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U.S. Foreign Advisory Missions: Rich History - Mixed Results

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A Small Wars Journal and Military Writers Guild Writing Contest Finalist Article

U.S. Foreign Advisory Missions: Rich History - Mixed Results

Russell Worth Parker

Introduction

United States (U.S.) military history is rich in foreign advisory missions that should have ensured post 9/11 advisory missions were the best informed, most comprehensively resourced, executed, and assessed advisory efforts to date. However, though arguably the most critical aspects of efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. advisory results have been mixed. Currently, the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan. D’aesh is in retreat in Iraq thanks to the reintroduction of U.S. and international combat power but still holds significant territory within Iraq and Syria. Both national militaries remain largely incapable of securing their own borders. Given the almost certain likelihood that advisory efforts will be a mainstay of future U.S. foreign military engagement, this paper will examine U.S. advising in Vietnam, El Salvador, and Colombia to identify successes and failures then compare and contrast them against current efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan in pursuit of common, clear, and replicable lessons from which to inform future efforts.

Too Much and Not Enough: Advisors in Vietnam

Prior to the current effort, Vietnam was America’s longest and most comprehensive advisory effort. World War II and Korea offered normative reinforcement of the value of conventional, attrition warfare to American policy makers and military planners who subsequently misunderstood the war and Vietnam itself. Vietnam’s nascent government, superficially developed military, and commercial architecture appeared a country ready to fight a conventional war against communism. Though President Kennedy was individually enthralled with Special Warfare (of which advising indigenous forces is a mainstay) and despite National Security Council direction to the Pentagon that;

“[E]mphasized U.S. support for internal security missions— that the South Vietnamese military’s mission was ‘internal security. . .[to] establish and maintain control by that Government throughout the territory of Free Vietnam; and effectively. . .counteract Viet Minh infiltration and paramilitary activities south of the 17th Parallel.’ [and] highlighted the need to reorganize and train the South Vietnamese military,”[i]

Military Assistance Command Vietnam sought to build a South Vietnamese modeled after the U.S. military. Guided by combat in Europe and the South Pacific, leaders prescribed ever more massive formations and destructive force against an enemy that fought and then melted away when the balance of a battle shifted away from them. However, the war did not start that way and could have continued differently.

The 1962 Battle of Ap Bac saw South Vietnamese forces supported by mechanized vehicles, aircraft, and U.S. advisors soundly defeated by moderately well-armed guerillas. Advisor Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann, was transformed by the debacle and wrote a lengthy report illuminating Vietnamese deficiencies and means to correct them.[ii] Vann recognized a critical reality of advisory operations; the host nation government and security apparatus must be at the fore in all things. Vann understood that the Vietnamese had to win their own war, requiring fundamental change within the South Vietnamese politico-military hierarchy in order to build an internal security force capable of legitimately and autonomously defeating the Vietnamese communists inside South Vietnam. However, General Paul Harkins, followed by William Westmoreland, reinforced existing policies “intent on shunting the Saigon forces out of the way so that he could win with the U.S. Army” out of a belief that “all a general need do to win was build a killing machine and turn it loose on his opponent.”[iii]

The Joint Chiefs of Staff responded to Ap Bac by sending a commission of senior Generals to determine whether America was winning or losing. “These Generals were therefore confronted with the truth in Vietnam, despite wasting most of their time on Harkins’ tourist excursions. They received more than the fallible opinions of Vann and Porter...Their minds rejected what their eyes read.”[iv] The Generals failed to acknowledge that the advising nation must understand the actual threat faced by the host nation and support development of a corresponding force.  Ap Bac occurred in 1962. MACV spent the subsequent decade building an unsustainable army to fight the wrong enemy.

The American way of war was based on data analytics, technological might, and application of overwhelming military power designed to grind America’s foes under the weight of technological and resource overmatch. America’s advisory mission reflected that mentality and became a secondary effort. The net result was an unsupportable body of combat doctrine and techniques and an unsupportable Vietnamese dependency on U.S. mass and technology. The failure to properly structure the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the corresponding Vietnamese inability to execute effective operations lead to increased U.S. presence and unilateral operations. American advisors did admirable security work at the village level while district and provincial level advisors assisted police and paramilitary organizations in dismantling insurgent leadership[v] but after 1968, advisors were removed from below Regimental levels in the attempt to “Vietnamize” the war.

