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Counter-Insurgency in Vietnam

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  • Counter-Insurgency in Vietnam

    I read in Martin Windrow's The Last Valley a quote from a soldier on counter-insurgency. "I know that the wooden-faced peasant who won't meet my eye and who is pretending not to understand me knows the man-perhaps is the man-who laid the booby-trap which killed my friend yesterday, or which will kill me tommorow; so how long can I endure his refusal to give me an excuse to strike back?"

    Counter-insurgency was a difficult problem in Vietnam for both the French and the Americans. What do you believe would have been the best method to combat the insurgency of the Viet Minh or the Vietcong?
    "Let arms yield rank to the toga of peace." -Cicero

    "People complain about official corruption, but that's nothing compared with our criminal waste of time." -From Ikiru

  • #2
    The insurgency was defeated in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese Army wasn't.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Boonierat View Post
      The insurgency was defeated in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese Army wasn't.
      Other way around, at least in Phuoc Ty. The Task Force had smashed all attempts by VC/NVA main force units to exert themselves in the province and constantly persecuted them in their base areas such as the Long Hai Hills...but it was never able to eradicate the local VC unit (D445, the TF's nemesis since Long Tan) despite repeatedley gutting it and could never eradicate NLF local cadres, again despite repeatedley inflicting heavy casualties.
      Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by thejester View Post
        Other way around, at least in Phuoc Ty. The Task Force had smashed all attempts by VC/NVA main force units to exert themselves in the province and constantly persecuted them in their base areas such as the Long Hai Hills...
        True, but they were never definitely eradicated, the 5th VC Division and 33rd PAVN Regiment were still there after the ATF returned home.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Boonierat View Post
          True, but they were never definitely eradicated, the 5th VC Division and 33rd PAVN Regiment were still there after the ATF returned home.
          Even so, ATF commanders felt secure enough in shifting emphasis from '69 onwards to operations against the insurgency, not that they had anything other than local success.

          Point is the insurgency certainly was never defeated in Phuoc Ty, and the best efforts of the ATF to kill it off foundered on continued widespread local support for it and the derelict nature of the RVN.
          Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by thejester View Post
            Point is the insurgency certainly was never defeated in Phuoc Ty, and the best efforts of the ATF to kill it off foundered on continued widespread local support for it and the derelict nature of the RVN.
            I don't know. You probably know better than me about the specifics of Phuoc Tuy but the Viet Cong Infrastructure was destroyed after 1971 and the countryside pacified. VC guerillas didn't play any role in the 1972 Nguyen Hue offensive, the Landgrab battles of 1973-74 and the final offensive of 1974-75.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Boonierat View Post
              I don't know. You probably know better than me about the specifics of Phuoc Tuy but the Viet Cong Infrastructure was destroyed after 1971 and the countryside pacified.
              I'd be very interested in seeing a source for this. In Phuoc Ty, in no particular order:

              The security situation in the province began to deteriorate for the RVN in early 1972. Activity by the NLF in the province continued and there were also indications of increased activity by PAVN units...McNeill observed that:

              ...April saw the highest level of enemy activity in Phuoc Ty since the worst days of the Task Force. A reported 1600 enemy regular troops had entered the province, bringing the total of enemy main force troops in Phuoc Ty, excluding local guerillas, to an estimated 3,000 personnel. These consisted of the 33rd NVA Regiment and the 274th VC Regiment...as well there was D445 Battalion, an unidentified heavy weapons units, and miscellaneous local guerilla units. The RF were not patrolling out from the towns and the countryside was largely dominated by the Viet Cong.
              NLF and PAVN forces operated extensively throughout the province. The road to Xuyen Moc (Route 23) was cut and Baria and Dat Do were isolated. One officer who had served with the Task Force in 1966, and who witnessed the decline of government control in this period, commented of the situation in late March and early April 1972 rgar 'it was for all the world to see as it had been in 1966 at the very beginning...as if we had never really been there.'
              Frank Frost, Australia's War in Vietnam, p. 162

              I know that's a long quote, but it suggests the VC continued to be militarily active throughout the province; although the obvious problem is that (presumably) units like the 274th were largely North Vietnamese by this stage anyway. By the end of 1971 the Task Force certainly had a handle on areas of the countryside, thoughthe VC/NVA continued to use base areas such as the Long Hai Hills and in September 1971 the remaining task force units clashed heavily with 33rd NAV regiment. But they found in attempting to deal with cadres that whilst cordon/ambushing operations around centres of VC support such as Dat Do were succesful, they at best disrupted, not destroyed. Attempts to end VC programs in urban centres were hindered by the need to get permission from a VC-riddled local government. The Australians were unimpressed with the results of the Phoenix program; they once again highlighted the way in which the inept nature of local government prevented good results from occurring.

              This quote is probably more revealing as to the role of the NLF at this stage of the war:

              The grip of the cadres on the population was never really broken, ensuring a continuing flow of recruits, supplies and intelligence to the VC units...By contrast, the government forces, particularly the RF and PF, were inept with no stomach to fight...
              Speech by General Peter Gration, 17/7/87, quoted in Murphy's Harvest of Fear p. 261.

              The NLF simply acted as an agent of political destabilisation, denying the government popular support and infilitrating it to the point where it was unable to act succesfully against the insurgency. Woodruff might celebrate as proof of the defeat of the Viet Cong the way in which families could drive down Route 15 to Vung Tau...but he ignores that the VC still had a hold on the majority of the population in the area and that in traditional centres of resistance such as Long Phuoc and Hoa Long, nothing really changed. The TF had been working on civil action programs for the best part of five years in these areas, yet the villagers were apathetic at best, pro-VC at worst.
              Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.

