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Combined Action Program

The Vietnam War was in part a war against an insurgency sustained by the resources drawn from the South Vietnamese peasant. The Combined Action Program [CAP] offered a viable alternative to the strategy taken in Vietnam, challenging the sustaining infrastructure of the guerrilla, while providing security for the largely agrarian populace.

Taking a lesson from Mao Tse-tung's insurgent rise to power in an agrarian setting, Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap initially implemented a guerrilla-based strategy to liberateand unify Vietnam. Placing heavy reliance on the populace of South Vietnam to provide both men and food for the NVA and VC, the village represented a center of gravity for the Communist movement.

Incapable of viewing Vietnam as anything but a conventional battleground, General William C. Westmoreland applied the unsuccessful strategy of "search and destroy," and wholly ignored the insurgent underpinnings of his enemy and their grip on the populace.

Possessing a belief that the war was among the people, the Marines spawned combined action, that of combining a Marine rifle squad with a platoon of South Vietnamese Popular Forces who cohabitated together within a particular village. Never growing beyond 2,500 men and 114 platoons, the program achieved unsurpassed success towards providing security for the populace, threatening the guerrilla infrastructure, empowering the local and regional leaders to govern, and killing the enemy. Additionally, all attempts by senior Marine leaders to convince General Westmoreland of the CAP's validity as a fitting strategy for all ground forces failed to overcome his conventional inclination towards the nature of the war.

The strategy contained three elements: separating the guerrillas from the people through combined action, fighting the guerrillas as guerrillas, and limited pursuit of large NVA units with "fix and destroy" forces. Accepting that the war was among the people, this alternative strategy strives to achieve first pacification through combined action, then destruction of enemy forces.

The application of American military power in Vietnam failed to acknowledge the critical vulnerabilities inherent to an indigenous guerrilla force. Through the CAP, the Marines provided a model that if taken throughout South Vietnam could have preserved its sovereignty. Given the American inclination to play down the volatility of small scale wars andin particular guerrilla affairs, the Marines' combined action experiences in Vietnam present a viable alternative to unconventional utilization of conventional forces for the future.



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