Why were U.S. military tactics ineffective against guerilla tactics?

Question: Why U.S. military tactics were ineffective against guerilla tactics during the conflict in Vietnam?

A Summary of American Strategies & Military Tactics in Vietnam:

Kennedy’s increasing support to Diem regime:

  • Strategic Hamlet Program was a disaster.
  • Over support & interference in South Vietnam
    => This made Viet Cong propaganda worked well towards many South Vietnamese people who resented foreign involvement in the internal affairs of Vietnam & would consider American intervention as an invasion.

Johnson’s Americanization

Operation Rolling Thunder (1965–1968)

  • Gradualist approach
  • No invasion of North Vietnam
  • Numerous restrictions on American bombings
    Many targets were off-limits including some shipment points where war material was imported from the Soviet Union and China.
  • Heavy bombing, Napalm and Agent Orange were used to clear out thick jungle areas & destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail with little effective:
    => Viet Cong use of underground tunnels & ambush tactics
    => VC was able to procure most of their supplies inside South Vietnam
    + Most of the American bomb tonnage was dropped on the territory of its ally, South Vietnam.

Westmoreland‘s Search and Destroy, the strategy of attrition

  • Body Count, together with other attrition such as “kill ratios” as key measure of battlefield success
    => Numbers were often exaggerated and inflated
    => Viet Cong & North Vietnamese communists’ resistance & determination were underrated (as reflected after their huge losses in the Tet Offensive)
  • Pacification problems
    Troops were sent by helicopter or on foot to destroy VC combat units & withdrawn as soon as the mission was accomplished:
    => Troops could not stay to protect the area as in World War II.
    => VC would come back after American troops left. Read more about Viet Cong’s tactics.
  • Troop rotation policy
    =>  training programs were shortened
    => did not secure the best trained personnel on a consistent, long-term basis for Vietnam

=> Basically not effective as American ground strategy focused too much on attrition rather than counterinsurgency to secure South Vietnamese people.

Nixon’s Vietnamization (1969–1973)

  • US troops’ morale declined dramatically while waiting to be withdrawn
    => increasing numbers of drug use & “fraggings” of unpopular US officers
  • By 1972, virtually all combat troops had been withdrawn.
  • U.S. still needed to provide major air support for ARVN against North Vietnam’s conventional attacks
    => ARVN units overdependent on U.S. air support
  • Generally ineffective
    => After American troops withdrawal & significant cut down in financial aid, South Vietnam soon fell to the hands of the Communists.
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