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Archive for January, 2012

Part 2: Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Others: Small Wars, Insurgents and Terrorists and Threats, American Foreign Policy, and the American Public

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Let’s start this week with some more thoughts on the role of the American public influencing our nation’s foreign policy, and then go to a bit more comparison of successful village-centric counterterrorism tactics used in Vietnam and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

First, many involved in the discussions on America’s changing role in the global political picture attribute some parts of the transformation to the breaking down of many barriers that previously created more nationalistic viewpoints among U.S. and other nation’s populations.  Steven O’Hern addresses several of these factors in Chapter 3 of his 2008 book, The Intelligence Wars: Lessons From Baghdad:

“ One of the major changes allowing this shift is the growing power of information and the manner in which it is created and distributed.  Information is especially significant in fourth-generation tactics directed against our homeland because it is the only medium that can change a person’s mind…..Recall the North Vietnamese propaganda that attacked the will of the American people and through them the willingness of their leaders to continue that war.  Consider how much easier it is for a present-day insurgency to attack the will of our nation’s decision makers than it was for the North Vietnamese……This rapid exchange of information reduces the power of the nation-state.  The availability of international travel and communication has broken down barriers to information and relationships.


“In addition to the information age there are other factors that contribute to breaking down citizens’ allegiance to their country.  Governments have ceded some sovereignty to international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the International Atomic Energy Agency…..Another key political change is the increase in the number of and the role of transnational entities, which are organizations or movements that are not controlled by a single nation.  As [T.X.] Hammes [author of the seminal book on fourth-generation warfare] states, transnational groups “are literally free agents on the international scene and will interject themselves into international relations where and when they see fit, to meet their goals.”  Transnational groups include the peaceful, such as Greenpeace, and the violent-such as Al-Qaeda.

“The international distribution of the ownership of public corporations as well as the debt of nations and companies further divides the loyalty of the citizens of a nation.  Because a nation’s political position may be detrimental to the financial position of some of its citizens, owners of stocks and bonds may have much less interest in politics than in what benefits their portfolios.

“In the United States, [William] Lind [the lead author of a 1989 article that first advanced the fourth-generation warfare theory] sees multiculturalism as a major threat to the nation. Lind argues that as the United States abandons its Judeo-Christian culture, its status as a nation-state weakens.  Lind predicts that multiculturalism will cause American culture to be fragmented into groups based on ethnicity, race, gender, sexual identity, and class.  As this happens, Americans will have less in common with each other, further weakening the national identity of the United States.

“The decline of the nation-state makes the attack on the national will by a fourth-generation warfare opponent more powerful.  A nation whose people have very different interests from their fellow citizens will find it difficult to develop policies that will retain support in the face of the fourth-generation warfare strategy of making the government’s foreign policy appear hopeless.  Democracies will be challenged to prevent societal changes from significantly reducing the power of their nation-states.  Love of a cause, not love of a nation, is the theme of the future……It is a threat to a nation’s ability to remain a nation.

“The United States is doubly affected by this trend.  First, it faces enemies who are feverishly devoted to a cause, not a country.  And, second, an increasing number of people in the United States feel more devotion to a cause or group rather than to the country in which they live.  The combination of these two factors complicates the task of the leaders of the United States to act as a nation.”

As the role and influence of the central government weakens, and the influence of causes and groups increases, O’Hern’s description could be used to explain what we see in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and the 60-odd poor and broken nations around the world.

There are parallels here with what occurred during the Vietnam conflict, an early indicator of the growing influences of the public on the policy of the government.  And, enter George Reynolds’ October, 2011 paper, “Protesting War: Comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam”, which was published on the Small Wars Journal site.  Reynolds is a retired Air Force colonel who saw action in Iraq and operations in South America.  He makes some interesting comparisons between current conflicts and Vietnam:

“Instead of curing the Vietnam Syndrome or its symptoms, the Bush Administration insulated the American public from it.  It formulated and executed policies that neutralized the nagging problems that [Lyndon] Johnson had faced.  Whether these decisions were made with Vietnam in mind or were implemented due to political ideology (tax breaks for example) can be debated, but the result was an American public largely distances from the direct, day-to-day effects of a prolonged conflict.  Although America was directly attacked (9/11), taxpayers did not pay higher taxes (in fact, paid less), young Americans were not subject to a draft, and the country did not experience the  loss of a large number of its citizens.  Additionally, despite the advantages of information technology and its professionalization, the anti-war movement never rallied or connected with a large audience in a long-term, meaningful way.”

