Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990

The Heart of Doctrine

The U. S. Army’s doctrine of counterinsurgency existed at two levels on the eve of the Kennedy presidency, distinguished by the degree of specialization of the forces it was intended to address. The army’s 1951 Operations against Guerrilla Forces (FM 31-20) remained in general use in its field manual series. A series of more specialized texts, prepared at the Psychological Warfare Center, provided guidance for U.S. Army Special Forces “guerrilla” and counterguerrilla operations. The Special Forces manuals and guidelines in 1960 eschewed ethical limits on conduct in guerrilla warfare and reserved the use of terror as a legitimateand highly effective-tactical tool of unconventional warfare. Although counterinsurgency rapidly became more sophisticated under the Kennedy administration, the basic premise that guerrilla warfare is best combated with “guerrilla” tactics remained central.

The 1960 Special Forces manual, Counter-Insurgency Operations (unnumbered), combined the traditional approach to counterinsurgency, as applied by colonial powers and occupying armies alike, with guerrilla tactics. The cover of the manual, which was part of the collection of counterinsurgency materials President Kennedy kept in his office, depicts the Soviet menace incarnate, an aggressive leering death’s head in a Soviet uniform.1 Its content, too, is considerably less bland than that of the numbered field manual series. The organization and conduct of “punitive operations in the guerrilla/terrorist suppression campaign” is outlined, incorporating elements of some of the tactical and organizational innovations used by the French in Indochina and North Africa and the British in the pacification of Malaya.2

The organizational side does not differ dramatically from the doctrine of the following decade and incorporates lessons from the British and French strategic hamlet and “self-defense” forces concepts, as well as the American experience in the Philippines, Korea, and Indochina. The terminology used is that of the British/French colonial experience: The insurgents are characterized as “guerrilla/ terrorists” and “dissidents” and the suspect population is liable to “resettlement” and “punitive” action. A detailed section on the utility of helicopter transport and gunships suggests a familiarity with the French experience in Algeria-where the concept was pioneered.3

The military was assigned the primary responsibility in “the conduct of punitive operations” in the “guerrilla/terrorist suppression campaign,” with support from indigenous “police, paramilitary unit, and civil agencies.”4 Army trained “Civilian Self-Defense Forces,” a feature in (British) Malaya and (French) Indochina, were to provide security surveillance and intelligence “at the town, village and hamlet level.”5 Paramilitary forces, designated as “Special Police” or “Special Constables” (both terms applied in British Malaya), were to be recruited from experienced trackers, “hunters-poachers,” or “primitive indigenous personnel from sparsely populated areas with specialized area knowledge,” and trained for special tasks.6 “Special Intelligence Personnel” (another British term), for “intelligence, counter-subversion and Psychological purposes,” included “Agents; Informants; ‘Galvanized Guerrillas’ (reformed personnel working for the government); Smugglers; Black market operators; Defected red personnel; Captured red personnel.”7

The basic formation prescribed for small-unit actions was “Hunterkiller Teams,” units of twelve-the size of the standard Special Forces “A” Detachment-including local personnel. In the Korean War, U.S. Hunter-killer Teams (highly mobile conventional light infantry) had played a significant role as mobile strike forces against Korean and Chinese regulars and behind-the-line guerrillas. The Hunter-killer Teams described in the 1960 manual differ from the Korean War model in their size and makeup. The Hunter-killer Teams, like the Philippines Nenita units, the British countergangs in the Kenyan Emergency, and the French counterguerrilla irregulars of Indochina and Algeria, dressed and operated as “guerrillas”: “Personnel wear local indigenous civilian clothes or nondescript military attire and possess items of Red insignia on uniforms for use when appropriate.” Their mission was to conduct long-range reconnaissance and to “hunt down and destroy” the adversary.8

The counterinsurgency program was envisioned as a process of four general, often overlapping phases. Phase I entails the organization of local auxiliary counterinsurgency forces, local “pacification committees” and the beginning of population control measures (“stringent food rationing and control measures over commerce”). Offensive operations follow in Phase II, the “all-out attack to exterminate large guerrilla forces in the field”; isolation of the guerrillas through control of food supplies and the forcible relocation of suspect elements to “secure” resettlement areas; and the creation of no-go “sanitary zones,” “specific areas from which the population is restricted and in which all nongovernmental personnel encountered can be considered guerrilla/terrorists.” Phase III, “Destruction of the Guerrilla/terrorist Military and Support Elements,” includes more of the same, including intensified efforts to isolate guerrilla forces (“Operations to destroy small garden plots, fields and cattle stock held or used by guerrilla elements in remote or sparsely populated regions are pressed”). And Phase IV, “Rehabilitation,” is to restore “normalcy” through “firm but fair” administration.9

