To what extent to coalition counter-insurgent

To what extent to coalition counter-insurgent operations in Iraq from 2003-2006 show the fact that the Americans have forgotten the lessons they learnt so distressingly in Vietnam?

“War has changed everlastingly. The terminal of the Cold War and the prostration of communism have wholly altered the strategic playing field. The West’s common enemy has gone, weakening and stoping traditional confederations and go forthing a baffled universe image. The United States straddles the Earth, the most powerful state of all time seen, with an array of arms and an economic verve that produces a watercourse of invention no state can come near to processing. And yet that amazing power has few anchors.” [ 1 ]

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It is hard non to see the similarities between Iraq and Vietnam in political every bit good as military footings. On both occasions the United States went to war without one-sided international consent contending for obscure and entirely unpopular grounds. Furthermore, on both occasions the enemy was considered to be a comparatively weak opposition both in footings of engineering and forces, yet in both wars the Americans have experienced an unexpected degree of counter?insurgency. In add-on, Vietnam and Iraq have both served to underline the limitless value of cognition of terrain as the geographic location of both struggles has doubtless affected the length of service of the combat. However, one must non go excessively concerned with happening analogues between Vietnam and Iraq merely because both are aglow, good documented illustrations of aggressive American foreign policy aims ; therefore, the differences every bit good as the similarities must be underscored so as to foreground the alone nature of the modern-day universe order. The undermentioned analysis into the counter?insurgency crisis presently taking topographic point in Iraq must dove-tail an scrutiny of the lessons seemingly unlearnt from Vietnam. A decision will be sought that efforts to underscore the on-going nature of the struggle which paradoxically curtails efforts at any sweeping, wide based tax write-off.

The 2003 Gulf War, much like its 1991 embodiment, was over in a really short infinite of clip, played out in in writing item by the planetary mass media. In world, the individuality of the ultimate master was ne’er in uncertainty. On the Eve of the war, the Iraqi Army numbered some 375000 – a tierce of which were reservists and easy noticeable for Allied air commanding officers. In comparing, the US entirely stationed 250000 military personnels as land forces with an extra 1376 M1 armored combat vehicles and 1376 IFV/CFV armoured divisions. Therefore, “Iraqi divisions should non be compared to a US division on a one?for?one basis.” [ 2 ]

These figures do non see either America’s Alliess or the immensely superior US Air Force, yet the point remains the same: the 2003 Iraq War, in conventional footings, was ne’er traveling to do serious logistical jobs for the United States. Problems were ever likely to be encountered one time a ceasefire had been ascertained, which is a different scenario from the world of Vietnam. Furthermore, unlike Vietnam, the post?war difficulties the US have faced in Iraq have mostly stemmed from the grounds behind the war. The Viet-cong were contending an ideological war waged along communist versus capitalist lines while the modern-day insurgence job in Iraq stems from a spiritual root whereby the enemy feels as though a war is being waged against Islam. This is far more explosive than any political political orientation and, more significantly, is a great advertizement for mass enlisting on the portion of the insurrectionists. It has been good documented that a big proportion of the insurrectionists in Iraq are non of Iraqi nationality ; that the call to weaponries has extended across the Arab universe. Because of the onslaught against Afghanistan in 2002 and the menaces made against both Syria and Iran, Muslims throughout the Middle East feel as though the United States is purpose on commanding the country at the disbursal of their faith and manner of life. Evidence appears to confirm this hypothesis. Therefore, it is clear that the dominant geo?political factors behind the 2003 Iraq War have and will go on to lend to an wholly different sort of insurrectionist combatant than America encountered in Vietnam, contending for wholly more critical concerns.

However, where there are doubtless similarities between the runs in Vietnam and Iraq is the manner in which the United States appears to hold succumbed to tactical haughtiness. The cultural, spiritual and political issues outlined supra should non hold come as a surprise to the US Command, surely non in the post?September 11 planetary constitution. Likewise in Vietnam, the Americans did non take attentiveness of the destiny of the Gallic, who were soundly defeated in Asia in 1964.

“The Gallic, recognizing that it was progressively likely that the United States would tangle itself in Vietnam, made available to the American authorities the after?action survey of their licking in Vietnam: it still sits in the classified library of the National Defence University, in the original Gallic, and there is small grounds that senior military or political leaders in the Pentagon studied the volume.” [ 3 ]

This deficiency of penetration or readying into local esthesias is the common nexus between Vietnam, Iraq and so all US abroad insurgence operations including the frequently unmarked fiasco in El Salvador. The nexus is one of military carelessness characterised by a funny mixture of under?estimating autochthonal opposition and over?estimating the symbolic menace of the United States. As Hitler learnt during the Battle of Britain, a state can non merely be bombed into entry.

“The fact remains that the US authorities failed to outline a serious or effectual program for ‘Phase 4’ of the war: the period of struggle expiration and the creative activity of an effectual national edifice office.” [ 4 ]

A major factor behind America’s deficiency of success in counter?insurgency operations in Iraq might besides be the deficiency of history of battling extra?territorial forces throughout US history. Bar for Vietnam and Latin America, which were both discernibly intermittent and unconnected military aims, the US has ne’er known a state of affairs comparable to, for case, the British Army’s troubles in regulating Northern Ireland. It is no happenstance that the British have suffered fewer casualties ( the one hundredth UK soldier was killed in Iraq in February 2006 ) and have achieved much greater degrees of counter?insurgency success via edifice greater degrees of co?operation with the local people who are the lifeblood of any effort to counter guerilla manner warfare.

