Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990
The great American philosopher of naval power and American destiny, Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, one of the architects of U.S. expansionism at the turn of the century, defined national interest as a universal constant through which disinterested governments must pursue their nations’ destinies. A nation’s leaders were merely agents tasked with the pursuit of interests on the nation’s behalf; they could not permit personal qualms (or ideology) to interfere with the job at hand. Moreover:
[I]t is vain to expect nations to act consistently from any other motive than of interest. That, under the name of Realism, is the frankly avowed policy of German statecraft. It follows from this directly that the study of interests—international interests—is the one basis of sound, provident policy for statesmen.... Governments are corporations, and corporations have no souls . . . [they] must put first the interests of their own wards . . . their own people.1
Even in Mahan’s day, some governments, unlike “soulless” corporations, had ethical principles built into their very charters, as in the Constitution of the United States—a moral code of a kind, even if often observed in the breach. Mahan’s writing, though, like that of earlier proponents of “manifest destiny,” suggested that as far as the United States or any other nation was concerned, governments could not—for the good of their people—be held even to their own principles beyond their national. Beyond their borders, governments did what they had to do: putting first the interests of their own people—or, at least, of their nation’s shipbuilders, iron merchants, and textile manufacturers.
Admiral Mahan was not the last to reduce complex ethical issues to simple formulae. Mahan sidestepped the moral issues by maintaining that a nation needed no other justification for its actions than its own self-interest. The concept of national interest was for him an absolute beyond ethical considerations (but still somehow righteous) from which all statecraft evolved.2
The national interest argument for overseas intervention was vigorously promoted by Theodore Roosevelt, an admirer and supporter of Mahan’s realpolitik. As president, Roosevelt oversaw a dramatic rise in American military interventions in the Caribbean; customs house interventions, and deploying Marine expeditionary forces throughout the region. His policy, however, was enunciated in terms familiar to the observers of European colonialism, not in the calculated simplicity of “national interest.” The Monroe Doctrine of 1823, whereby President Monroe warned the European powers to get out and keep out of the Americas — ostensibly championing democracy and anticolonialism — took on an unabashedly colonialist corollary.3 Roosevelt announced the intention of the United States to put to good use its newly developed naval power to keep order in the Americas and to guarantee uninterrupted commerce and finance on U. S. terms, as done elsewhere by the European powers. Henceforth, the means of intervention would be the U.S. Marines.
While the Monroe Doctrine was couched in the language of a young republic in a world of monarchic empire, Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” corollary was a bully’s proclamation of self-interest, veneered with a pious claim to have shouldered a “white man’s burden” to “civilize” America’s neighbors. Mahan might have disagreed with Roosevelt’s approach; the national interest alone was, for Mahan, “not only a legitimate, but a fundamental cause for national policy; one which needs no cloak of hypocrisy.”4 What that interest was, and is, is another matter. And despite Mahan, initiatives in the name of the national interest would, over the years, require any number of “cloaks of hypocrisy,” if only to make intervention more palatable to the people of the United States itself.
A more comprehensive elaboration of the nature of American interest crystallized as Woodrow Wilson confronted European disintegration in the Great War and the new challenge of the Bolshevik revolution. Wilson converted Mahan’s doctrine of calculated self-interest into a comprehensive ideology combining political principles, economic theory, and a crusading spirit. A mission of virtuous internationalism was superimposed on Mahan’s essentially amoral logic of the primacy of interest — an ironic combination, given Mahan’s vehement distrust of international checks and balances on the right of nations to wage war. Wilson’s ideal was “to use America’s moral and material power to create a new international order, safe from the related threats of war and revolution, in which America could serve mankind from a position of political and economic preeminence.”5 The international framework of law Mahan so distrusted would, in Wilson’s world, be an American creation to further American prospects and principles on American terms.
The liberal ideology of the Wilson administration impelled a foreign policy of unprecedented self- confidence and activism. Morally superior to the decrepit Great Powers of Europe, the United States would determine a new balance of power, a new political and economic order. At the heart of the vision was the breaking-down of imperial barriers to free trade and investment: an Open Door to the “underdeveloped” world, which would be used—in gentlemanly fashion—by the metropolitan nations of the North to the benefit of all the world. National interest and military power were inextricably linked in a missionary liberalism of commercial expansion.
