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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part I

Setting the Stage

Chapter 2
The US Army's Historical Legacy of Military Operations Other Than War and the Planning for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM


Historical Antecedents

The US military’s experience in conflicts other than conventional warfare essentially began as the young nation started pushing its frontier to the West in the late 18th century. For most of the 19th century, the Army conducted a variety of operations along the frontiers, most involving the Native American people living in those areas. In the 20th century, the US military’s focus changed as American foreign policy became more interested in asserting power outside of the United States. For the US Navy and Marine Corps, this meant a sudden upsurge in stability and support operations in the Caribbean basin. Perhaps the best example of this type of mission was the Navy and Marine Corps campaign to rebuild and democratize the nation of Haiti that began in 1915 and continued for the next 18 years.

The US Army’s most formative experience with MOOTW in this period came not in Latin America but in the Pacific Rim. In 1898 the United States declared war on Spain and quickly mounted operations against Spanish colonial holdings in the Caribbean and the Philippines. Conventional operations on land and sea concluded rather quickly, leaving the Army as victors and occupiers in Cuba and the Philippines. By early 1899 Army units found themselves fighting an insurgency led by Filipino nationalist Emilio Aguinaldo who sought to bring independence to his country.

For the next 13 years, the Army conducted a variety of operations to counter a Filipino enemy that had a variety of faces. To defeat these insurgencies and stabilize the Philippines, the US Army relied on widely dispersed company-size units that pursued a complementary two-pronged approach featuring conciliation and coercion. US authorities hoped conciliatory policies would attract Filipinos away from armed opposition by using a combination of civic action and humanitarian aid programs that included the establishment of democratic institutions, the construction of schools and roads, and the introduction of vaccinations and other public health programs.6 To assist in securing these improvements, the Army organized and trained a Filipino Constabulary and other native auxiliaries.

The second approach, coercion, promised punishment for those Filipinos who served in or supported the insurgency. Major General Arthur MacArthur provided the foundation for this policy in 1900 when, as military governor of the Philippines, he declared martial law over the islands and issued General Orders 100, first used in the United States during the Civil War, stating “Combatants not in uniform would be treated like ‘highway robbers or pirates’ and, along with civilians who aided them, they could be subject to the death penalty.”7 Following this approach, American Soldiers fought the insurgents and their sympathizers by imposing fines, destroying or relocating villages, and detaining those they suspected were part of the armed opposition.8

By 1913, the year most American Soldiers left the island of Mindanao, the US Army had accumulated a great deal of experience conducting stability and support operations in the Philippines. Officers published accounts of the war in professional journals and some of the tactical lessons from the campaign appeared in textbooks used at military schools.9 Nevertheless, most of what American Soldiers learned about conducting stability and support operations in the Philippines remained in the memory of veterans, and this collective knowledge continued to shape how the Army approached similar operations for the next two decades.10

Between 1917 and 1945 the preparation for and waging of conventional warfare dominated the history of the American Army. During this period, the US Marine Corps was responsible for most of the stability and support operations required by US foreign policy, while the Army concentrated on defeating the conventional threats posed by Germany and Japan. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, however, American Soldiers once again found themselves conducting stability and support operations in those countries they had occupied. The US Government had done a great deal of planning for the occupation of Germany, Japan, and other liberated territories. For example, Army officers had begun work on Operation ECLIPSE—the plan for the stabilization and reconstruction of Germany—in 1943, 2 years before the Nazi surrender. Similar planning took place for the eventual occupation of Japan as well. In addition to creating plans, the US Army established the School of Military Government in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1942, where Soldiers attended courses on the administrative and logistics challenges posed by the tasks of peace enforcement, stabilization, and reconstruction.11 Other courses in this period trained Army officers in foreign languages and cultural studies as preparation for their future roles as civil affairs (CA) officers in postwar Germany and Japan.12 The US Government took the further step of bringing civilian experts in governance, economics, and other fields into the planning process and sent some of them to Japan and Germany to assist in governing and rebuilding projects focused on establishing peaceful democratic nations after their defeat.