“All actions designed to retain and recover the commitment of the population are relevant to the procedure of roll uping background information because its proviso is closely geared to the attitude of the people.” [ 5 ]

Due to its world power position and the manner in which the ground forces conducts its operations, the United States is inherently less sure than the UK across the Earth. The deficiency of effort at rapprochement is hence a major subscriber to the ongoing run of insurgence in Iraq in 2006 merely as it was with the Vietnamese people in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Indeed, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the US military commanding officer in Iraq conceded in 2003 that “much work remained to be done in winning Black Marias and heads in Iraq” [ 6 ] , and there is small grounds to propose that state of affairs has changed. It is of class hard to quantify intangible qualities such as ‘winning Black Marias and minds’ yet this is exactly the issue confronting counter?insurgency commanding officers in Iraq: without this basic principle of trust, all efforts at conveying to a close extra?territorial activities will be rendered futile.

Furthermore, the nature of guerilla and insurrectionist warfare means that the enemy of traditional land ground forcess such as the United States are as attentive to detail as the Americans are dismissive. This has been a truism of international struggles since Hannibal’s triumph over a immensely superior Roman Army at Cannae in 216 BC yet it is one that is often ignored by American political and military leaders. In add-on, insurrectionists in Vietnam and Iraq both have the significant advantage of cognition of local terrain, characterised as jungle warfare in Indo?China and urban combat in the Middle East.

“It is interesting to observe that this pathological opposition on the portion of the military to ‘lessons learned’ on counter?insurgency ( and counter?terrorism for that affair ) seldom afflicts the oppositions in a given struggle ( i.e. guerilla groups of terrorist administrations ) , who consciously study and learn both from their ain yesteryear errors every bit good as from the successful operations of their enemies. This is no less true among insurrectionists in Iraq than it has been for guerillas and terrorists elsewhere.” [ 7 ]

Of class the fact that the insurrectionists in Iraq were given the clip to explicate fundamental bid techniques and to turn into significant, on-going opposition groups has needfully affected the length of service and badness of the combat. The job that United States and its Alliess face in countering insurgence in 2006 is hence a entirely different proposition to what it was in 2003 when domestic substructures and communicating lines were broken. Indeed, this is where the most obvious similarities between Vietnam and Iraq are to be found whereby the US military discoveries itself bogged down in a drawn-out guerilla war that has deeply different psychological effects on the two opposing battlers. As the American forces and public become progressively disillusioned with mounting casualties so the morale of the insurrectionists is increased as the Arabic and Islamic forces take bosom from America’s inability to coerce a decision to the struggle. As with Vietnam, the longer this province of personal businesss continues, the greater the likeliness becomes of a demeaning American backdown.


There are clear analogues between the modern-day counter?insurgency troubles confronting the United States in Iraq and the guerilla warfare that marked the Vietnamese struggle a coevals beforehand. Lessons have non been learnt and America still treats its technologically inferior enemy as tactically awkward, a cardinal and sedate logistical mistake. Likewise, there are huge differences between the two military runs – none more obvious than the deficiency of resistance world power able to fund Iraqi forces as the international Communist community was able to make for Vietnam. It is besides really hard to try a unequivocal decision to a struggle that is barley three old ages old although it seems just to province that an terminal to this type of warfare, specifically against American forces, has non yet run its class and, furthermore, that the US military will go on to neglect to larn the lesson of its yesteryear.

“Changing any military’s philosophy is like seeking to halt a armored combat vehicle armor by throwing marshmallows at it. The military, like any immense bureaucratism, resists invention – particularly of the alteration implies the downgrading of certain units and the demand to larn new accomplishments and to exceed service rivalries.” [ 8 ]


Adams, J. ( 1999 )The Following World War: the Warriors and Weapons of the New Battlefields in CyberspaceLondon: Arrow

Alexander, J.B. ( 1999 )Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Twenty First Century WarfareNew York: St. Martin’s Press

Kitson, F. ( 1991 )Low Intensity Operations: Corruption, Insurgency and PeacekeepingLondon and Boston: Faber & A ; Faber

Lorber, A. ( 2002 )Ill-conceived Weapons: Technological Failure and Surprise on the BattlefieldWashington, DC: Brassey’s Inc.

Miller, D. ( 2003 )Conflict Iraq: Weapons and Tacticss of the US and Iraqi ForcesSt. Paul, MN: MBI Printing

Parker, G. ( Ed. ) ( 2005 )The Cambridge History of WarfareCambridge: Cambridge University Press

Reid, B.H. ( 1997 )Military Power: Land Warfare in Theory and in PracticeLondon: Frank Cass

Selected Articles

Murray, W.A. and Parker, G. ( 2005 )The Post?War World, 1945-2004, quoted in, Parker, G. ( Ed. )The Cambridge History of WarfareCambridge: Cambridge University Press

Official Documents

Cordesman, A.H. ( November 2003 )Irak: Excessively Uncertain to Name, quoted in,Centre for Strategic and International SurveiesWashington, DC

Hoffman, B. ( June 2004 )National Security Research Division: Insurgency and Counter-insurgency in IraqSanta Monica, CA: RAND Corporation


Nathan birnbaums, J.F. ( 16 November 2003 )Witness: The New Iraq is Grim, Hopeful and Still Scary, quoted in,The New York Times

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