From Vietnam to Afghanistan, Collateral Damage Courtesy of US Military

US engaging conflict in Afghanistan in same tired way that lost lives in Vietnam and will lose more today.


By Harry Wagner

Anyone can determine from collective news sites that the “counter” insurgency Afghanistan war is not going well. It is a complex problem that many think is unsolvable. I offer my experience and knowledge purely as a humanitarian gesture to avoid future casualties from insurgency wars.

I was in Vietnam at the beginning of the peak period and through the ’68 Tet offensive. Circumstances fell my way; I worked through the Embassy as well as Military Intelligence throughout the entire country. My motivation became to stop the killing of civilians and let people live their lives. I was convinced that the Viet Cong were tyrants but I observed that only a few of the total insurgency were responsible for most of the atrocities. There was always an effort to force the civilian population to support the VC operations in the south.

Some of the methods showed total lack of human compassion in order to establish their concept of government and at times the US was not much better. From my work in the field I have seen barbaric acts of unbelievable cruelty, committed merely to exploit villagers for support of the insurgency. When my team came across these we deployed some of my security to find the perpetrators; my security solely consisted of former VC.

In each case the offenders were part of a VC organized unit, usually of 20 to 30 members; the atrocities were not sanctioned by the unit and was done without the knowledge of the unit commander. Not always, but this was most often the case. It was considered essential intelligence to determine the state or condition of the insurgency. Wars are dangerous things and when the final battle is fought the reality of it is no one won much of anything but all lost a lot.

The new concept of war evolved in modern times from the VC insurgency and those methods have emerged to what we have today with IEDs and car bombs along with small unit attacks of vulnerable targets. How do you defeat the enemy?

Deny his access to as much of his support resources as possible. You deplete his manpower via defection programs, as in Vietnam with Chieu Hoi, and his free use of the villages via pacification. Pacification used by the military by definition was the act of forcibly suppressing or eliminating a population considered to be hostile. It was profoundly unsuccessful.

I used their mistakes as a guide to create a different method, one that would keep pressure on insurgency with psy-ops produced not to threaten the enemy but glorify our side. I learned all the tricks of psy-ops and how to enter a village to bring them over to our side. I had total control of psychological warfare for one-third of South Vietnam for military and civilian efforts.

I developed Persuasion with Relevance. It is comprised of the Sheath, Spear and Shield. The insurgency is like a sheath; don’t crush it but steal its motivation and cause. All psy-ops is positive and non-threatening. Deployment is the Spear and Shield.

Buy on

The Spear personnel are carefully selected and completely trained to take up to a two-year tour. Then we integrate with the indigenous forces. To start a campaign against the insurgency by designating their biggest base camps as a prime initial target is the wrong approach; it can strengthen their cause, kills civilians, disperses them, etc. It emphasizes the image of invader and dominance, counter to the objective image of friend, not foe.

All members of the Shield and Spear deployment will be instructed how to set up a suspect or prisoner the correct way to interrogate them for intelligence. This is accomplished without abuse or torture. Interpreters will be instructed on proper decorum and recorded frequently to make sure of their translations and their ability to phrase translations correctly.

With the insurgency and pacification (return to normal) programs you need to keep the enemy busy, tire him out as you deploy the Shield and Spear Teams; you are threatening to take population away from him faster than he can react. To attack his concentrated areas always results in high casualties and excessive collateral damage which enforces his will to continue.

The Vietnam War had 500,000 American troops plus Korean, Philcag, Thai and the South Vietnamese military. I was able to work with all these plus elements of the CIA covering the entire country. I don’t know all the answers but I know where to start to find them and I know psychological warfare. Yes, the Afghans are not Vietnamese but the US is engaging conflict in the same, tired way that lost lives then and will lose more today.

About Author: Harry Wagner is an 88-year-old veteran of Vietnam. He worked in Military Intelligence, Psychological Operations, USAID, and the Phoenix Program. He has written a book about his experience in Vietnam and includes proven strategies to transition our military from a belligerent agent of war to an advocate on a quest for peace; The Headless Snake is available on Amazon. He can be reached by email at [email protected] You can follow his blog and on Facebook at Peace Team Forward.

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