Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Viet Nam 1966 vs Iraq 2004

Today Phil Carter of Intel Dump posted a comparison of US Casualties in Viet Nam in 1966 with Iraq in 2004. He and Owen West have a companion article on Slate. They have made a “constant casualties” comparison, similar to a “constant dollars” comparison, of these two sets of casualties. Their thesis is that relative to the size of the forces involved we are taking casualties at the same rate in Iraq as in Viet Nam. They are questioning the opnion that some people draw that since the number of casualties in absolute numbers is less in Iraq than in Viet Nam that Iraq is a much eaiser war. I am sure that everyone agrees that no causalty is light to his or her family.

I have no doubt that they are correct. One of their examples is to compare the Battles of Hue (1968) and Fulajah, and note that the casualty rates are pretty much the same.
The dynamics of a fight are more or less the same with little reference to the larger situation of the war. This how a military staff can estimate with reasonable certainty the number of casualties a given operation will receive. The US Army’s FM 101-10-2 (NOTE Very Large PDF file) is a series of tables with historic rates of just about everything measurable that happens in a battle. Included are tables for estimating casualties based on experience from several wars. Find the right row (assault of a fortified position) and estimated number of days and multiply by the size of the attacking force. Such tables should always be taken with large grain of salt when making future estimates, but is amazing how close they come to reality if you compare actual casualties to what actually happened after the fact. I would have been very surprised that if the Battles of Hue and Fulajah had very different casualty rates. Over all casualties would be subject to a number of different factors but it would be reasonable to assume that casualty rates for the war as a whole would be close.

I think that this sort of comparison minimizes the very big differences between the two wars. If we compare these wars to Mao Zedung’s theory of guerilla war we see some very big differences. In Viet Nam in 1966 the North Viet Namese were enaged in a Phase III campaign which is characterized by engaging the governments forces in conventional warfare to bring on final victory. US combat units were introduced because the South Viet Namese Army was stretched to thin to handle this threat. In Iraq we are facing an enemy who is struggling to break out of Phase I operations. The analogy may not quite hold since the insurgents are using the urban warfare methods pioneered in Chechnya. While the dynamics of individual combats remain the same, the Iraq actions are taking place in a very different situation than Viet Nam.

In an earlier post Maosthought or Who is Winning? I used Mao’s three phase theory of guerilla war to provide a tool for evaluating the success or failure of guerilla/counter guerialla operations. Read it and form your own opnion on our success or failure in Iraq. It seems to me that the insurregents are failing to make milestones to move to phase II, or when the get their temporarily they get pushed back. However it also seems that we are slow in making our milestones to defeat the insurrgency in the Sunni Triangle. Guerilla wars are never quick and easy.

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