Academic journal article Military Review

No Simple Solution: Regional Force Operations in Hau Nghia, Vietnam

Academic journal article Military Review

No Simple Solution: Regional Force Operations in Hau Nghia, Vietnam

Article excerpt

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THE USE OF indigenous forces in U.S. military operations is an important topic to military professionals. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have reemphasized the importance of developing the security capacity of host states. This article examines territorial forces in the Vietnam War to provide insight for officers in the field today who are attempting to accomplish similar missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hau Nghia was only one of the 44 provinces in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Its history was not typical of what U.S. commanders experienced in Vietnam, but Hau Nghia's narrative captures many of the triumphs and disappointments of the use and misuse of territorial forces. The struggle in the province was a war unto itself. In this microcosm, the members of U.S. Advisory Team 43 lived, fought, and died while advising and supporting South Vietnamese forces. The problems that plagued the advisory team and South Vietnamese forces seem strikingly familiar to those following the work of U.S. forces working alongside Iraqi and Afghan troops. The difficulty of instilling discipline, developing competent leaders, and providing the resources to accomplish the mission remain formidable challenges to American officers charged with establishing competent and capable institutions at the local level in these insurgent conflicts.

The Regional Forces in Hau Nghia were not successful because their capabilities required the presence of larger U.S. and Vietnamese forces to eliminate enemy threats beyond their engagement capabilities. Once U.S. forces departed, there were no forces capable of filling the vacuum. The United States had given primacy to establishing immediate security by using U.S. forces over training and developing Vietnamese Regional Forces. Consequently, the Regional Forces never developed into a force capable of providing security in the province without U.S. forces in support, and the physical security of the province decreased, along with the possibility of reestablishing the legitimacy of the government. The U.S. focus on short-term solutions to security, while neglecting preparations for their eventual withdrawal, meant that success was improbable, even before the impact of troop withdrawals rendered the flaws of the American strategy clear. The U.S. military's focus on operations and the elimination of enemy units reduced resources and shifted emphasis from the decisive objective--the establishment of a legitimate South Vietnamese government.

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The United States and Vietnam: 1965-1967

The arrival of U.S. combat troops to South Vietnam in 1965 signaled a shift from the limited advisory effort initiated under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. U.S forces under the command of General William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), focused on the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) as it initiated attacks into South Vietnam in order to overthrow the South Vietnamese government (GVN). By 1966, U.S. forces had prevented the collapse of the GVN, and Westmoreland continued to implement his strategy which aimed to pacify South Vietnam in three successive phases.

The first phase consisted of securing bases from which to conduct operations and secure South Vietnam. The second phase focused on targeting and eliminating enemy base camps and sanctuaries to prevent communist forces from attacking the South Vietnamese population. The third and final stage directed U.S. military forces against the remaining communist forces to either eliminate them or drive them out of the provinces. Westmoreland stated that pacification operations and the strengthening and development of South Vietnamese military forces, including territorial forces, had "to be pursued throughout all three phases." (1)

Without the ability to target the logistical base of the NVA and the Viet Cong insurgents in North Vietnam, MACV was limited to defeating enemy forces as they appeared in force in South Vietnam. …

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