A Systems Anaslysis View
USMC COMBINED ACTION PLATOON PROGRAM
The average security score of the hamlets where Combined Action Platoons (CAP) are located is nearly twice that of the average hamlet security score in all of I Corps. Expansion of the CAP program to all insecure hamlets in SVN (10,454 out of 12,246 hamlets) would require about 279,000 Popular Forces and 167,000 US personnel at a cost of $1.8 billion per year.
U.S. Marine pacification efforts have been slowed by diversion of forces to the DMZ, but no Combined Action Platoons (CAP) have been pulled out of hamlets. The CAP concept calls for integrating one USMC rifle squad of volunteers with combat experience (14 plus 1 USN Corpsman) into a 39 man PF platoon, and putting the 54 man group into a hamlet to establish security. (In practice, PF platoons in I Corps average only 27 men instead of 39, which results in a ration of 1 Marine per 1.7 PF in the average CAP.) In addition, headquarters support absorbs 1 additional Marine per CAP. At an estimated annual of $10,000 per Marine, plus $12,000 per PF platoon, the average CAP probably costs about $172,000 per year.
The CAP program began in August 1965 with one platoon at Phu Bai in Thua Thien province. By the end of June 1967 there were 75 platoons (10 companies) throughout I Corps, including 1,249 Marines and Navy Corpsmen and 2,129 PF. The CY [calendar year] 1967 goal is to establish 114 CAPs (19 companies). This will require establishing CAPs at the rate of 6 or 7 per month during the last half of CY 1967 to form the 39 needed to meet the goal. Only 2.8 CAPs were established per month during January-May, 1967. At this rate, the Marines would establish only 17 more CAPs by end 1967 - a shortfall of 22 platoons.
The objectives of the CAP program are to strengthen the PF and bring them into the fight in support of revolutioinary development, ultimately withdrawing the Marine squad when the PF platoon can stand on its own. In return, the Marines gain valuable intelligence, a thorough knowledge of the area and its people, and can provide greater security coverage for the population than U.S. troops alone could provide.
So far, no Marine squad has been withdrawn from a CAP, but the tangible benefits of the CAP program have included better intelligence and increased security for the 88,000 people in the CAP hamlets. The CAP hamlets have an average security score of 2.95 on the Hamlet Evaluation System (HES) scale of 5.0, a C rating; the average security score for all I Corps hamlets is 1.60, or D. According to the Marines, scores increase with the length of time a CAP is located in the hamlet. At least 20 of the 75 CAP hamlets have a B security rating. According to the Marine scoring system (based on villages), the 63 villages with CAPs have advanced twice as fast as those without. At the end of 1966, 23 (of 39 at the time) villages with CAP programs had reached the highest Marine rating (80% or more on a 100% scale). Less than one-sixth of the 144 villages in Marine areas without CAP teams reached that level.
The morale and effectiveness of the PF in CAPs apparently increases. From August through December 1966, no PF deserted from CAP units. The CY 1966 kill ratio of CAPs (14 enemy for 1 friendly) far exceeds the I Corps PF kill ratio of 3 to 1.
The reluctance of the GVN to assign PF personnel to CAPs is a serious problem in considering any expansion of the CAP program. Of the 24,000 PF in I CTZ in May 1967, less than one-tenth (2,129) were in CAPs. Vietnamese officials are apparently reluctant to release PF from their absolute control to USMC supervision with the accompanying reduction of opportunities for graft, bribery and other corrupt practices.
Expansion for the CAP program to cover all of the 2,242 unsecured I Corps hamlets (below A & B in HES) would require 62, 776 PF and 35,872 US troops at an annual cost of $386 million ($172,000 per CAP). The May I Corps PF strength of 24,000 would furnish CAPs for 857 hamlets, requiring 13,712 U.S. personnel, and costing about $147 million.
Countrywide expansion of the CAP program to cover all of the 10,454 unsecured hamlets in SVN would require 292,712 PF and 167,264 U.S. at an annual cost of about $1.8 billion. The April countrywide PF strength of 142,500 would furnish CAPs for 5,089 hamlets, requiring 81,424 US troops, and costing about $875 million per year.
CAP VERSUS NON-CAP HAMLET HES RATING IN I CTZ
Hamlets having US Marine Corps Combined Action Platoons (CAPs) nearby (as of January
1968) outperformed other I CTZ hamlets in terms of the Hamlet EvaluationSystem (HES)
ratings between January 1967 and March 1968:
HES ratings are made by CORDS district advisors.
The Combined Action Platoon (CAP) program of the US Marines, begun in August 1965, is aimed primarily at pacification. CAPs consist of a US Marine rifle squad (14 men) and a locally recruited Vietnamese Popular Force platoon (38 men). There are now 70 CAPs, all assigned within I CTZ.
To compare conditions in areas to which CAPs are assigned with non-CAP areas, we computed average HES indicator ratings in January 1967 and March 1968 for 58 hamlets nearest to the January 1968 locations of CAP teams in five provinces of I CTZ. (We excluded 37 hamlets, 12 with CAPs in Danang because they were unrated by the HES in January 1967). For comparison, we also computed average ratings for the remaining 2,357 hamlets in I CTZ (excluding those in Danang), even though many of them may have had CAPs in or near them at some time during the 15 months. A full fledged analysis would require data not available for our study: where each CAP was during each month, where the RD Cadre teams were, the conditions of each hamlet when the CAP was inserted, etc. Thus, our results are approximate at best and should be viewed accordingly.
