Monday, July 25, 2005

Let Them Participate In Their Own Liberation

Responding to this piece from Rich Lowry, John Derbyshire wrote

“Talk up the Iraqi army all you like, and I honestly hope you're right; but all these upbeat reports read exactly like the ones we used to get about ARVN 40 years ago. The phrase "five o'clock follies" jog any memories? Ah well.”

Of all the Iraq-Vietnam analogy this is the worst. The misconception concerning the ARVN is common – on both sides of the political divide. This is historically inaccurate. The misconception has a very small grain to truth. The ARVN during the early period performed horribly. But after a period of better training, as well as combat experience, they improved significantly and were for the rest of the war at par with their enemies. If one was to ask a US veteran about the experience which led him to view the ARVN negatively; his answer is that he heard it from someone else, who probably heard it from someone else. It is a self perpetuating myth base on the early period and ceased being true a long time ago.

Those who personal witnessed the ARVN have a different opinion. George W. Smith, who was a captain attached to the 1st ARVN Division during the Tet Offensive of 1968 wrote “The Siege at Hue.” Smith credited the Reconnaissance Company and the 1st ARVN Division Headquarter for their decisiveness on the first day. The Reconnaissance Company (Hac Bao) commander Tran Ngoc Hue, who was home with his family, raced through the street of Hue on bicycle, avoiding the enemies, to get to his unit. His arrival proved decisive.

Taking charge, Hue grabbed one of then new U.S. light antitank assault weapons (LAAWs) his unit had received and sent a volley into a dozen enemy soldiers on the other side of the airfield. The rest of the Hac Bao platoon opened up with machine gun and M16 fire. Also firing at the enemy was a platoon from the ARVN 1st Ordnance Company, which was manning an ammunitions and weapons storage depot near the airfield.

The unexpected heavy volley stopped the NVA attack cold and further disoriented the NVA troops. The enemy then tried a flanking movement to the right to skirt the fire coming from the ordnance compound and ran straight into the heart of the Hac Bao platoon. Hue’s troops caught the enemy crossing the runway and inflicted heavy casualties. The action forced the 800th Battalion to veer to the south and held up the 802nd, which was trying to push its way toward the ARVN 1st Division HQ along the northwestern wall. Later, the Hac Bao and ordnance units were withdrawn into the division headquarters just in time to stave off a second attempt to overrun the compound.

The enemies never captured that part of the city. Retired Colonel G.H. Turley account of the ARVN in “The Easter Offensive” was equally positive. He recounted a story of a Vietnamese Marine, sergeant Luom who heroically stopped a column of NVA tanks. Sergeant Luom died three weeks later. According to Captain Ripley, this is the conversation between him and Major Binh, a Vietnamese Marine. Major Binh said:

Captain Ripley, if you please. I am going to send a message on my command net and I want you to send it to your advisor net so there will be no possible 0pportunity for misunderstanding.

Message follows:

It is rumored that Dong Ha has fallen. There are Vietnamese Marines in Dong Ha. My orders are to hold the enemy in Dong Ha. We will fight in Dong Ha. We will die in Dong Ha. We will not leave. As long as one Marine draws a breath of life, Dong Ha will belong to us.

Major Binh kept his words. Dong Ha held.