The commitment to an ideology of liberal internationalism welded the national interest of the United States to the achievement of a new order, safe from war and safe for business. At its core was the peculiarly popular belief of the American people, if not of its corporate planners, that the export of American goods and capital would somehow bring democracy and the good life to the world.6 In the 1960s, the liberal ideal of the beneficence of American commerce and arms remained: American counterinsurgency programs were promoted as measures to oppose “internal aggression” in order to permit economic development, which would bring about an evolution to representative democracy. The published “Statement of U. S. Overseas Internal Defense Objectives” of the Kennedy administration would not have been dramatically out of tune fifty years before; its sole innovation was the incorporation of the theory of the stages of economic growth then in vogue.
The U. S. believes that the processes of development and nation-building should be and encouraged but not manipulated by outside forces. The creation of a relatively stable international environment within which economic growth can occur and free people are able to determine their own form of government is therefore a primary U.S. objective.... It is the policy of the U.S. to assist threatened nations . . . to prevent or defeat communist inspired, supported, or directed insurgency in order to ensure that all nations—especially those newly emerging and developing states—are given the opportunity to determine their own future.7
In Woodrow Wilson’s world, an aggressive foreign policy was seen as a means to bring about international peace. In the following decades, U. S. policy was to be dedicated with equal confidence to the supplanting of the old imperialist order and the suppression of global revolutionism. The United States would wade into the fight against German imperialism, oppose the dismemberment of China (through the Open Door policy), and welcome the downfall of the Czar in March 1917 (receiving an ambassador of an essentially liberal Russian Provisional Government). At the same time, the United States would identify Bolshevism as its principal adversary, a position that would rapidly find shape in military action. Much as the efforts of the European powers to suppress the French Revolution and its political influence dominated war and peace in the century after 1789, the United States’ antagonism to Bolshevism would come to dominate its own twentieth-century foreign policy. The Wilson government, which might have supported a Russian liberal reformist government, concluded that the new Soviet government was as threatening to liberal democracy as to aristocracy; that to recognize it would encourage similar movements elsewhere; and generally, in the words of the Secretary of State, that the Bolshevik forces were “menacing the present social order in nearly every European country,”8 and so must be opposed. Wilson could strike a blow against the Bolsheviks while continuing the fight against the Central Powers by assisting anti-Bolshevik forces. On 3 September 1918 an American military contingent landed in Vladivostok; the force would penetrate up to 1,200 rail miles into the interior of the just-created Soviet Union before withdrawing on 1 April 1920. The exercise, perhaps more so than even the U. S. policy on China, showed that the United States was prepared to intervene anywhere in the world, in conjunction with the European powers or unilaterally, in support of its developing vision of the new world order.” To the Soviets, of course, the intervention reinforced the belief in a hostile world, and encirclement by a host of enemies. 10
Efforts at mediation between the European powers prior to 1917 on the one hand, and postwar support of the League of Nations on the other, aimed to usher in “a world liberal order made safe from traditional imperialism and revolutionary-socialism,” under a kind of international social contract.11 Wilson championed the principle that what was good for America was necessarily good for the rest of the world—an overarching belief still dominant in the way Americans see themselves. America’s task was to champion principles of economic liberalism while it would make the world safe for democracy—but not necessarily democratic—by making it unsafe for aggressive old-style imperialism and new-style revolutionism alike. The weight given to collective security through international law would be subject to a pendulum swing toward and away from internationalism.
