Thursday, March 28, 2013

Village Stability Operations: An Historical Perspective from Vietnam to Afghanistan

It is always good to look at history.

Since this paper relies heavily on COL Kelly's Vietnam Studies monograph on US Special Forces in Vietnam: 1961-1971 here is the link to it.  This is a very useful source for those who want to look at the CODG program as well as some of the early organizations of Special Forces (A Team, B Team, and C Team): 


Village Stability Operations: An Historical Perspective from Vietnam to Afghanistan

Journal Article | March 28, 2013 - 2:30am

"The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish . . . the kind of war on which they are embarking." 
                                                                               - Karl von Clausewitz

Over the course of America’s 235 year history she has declared major war five times and has been involved in over 180 small conflicts (Boot 2002). The United States has experienced every facet of warfare in almost every geographical setting on earth (Boot 2002). Extensive archives of military strategy which could undeniably provide potential solutions for the strategic problems we are facing in warfare today are as easily accessible as a Google search. However it took the United States over eight years of fighting in the austere terrain of Afghanistan before the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command Afghanistan (CFSOCC-A) finally proposed the strategy of the Civilian Defense Initiative (CDI). Within less than a year’s time this strategy was renamed and finally rested with the title of Village Stability Operations (VSO). Today Village Stability Operations is the premier strategy touted by the current US administration and is considered by many the strategy for success in Afghanistan.
When first tasked with implementing what is now called the Village Stability Operations (VSO) strategy in April 2009, a proposal of what the strategy should roughly resemble was forwarded through the 7th Special Forces Group’s chain of command to Operational Detachment Alpha 7224 (ODA or “the Detachment”). The briefing that was included in the mission description was established by input from Dr. Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation and Brigadier General Reeder, the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command Afghanistan Commander (CFSOCC-A). The proposal depicted the typical counter insurgency (COIN) mission under the overarching mission in Afghanistan of Foreign Internal Defense Mission (FID). Special Forces conduct both of these mission sets on a routine basis. However the VSO mission differed from the usual mission of train, interdict, and disrupt which the Special Forces and conventional counterparts had been waging since the inception of the war in Afghanistan. The ODA realized that the VSO strategy proposal was essentially a combination of COIN and FID, and was similar to tenants that are taught in the Robin Sage portion of the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC).

When the Detachment started its initial planning on how to operationalize VSO, it conducted a historical study of some of the proposed tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and came to realize that some of the key components harkened back to the Special Forces’ strategy of Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) in Vietnam. CIDG was one of Special Forces’ greatest success stories in American history and by far the greatest example of how to fight unconventional warfare with an economy of force approach and modest foot print. Amongst all the different theories, schematics, and pillars of counter insurgency, the CIDG experience was American made and executed with precision.
During the period from 1954 to 1971, the longest COIN/FID mission ever conducted by an American force was directly implemented by the US Special Forces (USSF) in South Vietnam. In the initial stages of American USSF involvement in Vietnam, President Kennedy emphasized to new Army lieutenants graduating from West Point “[t]hat this is another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origin - war by guerillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins, war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration, instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him” (Arnold 2009).  President John F. Kennedy stated that pure military skill is no longer enough to address the current defense challenges that our nation is facing (Olson 2011). He further elaborated that a full spectrum of military, paramilitary and civil action must be blended to produce success (Olson 2011). President Kennedy’s proposal of a whole new military strategy was considered to be ahead of his time by many. He displayed an innate ability to recognize the future of modern irregular warfare and identify it as one of the greatest existential threats to the United States beyond that of high intensity conflict. Many who have done the thorough analysis would agree that President Kennedy rather than a visionary could have been a tremendous steward of US military small war history.

Various Special Forces elements operated under the auspices of military advisory groups in South Vietnam as early as July 1954, just three months after the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu (Kelly 1973). From 1954 until 1957 there were roughly 342 trainers in country, advising, training, and assisting the fledgling South Vietnamese Army (Kelly 1973). By 1957, the 1st Special Forces Group had trained over 58 men of the South Vietnamese Army which formed the trainers of the elite Vietnamese Special Forces units (Kelly 1973). With the exponential growth of the Viet Cong insurgency, the counter insurgency strategy drastically needed to be expanded and it came to be known as the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (Kelly 1973).

The Civilian Irregular Defense Group took place in rural villages where Special Forces would set up area development centers and focus on local defense and civic action. Primarily the CIDG strategy resulted in an ODA occupying a village after they made their initial assessment which encompassed tribal elder wishes with rapport building. That ODA would be responsible for establishing a village security force comprised of roughly 10-12 men per village depending on populace size and enemy activity in the area (Kelly 1973). A larger village within that same province would have a more fortified position with the construct of a Mobile Strike Force (MIKE Force) and civil action platform. The MIKE force was essentially a 35 man element or larger of a more highly trained indigenous force (Kelly 1973). The MIKE force’s main mission was to provide a counter offensive strike capability to defend villages, local defense forces, and the ODAs in them. The MIKE force was trained, advised and led by an ODA.
(Continued at the link below)

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