Vietnamese government and political structures were built on patronage, power politics, and local corruption. The United States government failed to mobilize to root out corruption, rehabilitate legitimate contributors, and modernize the South Vietnamese political structure. Whole of government efforts were not a focus until 1967 and the advent of the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) program. One observer to noted;

“Corruption played a significant role in thwarting American objectives in Vietnam by contributing to the South Vietnam government's lack of legitimacy. The heavy handed and corrupt government of South Vietnam actually made the countryside fertile for the insurgency of the Viet Cong and the communist. Successive governments left much to be desired and too readily turned a blind eye to corruption and incompetence.”[vi]

A western style military cannot function in the absence of a transparent, population centric, legitimate government. The failure to effectively address civil structures ignored the advisory requirement for a whole of government approach driven by a comprehensive, realistic understanding of the government, the host nation force, and the culture within which they exist. Misaligned American military advisory efforts and the failure to contend with the whole of government ultimately lead to conclusion of the advisory effort in 1973. Subsequent rapid reduction of financial and materiel support lead to the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. Endemic governmental and cultural flaws exacerbated by the U.S. failure to understand the people it sought to assist, the enemy they faced, or the culture within which both existed coupled with U.S. insistence on fighting the war it wanted vice the war it had doomed South Vietnam.

Size Matters: The MILGROUP, the OPATT, and U.S. Advising in El Salvador

On Oct 15, 1979, a military coup in El Salvador ignited a civil war that claimed 75,000 lives. The conflict was intensely political, with brutal right wing and fractious leftist forces united under the aegis of the Frenti Farabundo Marti de Liberacion Nacional (FMLN). The U.S. population had significant reservations about engaging in El Salvador only four years after the fall of South Vietnam, but concern over Soviet expansionism prevailed.

El Salvador is the smallest, most densely populated country in Central America and featured a largely undeveloped social structure long dominated by an authoritarian government. The ESAF had 15,000 poorly trained and supported soldiers with a history of gross human rights violations that fostered support for the FMLN. ESAF attacks against Roman Catholic priests and nuns were especially destructive to the national fabric. Opposite the ESAF, the FMLN was composed of five affiliated guerilla organizations totaling 7,000 combatants. The FMLN was lightly armed and poorly organized for conventional combat but ESAF brutality against the El Salvadoran populace was an FMLN force multiplier.[vii] Despite U.S. reservations, advisors deployed to El Salvador in November 1979 as part of the U.S. Military Group (MILGROUP), the initial Mobile Training Teams (MTT), and the Operations, Planning, and Training Teams (OPATT).[viii]

The El Salvadoran case study reinforces the criticality of a realistic assessment of the nation and the force in which advisors are determined to effect change. In El Salvador, humanitarian concerns were so extreme that they could not be ignored. Additional concern for mission creep and the lessons learned in Vietnam meant U.S. plans were predicated on the fact that professional militaries are less likely to commit human rights violations, thus the central MILGROUP was professionalization of the ESAF in order to curtail human rights violations and promote a more liberal democracy to replace lawlessness and chaos.

Historically, El Salvador would have been flooded with uniformed Americans determined to do any task “the right way”, supplanting the ESAF, and expanding the mission. However, the restrictive size of the MILGROUP forced advisors to focus on reforming the ESAF through training and by linking aid money to measurable results. A central, critical indicator of the success of that reform was the reduction of human rights abuses. In the early 1980s;

“the ESAF was on the verge of being defeated by the FMLN. Without the military and economic assistance the insurgent threat may have taken over the country. The United States tied its military aid and economic assistance directly to the issue of human rights. If President Reagan could not tell the American people that the state of human rights was gradually improving in El Salvador, Congress could force the American aid to be halted. Leaders within the MilGroup were able to effect change in the ESAF by leveraging the possible cessation of military aid to El Salvador.” [ix]     

By 1984, advisory efforts yielded a military that supported the democratically elected Duarte government while allowing opposition without fear of reprisal. That they effected that change in only four years is remarkable. Ironically, it may have been an unexpected by product of limiting the MILGROUP to fifty-five personnel, supporting a contention that an advisory force tailored to the central mission minimizes mission creep and focuses the effort on the critical tasks.

Likewise, the restricted scope of U.S. efforts reinforced that the host nation government and security apparatus must be at the fore in all things. As organizational constraints and restrictive authorities prevented U.S. advisors from accompanying the ESAF into combat, the increasingly professional ESAF genuinely took the lead. Consequently, the El Salvadoran people come to see their military as a protector at a time when FMLN resources were diminishing congruent to diminishing Soviet ability to support them.

