Friday, June 24, 2011

La Rue Sans Joie

Still enjoying the dust, heat, and boredom of White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico but I have managed to escape for a couple of days for a bit of rest and refit. One benefit of being observer/controller has been a lot of down time (hence the boredom) in which to hammer through my reading list. I managed to finish Pacification in Algeria and have nearly completed the one of the more depressing books I have ever read, Street Without Joy.

Street Without Joy is an account of France's military operations in Indochina, specifically northern Vietnam, during the late 1940's-early 50's. The author is a French student, Bernard Fall, who studied in both Europe and the United States and traveled to Indochina multiple times in the 50's and 60's. Due to his French citizenship he was allowed to accompany French troops on patrols and into Viet-Minh territory. The book is an excellent history of the major events from an outsiders (non-military) point of view. It also has some pretty good quotes, "We need reinforcements, not citations!" and a short but intriguing chapter on the fall of Laos (the French and U.S. did the right thing by bringing in the local tribes to fight the Laotian communists, but used the wrong tribes).

"Here kitty, kitty, kitty..." ("Où êtes-vous chaton, chaton, chaton...")

Looking back, I should have read "Street Without Joy" before I read "Pacification in Algeria" primarily because France's debacle in Vietnam came before the French "oh damn, we won in Algeria but ended up losing anyway" situation, but also due to the depressing nature of "Street Without Joy".

The French attempted to deal with the Viet-Minh in the same military fashion as the Allies dealth with the Germans: fire and maneuver, trap your enemy and destroy him in the open, etc. This of course did not work and time and time again the French sent regiment after regiment into communist held territory attempting to bring the Viet-Minh into a European style fight only to see those regiments mauled, chewed up, and spit out. Operations culminated in the battle at Dien Bien Phu as well as the destruction of Groupement Mobile No. 100 in the battle of Mang Yang Pass.

The interesting thing that I find, however, is not so much France's futile attempts to bring the Viet-Minh to battle, but their use of fortified strongpoints throughout the country, often manned by only a dozen or so soldiers, and often placed in the vicinity of villages. This is one of the key tenements of counterinsurgency operations: small groups of soldiers in among the population to remove the ocean (population) from the fish (insurgents) thus depriving the insurgents of the supplies, reinforcements, information, hiding spots, etc, necessary to fight an insurgency.

Which brings me to an interesting conclusion that I've been rolling around in my head for the past several months. The French established these outposts and they did not have the effect they were supposed to have (preventing Viet-Minh infilitration into "rear" areas). It can be argued that these outposts/strongpoints were placed poorly for counterinsurgency (which they were) and instead of focusing on population centers, were instead placed on strategic points (key terrain in military speak). While the "key terrain" chosen for these defensive outposts would have made sense in a conventional fight, they were useless in a counter insurgency and while they occasionally were near population centers, the soldiers in those outposts did not interact with the population often other than to flirt with the local girls or have their laundry washed. The Viet-Minh were thus able to attack and wipe out these posts one by one with overwhelming force thus forcing the French to slowly withdrawn into a tighter and tighter circle around Hanoi and attempt useless "penetration" operations into communist territory.

So, what the hell am I getting on about?

Any conflict in Vietnam, due to the tactics used by the Viet-Minh...later to become the North Vietnamese Army, and the Viet Cong, would be likely unwinable for intervening powers and the South Vietnamese.

Let's pretend for a moment that the United States actually paid attention to what happened to the French from 1946-1954 as well as took the lessons learned by the British in Malaysia from 1948-60 to heart. In this scenario the United States does not attempt to fight Vietnam like it fought Korea and WWII but instead utilizes proper counter insurgency tactics and techniques; or essentially what the Marines did with their Combined Action Program. If done properly, the Viet Cong would have been cut off from the population and would have eventually been eliminated.

Problem is there were still close to 300,000 NVA regulars running around causing problems. All those CAPs could have been easily overwhelmed by NVA forces even with battalion or brigade level quick reaction forces and air force close air support. I realize that American forces defeated the NVA in virtually every conventional type battle fought, however, the NVA's ability to withdraw back into the jungle and highlands prior to any large engagement would have negated any American attempt to destroy those NVA units responsible for attacking the CAPs, thus allowing for attacks in other areas or future operations against CAPs that were replaced.

The only solution that I can see would have been to have several highly mobile, brigade size, mobile reaction forces that could respond to intelligence of a gathering and consolidation of NVA forces preparing for an operation. The NVA would likely flee and not commit to battle, but it would temporarily remove pressure on the threatened CAPs as well as the battalions in the area and would disrupt the NVA. Combine that with assistance from local tribes such as the Hmong and Montagnard and accurate intelligence on NVA movements could be acquired allowing for interdiction and destruction of those NVA regiments.

Could these tactics have brought victory in Vietnam? The pessimist in me thinks not. The optimist says maybe. But the realist says "this ended over 30 years ago and time machines don't exist so who cares?"

Sunday, June 19, 2011

More assassination updates...

If you recall back in late May I wrote a post about the assassination the director of Iraq's Questioning and Justice Commission. The analyst in me determined that it was likely conducted by the Baathist organization JRTN. There was a lot of good evidence pointing in this direction as I mentioned in that post.

Turns out I might be wrong. According to the Iraqi news agency Aswat al Iraq, which took the information from the AP, the Islamic State of Iraq (the twin brother of Al Qaida in Iraq) has taken credit for the attack.

ISI has just as much to gain by this assassination but I'm a bit surprised it was ISI that conducted the hit. Too be perfectly honest, they may just be taking credit for the attack but may not have actually carried it out.

But as I've mentioned, I've been wrong before and I'm quite certain I'll be wrong in the future.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Possibly short, possibly long hiatus

As I mentioned back in May, I'm currently TDY to FT Bliss, Texas as an observer/controller until mid July. While I was fully able and willing to post during our train up period when I had lots of wasted free time, my ability to update is extremely limited now that I am actually spending most of my time in the field.

When I'm not in the field (on weekends), and manage to escape El Paso to go back to Sierra Vista (that's not really escaping anything is it), I'm finding myself being way too enthralled with this to keep up on the blog.

So there you have it. A short break (or long, depending on your definition and sense of time) in which there likely may not be any posts.

I think you all will survive.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Another regime falls?

What in the world is happening in Yemen? I turn my back for a short time and it appears that all hell has broken loose.

On Monday it became apparent that Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula militants took over the town of Zinjibar, a provincial capital in Yemen. The militants most likely...hell most definately...had the help of tribes in the region who are opposed to the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The next day a truce between tribal groups and pro-Saleh forces broke down and fighting around the capital of Sanaa broke out. It appears as if a civil war may be breaking out.

Within days the presidential compound was hit with indirect fire which caused injuries to President Saleh as well as the Prime Minister and several others. President Saleh apparently suffered only minor injuries and gave an audio address on Friday night.

However, events took a twist on Saturday when President Saleh left Yemen to go to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. People in Yemen are apparently celebrating seeing this move as Saleh reliquishing power and are claiming the regime has fallen.

I find it highly unlikely that Mr. Saleh will be able to hold on to power after leaving the country for Saudi Arabia. I also find it highly unlikely that any transition or seizure of power by another organization will be quick or peaceful. AQAP has gained substantial influence in Yemen and a civil war only serves their interests.

This is going to get ugly, quick.