May 5, 2006
The Counter-insurgency BugabooBy Douglas Hanson
The First Gulf War should have exorcised the old Vietnam War ghosts out of our military psyche. But to listen to the generals on the media circuit and in think tank seminars talking about the Iraqi 'insurgency,' it seems we are suffering from a huge national—level flashback. The military establishment is covering its unwillingness to fully prosecute the war to victory by claiming we are ill—prepared to fight an 'insurgency.' As in Vietnam, we may be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, refusing to use our advantages to win, while public support is eroded with a focus on American casualties.
Retired General Jack Keane, former Army Vice—Chief of Staff pronounced last year that the US was, and still is, unable to deal with insurgency forces in Iraq. The very term 'insurgency' conjures up visions of a jungle war in Southeast Asia against an elusive and noble peasant fighter moving amongst the people, gaining popular support for his cause of expelling the unjust foreigners. Other knowledgeable military commentators also promote this theory of the US Army unable to recognize 'a war of rebellion, a people's war,' and its operational incompetence to overcome it.
This is misleading on several levels.
The US military has in fact culled decades of experience in fighting irregulars and developed a large body of doctrine concerning guerilla warfare and counter—insurgency operations. General Keane later clarified where responsibility lies for the difficulties in Iraq. on PBS.
Any failure to capitalize on the lessons of these operations to develop battle—linked training falls squarely on the military leadership — not the President.
The Lesson of Vietnam
Analysts rightfully praise the Creighton Abrams 'secure and hold' strategy in Vietnam, and how it has been adapted in Iraq. But usually missing is any discussion of why it was so forward—thinking in comparison to Westmoreland's 'war of big battalions.'
The presence of 16,000 Green Berets and advisors since 1961 apparently didn't help the ARVN to quickly handle its own affairs, and this precipitated the staggered deployment of over 500,000 troops by LBJ.
In 1969, the Nixon—Abrams team went on the offense in Vietnam and results were evident in short order. Large—scale attacks were conducted on the ground and in the air, and ARVN troops were taking on the primary role in securing the countryside. All of this was done with fewer US troops.
For these successes, Nixon was vilified by the left, and even by a few in the military. Congress continued to de—fund the war effort on the way to our eventual total withdrawal, and then the media and academia initiated a decades—long project to rehabilitate the JFK presidency, and shove LBJ's transgressions down the memory hole.
The high command, despite huge materiel and manpower advantages, squandered the opportunity to win in Vietnam for over seven years. But a template was established in the media and public spheres, and the excuses flowed: We are always fighting the last war; we don't have counter—insurgency doctrine; if only the politicians would let us win it; it was President [insert name here]'s fault.
This rings hollow for Vietnam, and equally so for Iraq today
As it turns out, the so—called 'insurgents' in Vietnam were really auxiliary forces of the regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA) playing their part in carrying out the bidding of Hanoi. It wasn't so much that Westmoreland's campaign strategy was faulty, it was simply not carried through to completion.
After initial large unit offensive successes, we surrendered tactical advantages and key terrain to return to our base camps, confident the enemy would eventually wither away. Abrams' multi—division conventional offensive into Cambodia in 1970, while politically divisive at home, was one of the most successful large—scale operations in history and set back Hanoi's timetable by at least one year. The attack into NVA sanctuaries should have been conducted in 1965, but the timing of the campaign and the political restraints of the time don't negate the usefulness of large, conventional offensives against a 'people's army.'
On top of this, Abrams' 'secure and hold' strategy was an adaptation of standard tactical principles he used in WW II while part of Patton's Third Army in the drive across Europe. Talk with any veteran or read any account of Patton's 'blitzkrieg' operations and you'll see the pincer movements and envelopments were always followed up by infantry, MP, maintenance, or supply units (any type of unit would do) occupying the towns in the wake of the armored thrusts. In other words, Patton and Abrams understood that the best 'counter—insurgency' tactic was to hold the towns to prevent stay behind fanatics from establishing a base of resistance.
The word was put out: beat the enemy down and make it painful for him to continue to fight. Total victory was the only acceptable outcome. Even though successful in these tasks, several thousand "insurgent" Nazi Werewolves managed to organize and terrorize both occupation forces and civilians alike.
But in those days, the Nazi guerillas were treated far differently than Saddam's irregulars are today, and the German 'insurgency' was nipped in the bud. Perhaps our soft approach to our current enemies is one of the unfortunate results of our minimalist war—fighting mentality.
Who are the 'insurgents' today?
Laurie Mylroie and Ayad Rahim in their excellent piece, "Origins of the Iraqi Insurgency," tell us how recently released intelligence documents confirm that the so—called 'insurgency' is still largely made up of Saddam's guerilla army allied with jihadists and Syrian Baathists, which has been the case since 'at least 1998.'
Yet, the US command changed the description of our enemy in 2005 to 'insurgents,' focusing on Zarqawi and downgrading the Syrians and Baathists. Mylroie and Rahim ask the logical question: 'Why should that cooperation have stopped in 2005?'
The answer is that in January of 2005, the Iraqis established their first elected government in over 50 years. The Former Regime Elements could now be magically transformed from the Baathist thugs, criminals, and renegade intelligence operatives that they truly were, into a 'classical insurgency' — the proverbial popular movement against an unjust Iraqi government.
Suddenly, the media and the moonbat left's Vietnam template of the US struggling against an intractable popular insurgency had been revived thanks to of all people, a few active and retired flag officers. A convenient out now existed.
This is not to discount the friction and fog of war that normally waylay the best laid plans of our forces. The course of the Iraq campaign needs to governed by events on the ground and not by an artificial timeline, despite sporadic calls from the Democrat—left for a timetable for a timetable of withdrawal. But there have been too many instances of reluctance to finish off the enemy and return former (?) enemy commanders to positions of power, and downright bartering with high—ranking Baathist holdovers.
The time for experimenting with post—modern, enlightened counter—insurgency theory needs to end now, as does CENTCOM's lame and confusing PR efforts covering 'hearts and minds' operations. The American people certainly expected a long War on Terror, but they didn't anticipate a never—ending campaign of attrition within the larger war. This delay—by—design operation has made an electorate that is now largely disengaged from the outcome in Iraq, and fearful of further engagements with the Islamo—fascists.
Let's finish off Saddam's army. After all, the mullahs of Persia are on deck.
Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker.