negated by poliitcal action at home. Do I feel bad about that? Yes. The sacrifice of my comrades cries out to me, but democracy decides. We must accept that.
Most of the "scholarship" about Vietnam is drivel. If you want to fight me over what you think happened there, I am waiting.
President Obama seems inclined to follow a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan with its concomittant "investments" in a large "shield" of coalition conventional combat forces behind which a massive "nation building" investment and advisory activity on the model of CORDS takes place.
General McKiernan, an honest and disinterested man, said yesterday that reinforcements sent to Afhanistan should be expected to be there for at least five years. Given the relative absence of educated human resources, physical infrastructure and institutional sophistication in Afghanistan I think that "five years" is a serious unerestimate.
It also appears that Pakistan would serve as the "sanctuary" for the varied Islamist forces that would face us in the long COIN war in Afghanistan. Are we seeking to replicate Vietnam?
The United States is a poor country now, We did that to ourselves. Who can say what kind of economic condition we will see in a few years down the road? We would need a larger ground force to fight and sustain a COIN war on the roof of the world. How much farther should we push the endurance of the brave and selfless people who carry the real burden of all wars, the soldiers and their families?
Do we want to fight a COIN war in Afghanistan, or do we want to forget about the welfare of the Afghans and turn to the methods of using one group of potential enemies against another to protect ourselves?
I heve been involved in both. I wrote the "post' below in 2005.
I wrote the post quoted below on 26 August, 2005. At that time there had begun to be talk around Washington in neocon circles of reviving the 20th Century French inspired counterinsurgency doctrine known as the "Oil Spot Method." This method, worked out in the "school of hard knocks" in Indochina and Algeria essentially holds that it is control of the population that is the right goal in a revolutionary war situation and that combat operations are merely a "means" to that "end." In pursuit of that goal the development of the civil communities in the country and their self-perceived welfare has first priority. This is not to say that police and combat action will be especially benign during his process. In extremis, the theory would hold that negative methods of control will suffice if positive ones are not possible. The awfulness of what happened in the Casbah of algiers in the mid-50s is an example.
We attempted to apply that doctrine in the 20th Century with success in some places and failure in others. Vietnam was the most spectacular failure at the national level.
Nevertheless, it should be said that our local attempts at the application of this method from 1967 on in Vietnam met with a good deal of success.
Yesterday, Condoleeza Rice appeared before the Congress to announce that we will adopt the strategy of putting civil/military teams of advisers in the field in Iraq. They will be called "Province Reconstruction Teams." I presume that this is CORDS come again. CORDS worked in that it took control of much of the countryside away from the GUERRILLAS (as opposed to the North Vietnamese Army). I was in a position to see the system as a whole across the country. It was impressive, but it was massive, and it was designed to "work" over a long period of application. This will be interesting.
("Counterinsurgency=Political Warfare+Civic Action+Counterguerrilla operations." Roger Trinquier and Bernard Fall)
"Brooks on Vietnam and Iraq
This evening David Brooks of the New York Times offered the opinion that in Vietnam our Army "At last" got it right at the end of the war and began to concentrate on what the French used to call the "oil spot" technique (tache de huile) in which one secures inhabited villages, towns, etc. and gradually expands the area of control into the spaces between until the oil spots meet and, voila! No more guerrilas. The French fastened on this method through the efforts of some very bright and creative French officers, most notably, Colonel Roger Trinquier as expressed in his masterpiece, "Modern War" (La Guerre Moderne) which was required reading in 1964 at the "US Army Special Warfare School's" "Counterinsurgency Staff Officer" course.
This theory worked quite well for the French in Indochina and Algeria. They essentially defeated the guerrillas in both countries, but lost the wars anyway. In Vietnam they lost to the main field forces of the Viet Minh who were a real army with regiments, divisions, uniforms, artillery, tanks ,etc. The French chose to fight their war in Indochina "on a shoestring" and in the big battles, like Dien Bien Phu, they were often badly outnumbered and outgunned. In Algeria, the French Army eventually pacified most of the country, but after a quiet couple of years, DeGaulle was elected and made the wise political decision to leave Algeria. He felt that the time had passed for such things as "Algerie Francaise." He was right.