Bing West, one of the leading chroniclers of wars and conflicts for the past 40+ years, sent me a wonderful paper this week, that I will share with all of you next week.  But first, let’s go from the big, global, public-based picture to a couple of examples down at the local or village level, where winning and losing are determined for most of these insurgencies and threats.  First, from West’s 1972 book, The Village, a couple of short pieces about the Combined Action Teams that had success in Vietnam.  The scene is a Marine major talking to a Martine general:

Major Braun:“I’d like to see us try a combined unit, a group of Marines and Viets who would eat, sleep, patrol and fight as one unit-not two

Genera Waltl:”Where would you put them?”

Major: “There’s a village not far from here.”

General: “Why pick there to start?”

Major: “I didn’t, sir.  The district chief did.  He has this outstanding police chief who’s being bad-mouthed by some of the local politicians……The district chief’s afraid this police chief will say the hell with it and transfer to another district.  But his family is from this village and his mother still lives there.  The district chief says he’ll stick around if we make a play for the village.  The police want some Americans along if they’re going in there.  They don’t think too much of the local troops in this district.”

“Major Richard Braun was called Younger Brother by the district chief who he advised.  Although an affectionate term, it signified that the advisor was in the position of learning, not teaching.  Braun didn’t mind, since he had no intention of meddling in the Byzantine politics of the Vietnamese.”

“The Americans liked the village….They liked having the respect of the tough Popular Forces (PF’s, local militias, different from the Vietnamese military) like Luong and the admiration of the other PF’s who could not bring themselves to challenge the Viet Cong alone.  They were pleased that the villagers were impressed because they hunted the Viet Cong as the Viet Cong had for years hunted the PF’s and the village officials…..For perhaps the only time in the lives of those dozen Americans [the Combined Action Team], seven of whom had not graduated from high school, they were providing at the obvious risk of death a service of protection.  This had won them open admiration and stature within the Vietnamese village society in which they were working and where ultimately most of them would die.”

A visiting official had a telling conversation with the major who succeeded Braun:

Visitor: “Nice village here.”

Major: “We like it.”

Visitor: “That feeling seems to be shared by the villagers.  We’ve gathered you get along here.  Get much dope on what’s going on?

Major: “Too much.”

Visitor: “What do you know about taxing?”

Major: “Our acting village chief, Mr. Trao, says his opposite number has a list of who should pay how much.  Last month we got word he (the counterpart) was on the trail up by My Hue stopping anybody who came along.  Naturally he bugged out before we got there.  He’d only been able to shake down a couple of people.  They don’t tax in this village any more.”

Visitor: “Why not?”

Major: “We patrol, so it can’t be done on a regular basis.  The villagers would bitch, we’d get tipped off, and bang! – there go your tax collectors.  And if we missed them, the VC families would be forced to make up the losses.  These PF’s aren’t fussing around.”

“Despite tactical victories, the enemy had to cope with the capacity of the combined unit to endure, to stick after making mistakes.  By the summer of 1967 the enemy had accepted the persistence of the unit, whereas his own determination to defend Binh Nghia had waned.”

And now, here’s  a parallel example from Afghanistan.  CPT Rory Hanlin was a Detachment Commander, deployed conducting Village Stability Operations (VSO) in Afghanistan, in September, 2011, when his “One Team’s Approach to Village Stability Operations” article was published on the Small Wars Journal site.  Here are some excerpts from his article for you to use to compare it to the bits from Bing West’s book, above:


“The Village Stability Operations Methodology is a bottom up approach that employs USSOF teams and partnered units embedded with villagers in order to establish security and to support and promote socio-economic development and good governance.  Each Village Stability Team is a distinct entity with its own culture, appearances and way of operating, which reflects the Afghan dynamic of that particular site…..every VSO applies the same principles of the methodology and shepherds the village through the phases of Shape, Hold, Build, and Expand/Transition, culminating with connecting the village to the Aghan central  government through the district and province.

