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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why embedding won't work: MACV

US advisors in Vietnam

The US military is looking to recreate the failed MACV effort in Iraq, with far less trained advisors and a much less able military

Formation of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV)

By 1961 the steady progress of the insurgency was near crisis levels. The new Kennedy administration increased American support for the Diem regime to prevent a collapse. By December of 1961, 3,200 U.S. military personnel were in Vietnam as advisors, supported by $65 million in military equipment and $136 million in economic aid. Military assistance was reorganized as the United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), formed under the command of General Paul D. Harkins in February 1962. MACV was there to support the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) to defend the country. MACV included Army Special Forces (Green Beret) instructors and CIA personnel organizing the Montagnards in the mountains.

The U.S. led counterinsurgency effort was based on the strategic hamlet program. The plan was to consolidate 14,000 villages in South Vietnam into 11,000 secure hamlets, each with its own houses, schools, wells, and watchtowers, to isolate the villages from the guerrillas. As the program got underway, there were not only frequent attacks on the hamlets by guerrilla units, but the self-defense units for the hamlets were often poorly trained, and ARVN support was inadequate. Corruption, favoritism, and resentment of the forced resettlement undermined the program. Of the 8,000 hamlets actually established, only 1,500 were viable.

U.S. Special Forces Deployment 15 October 1962
U.S. Special Forces Deployment in Vietnam, 15 October 1962. Click for larger image.

As the U.S. involvement increased, the Communists responded in 1961 by reorganizing all armed units in the south into the People's Liberation Armed Force (PLAF), with about 15,000 troops. Many in this force were from South Vietnam, trained in the North and then reinfiltrated, often in political roles as liaison with the southern population. By late 1962, the PLAF was large and capable enough to mount battalion-size attacks. At the same time, the NLF expanded to include 300,000 members and an estimated one million sympathizers while they instituted land reform and other popular measures in controlled areas.

As the NLF grew stronger, Diem reacted with more repression, especially against Buddist's, led by his brother and chief adviser, Ngo Dinh Nhu. On 8 May 1963, ARVN troops fired into a crowd of protesters in Saigon, killing nine. Hundreds of Buddhist priests (bonzes) staged peaceful demonstrations and fasted to protest. In June a bonze set himself on fire in Saigon as a protest, and, by the end of the year, six more bonzes had committed self-immolation. Violence escalated on August 21 when special forces under Ngo Dinh Nhu raided pagodas in major cities, killing many bonzes and arresting thousands of others. Demonstrations at Saigon University on August 24 were crushed with the arrest of an estimated 4,000 students and the closing of universities in Saigon and Hue.

By 1963, U.S. military advisors in Vietnam had grown to 16,000 and the Americans were firmly identified with the oppressive Diem regime. Outrage over the Diem regime in Washington was communicated to South Vietnamese military leaders, indicating U.S. support for a new government. The Kennedy administration, through the CIA and Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, encouraged a coup in early November 1963 in which Diem and Nhu were assassinated. General Duong Van Minh took over the government and the U.S. was obligated to support him and the series of weak governments that followed. Later than same month, President Kennedy was himself assassinated in Dallas, TX and President Johnson assumed office. Hanoi thought that the new President might be looking to exit Vietnam and calculated that an increase in violence would be the lever to push the U.S. out.

But despite the fact that the US advisory effort in Vietnam was largely a failure, the US is desperate to repeat it in Iraq, with a much less stable military

Iraq strategy takes page from Vietnam playbook
By Peter Spiegel, Times Staff Writer
November 24, 2006

WASHINGTON — New tactics favored by U.S. commanders in Iraq borrow heavily from the end of another war that might seem an unlikely source for a winning strategy: Vietnam.

The tactics — an influx of military advisors and a speeded-up handover to indigenous forces followed by a gradual U.S. withdrawal — resemble those in place as the U.S. effort in Vietnam reached its end.

In historical assessments and the American recollection, Vietnam was the unwinnable war. But to many in the armed forces, Vietnam as a war actually was on its way to succeeding when the Nixon administration and Congress, bowing to public impatience, pulled the plug: first withdrawing U.S. combat forces and then blocking funding and supplies to the South Vietnamese army.

If they hadn't, the South Vietnamese army, which had been bolstered by U.S. advisors and a more focused "hearts and minds" campaign in the later stages of the war, could have been able to fend off the communist North, many leading military thinkers have argued.

In their view, progress was undermined by President Nixon's decision to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in 1969 in the face of political pressure at home, despite military objections that the South Vietnamese army was not ready to go it alone. Another key U.S. mistake, they contend, was the deep cuts Congress made to military aid to Saigon beginning in 1974.

For many in the military, the lessons of Vietnam are clear: Maintain public support, and be patient.

Consciously or not, President Bush encapsulated that view during his weekend trip to Hanoi, where he was asked whether there were lessons in Vietnam for the war in Iraq. Instead of military tactics or strategy, he answered by talking about the impatience of the American public, and how success in war can be slow. "We'll succeed unless we quit," Bush said.

Differing views

The view that Vietnam could have been won if public opinion and political will had continued to support the war effort is far from universal, particularly among historians outside the military.

Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who covered the war from the day the first American was killed in 1959 to its end, said Hanoi was nowhere near capitulation by 1973, when the Paris peace accords were signed.

"They're clutching at some sort of way to justify hanging on in Iraq," said Karnow, whose "Vietnam: A History" is considered by many to be the definitive account of the conflict. "The war in Vietnam, in my estimation, was unwinnable for the simple, basic reason that we were up against an enemy that was prepared to take on unlimited losses. They would have gone on fighting endlessly."

For years, the debate over the end of the Vietnam War occupied students and scholars in the military's academies and war colleges. But with the Pentagon struggling to find answers in Iraq, the lessons of Vietnam have taken on more than just an academic interest.

The course that senior military commanders now appear to be steering in Iraq closely mirrors the "Vietnamization" program implemented by Nixon and his commander in Vietnam, Army Gen. Creighton Abrams, in the late stages of the war.

Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, laid out that path at congressional hearings last week. He said the biggest change he anticipated in the coming months was a large-scale increase in U.S. advisors.

He also said he hoped to hand over responsibility for security to Iraqi forces in less than a year — faster than Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the U.S. commander in Iraq, had estimated just weeks earlier — and spelled out his resistance to an increase in American combat troops.

"I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more," Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "If more troops need to come in, they need to come in to make the Iraqi army stronger."

posted by Steve @ 3:24:00 PM

3:24:00 PM

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