<XMP><BODY></xmp> Human aspects of Vietnam and Iraq

        The following two letters are from two Scrapboard contributors. Both are about the Human aspects of Counter-Insurgency strategy, one written about Vietnam, the second about Iraq. The similarities and differences between the two countries and their cultures is worth reflection.

Vietnam Ralph Zumbro
         It is important to know that our soldiers CAN operate with the locals, as well as fight terrorists, and act as police when necessary. The BIG trick is to keep troops in local garrisons long enough to establish a raport with the local leaders. I and my tank, in one of my first ops in 1967, safeguarded a polling place near LZ Apache, for several days. We simply parked the tank next to a building, with Viet soldiers as infantry security. We adopted the town of Bong Son, provided local security with both American and Viet infantry. We had our own club in town, and drank with the locals. We gave the trades people our business, and I remember one tank that got called out when most of the crew were in a local whorehouse. The driver took the vehicle, alone, into town and picked up his TC and Gunner. They came out of a second story window with their pants in their hands.
        We were asked, many times, by the locals to "make our country safe again." American troops adopted orphanages and boy scout troops. Teen age and younger children would come to us with information. When on strong point out in the hills securing sections of highway, children would come and we would play with them....I have the pictures on slides...I also have a picture of about 15 kids playing "hogpile" with a US Army ACAV gunner. We got our haircuts and massages in local bazaars, bought local fruit and veggies and cooked over wood fires behind the tanks with Montagnard security.

        We lived with the locals for weeks at a time, parking tanks in their villages at night, securing their harvests and leaving from a stone age Montagnard village to go on road patrol or convoy security duty. The Montagnard villagers themselves guarded our tanks with sometimes only crossbows. I vividly remember one time Capt Delbiggio telling Sgt. "Cheyenne" Black.

        "Goddamn it Black, call off yer savage so I can use your radios."

        We drank their home made rice wine through a bamboo straw, smoked their dope, and made their parties....Them varmints really knew how to party, and when you hired one of them as a RF machine gunner, you got the whole family. Momma was the asst. gunner and the kids hauled the ammo. It is a gas to be working a tank in the middle of the night at a one tank, two squad strong point, and have a little Viet girl come running up yelling for a belt of ammo for her daddy's LMG.
        RF was Rural Force, a sort of local, American trained militia. We also had PFs or Poplar Forces, around the villages. RFs were mostly Montagnards "Yards" Many times we'd see a RF Montagnard with a uniform and a rifle swap off with a relative, just to keep the job done . We had Vietnamese KPs and waitresses in our tented mess, and they'd simply pick up and move with the platoon or company. We'd pull Viet cargo and logging trucks out of mud, and our Recon platoon stayed out longer by buying diesel fuel from Viet Logging companies. Diesel was all we burned, except for the jeeps. As we got the diesels, the few gasoline tracks went to the Viets.
        Some of the men whom I met in June of 67, had come over from Hawaii in 1965 and damn near went native.
        One of our Colonels, Stan Sheridan had a good rapport with the local ARVN C.O. up near Pleiku, and when he ran out of American troops, simply OpConned Charlie company out to the Viets in return for a full battalion of ARVN infantry who became damn proud to work with the "Bong Son" Tigers. When 4th ID commander complained about the nonreg procedures, The Colonel said.
        "Hell, General, they've been out fighting for a month now."

        Stan Sheridan retired as a Major General and died of surgery complications last year.

        Americans CAN blend into a foreign culture, IF YOU LET THEM.
        Reasonably well trained troops, with their OWN religious intolerance suppressed, given a chance, will do all the adjusting necessary. The problem with acculturation is NOT in the lower ranks, Given a chance, the troopies will go native so fast they'll disappear....It is the intolerant robots that places like West Point turns out that are the problem. Hell, as I said, we even helped out the Viet boy scouts....Tanks can move all kinds of stuff, including logs. For what it's worth, here is basically how we operated in RVN. We still own the equipment and my experiences at the NTC tell me that the soldiers are still the old, good army that I fought with...It seems to be the command and organizational structure that needs more than a bit of tinkering.