Why do I know so much about the "oil spot" method? I know because it also worked for us in Vietnam. I worked there in the application of this method. I am not sure what year Brooks thinks was "at the end of the war," but from 1967 on the US was busy trying to apply this method under the control of the major part of the US Mission called "Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support" (CORDS). This organization united; USAID, military training groups at all levels, Agricultural, Educational, Civil Police, Medical, etc. into one effort with a consolidated national, regional, provincial, and district planning and operations policy. I worked at the District and Provincial levels. This project continued until US forces completed their withdrawal process under Nixon's Vietnamization Policy" in early 1973. I was on one of the last planes to leave. By that time most of the heavily inhabited areas of the country were under government control. How it is that Brooks thinks that we adopted this kind of strategy late in the war is a mystery to me.
Like the French the US faced the main battle forces of the Viet Minh as well as local force guerrillas, and the shadow government that CORDS struggled with for control of the people. After gaining control of Tonkin in 1954-55 the Vietnamese communists had renamed themselves as a national army and so we knew them as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). It was the same army. The divisions and regiments which had fought the French at Na San in 1953 and Dien Bien Phu in 1954 fought us in our war. I remember talking to PWs captured by us who had actually been in the same units at DBP.
We brought our main forces into the country in the mid 60s to meet the very real threat to our early pacification programs posed by the introduction of the NVA regular army into South Vietnam. As a result our regular forces fought the NVA's regular forces all over the country out in the woods where the civilian population was pretty thinly scattered. In 1965-1967 it was "force on force" in the "Iron Triangle," "The Ashau Valley, "The Michelin Rubber Plantation" and similar places. From 1967 on the job of "heavy" US forces was to fight the NVA in SUPPORT OF the strategy that Brooks thinks was adopted "at the end of the war." People like me who were located in Vietnamese towns and villages out in the country depended for our lives on the shield provided by US Regular units who would come to our rescue if the NVA attacked in strength. That happened a lot because they were not happy with what we were doing.
Unfortunately for the NVA we (and the South Vietnamese) were neither outnumbered nor outgunned. Throughout the period under discussion we had something over half a million men in country and the South Vietnamese had about 350,000 troops in units that varied greatly in quality. As a result, the enemy found themselves in a losing situation in which they could rarely win engagements against our side if our main forces were engaged. The only situations in whch they could prevail were fights against isolated units and in particular against small groups of CORDS advisers and their Vietnamese allies in the border regions. How did we lose the war in the end? We lost in the same way that the French lost in Algeria. People at home got tired of the whole thing and pulled the financial and military support plugs. After a couple of years of "peace" under the armistice of 1972, the North Vietnamese government decided to test the system. They attacked and captured a provincial capital on the Cambodian border (Phuoc Binh). It fell and the reaction of the US media and Congress was to immediately declare that under no circumstances would ANY assistance be given to the South Vietnamese. Collapse then followed. There were NO American forces or advisers in the country then. There had not been for a long time.
Is this Vietnam example applicable in some way to Iraq? Not really, not at present strengths in Iraq. In Iraq we do not have the forces to go out and provide the needed protection for isolated coalition "development" teams all over the country. Neither do we have the policy generated structure to provide integrated teams of experts to occupy a large number of towns on a permanent basis. If we want to do that we will have to organize such an effort and put it in in place. It will be a major additional commitment. At the same time we will have to remember that these scattered groups will be very vulnerable and will need the the prospect of reinforcement by US Army or Marine units within a couple of hours. All this implies a very different deployment, a different commitment, and a lot more troops.
Can we pacify the country that way? Yes, we can if we are willing to pay the price in assets and invlovement over four or five years. The answer is also dependent on whether the various Iraqi groups do not start "competing" to see who can ask us to leave first.
In the meantime, David Brooks needs to do some more reading