Advisors in El Salvador made clear the value of quality over quantity, both in the advisors and the advised.  In El Salvador, the 55-man MILGROUP demanded the right personnel, primarily highly experienced U.S. Army Special Forces. The nature of the mission and the dearth of other opportunities to do real world military work saw advisors volunteer for twelve month advisory duty, with some performing repeat engagements. The Embassy Country Team saw that period as too short, but in contrast to the 180 day (or less) advisory missions of today, it was critical and reinforced the centrality of committing to the advisory mission for the duration required by conditions on the ground vice political expedience.

The experience of the MILGROUP and OPATTs reinforced the maxim that advisors require a comprehensive, realistic understanding of the government, the host nation force, and the culture within which they exist and they must address the whole of government. Over twelve years the ESAF evolved into a professional force capable of significantly blunting an internal threat. Correspondingly, the FMLN came to the negotiation table and peaceful participation in El Salvador’s political process. Perhaps most indicative of advisor effectiveness in El Salvador, “an FMLN Commandante commented that it was the presence of U.S. military advisors throughout the countryside that made the difference in the improvement of the ESAF’s human rights record and professionalism.”[x]

In for a Penny, In for a Pound: Persistent Presence and Plan Colombia

U.S. and Colombian military connections date to the 1940s. A Colombian Battalion, supported by the United States, fought under United Nations auspices in the Korean War.[xi] U.S. forces began advising the Colombian military in the 1960s and continue to the present. The duration of the U.S. effort in Colombia, the leftist insurgent Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and corresponding right wing Auto-Defensas or “Self-Defense Units”, and the rise of narco-terrorism make U.S. advisory efforts in Colombia a critical case study.

The critical period of the U.S. advisory effort in Colombia began in 1986. Presidential National Security Decision Directive 221 Narcotics and National Security declared illicit drugs a threat to U.S. national security, thus allowing the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) unprecedented entry into the counter-narcotics effort. DOD personnel increased the number and complexity of missions in Colombia and trained U.S. Law Enforcement, who in turn supported and advised Colombian military and police.[xii]

In the early 1990s the widespread collapse of communism, a growing cocaine epidemic, and the persistent concern for foreign entanglements led to an elimination of U.S. support for Colombian counterinsurgency operations in favor of a laser focus on counter-narcotics. The increased tempo of counter-narcotics operations reduced narcotics cartels to elements more easily dominated by the FARC who taxed them to finance operations. Unfortunately, counterinsurgency and counter-narcotics were inextricably linked. Ambassador David Passage, the Department of State’s Director for Andean Affairs asserted;

“It should have been obvious to anyone not willfully obtuse that the Colombian government was slowly but steadily losing control over its national territory to precisely those criminal elements—the narco-traffickers and drug lords, the FARC and ELN guerrillas, and the paramilitary groups opposing the latter—who were the source of both the drug trafficking and Colombia’s deteriorating internal stability.”[xiii]

The U.S. avoided a Vietnam style entanglement but failed to remember the lesson clarified in El Salvador; the advising nation must understand the actual threat faced by the host nation and support development of a corresponding force. U.S. policy makers so perseverated on avoiding a potential quagmire they failed to understand the mutable character of the war and advisory efforts suffered.

Dr. Max Manwaring highlighted the need for a comprehensive, flexible strategy based on clear and accurate analysis of start-points and ways and means of achieving realistic end-points is critical to optimal results;

“The problem in Colombia is that this country and its potential are deteriorating because of three ongoing, simultaneous, and interrelated wars involving the illegal drug industry; various insurgent organizations (primarily the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC]); and vigilante, paramilitary groups (the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia [AUC]). This unholy trinity of non-state actors is perpetrating a level of corruption, criminality, human horror, and internal (and external) instability that, if left unchecked at the strategic level, can ultimately threaten Colombia’s survival as an organized democratic state and undermine the political stability and sovereignty of its neighbors.”

Manwaring further noted;

“The United States has tended to ignore the insurgent and paramilitary problems in Colombia, except for making rhetorical statements regarding the peace process, terrorist activities, and human rights violations. The United States has focused its money, training, and attention almost entirely on the counterdrug campaign. It has seen the Colombian crisis in limited terms, the number of hectares of coca eradicated, and the number of kilos of coca that have been detected and destroyed. And, even though the United States and Colombia have achieved a series of tactical successes in the coca fields, the laboratories, and on the streets, the violent non-state actors remain strong and become ever more wealthy. In the meantime, Colombia continues to deteriorate and becomes ever more fragile.” [xiv]

