Counterinsurgency – a Re-Discovery?

Someone wrote to me today to inform of the ongoing debate in Washington’s "circles of exalted brooding" with regard to the "discovery" on the part of defense academics and administration allies of the now hoary doctrine of counterinsurgency worked out largely by French soldiers in Indochina and Algeria at the cost of much suffering on the part of the insurgents, the native peoples and the French army itself. This was my response.

Pat Lang

“In many ways, Indochina was an unusual war of independence in that there were really several wars underway simultaneously, all linked but identifiable as different.

1-The Agitprop political program for control of the populace. This was waged with great effectiveness first against the French, then against the SVN government and us. This effort aimed to create a population hostile to anything but communist rule in South Viet Nam. To defeat the North Vietnamese campaign to annex the south it was necessary to counter this campaign of propaganda and action.

2-The war of part time guerrillas and regional full time units. This war of the guerrillas on the part of the insurgents was intended to protect the agitprop effort and to force us to commit forces against it rather than against –

3- Viet Minh and later NVA regular forces out in the bush.

4-The political war waged against the will of the metropole. This war depended heavily on the cooperation of Marxist and crypto-Marxist groups around the world. A prime example would be the “New Left” movement of the ‘60s.

What do we have in Iraq?

There will never be an equivalent of the North Vietnamese Army. This force was largely “built” in China after the defeat of the Kuomintang. There is no sanctuary in which to build such an insurgent army for Iraq and the terrain does not lend itself to creating the ability to survive the experience of US air power. The closest thing imaginable would be an Iranian trained and equiped Shia army in some future in which the Shia find it necessary to assert themselves to that extent.

The agitprop process is doing well even if the “product” being sold is now salvation rather than a Marxist and independent earthly paradise.

Guerrilla units are growing steadily in number and sphere of their activity. This is in response to the effective agitprop work being done to construct a parallel “state.” I would anticipate that US withdrawal from remote areas will see the growth of guerrilla combat units in those areas and effective pseudo government control of these by the enemy.

There is no effective political war being waged here in the US by the enemy. The noise on the Left of the blogosphere means little in forming American public opinion. What counts is progress in pacification in Iraq. There has been none and that is what is cutting into public support as reflected in Mr. Murtha’s admirable if confused statements.

Most of what is being said about counterinsurgency and Vietnam is silly. The US Army had a highly developed doctrine of counterinsurgency well before our entry into Vietnam. This had been called into being by the emphasis placed on it by the Kennedy Administration and was based on the same French models that are now cited as “revelations" by the newly reoriented “Revolution in Military Thinking" crowd who previously were enamored of “Shock and Awe.” I participated in several Counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts in South and Central America in the 8th SFGA employing what was essentially the same French doctrine that Krepinevitch et al have “discovered.” These efforts were uniformly successful.

Early on in the VN war (ours) several attempts were made to apply this doctrine in various ways. Special Forces/Civilian Irregular Defense Group troops, the Strategic Hamlets program, Ranger counter guerrilla units, etc. These did so well that North Viet Nam decided to intervene with its very fine army. In response to the prospect of having our advisors, their projects and our support structure wiped out by regimental and divisional forces introduced from the North, the US decided to introduce its own main forces and the main focus of the media then, and now the militaro-academic world became focused on the “force on force” struggle out in the woods. People do not seem to realize that while that was happening, the other nation-building” programs continued at “full bore.” It was not a choice of one or the other and only seemed that way to people in the 1st Cav. Division or some similar formation who had no knowledge of anything going on outside their base camps and night defense perimeters.

In late 1967 and in 1968 USMACV changed its strategy to return to the concept of the primacy of the COIN approach and from then on the large maneuver forces of the command were primarily devoted to the task of keeping the NVA and guerrillas from killing all the teams and projects create under CORDS (in which I worked in Phuoc Long and Binh Long Provinces in 1968-69) This was a major struggle that involved hard, dangerous work in exposed positions and towns for a lot of people. It also involved the necessity for the major forces of the US to fight and neutralize the VC/NVA forces before they succeeded in destroying the COIN effort.

This was a successful effort. Nixon’s policy decision with regard to withdrawal had little to do with the progress of this effort. What ended the war in victory for the communists was the abandonment of the South Vietnamese by the Congress after the NVA showed its teeth in the capture of Phuoc Bin in 1975."

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