The elements of the counterinsurgency program mapped out in 1960 were not in themselves innovations. The innovation was in the generalized subordination of the tactics and techniques of counterinsurgency to the fundamental principle of fighting like with like. The extralegal element of the approach was justified only on the grounds of expediency-and the expectations of the adversary: “Basically the guerrilla/ terrorist mentally acknowledges and accepts his status as an illegal person whose life is forfeit if apprehended.” And in a further departure from the post-Korea manuals of the 1950s, the 1960 manual explicitly prescribed the use of guerrilla and terrorist methods: “Principals [sic] of Operation: Stress maintenance of the initiative by prompt offensive action, economy of force and employment of suitably organized and trained troops and police in all weather field operations utilizing guerrilla/ terrorist tactics.11

A principal message of the 1960 manual was the need to react unconventionally to insurgency: The normal rules and conventions of war went by the board (“No rote, drill or other rigidly defined tactics or techniques can be prescribed in the conduct of suppression operations”). Action prescribed ranged from classic small-unit engagements to the deliberate use of terror: “The majority of government operations can be classified into one or more of the following general types: a) Meeting engagements; b) Attacks; c) Defense; d) Ambushes, ‘Q’ Operations and Provocative actions; e) Raids; f) Pursuit actions; g) Interception actions; h) Terror Operations.”12 “Q” operations are defined as those “in which an ostensibly lucrative target is offered to lure the guerrilla/terrorist to attack” (as with the “Q”-ships of World War 11-gunboats disguised as merchanters), while “Provocative Actions” are those “initiated by the government to provoke the guerrillas to attack.”

There was no mention of hearts and minds, of development, reform, or sophisticated propaganda. The Special Forces were specialists in warfare at its most primitive; whether using the knife, the noose, or C-4 plastique (a plastic explosive), their trade was the violent end of war, however elaborate the larger strategy of warfare. No further elaboration of the “Terror Operations” prescribed appears in the 1960s manual, but references to punitive actions and the use of “guerrilla/ terrorist” tactics suggest a no-holds-barred approach. The prescription of terror for American counterinsurgents-and unconventional warriors-remained a feature of American doctrine in the 1960s and afterward, although such terror was generally described through the more oblique term counterterror (counterorganization described the paramilitary forces). “Terror Operations” would take the form of campaigns of assassination, “disappearance,” and mass executions in many countries in subsequent decades, and would remain a hallmark of the counterinsurgency state in the 1980s.

The tactical application of unconventional warfare doctrine to counterinsurgency after 1960 continued naturally after a counterinsurgency program was designated as a national policy. The guerrilla was to be fought with a mirror image of guerrilla tactics and organization, a model constructed from the U.S. Army’s own experience in, and preconceptions about, offensive “guerrilla” warfare. The reflection was hardly a faithful replica of the guerrilla warfare of Mao or the Vietnamese strategists: The image in the mirror was in large part that of the United States’ own “guerrillas,” the U.S. Army Special Forces, the CIA’s paramilitary assets, and their indigenous recruits. ‘ Doctrine prescribed tactics and organization in a mélange inverting Special Forces unconventional warfare practices and parodying the style of revolutionary guerrilla warfare. The terror of the guerrilla-and the unconventional warfare arsenal-was opposed by the “counterterror” of thecounterinsurgent. The organizational models of the guerrilla forces and sympathizers (and the Special Forces’ partisan guerrillas) were matched by a model “counterorganization” for counterinsurgency. Terror and counterorganization in the formal doctrine of the United States’ military is discussed further below (see Chapter 10).

Although to an extent counterinsurgency was the converse of unconventional warfare, the former was in practice a subordinate discipline of the latter, distinguished not by its tactics or organizational forms but by its operational scenario. Unconventional warfare came into play whenever operations took place in enemy territory-or in territory counterinsurgents considered to be under enemy influence. The relative success of the insurgent in dominating a territory, in addition, could serve to justify doing away with the distinction altogether. In theory, counterinsurgency becomes unconventional warfare whenever the operational area is considered to be under enemy influence: Offensive counterinsurgency forces, as a consequence, were ideally organized and trained to be indistinguishable from those raised to conduct covert cross-border raids. Terror tactics, in unconventional warfare, became counterterror in counterinsurgency.

Counterinsurgency and Unconventional Warfare Merge

The doctrine of the early 1960s addressed the potential for indigenous irregulars to be organized and trained for guerrilla (not counterguerrilla) warfare, as if tasked to carry out a resistance campaign against a foreign enemy. The rationale was that such forces were required against the possibility of government collapse in the face of foreign aggression. They were to have provided a nucleus of stay-behind (or “stand-by”) forces in the event of an enemy victory. Doctrine subsequently provided for the employment of such “guerrilla” forces in counterinsurgency, as assets through which to deny victory to foreign aggression (read: subversion and insurgency) through the methods of unconventional warfare-proposals described below in the Latin American context. A capsule description of the procedure appears in the 1962 U. S. Army field manual, FM 33-5, Psychological Operations:

In cold war situations, special forces personnel are invited by legitimate foreign governments to train and develop indigenous forces in the doctrine, methods, and techniques of guerrilla warfare. A two-fold purpose underlies this cold war training: one, to enable the allied force to oppose an invader successfully; two, to counter and nullify organized subversive armed forces within the country.