The later domination and moderate transformation of Europe’s Old Regime in the wake of World War II and the establishment of a United Nations with its liberal internationalist charter would have appeared to Wilson giant steps toward the achievement of his ideal. The Marshall Plan, which injected some $27 billion into postwar Europe, promoted the economic and political adjustment of its old order to the new, and threw up bulwarks against the remaining adversary.12 The United Nations, moreover, would provide a global political framework through which to bring an American peace, as President Truman stated in his famous “containment” speech of 12 March 1947:
To insure the peaceful development of nations, free from coercion, the United States has taken a leading part in establishing the United Nations. The United Nations is designed to make possible lasting freedom and independence for all its members. We shall not realize our objectives, however, unless we are willing to help free people to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes.13
Peace was desirable insofar as interest required it: but interest could be subordinated to neither peace nor principles. The cold facts of interest, as seen in the harsh light of postwar Foggy Bottom, reflected little of Truman’s—or later Kennedy’s—American idealism, but rather a view that because the United States already dominated the world economically and militarily, its task was to retain the upper hand, ceding nothing in its relations with a world in flux, whatever the long-term consequences. Rarely has a policy paper emerged that more bluntly defined a “go it alone” view of interest than did George F. Kennan’s now oft quoted (then top-secret) “Review of Current Trends, U. S. Foreign Policy” in 1948. Kennan, then director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, observed that “we have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population,” and suggested that interest required the United States to junk idealism—at least within the “inner in” of policymakers:
Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming.... We should dispense with the aspiration to “be liked” or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism.... The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.14
The young Kennan’s paper called a spade a spade, acknowledging that steps must be taken to sustain the United States’ advantages, and warning that the defense of economic privilege was not, by any means, congruent with the democratic ideal. The effort to define a power-oriented national security, without the ideological wrapping of today’s New Right ranters (or Wilsonian idealism), might have been refreshing if this concept had not so blindly bound the essence of security to the maintenance of economic privilege alone. The failure to comprehend that material advantage is never immutable, that economic relationships must gradually—or abruptly—readjust, and that security is best not balanced on undependable economic theory (or aspirations) was one characteristic of the American foray into realpolitik. Efforts to restore at least a veneer of idealism to Cold War politics in the 1960s would, in turn, fail to challenge Kennan’s essential premise that power and privilege were what mattered in international affairs.
The two-tracked aggressive military component of Wilson’s foreign policy—opposing the remnants of Europe’s imperial Old Regime and combating revolutionary socialism—lasted through the decolonization period of the 1950s. From the inception of the Cold War, the two tracks came together. The central commitment to a world order in an American image had overcome the resistance of Europe’s imperial powers in the course of World War II. The new consolidated thrust that took shape
in the closing days of the war and found expression in the ideological formulations of the Truman administration called for a crusade against a single enemy: Soviet communism. In the formulation of the containment policy, the two antagonists of Wilson’s missionary liberalism merged into a single enemy, which combined the worst of atavistic imperialist expansionism with the ideological nemesis communism. Before the war had ended, the protection and promotion of the ideal world order, in conjunction with the defeat of the new German end Japanese imperialism, would contribute to a new emphasis, almost to the exclusion of all other considerations, on counterrevolutionary policy, or containment; a revised version of nineteenth-century British policy toward Czarist Russia—its bloodiest battlefields, the Crimea and the mountains of Afghanistan—and later British efforts to contain the expansion of German sea power after 1880.
Although interest, real or imagined, was the primary motor of overseas intervention, political realities required the presentation of policies to the American public in terms of fairly consistent principles. Intervention was rationalized and justified not on selfish grounds of national aggrandizement but as a selfless mission to aid the underdog. Truman’s doctrine of containment was offered as a policy to assist small, vulnerable nations against superpower aggression and to promote self-determination—and, of course, to aid the cause of world freedom.15
The formulation of the containment doctrine has frequently been attributed to State Department analyst George Kennan and, if to any single document, to Kennan’s essay “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” published under the name “Mr. X” in Foreign Affairs in July 194716 Kennan’s analysis, which reflected a long-standing consensus on the nature of the “Soviet threat,” restored the main thrust of U.S. foreign policy to bare bones realpolitik. The focus narrowed to a single generality: The uneasy peace after 1946 was identified as no peace at all, but a new kind of ever-present war, pitting the United States against its global adversary, Soviet communism. The new war, dubbed the “Cold War” in 1948, was a conflict that comprised political, psychological, and economic warfare—an unprecedented war in peace, involving not-so-unprecedented manifestations of old-fashioned, limited war on the periphery of the “free world. “17
The principal Cold War actors had developed a view of global polarization and conflict some time before postwar policy took shape. In his diaries, Dwight D. Eisenhower recalled visits by dames V. Forrestal (Secretary of the Navy and later Secretary of Defense) during the war and their agreement then that “the free world is under threat by the monolithic mass of Communist Imperialism,” and that to meet that threat the United States must “wake up to prepare a position of strength. “18
Kennan’s contribution was to transform confrontation into an action oriented policy of containment. Kennan warned that “it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.”19 Soviet pressure on the West could be “contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy.”20 Kennan argued that the United States must answer the Soviet challenge or face inevitable destruction, a latter-day doomsday vision that would fuel the Cold War and the counterinsurgency era.21
The postwar thesis of containment was enunciated in President Truman’s “containment” speech. The stated object was not merely to end war but to go further, to build a community of nations free from coercion itself:
One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion. This was a fundamental issue in the war with Germany and Japan. Our victory was won over countries which sought to impose their will, and their way of life, upon other nations.
