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This true story of a Special Forces officer in Vietnam in the mid-sixties will acquaint you with the unique nature of Special Operations Forces and how covert operations are developed and often masked to permit — even sponsor — assassination, outright purposeful killing of innocents, illegal use of force and bizzare methods in combat operations.

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The Unconventional Warrior
by LTC Daniel Marvin, USASF (ret)

A  R  C  H  I  V  E  S

© 2002 Daniel Marvin

Part Ten:

Psychological Warfare Operations

October 14, 2002

We were taught the fundamentals of psychological warfare operations by military instructors on Smoke Bomb Hill at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in the spring of 1964 using their own personal experience and Department of the Army Field Manual 31-21 Guerrilla Warfare and Special Forces Operations, dated 29 September 1961 as relevant references.

“Unconventional warfare,” we read in chapter 9 of FM 31-21, “involves ideological, religious, political and social factors which promote intense, emotional partisanship. Resistance organizations tend to attract personnel who accept violent change as a means of social action; they are motivated by hope for change. But, the fluid nature of resistance activity, the alternate periods of isolation and combat, the surreptitious life make resistance personnel particularly susceptible to propaganda affects.

“In peace or war special forces units, by their very presence in a particular country, have a psychological impact on select military or paramilitary elements and on informed elements of the population. The image created by special forces personnel is moulded by a multitude of factors which bear heavily on the successful outcome of the operation. These factors include tangible evidence of United States interest and support of the people by the presence of special forces personnel, the results of day-to-day, face-to-face meetings and an intelligent understanding of the objectives and problems of the indigenous guerrilla force.”

Department of the Army Field Manual 31-15 Operations Against Irregular Forces dated 31 May 1961 was used to teach us that “Propaganda is planned and employed in the [counter-guerrilla warfare] campaign to achieve the following immediate goals:

  1. Divide, disorganize, and induce defection of irregular force members.
  2. Reduce or eliminate civilian support of guerrilla elements.
  3. Dissuade civilians from participating in covert activities on the side of the irregular force.
  4. Win the active support of noncommitted civilians.
  5. Preserve and strengthen the support of friendly civilians.
  6. Win popular approval of the local presence of friendly military forces.
  7. Obtain national unity or disunity as desired.”

The results of our assimilation of the many hours of classroom instruction and the effective employment of actual psychological warfare techniques in a real situation can be readily ascertained on the ground in the operational area by the level of loyalty and active support by the local population of government forces and policies, whether those forces be irregular, paramilitary or regular forces. In An Phu District of Chau Doc Province, where I commanded an independent operation with irregular forces supported by paramilitary and regular forces in 1966, we realized the total support of the 64,000 indigenous people in our area. We did first show the local people that we were loyal to them and to their government and would put our lives on the line for them before we expected any show of support or loyalty from them.

In my book, Expendable Elite – One Soldier’s Journey into Covert Warfare, I tell in Appendix 9, Psychological Operations Report: 1-31 May 1966, the actual results of on-the-ground application of what we had learned from those experienced instructors at Fort Bragg. To be available to the public in the spring of 2003, Expendable Elite should prove to be an excellent reference for future training of those who would go into a counter-insurgency situation to organize and direct irregular forces against a strong, third power backed insurgent force. Some information to ponder:

In my May 1966 Psychological Operations Report I told of the courageous effort made by the Vietnamese Information Service (VIS) that was above and beyond the call of duty, to the extent of infiltrating enemy-held areas of our district, quietly appealing to the people to move out of danger, assisting in the evacuation of wounded civilians and helped to organize the more than 8,000 refugees fleeing south into more secure areas.

During that month of record fighting in our area more than 8,000 newspapers and 260,000 leaflets were distributed, 1250 posters were placed on bulletin boards and 125 personal messages were delivered to bereaved families by LLDB or CIDG officers. The VIS made a total of 215 loudspeaker appeals, reaching an estimated 20,200 local people. Face-to-face contacts included 141 group meeting reaching approximately 10,900 persons, 27 movies seen by 15,000 irregulars and villagers and 14 personal meetings. In addition 552 villagers were treated by our medical patrol when it was temporarily freed from war casualty duty to maintain our medical support of people in our area. Although overwhelmed by an awesome load and short of personnel, we managed to send out three CA/PO patrols to put together a timetable and requirements list for future projects, wanting to keep ahead of the curve while reassuring the people of An Phu that their security and their well being was our top priority. It was a good thing!

Edited by Jeanne E. Calabretta

Next Week – Part 11: Assassinate a Prince?

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