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Tonkin: The Indochina war 1950-54 (second edition)» Forums » General

Subject: Historicity rss

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Neal Durando
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Am interested in the game, but I have a few questions. First, a citation from Douglas Porch's THE FRENCH SECRET SERVICES:

The strategy which China forced on Giap sought to put the communists in the best possible negotiating position--if the French tried to defend their maquis in Tonkin and Laos, then they would be overextended and would open themselves to defeat. If they hunkered down in the Tonkin delta, then the communists would carry a very favorable "war map" to Geneva.

How appropriate is the game for exploring the above strategic dilemma?
How are the maquis modeled?
What role does control of the opium crop play?
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Kim Kanger
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Quote:
How appropriate is the game for exploring the above strategic dilemma?

Communities in the highlands have victory points. If France gives them up, then VM will have a great advantage. If France defends them and supply them by air then French forces will be spread out and the delta will be more vulnerable. It is a game of balance and priorities.

Quote:
How are the maquis modeled?

You have the French GCMA units (maquis) that has the advantage of being supply anywhere in the highlands. In many ways, they act like VM units. Viet Minh is paradoxically forced to act like the French and garrison their own hinterland.

Quote:
What role does control of the opium crop play?

The moment you control a certain amount of communities in the highlands you get a large bunch of victory points. You lose them when you fall below that amount of communities. This represents control of the hinterland and its opium.
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Kim Kanger
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By the way, I see that you have translated a book about David Galula in Algeria. Galula was one of my main sources and inspiration when I made my game "Ici, c'est la France!" about the insurgency war in Algeria.
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Neal Durando
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Greetings Kim,

Thanks for your generous response. I noted the development of "Ici c'est.." with interest but have yet to play.


Grégor's book, which I translated, is important reading for a nuanced understanding of Galula. The French, as you might know, only grant limited access to their archives but Grégor got to primary documents which bring into question the results of Galula's TTPs and, of course, the doctrine based thereupon. He also interviewed former SAS officers operating in the Tizi Ouzou AO.

For my part, Galula's evident talent as a writer and open-mindedness as an officer resulted in a very persuasive document which holds up only indifferently when applying it to company operations in Algeria and _not at all_ when applying it to Iraq or Afghanistan. It is clear, concise, easy to throw in your ruck, but also superficial. My hope is that Grégor's book will insinuate itself into the critical perception of Galula and COIN in general. Well, we can always dream can't we?

Here's a link:
http://www.amazon.com/Galula-Algeria-Counterinsurgency-Pract...
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Kim Kanger
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I have and have read Galula's "Pacification in Algeria 1956-58" and "Counterinsurgency Warfare, Theory and Practice". I have also read Trinquier's text in these matters. I believe one of the most important factor in Galula's success was (and he doesn't mention this since it was probably taken for granted) that there was a credibility in when the French said that they were there to stay.

The French had been there for more than 100 years and they showed no intention (well, not yet anyway) to leave. The Arabs and Berbers could believe this since the French rule had a certain legitimacy (fair or not). If the French got the upper hand in the war, then those 50% of the civilians, that usually sides with the warring part they think will win, will side with the French. Simply because they were not afraid that France would leave and abandon them to the wrath of FLN (which they did, though).

The US can never claim this legitimacy in Afghanistan because everyone knows they will leave sooner or later. The solution would have been leave a local government fit enough to govern and fight the insurgents, but unfortunately the one in Afghanistan is a joke. As long as the insurgents survives, then the government and the US will never win.
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Neal Durando
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I understand your thesis but I'm not sure how far I'd be willing to argue it. De Gaulle throws in the towel so early. He knows he's going to have to betray his promise to the pieds noirs yet makes it anyway. De Gaulle and the French as a nation (suffering chilly political divisions in every domain) were so deeply pessimistic about Algeria even before Le Toussaint Rouge and, to any sophisticated observer, were facing so much international pressure to decamp from Algeria that they could not have continued to resist for very long. (The FLN, bloody minded as they were, must also count as sophisticated observers.) The proof of this is that France could not have conceivably remained even after they won a military victory. The notion that "France will never abandon Algeria," might have been persuasive to farmers in the Aurès for a few years, but even they understood that siding with France was a losing proposition after the FLN destroyed the MNLA. ("Oh shit, the only people talking land reform anymore will kill me if I smoke.")