In the postwar world, though, peoples of a number of countries once again had “totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will.” The immediate challenge was in Greece, where “the very existence of the Greek state is today threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists, who defy the government’s authority.”22 The Truman administration asked Congress to allocate $400 million in economic and military assistance for Greece, then enmeshed in a bloody civil war, and for Turkey as a bulwark against foreign aggression.
Truman did not name the Soviet Union or Soviet communism as the aggressor, but the communist threat was clearly implied. The level of ideological hype was in direct proportion to the enormous sums of money involved and reflected a concern that the American people might balk at involvement in yet another overseas conflict so soon after the conclusion of World War II. The message was that 1947 was a critical juncture when the new order was taking shape, a time for taking sides: “At the present moment in world history, nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one.” Should the United States fail to act, Truman warned, there would be no second chance; the new order was to be an order of absolutes—our way of life or its opposite, either with us or against us. Once a nation fell to communism, there would be no return.23
The 1980s saw further elaboration of the Truman Doctrine, including regional corollaries. The most coherent statement of these principles, the April 1950 “United States Objectives for National Security” (NSC-68), formulated a worldview of polarization between two opposing camps—that of the Soviet Union and that of the United States. American policymakers perceived Soviet intentions to be principally the attainment of world hegemony, and so concluded that perpetual conflict was inescapable without victory by one side or the other.24 In 1952, NSC-141 reiterated the principles in the Latin American context.25 Political and economic development was an objective, but as a means to an end: to build nations “resistant to the internal growth of communism and to Soviet political warfare.” The policy further sought regional political support in the global arena and cooperation “in safeguarding the hemisphere through individual and collective defense measures against external aggression and internal subversion.”26
The Greek Civil War of 1946-1949 has been characterized as “the formal proclamation of the cold war” between the “Free World . . . and the forces of communism.”27 The U. S. intervention in the civil war was the first counterinsurgent campaign of the Cold War. The U.S. Army Group Greece (USAGG) was established as part of the American Mission for Aid to Greece on 14 April 1947. The Aid to Greece and Turkey Bill, Public Law 75, the fruit of Truman’s “containment” speech, authorized what was then the War Department to send military advisers to Greece, and required of Greece free access to U.S. personnel. The first personnel of USAGG, intended primarily to assess military assistance needs, reached Athens on 24 May, with a complement of forty military and twenty civilian personnel in place by 31 July. The first shipload of American military supplies arrived on 2 August. The USAGG was replaced by a full military advisory establishment, the Joint United States Military Advisory and Planning Group (JUSMAPG) on 31 December 1947. From that time, U.S. Army advisers went into the field with combat forces with a mandate to provide “aggressive assistance in the form of operational and logistic advice.”28
The actual numbers of Americans involved on the ground in the Greek Civil War were not released to the public or to Congress at the time. Moreover, a 1961 White House paper on the Greek conflict, prepared for President Kennedy as a case study on counterinsurgency, suggests a deliberate concealing of the level and intimacy of American a military involvement.’’29 The State Department’s second report to Congress reported that the Mission to Greece itself had grown within two years to over “100 military personnel, 220 civilians in the economic mission, 100 diplomatic and intelligence officers,” and 80 administrative officers.30 “ The 1961 White House report gave rather larger figures, reporting personnel levels at the peak period at about 1,500, some 800 of whom were military personnel attached to the military mission. The same report quantifies assistance by the United States as having totaled $723.6 million ($198.4 military) “for the critical years 1946- 48 and an additional $362 million ($158.7 military) for 1949,” although the exact proportion of military to economic aid was unclear: “It is very difficult, however, to state just what resources we contributed, or how much economic aid was devoted to counter-guerrilla activity.”31
The 1961 report stressed as essential to the campaign’s success the almost total command of the operation by Americans and the presence of advisers on combat operations—conditions that would remain at the top of the agendas of American counterinsurgents from Vietnam to El Salvador. Although JUSMAPG was originally limited to supply and training in the use of new weaponry, under General James Van Fleet, appointed to head the military group in February 1948, “its mission was broadened to include training and operations.”32 As one analyst has observed, Van Fleet became “the de facto senior tactical officer of the Greek National Army,” with the American military group “insisting that all its recommendations be carried out fully and speedily.”33 Another lesson drawn by Kennedy’s counterinsurgency advisers from the Greek intervention was that U. S. combat troops were not committed and that “only three U.S. military personnel were lost during the campaign.34