In Colombia, no such strategy existed before 2000. When unveiled, “Plan Colombia” was presented as a six-year effort. Plan Colombia did not synchronize U.S. and Colombian objectives. The primary U.S. objective, counter-narcotics trafficking, was of tertiary importance to Colombia, behind resolving the civil war with the FARC and economic development.[xv] U.S. objectives drove the form of assistance, with military and police advising and material assistance to the counter-narcotics mission constituting the lion’s share of that effort. By 2005, with one year left in Plan Colombia, the Congressional Research Service was of mixed opinions about the efficacy of the plan;

“While there has been measurable progress in Colombia’s internal security, as indicated by decreases in violence, and in the eradication of drug crops, no effect has been seen with regard to price, purity, and availability of cocaine and heroin in the United States. Military operations against illegally armed groups have intensified, but the main leftist guerrilla group seems no closer to agreeing to a cease-fire. The demobilization of rightist paramilitary fighters is proceeding, but without a legal framework governing the process…”[xvi]

Ten years after its planned conclusion, Plan Colombia is cited as a joint U.S. and Colombian strategic victory. Ironically, given U.S. counter-narcotics objectives, Plan Colombia was not particularly successful; “A decade and a half later, its anti-drug record is mixed. After years of falling output, Colombian farmers are growing as much illegal coca today as when the American aid package was conceived in 1998…”. However, viewed through a Colombian lens, “…as a counterinsurgency program, Plan Colombia — along with the various forms of covert U.S. assistance that came with it — has been an undisputed success.”[xvii]

If Plan Colombia was conceived as a six-year plan for execution between 2000 and 2006, why is it only transitioning to a tenuous peace sixteen years later? The answer may again lie in differing advisor/advisee objectives and corresponding forms of assistance. Colombian-driven and U.S. supported, Plan Colombia met the requirement that the host nation government and security apparatus must be at the fore in all things. However, in focusing on military or para-military support to counter-narcotics, U.S. advisors failed to address the whole of government. As Manwaring observed;

“The accomplishment of this most formidable task within the context of illegal insurgent, narco-trafficker, and paramilitary violence requires two fundamental strategic efforts. The first involves the political, coalitional, and multi-organizational partnership requirements that mandate doctrinal and organizational change for strategic clarity and greater effectiveness in any conflict situation. This in turn depends on a second effort: the development of professional civil-military leadership that will ensure not just unity of military command, but unity of civil-military effort. Both these efforts demand a carefully staffed, phased, and long-term validation, planning, and implementation program.”[xviii]

Conversely, though Plan Colombia (and the preceding forty years) failed to effect civil change as comprehensively or rapidly as expected, it had the critical effect of professionalizing the Colombian military and police force. As professional militaries are vastly less likely to commit human rights violations on an appreciable scale, this accomplishment was significant.

Ultimately, the current cease-fire between the FARC and the Government of Colombia is a success. Though a national peace referendum failed in October 2016, [xix] the continued dedication to the peace process from both sides is encouraging, with a revised deal before the Colombian Congress at this writing.[xx]

Strategic Quicksand: Fifteen Years of Mission Creep in Afghanistan and Iraq

That the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have lasted longer than anticipated is no revelation. Afghanistan is an initial success that mission-creeped its way into a strategic morass. Iraq will go down as one of most significant foreign policy blunders in American history. While vastly different countries with regard to development, economic possibilities, societal construct, and the accessibility and exploitability of natural resources, there are genuine parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan. Both nations feature weak and fractious central governments facing significant internal security threats. Both nations border Iran, a nation interested in de-stabilizing or manipulating both governments while countering U.S. influence. Both possess a complex ethno-sectarian mix exacerbated by vestiges of British colonialism. Most immediately, they both feature advisory efforts central to the reduction of American involvement. With no less than fifty years of modern advisory operations from which to draw, why have U.S. and international advisory operations been largely unsuccessful?

In 2001, there was no national military to advise and develop, only the Northern Alliance and various lesser militias. In 2003, U.S. policy makers exacerbated the difficulty by making Iraq the primary focus. Poverty, illiteracy, sickness, and the hopelessness endemic to a society at war for thirty years still hinder efforts in Afghanistan. Ad hoc advisor training and organizational problems that would inhibit Americans in Iraq were already prevalent in Afghanistan. As the war continued, critical rapport and communication issues combined with religious indoctrination gave rise to attacks on advisors by Afghan troops.[xxi]