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              • #8
                I don't have any datas about the state of the VCI in Phuoc Tuy after the departure of the ATF but I believe the main threat in the Province came from the NVA, not the VC. Here's a quote from Vietnam: Cease Fire To Capitulation about the situation in early 1973:

                The situation in the eastern sector was different, there being no isolated areas dependent on airlift for supply or evacuation and all major roads being open. Civilian and commercial as well as military traffic moved without escort on Route 20 to and from the mountain resort and gardens of Dalat. National Route 1 was open for all traffic to the coastal town of Phan Thiet, and Highway 15 was open to the beaches at Vung Tau. The 18th ARVN Division, with territorials in support, had no serious difficulties with the NVA's 33d and 274th Regiments in Long Khanh and Phuoc Tuy Provinces, although these main forces and some local Units made travel hazardous on Interprovincial Route 2 from Xuan Loc to Ba Ria. Constant patrolling was also necessary to protect traffic on Interprovincial Route 23 between Dat Do and Xuyen Moc in southern Phuoc Tuy.

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                • #9
                  Undoubtedley the bulk of military forces operating in the province post-withdrawal were NVA; but my point is that while in a military sense the VC was a shadow of its former the self, the basis of the insurgency - the cadres - still existed and still continued to function despite the best efforts of the Vietnamese (well...maybe not their best efforts), the Americans and the Task Force. Ergo, the insurgency was not defeated and indeed absorbed large amounts of Australian effort inbetween 1969-1971.
                  Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.

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                  • #10
                    There are numerous stories of people running around the rural areas after dark late in the war without military escort. There is a famous picture of William Colby on a vespa riding after dark in the countryside. I believe John Paul "B-52" Vann did the same thing all the time. The situation had clearly changed.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by TankBrigade View Post
                      I read in Martin Windrow's The Last Valley a quote from a soldier on counter-insurgency. "I know that the wooden-faced peasant who won't meet my eye and who is pretending not to understand me knows the man-perhaps is the man-who laid the booby-trap which killed my friend yesterday, or which will kill me tommorow; so how long can I endure his refusal to give me an excuse to strike back?"
                      This is an interesting statement. Perhaps the Vietnamese person did know? Perhaps he was the one? But the soldier did not speak Vietnamese. Pretty arrogant of him to assume he knew what the VN was thinking or doing and that the VN understood more than he let on, when he didn't speak the native language himself.

                      This reminds me of the stories of the "Ugly American" who travels to France and assumes everyone speaks English but refuses to speak it out of spite, even though he is the visitor in their country.

                      Wonderful foreign policy is made by such people who think they know foreign culture better than the foreigners themselves.

                      There was no shortage of this in Vietnam. .

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Miss.Saigon View Post
                        There are numerous stories of people running around the rural areas after dark late in the war without military escort. There is a famous picture of William Colby on a vespa riding after dark in the countryside. I believe John Paul "B-52" Vann did the same thing all the time. The situation had clearly changed.
                        Certainly in Phuoc Ty by the time of the Task Force's withdrawal security was much better than it had been in 1966; but the fact it reversed itself to 1966 levels in just six months, coupled with both Vietnamese and Australian intelligence pegging existing cadres at 400-600, suggests it was suppressed rather than defeated.
                        Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Miss.Saigon View Post
                          This is an interesting statement. Perhaps the Vietnamese person did know? Perhaps he was the one? But the soldier did not speak Vietnamese. Pretty arrogant of him to assume he knew what the VN was thinking or doing and that the VN understood more than he let on, when he didn't speak the native language himself.
                          Actually this feeling was a fairly common one. You did not know for sure who was a VC so paranoia often kicked in and one presumed that virtually everyone was a VC while in reality of course that was not the case. It's just like when some guys woke up thinking "Today I'm going to die, my number is up". and then go around all day just waiting for the literal bomb to drop. Again, the odds were really against it happening, but it was hard for some guys to shake the feeling at times. I don't think this was a feeling of arrogance as much as it was an episode of paranoia.
                          "If you are right, then you are right even if everyone says you are wrong. If you are wrong then you are wrong even if everyone says you are right." William Penn.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by thejester View Post
                            Certainly in Phuoc Ty by the time of the Task Force's withdrawal security was much better than it had been in 1966; but the fact it reversed itself to 1966 levels in just six months, coupled with both Vietnamese and Australian intelligence pegging existing cadres at 400-600, suggests it was suppressed rather than defeated.
                            Well, this would be expected. There was a determined enemy who wasn't going to go away unless forced. And even when forced replacements were sent. Which by this time was mostly the case. Had the Communist left the Government would have pacified the area relatively quickly too. In the absense of opposition, it was going to go the way of the persistent and determined enemy.

                            And as I said, at this point the enemy was Northern almost exclusively. Even the VC. If you read Viet Cong Memoir you will see that one of the chief complaints of the handful of remaining Southerners in the NLF was that they had been marginalized and completely removed from any influence and replaced by Northern loyalists. It was a Northern show, whether VC or PAVN.

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                            • #15
                              Doesn't really matter if they were 'Northern' or 'Southern', the majority of the population was in their grip/still on their side.
                              Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest vogue...it is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.

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