The Greek armed forces in early 1948, as the American military mission began operations, numbered some 120,000 and were organized in a combination of conventional and mountain infantry divisions, British organized commando Wits (known by their Greek initials as LOK), and territorial forces known as the National Defense Corps (sometimes called National Guard).35 A National Civil Guard had been set up immediately after the fall of Germany but had been replaced by a national police force (or gendarmerie) in November 1945.36 The gendarmerie, which operated in all areas except large towns that had their own police services had, at war’s end, some 20,000 men but “had fallen into disrepute through continuing to function under the German occupation authorities.”37 A British Police and Prisons Mission took charge of the “purification” of the force: Within a month of the British landings, the “reconstituted” — but largely unchanged — gendarmerie was fully operational.38 The reorganization of the Greek army was considered complete by May 1948. Force levels rose to some 145,000 regulars in 1949.39
The American military strategy was largely conventional: to pin down Democratic Army forces with massed troops and overwhelming firepower, and systematically to clear the adversary from mountain redoubts. Commando forces—some 2,000 men in all—were reserved for “raiding, deep penetration patrolling and as an air mobile strategic reserve.”40 ‘ Massive operations in 1948 combined artillery and airpower (including strafing, high-explosive bombardment, and napalm) with infantry sweeps. Air power in Operation CROWN, a June-August 1948 offensive against Democratic Army forces in the Grammos Mountains, involved the “not-always-Greek pilots” of the Greek Air Force in “over 2,400 offensive sorties as well as 750 reconnaissance and 180 supply missions. “41
The counterinsurgency campaign included some aspects that would become familiar in later campaigns (and which had antecedents in British and French colonial doctrine, and in the United States’ own experience as a neocolonial power). Most significant of these was the forcible relocation, or clearance of the population from certain areas to create a “no-man’s-land.” British counterinsurgent Edgar O’Ballance described the measure:
Under American insistence energetic counter-measures were taken. . . and one of the most effective of these was the systematic removal of whole sections of the population. This was more far-reaching than is usually realized. It removed the people, it demarcated a “front line,” it prevented “back infiltration” and it caused a blanket of silence to descend. Without to support and succor him, the guerrilla is a fish out of water; he might as well be fighting in a foreign and hostile country.42
A second innovation was the system of the Greek National Defense Corps, a kind of territorial militia organized for defense duties at the local level: As a classic example of counterorganization for counterinsurgency, its recruitment criteria were political. The militia armed and mobilized population sectors predisposed to combat real or suspected communists. The system evolved from an earlier right-wing paramilitary force which was based largely on the wartime Greek Democratic National League (EDES). This had been a principal vehicle of the “White Terror” of 1946-1947, and the disbanding of the ad hoc “home guard” was a principal demand of the Left prior to the outbreak of open civil war.43 A 1947 New York Times article reported the creation of the new force in the context of Prime Minister Sophoulis’s September 1947 pledge to call a “national rally” to “exterminate” the guerrillas if they did not hand in their arms.44 “‘Exterminating’ guerrillas,” however, was “one of the most difficult assignments an army can have....” The new program would combine local paramilitary forces at the grassroots with mobile regular units:
Everyone now seems to agree that the army should use guerrilla methods, but little has been done to implement the idea. One thing that has been done, however, is to begin organizing a National Guard composed of reservists. Thirty-five to forty battalions of 500 men each will take on static defensive duties in endangered areas and release regular troops for offensive operations. The guard will replace . . . an unpaid, ill-equipped home guard recruited among Right-wing elements which frequently compensated for its military ineffectiveness by persecuting so-called Communist villagers. The American Mission for Aid to Greece. . . views the National Guard plan with favor.45
The National Defense Corps was established in October 1947, its force level authorized initially at 20,000 and raised to 50,000 in January 1948. The force was to be under army command, with active- duty army personnel serving as trainers; its recruits were to be veterans of military service, and were to serve on a part-time basis in their home areas while living at home. A Marine Corps Gazette study described the theory as that of “ minutemen,” a militia that could protect the civil community— in general, providing local patrols and serving on guard duty—and free the army for the pursuit of the guerrillas.46 Although the force level eventually reached some 50,000, the same source observes that “the ‘minuteman’ function was gradually abandoned” as these reserve units were called up to serve as conventional light infantry battalions.