In 1945, when it came time to occupy Germany and Japan, the US Army enjoyed the advantages of both this preparatory work and the lessons Soldiers had learned in conducting stability and support operations in North Africa, Italy, and other territories liberated before the surrender of the Axis powers. This mixture of planning and experience contributed greatly to the very successful occupations that stabilized and began reconstruction in Germany and Japan. Even so, the success of the occupations also required time and resources. Between 1945 and 1951 hundreds of thousands of Soldiers performed the myriad duties integral to the stabilization and rebuilding of both countries. These operations took place inside nations and among populations that had been severely hurt by years of war and had surrendered unconditionally to the Allies as well as in the context of an unprecedented US commitment to rebuild the economies and political structures of its former enemies.

In the debate that surrounded the planning and execution of OIF, some observers and policy makers proposed the American occupations of Japan and Germany after World War II as models for Coalition postinvasion operations in Iraq.13 However, postwar conditions in each of these countries were unique and any effort to employ these occupations as historical analogies should be made with caution. As previously noted, the American operations in both Germany and Japan demanded a great amount of manpower, money, and time, even though the population in neither country mounted an armed opposition to US operations. For example, the occupation force for Japan, a country slightly smaller than Iraq, initially numbered more than 400,000 Soldiers.14 Even though the number of troops would decrease as Japan became more stable, the US Army maintained at least 150,000 Soldiers in the country until 1951.15 Also critical to the understanding of American success in Japan is the factor of culture. Japanese society was largely homogeneous, devoid of any serious ethnic or sectarian divisions. Once the Japanese emperor and his government surrendered unconditionally to Allied forces, this largely unified society submitted obediently to the occupation.16 Despite the advantages of manpower, money, and culture, the American occupation of Japan was neither easy nor quick.

The advent of the Cold War forced new requirements on the US Army. American Soldiers struggled to adapt to the changes posed by nuclear weapons and their implications for conventional warfare. The nature of the conflict between the West and the Communist bloc also created situations in which the US military had to project power and conduct stability and support operations. The Army, in particular, conducted foreign internal defense operations in South Korea between 1948 and 1950, peacekeeping in the Dominican Republic in 1965, and civic assistance and foreign internal defense in El Salvador and Honduras in the 1980s, to name just a few of these operations.

The campaign in Vietnam dwarfed all of these conflicts and still stands out as the Army’s most formative experience during the Cold War. From 1955 to 1973 American Soldiers in South Vietnam conducted security assistance, counterinsurgency, civic assistance, and reconstruction operations. In 1965 the US Army added conventional combat operations to its responsibilities and increased the tempo and number of these operations over the next 4 years as more American units flowed into South Vietnam. Nevertheless, throughout the two decades of American involvement in Vietnam, US Soldiers continued to conduct missions beyond conventional combat that focused on stabilizing South Vietnamese social and political structures, rebuilding infrastructure, and preparing the South Vietnamese Armed Forces to defend against the threat posed by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. While this brief discussion of American stability and support operations cannot fully capture the size and complexity of the operations in Vietnam, it is important to summarize their general evolution and offer some detail concerning the extent to which American Soldiers were involved in missions other than conventional warfighting.

US military involvement in Vietnam began in 1955 as the French Army withdrew its forces after suffering a humiliating defeat to the Communist Vietminh forces. After the subsequent peace agreement divided Vietnam into a northern Communist state and a nominally democratic republic in the south, the US Army began conducting security assistance operations in South Vietnam. For the first 5 years, these operations focused on providing materiel support and technical advisory assistance to the new South Vietnamese Army (ARVN). Nevertheless, by 1961 as the threat from the domestic insurgents grew, American efforts shifted to the mission of foreign internal defense, which meant assisting the ARVN in training its units for conventional and counterinsurgency operations and providing advice to ARVN commanders during tactical operations. By 1965 the US military headquarters in the country, known as Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), included over 6,000 Army officers and enlisted Soldiers who served as advisors to the ARVN or in American units that supported the advisory effort.17 Most of these men assisted conventional ARVN units in their conflict with the insurgent Viet Cong enemy. The MACV also included US Army Special Forces Soldiers who used their specialized training in counterinsurgency warfare to build and train irregular units in South Vietnam’s remote areas, especially along its border with Laos.18