In Iraq, the fundamental failure lay in the 2003 decision to “De-Baathify” the military and government, disenfranchising 1,000,000 males in a patriarchal society, eliminating the framework for reconstruction of the force, and providing embittered, motivated, trained soldiers to a nascent insurgency.[xxii] This violation of the advisor’s obligation to have a comprehensive, realistic understanding of the government, the host nation force, and the culture within which they exist and to address the whole of government forced advisors to start from scratch against an absurdly optimistic timeline. Advisor Colonel Tony Pfaff noted;

“Iraqi culture can sustain a just, effective police force, capable of enforcing the rule of law in a democracy. It seems racist to think otherwise. However, it is naïve to think that such reforms will occur overnight or even at all, as long as the current breakdown of political and social institutions continues. The ability to discern which practices are driven by culture and which are driven by environment is critical to developing any comprehensive strategy for reform. Further, any such strategy must recognize that reforming the Iraqi police is ultimately the job of Iraqi leadership. The best Coalition advisors can do is to encourage progress in the right direction and expose those moments when Iraqis choose wrongly.”[xxiii]

From 2006-2009, the scope of U.S. advisory operations was so huge that conventional forces with minimal training for the mission began assumed missions doctrinally performed by Special Operations Forces, by necessity violating the requirement for quality over quantity, both in the advisors and the advised. The initial advisor teams in Afghanistan and Iraq were provided ad hoc training by a U.S. military architecture only somewhat more prepared for their mission than the personnel they were training. By 2008, training was institutionalized sufficiently that advisors felt better prepared than the initial draft of service members [xxiv] but demand was so high for advisors and trainers that civilians of varied pedigree were paid significant salaries to perform advisor duties. Contracting the mission created problems, especially amongst police advisors, as civilian police and combat soldiers saw their advisory missions in starkly different ways.[xxv] Additionally, constant turnover of advisors on seven to fifteen month tours made establishing rapport and trust between advisors and advisees difficult. As one two-tour advisor said, “I was prepared to fight, I was not prepared for the nuances of advising.”[xxvi] As many advisors pushed into the mission were less prepared than they deserved to be, so too were Afghan and Iraqi forces rushed through training before being committed. Perhaps most telling are  Iraqi Army capitulations in the face of ISIS in 2013 after America disengaged from Iraq, leading to an incremental reintroduction of U.S. advisory forces.

One lesson clearly understood in both theaters was that advisory efforts deserve a central strategic framework to synchronize the effort. NATO Training Missions-Iraq and -Afghanistan acknowledged the criticality of designing and resourcing the advisory mission as a distinct effort. Both focused at the institutional level, giving a good faith effort to train the whole of government. Unfortunately, necessary pre-war advisory mission planning and resourcing did not occur. Thus there was no plan in either war for an advisor mission beyond that of SOF required to defeat an extant enemy in high intensity warfare. Advisory operations, like any, must allow branch and sequel plans. The failure to plan for an advisory campaign was a failure to develop a comprehensive, flexible strategy based on clear and accurate analysis of start-points and ways and means of achieving realistic end-points. That failure yielded delay, missed opportunities, and strategic missteps and made consistent assessment of effects virtually impossible. Per Dr. Benjamin Connable, “Leaders and policymakers cannot adequately communicate requirements to collectors and analysts because COIN assessment is poorly defined and rarely addressed in the literature, professional education, or staff training.”[xxvii]

Afghanistan and Iraq both reinforce that the advising nation must understand the capabilities of the host nation and the actual threat it faces and build a corresponding force.  Dr. T.X. Hammes offers an example of the failure to heed that tenet;

“A typical example was the selection of the G22 transport aircraft for the Afghan air force. While this aircraft met a definite need for in-theater airlift, its complexity was simply more than the Afghans could manage. As a result, despite a purchase price of $486 million for 20 aircraft, all were eventually sold for scrap for $32,000 total.”[xxviii]

A bright spot in both countries has been the performance of Afghan and Iraqi SOF who benefit from the close and constant attention of U.S. and international SOF. Though frequently misemployed, the Afghan Special Service Forces and the Iraqi Counter Terrorist Service provide outsize value,[xxix] reinforcing the requirement for quality over quantity, in the advisors and the advised. Repeat tours by SOF personnel training Afghan and Iraqi SOF, and the setbacks experienced in Iraq after American disengagement, lend credence to the centrality of committing to the advisory mission for the duration required by conditions on the ground vice political expedience. The minimal size, structure, and organization of SOF contrasted with their effects reinforce that focused, persistent, engagement by highly effective, well trained, and committed personnel are more effective than broader, less focused efforts by ad hoc organizations.