A U.S. Army Special Warfare School document from the 1961-1963 period, “Concepts for U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Activities,” surveys the development of a Counterinsurgency advisory program that uses indigenous unconventional warfare cadres for covert actions to overthrow undesirable revolutionary regimes:14

Indigenous special-forces-type units should be trained for operations within their own country as stay-behind forces in seizing control of the government. These forces would be a nucleus upon which to develop a large-scale irregular force for the overthrow of the hostile insurgent or occupying government.15

The document further suggests that such programs could be introduced to develop American unconventional warfare assets in advance of a client’s collapse, with or without that government’s consent. The irregulars would not even necessarily be nationals of the country involveda policy of particular relevance to CIA and U. S. Army operations in Latin America and Indochina: “If the US Army does not have agreements for training within the country, unconventional warfare forces of a similar ethnic grouping could be trained in adjacent countries, within the United States, or in some other host country. These forces would be a deterrent to indirect aggression by hostile political forces.”16

The provision for offensive operations against hostile governments stressed the primary role of indigenous forces backed by U.S. Army unconventional warriors. As proposed in the 1961 “think” paper cited above, U. S. conventional forces were envisioned as playing a largely political role, rattling sabers and blocking conventional support for the target government. Provision is made for the senior U.S. military commander to assume primary political responsibility vis-à-vis “sponsored” parallel leaders (a two-tiered system of covert diplomacy no doubt applied in Laos in 1960 to remove Souvanna Phouma, and in the long campaign against the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s):

[Conventional] US military forces should only be employed in the hostile area when local forces are not adequate. The US military role is primarily one of advice, assistance, and logistical support. When US forces are committed, the US military commander in the hostile area should be the US President’s representative in the sponsored underground government . . . . At such time as a friendly government regains control of the country, the normal US Country Team relationship should be restored. Until this takes place, coordination of the executive agencies of the US Governnent should be under the direction of the senior US military commander. At any time outside intervention by another power seems possible, U.S. Combat forces should be deployed in a show-of-force role prepared to intervene in support of the friendly resistance movement. Any open conflict between opposing regular military forces raises the operations to limited war which is beyond the scope of this discussion.17

The organization of irregular forces was to be undertaken by “a nucleus of special-forces type detachments” set up in accordance with U.S. Special Forces doctrine. Training was to take place in “a secure base area,” with U.S. Army trainers instructing indigenous irregulars “in guerrilla warfare, propaganda, subversion, intelligence and counterintelligence, terrorist activities, civic action, and conventional combat operations.”” Suggested phases for the conduct of operations included “Organization or capture of an underground movement; Formation of an underground intelligence system, clandestine propaganda, terrorist activities, and political cells; Movement of U.S. military forces in a show of force to an area near the hostile country”20 (each of these phases should be familiar to observers of the offensive against Nicaragua in the 1980s and the U.S. Army’s frenzy of military training, base-building, and maneuvers in neighboring Honduras). Direct involvement of U.S. (unconventional) forces is also prescribed in everything from propaganda to acts of terrorism:

Military intelligence units should be organized to develop within the area. Agents can be infiltrated into resistance areas . Psychological warfare specialists can work with the underground in the production and dissemination of clandestine propaganda. Special-forces type personnel who are demolition specialists can work with the underground in destroying government facilities, in terrorist activities, and in tying down internal security forces to protect government installations.21

As the destabilization of the hostile government progresses, the level of the activity is to intensify: “Direct movement by guerrilla forces within the country to seize control of the government. These guerrilla forces should be supported by strikes, riots, and intensified sabotage and subversion.” Once the hostile government is overthrown, the U.S. role shifts abruptly to counterinsurgency assistance and political counseling-that is, “Consolidation of control by friendly political forces and expansion of internal security operations; Assistance in organization [presumably of government] so that the purpose of U.S. efforts is not lost to new totalitarians.”22

The merging of the two strains of special warfare, offensive “guerrilla” warfare and counterinsurgency (first apparent in the evolution of the U.S. Army Special Forces) had, after 1961, become an integral part of army doctrine and practices. Special Forces training schedules, in particular, stressed the interchangeability of the skills required, with consecutive practical exercises alternating from guerrilla to counterguerrilla scenarios. The training arrangements at Fort Bragg for non-Special Forces Americans and foreign officers followed a similar approach to what was seen as a single military discipline. Brig. Gen. William Yarborough, commander of the Special Warfare Center and school during the Kennedy administration, described the training offered in 1963:

