I was struck by the description of this 1963 battle from Fodor’s See It Vietnam, because it seems so similar to current events in Iraq and Syria. From page 37 of the Fodor’s book, a travel guidebook for Vietnam,
In January 1963 at Ap Bac, not far from the town of My Tho in the Mekong Delta,the Communists scored their first significant victory in the south.
Facing 2,000 well-armed troops of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), a force of just 300 to 400 People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) inflicted heavy casualties, killing 63 ARVN and three Americans, wounding 109 ARVN and three Americans, and downing five helicopters.
American advisors were scathing about the performance of their South Vietnamese allies, and it was this defeat that led them to conclude that the ARVN needed the direct intervention of US troops.
Implementation of this began in 1964 and by late 1965 American combat units began activity in Vietnam.
The Iraqi Army was routed by ISIS this summer. This week the NY Times wrote “Iraq Army Woos Deserters Back to War on ISIS“:
The Iraqi military command has begun a campaign to re-enlist soldiers and officers who abandoned their units, a crucial step in its effort to rebuild an army that has been routed in battle after battle by Islamic State jihadists.
I don’t know how American advisors view the Iraqi army, but scathing might come to mind for an army that melted away in combat and then campaigns to take back deserters in order to strengthen itself.
After the ISIS advances US escalated its involvement, increasing advisors and air strikes.
From the NY Times, “The 130 additional advisers brings the number of American military personnel in Iraq to more than 1,000, some three years after the last combat troops left the country.”
The US is leading air strikes on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. From earlier this week,
President Obama ordered the launch of 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles last Monday night from the USS Philippine Sea and USS Arleigh Burke, all aimed at targets in Syria as part of what he calls a military campaign to “degrade and destroy” the terrorist group ISIS.
Historically, the Pentagon has purchased roughly 200 Tomahawks a year from manufacturer Raytheon, at about $1.4 million per missile. But Obama slashed that number to 100 for all of 2015 – just double what the Navy fired into Syria in one day.
Tomahawk missiles are expensive; moreover, the current rate of usage is unsustainable and unplanned. Attacking ISIS in Syria is a significant escalation and direct intervention by the US. Similarly, the US bombed North Vietnamese forces in Laos and Cambodia in the American War, as the Vietnamese now call it. But at least Tomahawk missiles don’t risk American military personnel being killed or captured, as would adding advisors or using airplanes that might go down in enemy territory.
There are parallels between today’s Middle East and the Vietnam of 50 years ago: a dysfunctional ally and US intervention as the response. Time will tell what lessons the US has learned in the past 50 years.