        It is not a well known fact, but in RVN the American forces could NOT because of ROE (Rules of Engagement) hold and garrison conquered villages or territory. We had to turn the vills over to the South Viet Army, or (horrors) the national police. This inevitably resulted in the VC or NVA re-taking the vills and re-garrisoning them. My platoon or section....Yes, we stayed broken down into units that small for months at a time... having to fight up to THREE times through the same village/hamlet complex. Each time, it got worse.
        The normal drill was for the NVA/VC to take over a village, kill off its leadership, replace them with northerners, draft what few local military age males were not already in the South Vietnamese army, and put the women and children to work digging trenches and building bunkers.
        I have personally been blown off a tank by a mine which we later found to have been constructed from a US 250lb bomb. I landed 30 feet away from my tank and the tank that hit the mine was demolished....We found suspension parts about a quarter mile away when we went through the same place SIX MONTHS LATER. Some of those vills, we'd been in so many times that we knew the names of some of the people.

        We also knew that Vietnam was not a coherent, unified culture. The Viet government was mostly secular. The original displacement from southern China, BTW was caused by the Chinese population being driven south by horse people called the Hsiung Neu, who came howling out of southern Siberia about 2000 BCE. The northern Tonkinese people had been trying to take over the southern Annamese people for a thousand years. The Annamese had been driven south out of southern China, displacing the original Empire of Champa, whose people had been reduced to tribals and are now known as mountain Chams. They hate everybody except Americans. There were also groups of displaced Chinese called Nungs, and about a dozen tribal groups of Montagnards....All of whom we had varying relationships with.
        We were sometimes so short handed that we had Montagnard loaders...To include ammo handlers on the ammo trucks....In combat.
        One of our company commanders, John DelViggio was even referred to by local Viet leaders as "Our Warlord". We were also welcomed wherever we went as a source of good, high paying employment and had a little, very pretty Viet lady, named Mai Lin, who served as our local Laison, followed the tanks in her own Lambretta, and later married our motor sergeant. When we set up strong points on road junctions and bridges, we INVARIABLY, attracted a local population of traders.

        Everybody knew that when the tanks, locally known as the "Tigers from Bong Son", were challenged, we would get VERY rough. We were, however, considered the best of two evils, better the tanks than the VC, was the general attitude.

Iraq Reed Judd-Dyer
        Most of the insurgents we dealt with in the Sunni Triangle were not very well-to-do at all. They had been the lower middleclass to upper lower class segment of that society. They had been the sons of oil field mechanics and shop owners and other means of urban subsistence but not wealthy. Many of them lived in "projects" which were built by Saddam to house the poorest of the poor. It would be like going into New York and saying that ALL City, municipality, county, State and Federal employee's as well as many civilian ones that were federal under Saddam, were suddenly unemployed. The first to revolt would be the poorest because they live hand to mouth and have no reserve to live off of. It was the same way in Iraq. Foreigners and Iraqi government agents gave them a means to structure themselves, but not every insurgent that we fought was part of a structured resistance. Remember that every household has at least one AK over there and that clan lines are strong. When I was doing my "hearts and minds" mission I was amazed to find out that Even if a Iraqi meets and really likes me as a person, but one of the MP's that we worked with killed this Iraqi's 3rd cousin, it was appropriate for him to try and kill me since the US Army is viewed as one big "clan". Sometimes this honor was fulfilled by the Iraqi coming out on his porch and blasting a burst of AK over our heads and then going back inside. But sometimes the Families felt obligated to try and really kill a US soldier. I think that this type of fighting is far less common now then when we were there, but the fact that it exists at all means that you should really re-evaluate some of your perceptions on how and what we are fighting over there.

        I just feel that without a ready target for "you did my 3rd cousin wrong" BS violence and a sense of future via meaningful work and change, that most of the Sunni clan violence would in fact dry up. Most of the resentment that we found in the agricultural regions we did patrols in were due to some BS the MP company attached to us were doing (shooting dogs, randomly raiding houses, putting pistols to the heads of women and children to threaten the men, which is a BIG double no-go, deliberately doing doughnuts in farmers field, etc.) and since we were also US Army we were viewed as the same clan, and due to resentment over lost additional income from families that had members that had worked for the country on some level that were now unemployed.

        (RZ: These MPs are seemingly non-professional reservists without a clue. They need to be neutralized and mebbe replaced with local police who have a squad of American infantry as stiffeners.)