Because the heaviest conventional military activity of the war centers in I CTZ, the pacification effort there has not had a stable climate of security in which to operate. Table 1 shows that Hamlet Evaluation System (HES) security ratings for the 2,415 hamlets in I CTZ (excluding 37 in Danang) dropped an average of .25 rating points over a 15 month period: from 1.54 (a "D minus" average) in January 1967 to 1.29 (an "E" average) in March 1968. HES development scores dropped .13 during the same period.
Table 1 shows that CAP hamlets outperformed non-CAP hamlets on every HES indicator but one - Hamlet Defense Plan (3A). Both CAP and non-CAP hamlets regressed significantly in security during the period: CAP hamlets dropped .20 in average ratings on the nine HES security indicators, while non-CAP hamlets fell .26. CAP hamlets also outpaced non-CAP on the nine development indicators: CAP hamlets gained .16, non-CAP regressed .13. In all cases CAP hamlets had higher average socres. The non-CAP hamlet average scores were reduced since more of the non-CAP hamlets were non-evalutated or VC controlled, however.
The northernmost province of I CTZ presents a startling contrast between CAP and non-CAP hamlets ..... the average HES total score in CAP hamlets increased .17 between January 1967 and March 1968, while that in non-CAP hamlets decreased .34 - a progress differential of +.51 for CAP hamlets. CAP hamlets improved on eleven indicators, regressed on five, and remained steady on two. Every HES indicator in non-CAP hamlets regressed except Census Grievance.
Thua Thien contains Hue, the historical capital of Vietnam, which suffered heavily during the VC/NVA Tet offensive. This is the only province in which CAP hamlets declined in HES total scores. However, the decline in CAP hamlets (.61) was less than for non-CAP hamlets (.77). Public Health.....rose in the CAP hamlets, while all other indicators (CAP and non-CAP) declined.
The most basic objective of the CAP program was to permit an eventual orderly phase-out of US Marines as the PF improved enough to take over the security role by themselves. However, in over three years of operations no evidence exists that US Marines have been able to withdraw from a CAP solely because their Vietnamese counterparts were able to take over. On the contrary, review of casualty figures suggests that US Marines have assumed more than their proportionate share of combat tasks.....in 1968, CAP Marines were killed at a rate of 1.5 Marines to 1 PF, even though the personnel ratio of Marines to PF was 0.7 to 1. In the same period, 1.8 Marines were wounded for each PF wounded. Thus, per man, the Marine casualties were 2.4 times higher than the PF casualties during 1968. This suggests that the Marines have assumed a major share of the combat tasks and that they function more as direct combat leaders than as advisors in the Combined Action Program (emphasis added). In addition to combat leadership, the Marine is instrumental in providing US support to the PF in the form of artillery, air and other supporting arms, as well as medical evacuation and, in many cases, ground reinforcement. In short, the Marine appears to be the cornerstone of the PF effectiveness and it is doubtful whether he could be withdrawn without a significant decrease in PF performance.
The HES ratings, made by CORDS district advisors, also indicate that CAP hamlets survived the Tet offensive better than hamlets not protected by these units. In total combat activities and combat performance, the marines report that CAP units have consistently outperformed non-CAP PF and RD units and on several occasions, have outperformed US units. During the Tet offensive, the CAPs reportedly were insturmental in keeping enemy units out of Danang, the only major city in SVN that was not penetrated by the enemy: this alone could justify the program.
The impact of the CAPs on the enemy is difficult to assess, but his reaction to them has been pronounced. From November 1, 1967 to January 31, 1968, 49% of the enemy initiated attacks in I CTZ were directed against CAPs; in February 1968, 38% were against CAPs. It is significant that this period of high activity against the CAPs coincides with the buildup and attack phases of the Tet offensive.(Emphasis added) It is also difficult to assess the benefits from locating CAPs along the lines of communication throughout I CTZ. They seem to be more than just an irritant to the enemy, because he has tried to dislodge CAPs from these positions by attacks on several occasions. The best example occurred on January 7, 1968 when the enemy attempted to dislodge three CAPs from positions astride National Route #1, north of Danang, in a well coordinated series of attacks. If the CAPs are playing a key role in keeping I CTZ roads open at a lower cost than other means, this would be another plus for the program.
On numerous occasions Vietnamese civilians have voluntarily given intelligence to Marines and their PF counterparts. It is doubtful whether such information would be forthcoming to strangers, or whether it would be acted upon promptly if the Marines were not there. Again, assessment of this factor is difficult without comprehensive data.
There is some indication that villagers are ambivalent about having a CAP in their village. On the one hand, they fear that the enemy will target the village because the CAP is there. On the other, they welcome the improvement in day to day security which keeps the VC tax collector away, and the control the CAP exercises over allied artillery and air support, thus ensuring they won't be hurt by it. With the renewed emphasis on pacification, the CAP concept may provide a useful way to upgrade security in the short run and to ensure that application of massive allied firepower does not hurt pacification efforts (emphasis added).
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