The Unconventional Warfare Course and the counterinsurgency Course are two sides of the same coin. The UW Course emphasizes the problems of creating an effective guerrilla force in enemy territory during a hot war situation; the CI Course deals with the reasons behind dissident movements and the techniques used in combatting guerrilla forces and revolutionary movements. Thus the UW Course teaches how to help defeat an enemy by developing guerrilla forces, and the CI Course teaches how to prevent Communist inspired dissident movements and guerrilla forces from succeeding.23

The specialists in these two fields both before and after the Kennedy years remained the U.S. Army Special Forces, whose tactical doctrine set the norms for counterinsurgency forces in much of the Third World. The model for the “guerrilla” and “counterguerrilla” roles depended to a large extent on the American view of the enemy, with perhaps its most explicit elaboration in the “Aggressor” guerrilla doctrine devised for maneuvers (see chapter 2, “Aggressor-Maneuver Warfare”). The glossy 1963 U.S. Army booklet, Special Warfare, is illustrated with photographs of men “enrolled in the Unconventional Warfare Course” at Fort Bragg who were “acting as Aggressor Guerrillas during a field training exercise.”24

A Visit to Colombia

The overlap of offensive “guerrilla” tactics and organization with their counterguerrilla analogues can be illustrated in written doctrine and in historical experience-examples from Colombia and Vietnam are particulary relevant. A proposal to organize indigenous irregulars with the twofold function in Colombia was made by a top-level U.S. Special Warfare team from Fort Bragg during a two-week visit there in February 1962.25 In a secret supplement to his report to the joint Chiefs of Staff, Special Warfare Center commander General Yarborough, who headed the survey team, pressed for a stay-behind irregular force and its immediate deployment to eliminate communists representing a future threat:

[A] concerted country team effort should be made now to select civilian and military personnel for clandestine training in resistance operations in case they are needed later. This should be done with a view toward development of a civil and military structure for exploitation in the event the Colombian internal security system deteriorates further. This structure should be used to pressure toward reforms known to be needed, perform counter-agent and counter-propaganda functions and as necessary execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents. It should be backed by the United States.

As a telling afterthought-hinting at the lack of coordination between the military and the CIA-Yarborough adds: “If we have such an apparatus in Colombia it should be employed now ....”26

General Yarborough’s 1962 report included recommendations to the Colombian military and the civil police to improve intelligence and population control capabilities through “an intensive civilian registration program . . . so that [everyone] is eventually registered in government files together with fingerprints and photographs.” Interrogation procedures and techniques, including regular questioning of rural villagers “who are believed to be knowledgeable of guerrilla activities” were also advised. When dealing with guerrillas-or “bandits”-interrogations were to be particularly thorough: “Exhaustive interrogation of the bandits, to include sodium pentathol and polygraph, should be used to elicit every shred of information. Both the Army and the Police need trained interrogators.”27 In a country with a long tradition of police violence and torture in the wake of a long civil war, encouraging techniques to “elicit every shred” of information suggested at best an indifference to torture, at worst an endorsement of it. Pentathol, for example, while in medical practice used to induce relaxation, was reportedly used in Latin America in the early1970s in conjunction with other drugs, notably derivatives of curare (or its synthetic form suxamethonium, or “Scoline”), which induces paralysis, agony, and terror.28

The brief of General Yarborough’s survey team was to prepare the way for the first of a series of Special Warfare Mobile Training Teams due to arrive in Colombia in early March 1962. It was to evaluate the insurgency/counterinsurgency situation, the country’s assistance and training needs, and the Colombian counterinsurgency effort “with a view toward integrating viable Colombian doctrine and techniques into counterinsurgency instruction presented at the US Army Special Warfare School [part of the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg].” Its paramilitary prescription, a virtual blueprint for the Colombian army “death squads” that are still active, was apparently implemented at once. Although the U. S. embassy intelligence officers there informed Yarborough’s team that the “some 8,000 communists” in Colombia were “inept bumblers and posed no real threat to the government,” the team recommended the assignment of five twelve-man Special Forces “A” detachments to four Colombian counterguerrilla brigades as well as an administrative detachment and psychological warfare specialists.

The principal recommendations of the 1962 mission were subsequently adopted in the Colombian military’s comprehensive counterinsurgency plan, the Plan Lazo, adopted at the end of 1962 and continued through 1965.29 The programs that followed combined guerrilla and counterguerrilla warfare, and involved both counterterror and counterorganization. The banditry of the early 1960s, a heritage of La Violencia, the period of civil war that began in 1948, was transformed into organized revolutionary guerrilla warfare after 1965, which has continued to date. In the 1990s, Colombia is racked with political-and criminalviolence perhaps unequaled at present even in El Salvador; the “death squads” of the army, police, and their civilian collaborators claimed over a thousand lives in 1987 alone, in the name of counterinsurgency.30 Colombia’s doctrine of counterinsurgency today seemingly differs little from that of the United States in the 1960s. The Colombian army’s 1969 counterguerrilla manual, Regalamento de Combate de Contraguerrillas, is based on U. S. field manuals and training texts, which it lists in an appendix.31 Texts cited include anthologies of Military Review articles and the writings of three of the French guerre révolutiounaire theorists who most openly advocate counterterror and counterorganization: translations of Roger Trinquier’s Modern Warfare; David Galula’s Couniterinsurency Warfare; and Colonel Gabriel Bonnet’s Insurrectionary and Revolutionary Wars.32

Vietnam: Unconventional Warfare or Counterinsurgency?