John Plaster in “SOG: a Photo History of the Secret War” devotes considerable ink to the heroism of South Vietnamese helicopter pilots attached to the SOG. It is not easy to win praise from the Green Berets. Flamboyant characters with flamboyant nicknames such as “Mustachio” and “Cowboy” won the admiration of the US Special Force. According to Plaster, they were “the two great pilots ever to fly an H-34 Kingbee.”
Mustachio few on of the most remarkable chopper rescues in history in 1966. An RT had been hit at night and managed to slip away; but burden with several wounded, it seem certain the enemy would catch the team members before daylight. U.S. Hueys could’t fly in darkness, and neither were the Vietnamese H-34s supposed to, but Mustachio said he would give it a try. Since this is all but suicidal, he went alone, taking up his Kingbee without a co-pilot and doorgunner. Despite groundfire and complete darkness Mustachio found the team and got members out alive. “How he ever did it, I don’t know,” Scotty Crerar said. “It came out with 88 holes in it and the pilot’s thumb shot off. The aircraft never few again, but it got the team out.”
Mustachio real name is Nguyen Van Hoang. He later died in another SOG mission. Not to be outdone by Mustachio. Cowboy (who real name is not known) flew another equally daring mission rescuing another SOG team under fire.
Ordering his co-pilot and door to stay at Khe Sanh and bringing on the insistent Skip Minnicks, Cowboy descended again into that narrow hole and hovered while Minnick leaped off. An AK slug passed completely through Cowboy’s neck, but somehow he flew the Kingbee with one hand and slowed the bleeding with other hand while Minnick dragged the wounded Brown aboard, and off they went. Cowboy’s bravery astounded Billy Waugh, who thought, “he should get the Medal of Honor.”
A parallel can be drawn between the ARVN and the Iraqi Army. The experience of the former can be applied to the latter. A personal anecdote will illuminate the issue of the Iraqi Army. The 206th Iraqi National Guard operates in the same Area of Operation as my unit, the 30th Brigade Combat Team. Iraqi National Guard soldier receive on average 2 weeks of training. The US 113th Field Artillery Battalion, organic to the 30th BCT, was assigned as the sister unit to the 206th ING to train, equip, and mentor them. Of the three tasks, the 113th FA accomplished only one, equipping. The 113th FA, being a conventional unit, did not know what to do with the ING. They were busy with their own operation, so little or no training took place. They did not trust the competency of the 206th ING, so they did not operate jointly with them, hence no mentoring. So the 206th remained an ill-trained inexperience unit. The moral of the Iraqi soldiers were low because they had no confidence in themselves. Being treated as a liability by the US ally did not help either.

This changed when a Special Force team arrived. Instead of looking at the 206th ING as a liability, the SF saw them as a potential asset and took upon themselves to train and mentor them. The training included both individual training as well as unit training. Within a few months, the 206th ING became a different unit, full of confident. The SF started to include the 206th ING in their operation, starting with easy operations and slowly increase the level of complexity of each operation. With each success, their confidence and pride went up. Toward the end of my deployment, the 206th ING was at par with any American unit. They operated independently and with great success, scoring many victories against insurgents. Having worked with the 206th ING and seen them in action, I can say that I will go to war with them, any day of the week. It was an honor working with them.

Despite having only a handful of men, the SF team did what an entire US battalion could not do – turn an under-performed Iraqi unit into a professional unit. This is because the US Special Force has a different attitude – they believe in the Iraqis. To win the war in Iraq, we need the same attitude. We need to believe in the Iraqis – that they can win this war. As illustrated that any Iraqis unit can perform the task, as long as there are proper training and confidence building measure. Instead of discounting the Iraqis, we should pay closer attention to their training. Reporting that units are ready for combat when they are not is a disservice to our war effort.

John Derbyshire on another post wrote:
I've made my opinion about our proper war-fighting strategy very clear, here for example. I want the US armed forces to kill every jihadi they can find, anywhere they can find them, and not to lose any sleep over collateral casualties or summary executions. What I am against is illusions that Arabs can be persuaded to do this work for us. I don't believe they can. If we've got a war to fight, let's fight it, the way we fought all the wars we were victorious in. Let's not kid ourselves that we can slip away from the fight, leaving it to others. What's happening to us? We hire illegal immigrants to mow our lawns; we hire Iraqi peasants to fight our wars. If there's a job to be done, let's do it ourselves -- as we once could!
This is the wrong attitude – with deadly consequence. We cannot fight evil everywhere, not by ourselves. We need allies; and I am not talking about the like France. I am talking about the oppressed themselves. We must allow them to participate in their own liberation. This is their war as much as it is our. We need multiply the force by enlisting the help of all who are willing to fight. To win the war against the like of Al-Zarqawi, their victims must rise against them. But like all former victims, they only do so if they are confident in the own ability and overcome their fear.

We need to realize that Iraqis and Afghans are not auxiliaries of the Global War on Terrorism. They are leading actors – the main protagonist. The sooner they take on the leading role, the sooner we are to victory.