The paramilitary militia system persisted after the collapse of National People’s Liberation Army (ELAS) forces in 1949, to be cited later by U. S. counterinsurgents as a model for the “counterorganization” of the civil population for grass-roots population control and counterguerrilla action. Lt. Col. John McCuen, in The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War (1966), cites the postwar incarnation of the National Defense Corps (Tagmata Ethnofylackha Amynhs, or TEA) as a model for local self-defense, military training, and political indoctrination: “We have had few near-ideal examples of effective counter-revolutionary strategy, but the T.E.A. organization is one of the best. It seems worthy of close emulation by other countries threatened with revolutionary action.”47
A key characteristic of the system was the interpenetration and close control of the system by the regular army,48 a shared feature of later paramilitary systems such as El Salvador’s ORDEN and the civil self-defense organizations set up in Latin America, Vietnam, and the Philippines since the early 1960s. The TEA’s model recruitment procedure— again similar to that of El Salvador’s ORDEN and current civil defense systems—employed a system of vetting personnel according to their political proclivities and of keeping costs down: remuneration came in the form of patronage jobs and surplus commodities.49 The incorporation of ax-conscripts into the system provided a means of taking advantage of military training in the long-term, as well as retaining a means of ongoing supervision of trained personnel.
The political dimension went beyond recruitment criteria; although a form of active military reserve, TEA also had the characteristics of a paramilitary political organization:
A significant element of the T. E.A. training is political—as part of the Greek Army’s “enlightenment” campaign. Officers get special courses to prepare them for this responsibility. Not only do the officers indoctrinate their men, but they often travel through their areas of responsibility giving speeches to the villagers. . . . As a result the Greeks look upon the T. E. A. organization as an important means of influence, commitment, and control of the population.50
At base, however, the political role was superimposed on a political-policing role of intelligence, vigilance, and repression. TEA units were armed with rifles, submachine guns, and light machine guns (kept locked up by officers), and they carried out guard and patrolling functions in rotation.51
In late 1948, the Democratic Army leadership changed from a strategy of guerrilla warfare to employ the conventional tactics of open confrontation and battle—in an apparent move to achieve a victory before the inflow of American arms could turn the tide (or the Tito-Stalin rift led to a total rupture between its leaders and Yugoslavia, which had hitherto provided sanctuary). The strategic shift proved catastrophic. In a final campaign in August 1949, the Democratic Army confronted the national army’s combination of infantry, artillery, and air power “in heavy, positional combat” in the Gramos and Vitsi ranges, and after six days of fighting it was routed.52 Although many guerrillas fled across the border into Albania, the military victory effectively ended the Greek Civil War.
The 1961 reexamination of the Greek campaign for the Kennedy White House summarized factors in the Greek conflict considered to bear on contemporary counterinsurgency. 53 i The report very much shared the American view held in 1948: The guerrilla Democratic Army was a straightforward extension of Soviet power, and cutting the Democratic Army off from sanctuary and resupply had proved decisive in its defeat.54 Attributing the military defeat of the Democratic Army to the closure of the Yugoslav border, however, ignored Albania’s uninterrupted supply and sanctuary role. And, as Larry Cable notes, cross-border traffic into Yugoslavia remained partially open until duly 1949, “less than a month before the insurrection was finally suppressed.”55
The 1961 paper provides insight into the way insurgency was seen at the time. Although called a “civil war, “ the American view of the Greek conflict in 1949 was that of “a partisan war in which [the Democratic Army] operated as auxiliaries of the Soviet Army whose intervention was possible and, for a while, seen as probable.” The view then was that a guerrilla movement could not represent a serious threat in the absence of the conventional forces of an external sponsoring power. The nonmilitary aspects, however, from civic action to the forced relocation of civilians were fully noted and seen as integral parts of the counterinsurgency campaign. Population control measures, in particular, were seen to have been successful, in part because the “protection or removal to positions of safety of exposed Greek civilians” gave them “the courage to resist the guerrillas.” The conclusion was that earlier support for the guerrillas “was largely a result of fear.”;’
The events in Greece tended to reconfirm wartime perceptions of guerrillas as partisans attached to contending powers and insignificant without outside support. The conversion of Colonel Zervas’s EDES collaborationists (and Zervas himself) into American allies in turn reaffirmed American military views that (noncommunist) partisans, however unsavory, could be brought to heel and used to good effect by the United States—whether in offensive unconventional warfare or in counterinsurgency warfare.