On the balance, it is difficult to assert that the Afghan and Iraq advisory missions have been successful in meeting the expanded mandates to nation build. Consistent and persistent efforts to train specific elements within the ANA and IA produced individually credible capabilities, but not enough to tip the balance in favor of success. This underwhelming assessment illuminates the criticality of ministerial and institutional advising, the consistent Achilles heel in American efforts. Specifically, security forces cannot be the only credible focus of effort. All aspects of governance must be addressed in order to defeat a determined enemy. Again, turning to Hammes;

“[i]n both countries, the United States developed ministries and forces modeled on U.S. institutions. The political, economic, and social-cultural conditions of these countries made U.S. approaches problematic and unsustainable without a significant U.S. presence…[t]his was particularly damaging since ministerial development is both more critical and much more difficult than fielding forces…[and] the relative success or failure of those forces rests with the political leadership of those host nations and the continued provision of resources for those forces to operate according to the organization and training they received.” [xxx]

What Now? Lessons Learned from Sixty-Two Years of Operations

While no principles will be uniformly applicable, the foregoing examination and following summation of those herein may offer planners and practitioners some guidelines for planning advisory campaigns in the future.

1. The host nation government and security apparatus must be at the fore in all things. Where advisors are seen as leading efforts within a country, host nation forces may be delegitimized in the eyes of the populace, the most important constituency in a counterinsurgency. In Afghanistan, Americans often used the expression “put an Afghan face on things.” To Afghans, this translates across language and culture to putting an Afghan mask on Americans, tacitly delegitimizing the effort. This effort must authentically belong to the host nation.

2. The advising nation must comprehensively understand the host nation government, its existing forces, the actual threat faced, and the culture within which all of them exist.  Advisors must engage host nation forces at all levels and across the whole of government. There is not a tiny American inside everyone in the world simply waiting to be liberated. Other nations have proud, ancient cultures that they want to maintain and enhance. Historical and sociological mores are not de facto exclusive of modernity. In contrast, modernity is not always attractive. Fighting history and culture while fighting an actual combatant will not result in advisory success. To the contrary, designing forces antithetical to cultural mores and structures will lead to failure.

3. The advising nation is must develop a comprehensive, flexible advisory strategy based on clear and accurate analysis of start-points and ways and means of achieving realistic end-states. An advisory effort is a sales effort in which the advising nation sells a better way for the advised nation. Inherent is the requirement that the advising nation understand where the advised nation exists on a developmental scale and plan strategy, methods, and end states accordingly.  Advisors must be willing to accept some cultural and professional divergence and still be effective.

4. The quality of advisory forces, and the force advised by them, is more determinant of success than quantity. Highly effective, well trained personnel committed to the central mission over a long term minimize mission creep, focus the advisory effort on critical tasks, and are more effective than broader, less focused efforts by ad hoc organizations. Professional host nation security forces are much less likely to commit human rights violations on an appreciable scale. This is the crux issue in any advisory effort. In Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq demand for advisors outstripped supply. Correspondingly, America rushed ill prepared advisors into action alongside poorly trained and equipped troops. Over time, advisory efforts improved in all three, but without the speed or efficiency demanded by competition with a flexible, learning enemy. In Colombia and El Salvador, the persistent presence of repeat advisors over ten to thirty years paid legitimate dividends in more democratic governance, popular support for the government, professional security forces with heightened regard for the populace, and most importantly, improved security and a reduction in American engagement. Hopefully the foregoing lessons, learned in blood and earned in treasure, may serve success in some future advisory effort.

End Notes

[i] Karlin, M. E. (2013). Fully committed: The uncomfortable truth behind successfully building partner militaries (Unpublished doctoral dissertation provided by author). Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Publication Pending.

[ii] Sheehan, N. (1988). A bright shining lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York: Random House.

[iii] Sheehan, N. (1988). A bright shining lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York: Random House.

[iv] Sheehan, N. (1988). A bright shining lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. New York: Random House.

[v] Finlayson, A. R. (2014). Rice paddy recon: A Marine officer's second tour in Vietnam, 1968-1970. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

[vi] Pike, J. (n.d.). Military. Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/vietnam/rvn-corruption.htm

[vii] Cale, P.P. (1996). The United States Military Advisory Group in El Salvador, 1979-1992. Unpublished manuscript.

[viii] Cale, P.P. (1996). The United States Military Advisory Group in El Salvador, 1979-1992. Unpublished manuscript.

[ix] Cale, P.P. (1996). The United States Military Advisory Group in El Salvador, 1979-1992. Unpublished manuscript.