Blogger VietPundit said...

Great post. Thank you. I linked to it here.

11:02 AM  
Blogger MP Martin said...

Do not forget the motto of the 5th Special Forces Group: "De Opresso Liber", to free the oppressed. It has been their mission time and again to train the soldiers of foreign nations to effectively fight warlords and dictators.

12:11 PM  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

Minh-Duc, the more I read you the smarter, more realistic and more clued-in I think you are.

I believe you are absolutely correct. The people who are on the ground watching what these people do are the ones who really want a piece of 'em.

We must, we simply must, make common cause with these people. The great mass of them don't like the terrorists.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Hanba'al said...

The fighting capability of ARVN was really bad from 1964 to 1967 and it was caused by wholesale termination of capable officers who were either not polical trustworthy or loyal to President Diem. During this period, after the coup d'etat concocted by ARVN top generals with direct authorization by John F. Kennedy's administration, the whole infrastructure of SVN government and military leadership was turning upside down, moral was so low to the point that the VC could walk in without a fight. American made a critical mistake by overthrowing Diem's government and had to hold the fort themselves for years with almost no support from ARVN with a few exceptions of units have been trained in by American (VNAF & paratroopers mostly), hence the discourage of American soldiers when they thought it was a walk in the park and dim view of ARVN's fighting capability. My friend, a US Marine captain told me the same stroy about ARVN fighting capability latety and btw, he was in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967.

When American finally realized that they were fighting the war by themselves, and getting deeper and deeper every days, the Vietnamization plan is in place so they can withdraw from Vietnam with a face saving. During the period of 1967 to 1970, major battles was fought by ARVN and we either beat the craps out of the VC or hold them at bay, especially during the Tet Offensive of 1968 and the Summer Offensive of 1970, despite we were always behind the VC in term of weapondry supplied to us by our friend (for example in 1968, we shoot out WW2 M1 against the VC's AK47 and in 1970, we tried to blow T54 with WW2 bazooka, M72 came much later and once we got that weapon, we recovered all lost in a blink). This is the exact question I have asked my friend if the moral level of ARVN was so low then why we could hold the VC at bay with minimum support from American from 1968 to 1972. By the blank look on his face, I could see he got my point real quick.

After the peace treaty forced on us by America in 1972, the total financial aid to SVN dropped from the high peak of something around 5B to 500M with an army very much larger than the ARVN number in pre 1963 period with the same amount of financial aid, while the enemy still had a full financial support by the Soviet Union, Red China and Eastern bloc. This financial aid is conditioned to minimum military aid and I forgot the name of the Senator who sponsored the bill, (could be Fullbright). I could see the writting was on the wall today, but I was young and naive then. America destroyed ARVN's moral and SVN government infrastructues in 1963 through the coup d'etat and later destroyed us one more time after 1972 peace treaty.

The myth of ARVN coward is nothing but a myth perpetrated by American trying to cover their guilt, hence the cadence about Vo Nguyen Giap overblown talent and leadership, with the willing of the victor to sing the same song.

There you have a very brief of Vietnam history through an eye witness (no, I don't work for the fake but accurate company), with documents available through Google and especially from this lady, Ellen J Hammer about the early period of Vietnam War. Just for a disclosure, I am one of the young soldier of this period and my family has this insight of this war since all of my older brothers were in ARVN and my oldest brother is Gen. Ngo Quang Truong's classmate. That tells you my family is in this war since 1955 to 1975.

10:03 PM  
Blogger Cutler said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your post, both its retelling of ARVN history and its conclusions for Iraq.

If you are interested I linked back your post here giving my own impressions of the ARVN and the end of the war.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Frank said...

Right on Minh! I used to believe in the old myth's about ARVN. But when I ready several books by American Vet's, my opinion changed. I whole heartedly agree with you analysis on both Vietnam and Iraq.

I think few American's realize that success in Iraq is a way for us to atone for some our sins of the Vietnam war. The main sin is abandoning an ally before the war was won. I don't want to see that repeated.

10:16 AM  
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