         Yes, there was some ideology about us being an occupying force and Christian, but really the resentment boiled down to those two main points. Now the actual terrorists and some of the old Saddam infrastructure lead resistance would continue without those things, but while very violent, they would be far more isolated and easier to react to. I don't remember if it was you that advocated that it was easy to hate someone you hadn't met, but to whomever it was, I met many Iraqi's that stated that they liked me very much as a person, but that they would still try to kill me if the MP's did something to their family, so our western conceptions don't necessarily ring true over there
        Democracy in that country means Clan vote and Clan rights not individual votes and individual rights. They are more secular then any other country in the region and I think the Sunni vs. the Shia is overplayed, but they are still not a "western" society by a long shot. To kill the insurgency we need to meaningfully employ as many young Iraqi's as possible, and separate (though not overtly) the clans into more traditional "western" family sized units as much as possible. Integrated Iraqi units is a big part of it yes. Plus by having the families on protected bases that would really be an incentive, since the terrorists target families. But it also means Police, Oil workers, electricity workers, and anyone vital to the infrastructure. These "Hamlets" could still be hit with indirect, but it would be reasonably easy to reduce their vulnerability to car-bombs and suicide bombers. Plus if you work for the government, you would then be moved into a sterile newly built facility, and all incoming baggage would be checked, meaning that Cops and soldiers and such would be harder for the insurgent to infiltrate. (certainly not impossible, but not as ridiculously common as it is now). I agree with the idea of the joint patrols and not giving up the cities entirely, but right now our focus is the cities and killing insurgents. Neither one contributes to the end game and ties us down unnecessarily. I also think that allowing our remaining "allies" to do as much of the joint patrols and training as possible will help reduce the image of an occupying force, since only us and the British really participated on the "drive to Baghdad". Also if you pulled out to the city exterior, you wouldn't really be abandoning them since you would still be controlling what flowed into them by preventing more weapons and terrorists and allowing more relief, building supplies, contractors etc. to go in. The insurgents are able to fight a "urban insurrection" because we are IN the urban area's. Only killing civilians, when there is no US presence is not productive. What makes killing the citizens in the cities productive now is the ability to say "see, they don't make you any safer, they obviously don't care" but if we are not there at all it kills that argument.

        I also feel that we should pull as many troops as possible out of the cities and put them on MSR's, and borders. Yes we screwed up and did not make destroying the ammo dumps on a priority on the level it deserved because we thought that we would be welcomed with flowers, but that ammo is likely to be used already, or severely degraded in capability. Some of the mortar rounds our post received would go off 6-10 ft away and we did not receive any shrapnel. The increased lethality of the munitions being used against troops now leads me to believe that new hardware is being brought into the country. If you stop the movement this can reduce this. Another thing that keeps these guys fighting is this family and clan loyalty over personal belief. If you relocate the City/ oil/ electricity/ cops/ soldiers into protected "hamlets" in American type family units you could start divorce them from this clan loyalty. If we want them to become a western style democracy, we need to help them become "westernized". Would also make security easier. Another plus of not being tied down in the cities is, that if the insurgents try to use indirect fire on us, we are more likely to be able to respond in kind, with far more deadly effects.
        Most of the former overlords types are in Syria, where they will continue to fight us and integrate into Syrian politics. With the comedy of errors already committed and our failure to develop a TRUE plan with a realistic end-goal I have a feeling that we will be in that country long enough to be involved in another conflict with either Syria or Iran.

        In Arab culture it is polite to say what the other person wants to hear. I had a CO who thought that becouse a lot of the locals would invite him for tea that he was well liked. When my squad took over the poorly concieved "hearts and minds" mission we found out that it was an extreme insult to not be invited for tea. I had tea with a Baath party member (small fry) that happily informed us, as we drank his tea with too much sugar, that he would be killing Americans if we had not taken away his rifles. Do not read too much into what Iraqi pols say or what your Officer friends serving in the region have told you about local feedback. Local culture combined with an extreme fear of military officers (from the Iraqi Army) make all such flowery comments extremly suspect. It is polite to say what others want to hear. Americans want very badly to hear that "foreign" terrorists are doing all the fighting. Take a look at how many of the non-suicide attacks have been connected to rank and file Iraqis. Keep this in mind.

        RZ: I suggested to Col Macgregor that we get our troops into the field and also start patrolling the borders between Syrian and Iran. He said that would have worked if implimented early on....Then he said that according to his information 80+% of the troops we have over there spend 90% of their time in the huge bases we have built....here we go again!

By the Author of the Scrapboard :

Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence

Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.

Crash Combat Second Edition with additional content.
Epub edition Second Edition with additional content.

Crash Combat Third Edition
Epub edition Third Edition.
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