Monday, February 20, 2006

What went wrong in Vietnam

So I finally read Krepinevich's Army and Vietnam and it is astoundingly good. If you want to understand why the US lost in Vietnam, this has to be on your reading list. Krepinevich argues that the Army never implemented a true counterinsurgency strategy but applied the mid-intensity model more appropriate to operating against the Red Army in Europe or the Chinese in Korea. Counterinsurgency is a political form of warfare that involves acting more like a police force. The goal is to protect civilians and deny the insurgents the ability to create an alternate political structure or intimidate the civilians. Mid-intensity warfare is the use of large combat formations to destroy other large combat formations. These are two very different things. The Army chose to act this way primarily due to the cultural bias of the Army itself.

Krepinevich illustrates the ways in which the culture prevented a true counterinsurgency program. In response to President Kennedy's calls for stronger programs, the Army paid lipservice, but did not change doctrine and spent little to no time on the subject in professional journals or training. The Special Forces originally acted in a counterinsurgency capacity, which meant protecting civilians and breaking up the VC political infrastructure. Once MACV took charge the Special Forces slipped into a support role for the Big Army preferred operations, which were large scale search and destroy operations. These generally ineffective operations took the Army away from population centers, which the VC could then slowly take over.

Last year in Foreign Affairs, Krepinevich wrote a piece on how to fight the insurgency in Iraq. It's worth a read.

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