“The district in which we are operating presents distinct challenges that arise primarily from its deeply divided human and physical terrain and the lack of coalition and Afghan government presence over the last decade.  Since our arrival we have continually developed the ground situation and our understanding of the district’s idiosyncrasies.  Based on this continual assessment, progress along the VSO shape-hold-build-transition/expansion model is inhibited by three key factors: a defunct systems of governance, a divided population, and an under-developed economy based on subsistence farming. These factors collude to form a survivalist culture with a zero-sum worldview.

“To change this unproductive mentality, we are pursuing three key lines of operation in the district that address the major issues and problems.  First we are focusing on enhancing the efficacy of the district government, its inner-cooperation and its relationship with the populace.  Second, the team is actively fostering economic growth through various agricultural and civil affairs programs focused on the District Center and bazaar.  Third, we are expanding the Afghan National Security Force’s (ANSF’s) ability to secure the district, expanding the overall ANSF security apparatus and establishing them as the district’s sole dispute arbiter.”

The entire article can be found on the Small Wars Journal site,

Similar positioning at the village level.  Similar thinking about getting the population to ultimately look to itself for security, governance and economic well-being.

In October, 2006, then-LT COL’s John Nagl and Paul Yingling wrote a piece titled “New Rules For New Enemies”, also in Small Wars Journal, that included this comment:

“To wih the Long War, the Army must develop a more adaptive culture.  To create such a culture, the Army must change its focus from a centralized, specialized focus on major conventional wars to a more decentralized and less specialized focus on full-specfrum operations….To win the Long War, the Army must embrace the combined-arms battalion as the basic building block for tactical operations and develop a flatter organizational structure.”

The entire article can be found on the Small Wars Journal site,

It seems to me there is a lot of discussion to be had around the manpower, training and deployment issues relative to combined capabilities teams.  What manpower, organization and skills are required if we decide the kinds of threats, conflicts and insurgencies we are likely to face most frequently over the next decade are local, not national, in nature?   Do we need to “own” the real estate to implement the security, insurgent-population separation, governance and development initiatives that are central to small wars?  Do we respond to these situations, or do we ask in to the countries that are the weakest, poorest and most broken of the 60+ nations around the globe, to pre-empt trouble with them?  Is this a US or a coalition initiative?   

Next week, more from O’Hern’s book, more on the Vietnam Civil Action Teams, and a bit about the interagency high-value target teams that are a CT compliment the Village Stability Operations teams.

We will look forward to your additions to and thoughts on this topic, via comments on the Roundtable at, or your e-mails to me at




Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Others: Small Wars, Insurgents and Terrorists and Threats, American Foreign Policy, and the American Public

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

While on vacation over the past  two weeks, I’ve re-read many of the best books and papers on Viet Nam, intending to better understand the similarities and differences between the Viet Nam era combined action teams and the Iraq, Afghanistan+++ village stability operations and interagency high-value target teams (typically with a SOF component).   There is an increasing belief that there are aspects of our nation’s strategy for 21st Century Conflict must  typically include locality-specific, separate and protect the populations from the bad guys, and disrupt the bad guys networks components, and I want to see what we can learn from our experiences in Viet Nam.  I re-read books including Bing West’s The Village, Bob Andrews’ The Village War, Andrew Krepinevich’s The Army and Viet Nam, T.X. Hammes’ The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century, Steven O’Hern’s The Intelligence Wars: Lessons From Baghdad, Stuart Herrington’s Silence Was a Weapon: The Vietnam War in the Villages, and more, as well as papers including Christopher Sims recent paper, “Fighting the Insurgent’s War in Afghanistan”   Rufus Phillips’ 2008 “Counterinsurgency in Vietnam: Lessons Learned, Ignored, the Revived”, and George Reynolds’ 2011 “Protesting War: Comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam,” all of which were published on the Small Wars Journal site.

There is much to be learned by all involved in defense, intelligence, law enforcement and government from a discussion and comparison.

I plan to explore the comparison and discussion with you over the next several weeks, believing that our involvement in conflicts related to threats and failed states are heading toward more emphasis on some of the adaptive and village-centric separation of insurgent from population and the resulting security situation necessary for socio-cultural and economic progress. 