The changeable application of the norms of counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare became most apparent during the course of the Vietnam War. The illogic of the conventional war waged on friendly territory against an ostensibly allied population in Vietnam was more than matched by that of the unconventional war in the South. Both the air war of ARC LIGHT raids by B-52 bombers and helicopter gunships and the war in the shadows of sabotage and assassination were waged in the South as if in enemy territory against an enemy people. The various, sometimes bizarre experiments in conducting unconventional war were permissible in the United States’ obtuse, secondhand conceptual foundation of counterinsurgency doctrine itself As both the doctrine and practice of counterinsurgency had been developed as an offshoot of the unconventional warfare doctrine of the 1950s, counterguerrilla warfare was considered almost interchangeable with that of unconventional warfare.

0n 9 March 1961, Kennedy’s NSAM 28 instructed Defense and CIA to launch offensive operations against the guerrilla opposition in Vietnam, termed in the memorandum “Viet Minh.” Significantly, the order called for “Guerrilla action in Viet Minh territory.” The army Special Forces complied, organizing covert operations in the South and raids into border areas of the North and into Laos. McGeorge Bundy asked Defense and CIA for a rapid response on action plans “in view of the president’s instruction that we make every possible effort to launch guerrilla operations . . . at the earliest possible time....”33 In May 1961, NSAM 52 called for the deployment of the first contingent of Special Forces-about 400 men-to Vietnam’s Nha Trang training center to accelerate the training of Vietnamese Special Forces in guerrilla warfare.” Counterguerrilla warfare in 1961 was seen by the new counterinsurgents as a variation on guerrilla warfare. Significantly, the Special Forces units deployed to Vietnam were to operate covertly, under CIA control.35

The confusion of guerrilla warfare with counterinsurgency was in evidence from the inception of the American effort to wage counterinsurgency in Vietnam. What is extraordinary is that very little thought appears to have gone into the distinction. The army’s official history of the Special Forces suggests that the Green Berets generally went about the task of counterinsurgency as if engaged in guerrilla operations behind enemy lines. During the 1961-1965 period, the force was “capable of waging unconventional war under conventional war conditions,” although “the war in Vietnam ... never fell smoothly into the conventional category.” This, however, did not deter their use of the behindthe-line tactics developed for occupied Europe: “In Vietnam, ‘enemy or enemy-controlled territory’ was the countryside of South Vietnam, the government of which had invited U.S. military presence. The enemy insurgents were guerrillas themselves.”36

The merging of unconventional warfare with counterinsurgency hinged on the definition of the former: Unconventional warfare was waged within a host country whenever and wherever territory was considered to be “enemy-controlled.” The special tactics of behind-thelines operations, then, could be introduced into a domestic conflict at will. Special Forces operations with irregular counterguerrillas in Vietnam epitomized the overlapping functions. A 1967 Fifth Special Forces “Operational Report” describes the development of the irregular “Mike Force” and Mobile Guerrilla Force program. Operations are described as “guerrilla” and “unconventional” warfare when conducted in areas dominated by the enemy:

These operations were of significant value in restricting the VC [Vietcong] use of safe havens in areas in which he had been previously unmolested .... The guerrilla force is designed as an “Economy of Force” effort intended to project into remote isolated areas ... to strike against enemy forces who have heretofore operated with seeming impunity.37

Project DELTA, perhaps the best-known employment of “special operations” forces in Vietnam, and its lesser-known counterparts, SIGMA and OMEGA, also placed indigenous forces under Special Forces command for unconventional warfare operations within Vietnam’s borders (DELTA was an “in-country” force, its operations categorized as “internal guerrilla activities”).38

A 1966 Special Forces assessment describes the unconventional warfare/counterinsurgency distinction as a largely subjective matter depending on an assessment of conditions in an operational area. In any case, whatever the Special Forces’ tasks, the rules of engagement applying to the Special Forces were “special” because the force was “special.”39 Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) irregulars were trained equally “for employment as guerrillas or counter-guerrillas,” and CIDG Strike Forces were also called “CIDG Guerrilla Company, Light.”40 The report, in recalling that after 1964 the Special Forces were charged to employ their CIDG forces in offensive operations, suggests little concern on the part of the high command over whether they operated as unconventional warriors or counterinsurgents: “Whether or not CIDG forces so employed could be described as being internal guerrilla or counterguerrilla depended primarily on the extent of enemy control in the particular area of operations.”41