[x] Rosello, V. M. (1993). Lessons From El Salvador - Defense Technical Information ... Retrieved October 12, 2016, from http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA515732

[xi] Pagan, H., Moyar, M., & Griego, W. R. (2014). Persistent Engagement in Colombia- JSOU Home. Retrieved October 12, 2016, from http://jsou.socom.mil/PubsPages/JSOU14-3_Moyar-Pagan-Griego_Colombia_FINAL.pdf

[xii] Pagan, H., Moyar, M., & Griego, W. R. (2014). Persistent Engagement in Colombia- JSOU Home. Retrieved October 12, 2016, from http://jsou.socom.mil/PubsPages/JSOU14-3_Moyar-Pagan-Griego_Colombia_FINAL.pdf

[xiii] Pagan, H., Moyar, M., & Griego, W. R. (2014). Persistent Engagement in Colombia- JSOU Home. Retrieved October 12, 2016, from http://jsou.socom.mil/PubsPages/JSOU14-3_Moyar-Pagan-Griego_Colombia_FINAL.pdf

[xiv] Manwaring, M. G. (2002, May). Non-State Actors in Colombia: Threat and Response... Retrieved October 19, 2016, from http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB16.pdf

[xv] Bush, G. W. (2005). Plan Colombia semi-annual obligation report: Message from the President of the United States transmitting a report detailing the progress of spending by the executive branch during the first two quarters of fiscal year 2001 in support of Plan Colombia (United States., President (2001-2009: Bush)). Washington: U.S. G.P.O.

[xvi] Bush, G. W. (2005). Plan Colombia semi-annual obligation report: Message from the President of the United States transmitting a report detailing the progress of spending by the executive branch during the first two quarters of fiscal year 2001 in support of Plan Colombia (United States., President (2001-2009: Bush)). Washington: U.S. G.P.O.

[xvii] Miroff, Nick. "'Plan Colombia: How Washington Learned to Love Latin American Intervention Again." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 18 Sept. 2016. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

[xviii] Manwaring, M.G. (2002, May). Non-State Actors in Colombia: Threat and Response... Retrieved October 19, 2016, from http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB16.pdf

[xix] News, BBC. (2016, October 3). Colombia referendum: Voters reject FARC peace deal. Retrieved October 12, 2016, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/38096179?client=safari

[xx] News, BBC. (2016, November 24). Colombia signs new peace deal with FARC. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-37537252

[xxi] Long War Journal (n.d). Retrieved November 24, 2016, from http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/08/green-on-blue_attack.php.

[xxii] Bolger, D. P. (2014). Why we lost: A general's inside account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

[xxiii] Pfaff. Tony (2008, January). Development and Reform of the Iraqi Police Forces…Retrieved Oct 12, 2016, from http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB840.pdf

[xxiv] Harsh, C. (2016) Interview with Maj Casey Harsh, USMC (ret) /Interviewer: Russell W. Parker, University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

[xxv] Hooker Jr., R.D. and Collins, J.J. (Eds.) (2015). Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press.

[xxvi] Upperman, M. (2016). Interview with MAJ Matthew Upperman, USA /Interviewer: Russell W. Parker, University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

[xxvii] Connable, A. B. (2012). Embracing the fog of war: Assessment and metrics in counterinsurgency. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.worldcat.org/title/embracing-the-fog-of-war-assessment-and-metrics-in-counterinsurgency/oclc/774021168

[xxviii] Hooker Jr., R.D. and Collins, J.J. (Eds.) (2015). Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press.

[xxix] Gibbons-Neff, T. M. (2016, October 7). Not their job: Turning Afghanistan's special forces into regular troops. Washington Post. Retrieved October 7, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/10/07/not-their-job-turning-afghanistans-special-forces-into-regular-troops/

[xxx] Hooker Jr., R.D. and Collins, J.J. (Eds.) (2015). Lessons Encountered: Learning from the Long War. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press.

 

About the Author(s)

Lieutenant Colonel Russell Worth Parker is a career United States Marine Corps Special Operations Officer, currently assigned to Headquarters, US Special Operations Command. He is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a graduate of the University of Colorado and the Florida State University College of Law. He is currently a candidate for a Master of Arts in Conflict Management and Resolution at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Special Operations Command, the United States Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the United States Government.

