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.
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Troops were sent by helicopter or on foot to destroy VC combat units & withdrawn as soon as the mission was accomplished: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- US troops’ morale declined dramatically while waiting to be withdrawn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- By 1972, virtually all combat troops had been withdrawn.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.