Even in the 1960s, however, the army did distinguish between counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare. The 1967 document cited above, for example, refers to plans and directives “concerning 5th SFG CI and UW missions.” The army itself appears to have been aware that sometimes the distinctions wore thin, and was concerned to assess the transition of Special Forces from its 1950s role as a strictly unconventional warfare force. In 1965, a Department of the Army evaluation team looked at the Special Forces record in Vietnam:

The US Army’s responsibilities for organizing and equipping forces for counterinsurgency operations and for conducting research and development in support of unconventional warfare, psychological warfare, and counterinsurgency operations pointed up the desirability of evaluating the employment of a special forces group in a situation where the stress was placed on counterinsurgency operations rather than on unconventional warfare operations, which was the original raison d’etre.42

The evaluation report also examined the progress of “the reorientation . . . towards a civil-military counterinsurgency program, as opposed to a purely tactical attempt to destroy VC units.”43 The limited progress toward this goal was a consequence both of circumstances and immediate tactical imperatives defined in standing orders. The report appends Letter of Instructions Number 1 (LOT 1, dated iJanuary 1965), which defines Special Forces objectives and operational concepts. The program in Vietnam was defined as “a phased, and combined militarycivil counterinsurgency effort” intended (in sequence) to destroy the Vietcong, establish security, establish governmental control, and finally to “enlist the population’s active and willing support of and participation in the government’s programs.”44 The “concept,” however, was defined as that “essentially [of] a clear, secure, and develop operation.” Even where the population was considered neutral, the civil-military dimension was to come fully into play only after the insurgency had been annihilated:

No population which is “uncommitted” or which has been Viet Cong dominated can be won to the government of Vietnam until:
a. The Viet Cong have been cleared from the area.
b. The Viet Cong organization and infrastructure have been neutralized or eliminated.
c. The GVN [government of South Vietnam] infrastructure, to which the populace is committed, has been established to replace that of the Viet Cong....45

Standing orders issued to Special Forces in January 1965 (in LOI 1)and described by an army evaluation team as their “most important mission statement”-exemplified the ambiguity between unconventional, guerrilla warfare tactics and counterinsurgency. The Special Forces and CIDG’s tasks in the border areas were: “establish rapport with local population”; “initiate guerrilla type operations within operational zone against VC controlled areas”; “assist in establishing population control”; and, among other things, “conduct operations to dislodge VC-controlled officials, to include assassination.”46 The same Letter of Instructions ordered terrorist actions to interdict “interior infiltration routes”:

CIDG will conduct clear and hold, patrol and ambush type operations to seal off, interdict and pacify areas . . . . Concurrently with the above, small and highly trained units, utilizing counterinsurgency techniques will be operating out of the camps . . . ambushing, raiding, sabotaging and committing acts of terrorism against known VC personnel .47

The permissible targets of U.S.-run terror squads were ambiguously defined; in any case, distinguishing Vietcong “supporters” and members of the guerrilla infrastructure called for skills for which assassins are not particularly well known. The army’s official history of Special Forces in Vietnam notes the pride Special Forces personnel took in their unconventional operations, and that “in fact most of the troops were originally attracted to the Special Forces by the nature of these operations. “48

A Doctrine for the Future

By the time of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, the counterinsurgency establishment had become a driving force in American overseas policy. The military had boosted its capabilities for unconventional and counterinsurgency warfare and was actively engaged in the secret wars in Indochina. Its training apparatus was preparing Third World officers for the next generation of conflict in Asia, the Americas, and Africa, and helping to build the first of the model counterinsurgency states. The strategic doctrine of the politicians had been refined and made operational through a revision of the military’s own doctrine. The tactical and operational norms of unconventional warfare and special operations forces were adapted to fill the new strategic requisites. The framework of doctrine developed by the end of 1963 would provide the foundation of counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare into the 1990s.

The military’s role in the development and reform side of counterinsurgency was to be channeled largely through civil affairs officers and military civic action, as Lt. Col. Lunsford Thying of the Special Warfare School stated, “to enhance the stature of indigenous military forces and improve their relationship with the population. “49 The army acknowledged the primacy of politics in counterinsurgency and made provisions to reinforce the political power of allied military institutions-a muchstudied topic-and, at the operational level, to ensure that integrated civilmilitary programs were directed by the military. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Slavko Bjelajac summarized the latter approach:

[T]here should be only one “Commander in Chief” at the head of a unified counterinsurgency command structure ..... He must be in the command of all the civil and military organizations of the critical area .... [I]n some underdeveloped countries, the military, particularly the army, may be the best suited, or the only organization capable of directing a counterinsurgency effort. The other parts of the government may be too weak and lacking in confidence.