The main reason I think it was dangerous to compare the conflict to Afghanistan is that the administrative culture of Algeria was French. The language barrier to pyschological operations and intelligence gathering was very low. SAS officers could operate in French even though they were often trained in Arabic and Kabyle. Even draftee units could try their hand at COIN. But it is really the ease of mounting psyops not only in your native language, but according to an in-place administrative culture you understand and own. Every draftee lieutenant understood the difference between a prefecture and a subprefecture. The same cannot be said for shavetails operating in Afghanistan and Iraq. Think for a moment, too, about the profile of Galula's company. He had trained teachers he could deploy to, well, teach (in French). Galula's theories look easier than they are. Once you transpose them to a conflict where insurgent/counter-insurgent cultures vary widely, all bets are off. I was once informally asked what I would do if I were in charge of doctrine for Afghanistan. "Teach English to the people of Afghanistan," was my answer.

Those writing doctrine based on Galula's specific experience drastically underestimate the role of culture. As you know, the rifts between Kabyle and Arab are deep and indeed erupt from time to time in armed conflict. Galula doesn't really have to deal with this in his AO, so his views are necessarily narrowed and simplified. The other reason why I think looking through Galula's lens is dangerous is that the time frame is similarly narrow. Grégor Mathias's book endeavors to show how quickly his work was undone once Galula's company rotated out of the AO. This was a problem evoked by doctrine writers circa 2007, but one which they have never really answered. "Unending engagement" is the answer you hear sotto voce but one that discribes total strategic disconnect with doctrine.

Trinquier is really fascinating. I think his reception in the 1960s in the United States and Latin America suffers from a poor analysis of his successes in Indochina. As you know, Trinquier's popularity owes to the GCMA and organizing Meo and T'ai tribesmen. "Raising a maquis" has always seemed like a great idea to France--not because doing so is militarily effective but because it soothes national pride. It is a pity that it was Maurice Papon who said something like "For France to move forward it must lose its neurotic affection for the clandestine world." He's perfectly right but, for most, Papon's character is anathema. (He could have said "The sky is blue," and people would hiss.) Trinquier drank deeply from the well of this neurosis.

Yet his approach to Algeria is perfectly practical and can be almost directly operationalized. He shares Galula's virtuous brevity and in my experience, more officers express interest in him than in Galula. For using it in current COIN, his thinking bangs up on two limits: 1) His construction of the adversary bears exclusively on revolutionary (Maoist) warfare; 2) There is little or no thought about his technique's link to the strategic sphere. When employed in Argentina, for example, the method successfully quelled leftist insurgency at the rather great cost of embittering the population and hardening potential opposition, with an overall effect that Argentina is still paying the price for the use of Trinquier-like approach. This is true of other Latin American countries that faced down leftist insurgencies in the 1970s.
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Kim Kanger
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I agree with you say.

Trinquier was a bit special because of his belief that an insurgency could be started anytime, anywhere, regardless of who did it. He advocated starting an insurgency in Tunisia and Morocco in order to put pressure on the governments there. If you pull out politics from his insurgency formula though, you would probably end up with a Mafia structure instead. Works similarly.

France has been the top of the class of mastering the lesson from the previous war but never really the ones in the current war. After WW2 they knew how to be flexible in Indochina but they never quite learned the insurgency war. After Indochina they knew about that and how to fight FLN in Algeria but they lost the political war.

In a counterinsurgency, you don't have to worry about the 25% that supports you, neither the 25% that opposes you. The ones that are important is the 50% that will side with the part they think will win.

As you know, you can't be to hard fight insurgents since that will alienate many of the 50% (since collateral damage among them is difficult to avoid). If you are too soft, then the insurgents will look like they are winning. One has to find the right balance, be smart and have endurance.

I totally agree with that culture and the legitimacy of your presence will define what will work or not. One successful formula will not work somewhere else.

Galula's greatest achievement was that he highlighted certain basic rules of successful counterinsurgency. You have to have spread out your people among those 50% all the time (you can't walk into a village during daytime and leave it to the insurgents during nighttime). You have to be smart when you interrogate and in how you force them to cooperate with you, so that you slowly but surely break the insurgents hold over them. But most importantly, you have to have something to offer them over time: A better life that will endure in the future, not just till the moment when you withdraw.

I think the time factor remains the most important factor. Either...

1) you crush the insurgents without offering anything, but that runs the risk of turning into a perpetual war while the country falls into total misery (like Afghanistan 1979 onwards)

2) you reform the ruling power and keep the insurgency manageable. Through this the 50% will be tempted by the offerings while also drawing the conclusion that the insurgents do not seem to get anywhere (like Malaysia in the fifties). The insurgency will then wither away eventually.

In Algeria France was the government so the offerings there would have been democratisation and a bigger Moslem representation in the parliament in Algiers. That, of course, clashed with the self interest of one million Pied-noirs. In Malaysia, the British were prepared to leave but not into communist hands. So, their offering was independence (and probably land reform, I'm a bit unsure) if the Malayans helped them to defeat the Chinese insurgents. It worked.
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