But, let’s start other than where you might expect, with the political situations that go a long way toward determining whether and how our nation decides to get involved in foreign threats and conflicts that may pose a danger to our national interests and/or security.

“Emancipating the civilians of a foreign nation fails to manifest itself as an existential threat in the minds of a Western population.  Dangerous though the threats from failed states may be, neither side can afford to risk large numbers of casualties; the insurgent because of limited manpower and the counter-insurgent through considerations of precarious domestic support (dissuaded from the necessity for combat casualties).  The conflict spirals into a low-intensity campaign.  Lengthening of the conflict through lack of critical engagements suits the insurgent, who is host rather than guest of the terrain and can exploit critical weaknesses of the opponent exposed by the time frame: the financial drain of deploying and servicing advanced-technology war materiel and the mutability of domestic opinion……I democracies where the candidates pander to the short-term considerations of the electorate, the economy is a critical consideration.  Warfighting can only be supported if the threat posed by non-intervention is imminent and explicit: the decade-long presence in Afghanistan does not fit the bill…..Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been paid for in the United States by increasing national debt rather than raising taxes there has been no reciprocity between the government at war and the civilians of the nation-state.”

Christopher Sims, doctoral candidate, King’s College, London, 2012

Author Steven O’Hern’s 2008 book often cites T.X. Hammes, especially on the topic of the global socio-cultural, political and economic transformations now in progress that are changing the way individuals view the world and their interests:

“Hammes theorized that fourth-generation warfare results from change ‘across the spectrum of human activity’ – including political, economic, technological and social.  Understand fourth-generation warfare requires us to identify and appreciate the changes in society that make fourth-generation warfare so potent……Societal changes in the United States are making our society more vulnerable to successful attacks by opponents using fourth-generation warfare…..Hammes analyzes these changes in detail, but the key societal changes that affect the intelligence community’s response to fourth-generation warfare are changes that erode the power of the nation-state while increasing the power of individual and trans-national organizations.”

O’Hern applied the fourth-generation warfare theory advanced by Hammes to the insurgency in Iraq:

“Recall the North Vietnamese propaganda that attacked the American people and through them the willingness of our leaders to continue the war.  Consider how much easier it is for a present-day insurgency to attack the will of our nation’s decision makers than it was for the North Vietnamese…..Al-Qaida in Iraq has chosen to attack targets with the intent to deliver the most horrific news to the American public in order to cause American leaders to abandon the war.  This rapid exchange of information reduces the power of the nation-state.  The availability of international travel and communication has broken down the barriers to information and relationships.”

Chapter 3 of O’Hern’s book, The Intelligence Wars: Lessons From Baghdad, is an excellent discussion of the public opinion and political aspects of these conflicts. As other failed states…..Yemen, Somalia, Bahrain, Libya, etc…..demand our attention, Steve has his fingers on the thinking that will go into the calculations about whether and how our country will be involved.

Steve also provided this quote from Admiral James Stockdale who, as a fighter pilot deployed to Viet Nam, was shot down and became the highest-ranking naval officer held as a prisoner of war.  Here is Stockdale recounting a conversation with a North Vietnamese propaganda expert during his captivity,

“They walked me into a room uh, with senior officers on both sides. Now the man in question was in civilian clothes. I knew who he probably was. Vin Quak Vin. I’d heard that name at Stanford. He was the propaganda expert of North Vietnam. He was totally fluent in English and we talked. And he was not hostile. He was picking my brains and I was picking his. But here was the punch line. And there was nothing dramatic or irate, he said you know about the war as a matter of weapons. He said the Vietnamese people know that we cannot compete with you on the battlefield. But he said it’s not that that wins wars anyway. It’s national will. And when the American people get the idea of what this war is all about, they will lose interest in pursuing it. He said we are going to win this war on the streets of New York. And when the American people understand the war and you and your fellow prisoners are going to help them understand it, you will be their teachers. Then the war will go away. We were a major factor in the strategy of the Vietnamese and we would be sort of a branch of the American anti-war movement. That’s what they had in mind.”

We will look forward to your additions to and thoughts on this topic, via comments on the Roundtable at, or your e-mails to me at



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