Political guidance offered by unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency doctrine would be unevenly applied in the countless theaters of operations over the next three decades, but it remained largely unchanged until the first years of the Reagan administration. The tactical and organizational prescriptions of the 1960s remain largely intact as well, despite occasional semantic changes. The U.S. Army Special Forces continues to be promoted as the answer to (other peoples’) domestic insurgencies and the means to conduct international covert intervention. In the decades since the 1960s, the ways unconventional and counterinsurgency warfare were taught and the way they were waged were determined by two doctrinal prescriptions: that terror is a legitimate and (when used correctly) effective weapon of unconventional and counterinsurgency warfare; and that both specialties are best pursued through guerrilla/terrorist organization (necessitating both elite special warfare adepts and local paramilitary militias). In counterinsurgency doctrine, the two disciplines were termed counterterror and counterorganization.

  1. The manual, a mimeographed typescript with printed cover, is on file at the Kennedy Presidential Library. (Box 80, POF, Justice [US Army Report], “CounterInsurgency Operations, 1 December 1960.)
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., pp. 58-60, concerns the Aerial Combat Reconnaissance Company including: an Aero Recon Platoon (four armed helicopters); Aero Infantry Platoon (three armed transport, one support helicopter); and an Aero Weapons Platoon (six gunships for air-ground fire support). For the French model, see, for example, the RAND report on the symposium on air power in Algeria, RM-3653-PR, July 1963.
  4. “Counter-Insurgency Operations,” p. 53.
  5. Ibid., p. 54.
  6. Ibid., p. 55.
  7. Ibid., p. 56.
  8. Ibid., pp. 56-57, 65. The manual acknowledges past experience by stressing that areas in which hunter-killer teams and patrols are operating are carefully coordinated to avoid inadvertent clashes between friendly units.”
  9. Ibid., pp. 69-76.
  10. Ibid., p. 76.
  11. Ibid., p. 69 (emphasis added). The objective of ‘suppression’’ activities is ‘‘the extermination of guerrilla/terrorist forces, restoration of the lawful government to power, reestablishment of law, public order and the resumption of the normal peaceful pursuits of the populace in the affected area.”
  12. Ibid., pp. 86-87.
  13. The “mirror-image” aspect of doctrine is discussed in Michael McClintock, The American Connection, vol. 1, State Terror and Popular Resistance in El Salvador (London: Zed, 1985), pp. 30 and passim, and Larry F. Cable, Conflict of Myths: The Development of CounterInsurgency Doctrine and the Vietnam War (New York: New York University Press, 1986), pp. 142-48.
  14. U.S. Army Special Warfare School, “Concepts for U.S. Army counterinsurgency Activities.” Mimeographed typescript, undated, Bohannan Papers, Box 18. Although undated, the field manuals cited in the document as statements of current doctrine include FM 31-15 of May 1961, a manual superseded in February 1963. From its content, the document appears to date from 1961 and to form part of a larger training text.
  15. Ibid., pp. ll-K-3, II-K-4. This is a recommendation for the Pre-insurgent Stage.”
  16. Ibid., p. II-K-8 (emphasis added).
  17. Ibid., p. Il-K-10. Sec also U.S. Department of the Army, Operations against Irregular Forces, FM 31-15, May 1961, p. 12, on command and control in Cold War situations which provides for the exercise of primary authority by military commanders in the absence of diplomatic representatives, or in circumstances “delineated by executive order.”
  18. Ibid., p. II-K-9.
  19. Ibid., p. lI-K-8.
  20. Ibid., p. lI-K-8.
  21. Ibid., pp. II-K-9, II-K-10.
  22. Ibid., pp. II-K-8, II-K-9.
  23. Brig. Gen. William P. Yarborough, “U.S. Special Warfare Center,” in U.S. Department of the Army, Office of the Chief of Information, Special Warfare U.S. Army: An Army Specialty (Washington, D.C., 1963), p. 61. A Psychological Operations Course covering all aspects of psychological warfare was also offered at Fort Bragg, in consonance with the center’s Psychological Warfare origins. After 1961, however, the OCPW’s 1950s poor relation, special warfare, had taken over as the center’s star attraction, catching up with its December 1956 name change to Special Warfare Center.
  24. Ibid., p. 63.
  25. Headquarters, U.S. Army Special Warfare School, Subject: Visit to Colombia, South America, by a Team from Special Warfare Center, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 26 February 1962. Kennedy Library, Box 319, National Security Files, Special Group; Fort Bragg Team; Visit to Colombia; 3/62. Also Carroilton Press, Declassified Documents Reference Series (1976:154D), and McClintock, The American Connection, vol. 1, State Terror and Popular Resistance in El Salvador, pp. 23-24.
  26. Ibid., “Secret Supplement, Colombian Survey Report.”
  27. Ibid.
  28. For a review of pharmaceutical torture, see Amnesty International, Report of Torture (London: Duckworth, in association with Amnesty International Publications, revised edition, 1975), pp. 55-58.