Comments

2richjohnson

Sun, 04/01/2018 - 5:52am

Interesting article.  I would like to comment that according to Sheehan, LTC Vann was of the mindset that the ARVN was too corrupt and incompetent to actually do the job of fighting the Viet Cong.  I believe your article says he thought they needed to be seen leading the effort.  Vann had been continuously frustrated by his observations that the ARVN would not aggressively pursue the Viet Cong even after successful initial engagements.  In the case of Ap Bac, the lesson taken by Vann was that in this particular case, the Viet Cong actually stood their ground and fought whereas before they would run at the sight of armored personnel carriers and helicopters.  Additionally, Vann could not get an APC company that was part of this attack to act to support downed helicopters that were in the engagement area of the Viet Cong's position.  He requested additional resources from his Vietnamese counterpart COL Cao and Cao was unresponsive.  His statement after the battle to the press regarding the "miserable damn performance" of the ARVN to me doesn't sound like he really thought the ARVN was up to the job. 

I believe later in the book (according to Sheehan), Vann's thinking was that the American's should take over the efforts of the counterinsurgency  (or maybe the civic action) because the ARVN was not capable of doing so.

Perhaps he thought what you contend (host nation should be at the fore) was the desired state.  We are also only left with mostly second hand accounts of what Vann thought because aside from his white paper on harnessing the revolution in South Vietnam, most of what is known about Vann's thinking is from other sources -- people who wrote about him such as Neil Sheehan and others who were familiar with his work such as General Bruce Palmer and even General Westmoreland.

From the last major section of our paper above. (The thoughts in parenthesis, following each of the numbered paragraph headings, are mine.)

BEGIN QUOTE

1. THE HOST NATION GOVERNMENT AND SECURITY APPARATUS MUST BE AT THE FORE IN ALL THINGS.

(Putting the host nation government and security apparatus at the fore does not legitimize massive and across-the-board state and societal "transformation" efforts. Only the populations' advance agreement with such changes would seem to be able to do that.)

2. THE ADVISING NATION MUST COMPREHENSIVELY UNDERSTAND THE HOST NATION GOVERNMENT, ITS EXISTING FORCES, THE ACTUAL THREAT FACED, AND THE CULTURE WITHIN WHICH ALL OF THEM EXIST. ADVISORS MUST ENGAGE HOST NATION FORCES AT ALL LEVELS AND ACROSS THE WHOLE OF GOVERNMENT.

(Given our "revolutionary war" goal -- to eliminate the political, economic, social and value institutions and norms of the socio-economic "South" -- and to replace same with the political, economic, social and value institutions and norms of the socio-economic "North" -- "fighting history and culture while fighting an actual combatant;" this would seem to be unavoidable.)

3. THE ADVISING NATION MUST DEVELOP A COMPREHENSIVE, FLEXIBLE ADVISORY STRATEGY BASED ON CLEAR AND ACCURATE ANALYSIS OF START-POINTS AND WAYS AND MEANS OF ACHIEVING REALISTIC END-STATES.

(Re: the "sales effort" discussed here -- market-democracy -- in many places in the world -- simply does not "sell."

"Capitalism, on the other hand, necessarily lacks an exportable 'bible" and has been built on a fairly extensive layering of political and economic experience that does exist in the Third World. US ideology, based on liberal democratic justification theory, has proved neither so powerful nor so pervasive in those areas where the "springboard conditions" for economic growth and comparative market conditions have not been reached. Furthermore, attempts at modernization and industrialization in the developing world have often created such dislocation and pain that capitalism has lost favor in the very process of birth. Another disadvantage of the capitalist ideology is that it does not appear as a local indigenous package; rather, it has been strongly identified with the Western powers, with colonialism, with imperialism, with class elitism and with foreign patronage. For many peoples, it comes plainly dressed as an alien and unattractive philosophy."

http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/764648.pdf See Page 44.)

4. THE QUALITY OF ADVISORY FORCES, AND THE FORCE ADVISED BY THEM, IS MORE DETERMINANT OF SUCCESS THAN QUANTITY.

(Or might we say that the determinate of success in Colombia and El Salvador -- versus Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq -- this lies more in an understanding of the fact that the concept of market-democracy is not so alien and profane a concept in the former such grouping, as it is in the latter?)

END QUOTE

Luddite4Change

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 1:32pm

In both Colombia and El Salvador, I believe it is critical to remember that a large part of the advisory effort devoted to building a professional force was executed outside of the area of hostilities. While its convenient to point to the number of 55 boots on the ground equipped with only side arms, that discounts the efforts of the hundreds and thousands of personnel who were devoted to training the ESAF in Ft. Benning and Panama. This also helped with continuity of the advisory effort as 7th SFG personnel could rotate between the EL Sal and Panama efforts rather seamlessly.