Through the advisory program, some American Soldiers became involved in civic assistance and reconstruction programs and other aspects of the counterinsurgency campaign. Additional US Government organizations such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Central Intelligence Agency, and the US Information Agency were responsible for many elements of the larger effort to suppress the insurgency, stabilize the Vietnamese countryside, and build support for the South Vietnamese Government by improving the country’s infrastructure. This decentralized approach led to problems, and by 1967 it was clear to the US Army and American officials in Vietnam that the efforts to pacify the countryside and create popular support for the South Vietnamese political structure were failing.

To bring unity of effort to the campaign, MACV worked with other US agencies to create the Civil Operations and Rural Development Support (CORDS) program. This new entity served as the coordinating body that linked and deconflicted the actions of the military forces with the various agencies involved in pacification and reconstruction. Because of its interagency nature, the CORDS program consisted of both civilian and military personnel. For the US Army, the new program meant increasing the number of advisors at the district and provincial levels of government. By 1970 approximately 8,000 American Soldiers served as part of CORDS.19 These men made up small advisory teams that concentrated on the training of regional and local militia units and advising these units in operations against insurgents.

Most US Army advisors in CORDS became involved to some degree in the civic assistance and reconstruction aspects of the campaign as well. MACV and other US agencies designed CORDS so that small groups of US officials—both civilian and military—worked with the South Vietnamese throughout the country, setting up programs designed to win Vietnamese peasants over to the South Vietnamese Government’s cause, and to destroy rural support for Communist forces.20 Among other things, this program entailed the establishment of a national police force and the construction of a wide variety of projects such as schools, clinics and hospitals, highways, and farming cooperatives. To begin and sustain these initiatives, CORDS recruited and sent thousands of agricultural experts, doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, intelligence agents, and civilian advisors to the rural areas of South Vietnam.21

As the Nixon administration’s policy of Vietnamization slowly gathered speed in 1970 and 1971, US Army stability and support operations in Vietnam subsided. The number of advisors in ARVN tactical units and the CORDS program rapidly decreased. By 1972 MACV had shifted the small advisory effort to assisting the ARVN and the South Vietnamese Government with technical and logistical matters.22 In many ways, US stability and support operations in Vietnam had come full circle, ending where they had begun in 1955 as a series of programs designed to improve South Vietnam’s defense infrastructure.

Of course, much of the optimism that had accompanied early US involvement in Vietnam had dissipated by 1972. Even so, the conflict in Southeast Asia was not completely forgotten. During and after the Vietnam war, the Army rigorously examined its performance and its role within the broader context of American foreign policy. Army studies concluded after the war that many of its initial plans and assumptions required change and application of new concepts. The Army did put into practice many new ideas during the Vietnam war and, arguably, gained some measure of success. For example, the precepts of unified military and civilian effort and command, careful attention to cultural issues, the need for conventional military missions and stability and support operations to complement one another, and the close cooperation with the host-nation government became guiding principles during the conflict. The length and changing nature of the war had given the Army (and other US Government agencies) time to learn and put into practice those lessons.

While the US Army had shown a growing competence in its conduct of a variety of stability and support operations, the ultimate American defeat in Vietnam combined with a lack of domestic support for the war led many American Soldiers to reassess the Army’s role in conflicts like the Vietnam war. Some Army leaders would conclude after the war that the Army needed to reassert its primary role of conventional warfighting. As a later section of this chapter will illustrate, this change in attitude would have a profound effect on Army doctrine, education, and training.

Chapter 2. The US Army’s Historical Legacy of Military Operations Other Than War and the Planning for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM

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