Although the Greek conflict was outstanding for the level of atrocities committed by both sides, the element of terror was downplayed by the American military in its later analyses of the conflict. Rather, the consensus was that victory resulted largely from the combination of conventional military tactics with the kind of “firm but fair” policies associated elsewhere in Europe with American occupation forces, and, perhaps decisively, the isolation of the guerrillas from their foreign sanctuaries. An August 1966 Military Review, however, reflected later thinking by describing the Greek conflict—”the Anti-Bandit War”—as the first step toward the aggressive and innovative counterinsurgency strategies of the 1960s:
From the military point of view, it established four significant trends in US strategy:
- The provision of large-scale military assistance to a foreign government in “peacetime. “
- The use of US military personnel as advisors to indigenous forces in the conduct of active military operations.
- The development of counterguerrilla tactics as a paramount requisite of the cold war.
- The acceptance of US involvement in military hostilities without the commitment of maximum resources.57
As noted, USAGG’s strategy against communist guerrillas in Greece was largely conventional. The army’s move into the unconventional warfare arena was precipitated by the outbreak of war in Korea. The defeat of Japan had been followed by Korea’s occupation by U.S. and Soviet troops and its partition along the 38th parallel. Although the partition was initially proposed as temporary, as with the later division of Vietnam, the Cold War climate was not amenable to reunification.. In 1946, the American occupation force created a South Korean “constabulary” along military lines and prepared for withdrawal after 15 August 1948 when a South Korean government, elected under United Nations auspices, took office. The military forces of the constabulary became the army of the Republic of Korea, growing to nearly 100,000 men by 30 June 1949, when American occupation forces withdrew. Their initial task would be to confront guerrilla forces much like those of revolutionary China. .58
Sporadic guerrilla actions and army mutinies were first reported in the south in October 1948 and attributed to adherents of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung; by December 1949, they had prompted major (if ineffectual) South Korean offensives into guerrilla base areas in the Tae-back and Chiri Mountains.59 When North Korean troops spilled over the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950, a partisan support network estimated at some 7,000 strong was in place. Following the American landing at Inchon, North Korean troops cut off by U.N. forces linked up with growing partisans; and by November “the total guerrilla strength had Jumped astronomically to 40,000, of whom roughly half were armed....”60 These forces stayed behind when U.N. forces thrust north toward the Chinese border, disrupting supply lines and facilitating the subsequent return to the south by North Korean and Chinese forces through “agitprop, reconnaissance, sabotage and ambush.”61
The invading North Koreans rapidly overran Seoul in the June offensive, and within weeks drove the South Korean troops (ROK) and the small American force to the extreme southern end of the peninsula; a bridgehead was retained at Pusan through which reinforcements and supplies were rapidly available for what had become a U.N. force (although largely American). An amphibious landing at Inchon, to the west of Seoul, combined with the moves north from Pusan obliged the North Koreans to withdraw beyond the 38th parallel in September 1950. Thousands of North Koreans cut off from their units in the withdrawal joined local partisans and deliberate “stay- behinds,” which would subsequently disrupt U.N. rear areas. The seesaw front line was thrust rapidly to the north by U.N. troops commanded by General Douglas MacArthur. Despite allied warnings to stop the advance after the capture of Pyongyang, MacArthur continued north. In the first week of November, as U.N. troops approached the Chinese border, the feared Chinese response was forthcoming: Chinese and North Korean troops pushed the U.N. forces south of the 38th parallel by Christmas and captured Seoul. U.N. forces regained control by the spring, and the front remained near the 38th parallel until the armistice of July 1953.