  29. Sources on guerrillas and counterguerrilla warfare in Colombia include Richard c;ott, “Violence in Colombia,” Guerrilla Movements in Latin America (London: Nelson, 1970); Willard F. Barber and C. Neale Ronning, Security and Military Power: counterinsurgency and Civic Action in Latin America (Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1966), pp. 158, 192-94; Lt. Col. Keith C. Nusbaum, U.S. Army, “Bandidos,” Military Review (July 1963), pp. 20-25. Sec Douglas Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era: Doctrine and Performance, 1950 to the Present (New York: Free Press, 1977), pp. 283-84, for an uncritical view of the Colombian experience.
  30. Amnesty International, Colombia (London, 1988), provides detailed information on the pattern of official violence there in the 1980s.
  31. República de Colombia, Comando del Ejército, Reglamento de Combate de Contraguerrillas, Reglamento EJC 3-10 Reservado (confidential), 2d edition, published by Disposición no. 005 de 1969, 9 April 1969. Sources listed on p. 412 include U.S. field manuals FM 3115, FM 31-16, FM 31-21, FM 31-22, FM 31-73, and Special Texts ST 31-170, ST 31-176, and ST 31-180.
  32. Ibid., p. 413; Trinquier and Galula were both published in English by Praeger. Bonnet’s Les Guerres insurrectionelles et révolutionnaires was published in Paris in 1958.
  33. NSAM 28, Memorandum from McGeorge Bundy to Secretary of Defense and CIA Director, 9 March 1961. Kennedy Library, National Security Council, Box 329.
  34. NSAM 52, “Report of the Vietnam Task Force,” 11 May 1961; a first increment was the development of a Special Forces company of fifty-two. The recommendations were made in the Task Force report and only partially approved by the NSC. Kennedy Library, National Security Council, Box 330. The Pentagon Papers (Senator Gravel Edition), vol. 2, pp. 445, 453-54, cites what it terms the “Gilpatric Task Force” recommendations to illustrate Kennedy’s caution over committing large numbers of U. S. advisers to Vietnam even as he established the basis for future expansion (“The point is not how much was done but, in retrospect, how firmly the probable lines of future actions had been drawn as a result of what it had been agreed not to do”). The report had recommended an increase in the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) from 685 to 2,285, the addition of two U. S. training commands of 1,600 instructors each, and the 400 Special Forces. The actual increase of the MAAG at the time, however, was just 100, to a total of 785, including trainers, while the deployment of the full 400 Special Forces contingent was “in support of a CIA-directed effort which could be kept largely covert.” MAAG expansion subsequently proceeded (authorized by NSAM 111) much as proposed in the Task Force Report: to 972 in October 1961; to 2,067 at year end; and to 3,000 in January 1962. The latter figure included 500 further Special Forces advisers, making a total of 805 on the ground with the CIA-run program.
  35. The Pentagon Papers (Senator Gravel Edition), 2, p. 432.
  36. Colonel Francis J. Kelly, U.S. Department of the Army, Vietnam Studies, U.S. Army Special Forces 1961-1971 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1973), p. 10.
  37. Fifth Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, 15 February 1967. Subject: Operational Report for Quarterly Period Ending 31 January 1967, pp. 1-2, 13. In Department of the Army, Office of the Adjutant General, 9 May 1967, Subject: Operational Report-Lessons Learned, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces. The report was “provided to the Commandants of the Service Schools to insure appropriate benefits in the future from lessons learned during current operations, and may be adapted for use in developing training material.” Carroliton Press, Declassified Documents, (R)208B.
  38. Department of the Army, Army Concept Team in Vietnam, “Employment of, Special Forces Group,” 20 April 1966, pp. 3, 50.
  39. Letter of Instructions Number I (LOl 1, 1 January 1965), in ibid., Annex F, F-2.
  40. Ibid., pp. 26, 28-29.
  41. Ibid., p.48.
  42. Ibid., p. 3.
  43. Ibid., p. 44.
  44. Ibid., Annex F, p. F-2.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid., Annex F, “Counterguerrilla Operations in Border Surveillance,” to LOI, 1, 1 Jan 65, pp. F-12, F-13.
  47. Ibid., Annex F, p. F-14, “Counterguerrilla Operations against Interior Infiltration Routes” to LOI 1, 1 January 65 (emphasis added). Almost identical language was used in the report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff following a visit in 1962 to Colombia by a team headed by the Commander of the Special Warfare Center (see above, p. 222).
  48. Kelly, U.S. Army Special Forces 1961-1971, p. 148.
  49. Lt. Col. Lunsford Thying, Secretary, for the Commandant, Headquarters United States Army Special Warfare School. Subject: Special Warfare Glossary. 20 January 1964. Typescript, Bohannan Papers.
  50. Slavko N. Bjelajac, “Establishment and Discussion of Principles of Counterinsurgency,” US Army Human Factors Research and Development: Proceedings of Annual Conference, October 1968, p. 142 (“Some general rules in Army counterinsurgency strategy”).