The American response to the strictly guerrilla aspect of the conflict was disjointed and largely conventional in concept. Antiguerrilla tactics were left largely to the imagination of local commanders.62 Major operations, using conventional tactics to search and clear even mountainous guerrilla areas, proved relatively effective in combination with the large war against the enemy main force. In January 1951, the First Marine Division was turned to the task of clearing guerrillas from a mountainous area in the Taebaek Mountains, in Marine lore the “Pohang Guerrilla Hunt.” A combination of “sweeps, search and clear missions and rapid reaction forces, “ the operation resulted in the withdrawal of the bulk of partisan forces from the area.63 The offensive to clear guerrillas from the Chiri Mountains followed in December 1951. Dubbed “Operation RATKILLER,” it involved primarily South Korean forces cordoning escape routes and moving in force to screen the area; repeated sweeps after RATKILLER were credited by November 1952 with clearing guerrillas from the area.64
Although Korea catalyzed the military revival and extension of psychological and unconventional warfare capabilities, the very nature of the Korean conflict, from its origin in invasion to its essentially conventional confrontation of military forces, conspired against the development of an innovative counterguerrilla/unconventional warfare doctrine. The dramatic movement of its conventional front line, in particular, would result in the conversion of regular troops into “partisans” and back into regulars as territorial control shifted in a matter of weeks. The postwar mainstream military analysis was that guerrillas could be successfully eradicated by conventional forces—military and police— adapting essentially conventional tactics to the task.65 The analysis found almost immediate application with the American move into Vietnam at the time of the Paris peace accords of 1954, and molded the American effort to build a South Vietnamese military establishment. A view of guerrilla warfare based largely on the Korean experience was outlined by American commander Lt. Gen. Samuel Williams, who saw a beefed-up police force as the answer to guerrillas, in a 1955 memorandum to the new Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem:
Communist guerrillas have been destroyed in Greece, Korea, the Philippines and Iran. They can be destroyed in Vietnam.... Communist guerrilla strategy is simple. By using a small amount of arms and equipment and a few good military leaders, they force (their opponents) to utilize relatively large military forces in a campaign that is costly in money and men.... When the North Koreans attacked, the South Korean Army suffered from this diversion as their army was not strategically or tactically deployed to meet the North Korean attack.’66
Korea’s principal influence was on the military perception of guerrilla warfare, its tactics and limitation. Preconceptions of the guerrilla as an auxiliary to conventional forces were reinforced. And while little new in the way of fighting guerrillas emerged, a model of guerrilla methods was constructed for the United States’ own “guerrillas.”
Efforts to organize an American “guerrilla” effort on the World War II model were begun by the Operations Division (G-3) of the U.S. Eighth Army in the winter of 1950. The recruitment of Korean nationals for behind-the-lines operations was the task of a special Eighth Army unit, whose mission was “To develop and direct partisan warfare by training in sabotage indigenous groups and individuals both within Allied lines and behind enemy lines.”67 A 1981 Special Forces field manual describes Korea as a turning point after a tendency “to ignore the lessons taught by the resistance fighters” of World War II. It describes the organization of the Korean “guerrillas” after the Eighth Army’s retreat from the Yalu River, and reports that from “6,000 to 10,000 Korean irregular troops [were] swept along with it. The decision was made to employ these irregulars as guerrillas, and for 3 years these guerrillas— later named partisans—were trained, supported, and directed by the US Army.”68 In practice, the army unhappily shared its control with both the CIA, through an unwieldy coordinating body at the Far East Command (FECOM), and the remarkable Covert, Clandestine and Related Activities in Korea (CCRAK, oddly metamorphosed in the 1981 manual to the drab “Combined Command Reconnaissance Activities Korea”).69 Based on offshore islands on the two coasts, the Eighth Army ran three guerrilla commands — WOLFPACK, LEOPARD, and KIRKLAND — averaging around 5,000 men each.70 In practice, their principal tasks of hit and-run raids and sabotage were more akin to commando operations than to “guerrilla” operations, although some long-range reconnaissance operations called for infiltration of small units, which remained behind lines for up to six months at a time.71 The 1981 Special Forces manual describes their function, rather more romantically, as groundwork for a new “liberation”: “The Eighth US Army . . . assigned them the mission to establish a resistance net in North Korea that would support regular forces in an anticipated offensive to liberate all or part of North Korea.”72 Other “guerrilla” initiatives were undertaken by the CIA in Korea and the neighboring mainland of China, nominally, but in army eyes ineffectually, coordinated with the FECOM through the CCRAK liaison group.73