In the gathering dusk of 18 August 1966…

Long Tan Cross ceremony, 18 August 1969 (c) AWM

…44 years ago, D Company, 6 Royal Australian Regiment, fought a desperate battle for survival against a Viet Cong regiment, in  a rubber plantation near a little town called Long Tan. This is one of the great sub-unit battles of history, where a few stood against many. Today, it remains as an example of great junior leadership and “…of the importance of combining and coordinating infantry, artillery, armour and military aviation...” The Presidential Unit Citation tells part of the story…

By virtue of the authority invested in me as the President of the United States and as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, I have today awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for extraordinary heroism to D Company, Sixth Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, The Australian Army.
D Company distinguished itself by extraordinary heroism while engaged in military operations against an opposing armed force in Vietnam on 18 August 1966.
While searching for Viet Cong in a rubber plantation northeast of Ba Ria, Phuoc Tuy, Province, Republic of Vietnam, D Company met and immediately engaged in heavy contact. As the battle developed, it became apparent that the men of D Company were facing a numerically superior force. The platoons of D Company were surrounded and attacked on all sides by an estimated reinforced enemy battalion using automatic weapons, small arms and mortars. Fighting courageously against a well armed and determined foe, the men on D Company maintained their formations in a common perimeter defence and inflicted heavy casualties on the Viet Cong.
The enemy maintained a continuous, intense volume of fire and attacked repeatedly from all directions. Each successive assault was repulsed by the courageous Australians. Heavy rainfall and low ceiling prevented any friendly close air support during the battle. After three hours of savage attacks, having failed to penetrate the Australian lines, the enemy withdrew from the battlefield carrying many dead and wounded, and leaving 245 Viet Cong dead forward of the defence positions of D Company.
The conspicuous courage, intrepidity and indomitable courage of D Company were to the highest tradition of military valour and reflect great credit upon D Company and the Australian Army.

The rest of the story is well worth ferreting out, particularly the section in Mark Woodruff’s Unheralded Victory…many of the lessons from Long Tan from infantry section to coalition task force level still apply to today’s environment…Lest We Forget…

One might hope that The Battle of Long Tan, due for release in 2011, will be on  a par with We Were Soldiers and Blackhawk Down…and serve as a timely reminder to today of yesterday’s sacrifices…

…and thanks to Narelle for the reminder of this day…

I’ve been thinking….

….and I’m not even from the ACT Party…(sorry, NZ in-joke – Google for ‘Prebble’, ‘I’ve been thinking’ for more info – the most common response to the book was a request for some evidence that he had actually thought very much about anything).

This COIN thing – the more I think about it the more parallels I see with Vietnam (and someone drew a parallel between the ANA and the ARVN on the latest thread on the COIN blog over the weekend):

♣ What’s it all about? We went into Vietnam on the premise that it was an insurrection supported by a hostile neighbour to the north, all in support of global world domination by the communists. The real issue in Vietnam was one of reunification and perhaps if we had identified that up front we would have conducted the whole war with a totally different aim and approach and achieved the ultimate endstate earlier and with way less cost on blood and treasure. What is the real issue in Afghanistan? COIN and SSR are means. To what end are we applying them?

♣ An underlying principle of COIN is that in the end the successful campaign by Western standards seeks to redress wrongs and address/resolve the core issues, which may in the end, as in Malaya, Aden, Ireland (across the 20th Century), and New Zealand (1840-90), pretty well give the insurgents what they want. What are the issues in Afghanistan and what do the insurgents want? That’s what do they really want as opposed to what we think they want…

♣ The non-HN COIN forces in Vietnam were largely from Western nations (US, Australia and New Zealand. The only Asian forces there were from Korea but there were no forces from what we now know as ASEAN. In all fairness, that might not be a bad thing as most of the those military forces were still in a fledgling stage of capability in the 60s. The main exception would be Indonesia but it was a bit scarred from The Misunderstanding with Commonwealth forces in Borneo and Southern Malaysia around the same time. There was an interesting discussion over dinner on Saturday regarding Iran’s role in Middle East politics at the moment…while it has been happy to stir up trouble in Iraq to further its national interests regarding the Gulf, it is less happy to do so in Afghanistan because Iran does not actually want a fundamentalist Islamic nation sitting on its own borders. Apparently it is one thing to be or have been one, and quite another to have to live with one. As a result, Iran considers it in its own interests to have a stable Afghanistan. Perhaps the current defrosting (warming is probably too positive a term) in the relationships between Iran, the US and the UN may lead to an Iranian force deploying to Afghanistan, possibly even as lead nation in an Islamic brigade/div under ISAF. This might bring the necessary degree of cultural awareness and engagement to the ISAF campaign that it currently so clearly lacks.

♣ Following on from the point above, perhaps the engagement that GEN McCrystal needs to be doing is not with the US and UK, or the parsimonious NATO contributors, but with the informal Islamic Alliance including Iran, Iraq (yes, you did read that right – how better to learn COIN for domestic use than understudy in another campaign), the Gulf States (how nice just for once to see them ante up, especially since they contributed so much to the original mess – yes, Saudi Arabi, that means YOU!!), Malaysia (whose forces had a good rep in Somalia and Bosnia – partly because of the Islamic cultural connection, partly because the Malaysians are very laid back and laissez-faire in their approach to just about anything),  Indonesia,  and Pakistan (see Saudi comments). Maybe the last thing Afghanistan needs is more Western troops…This point also came out in 2000 after the INTERFET deployment into East Timor, after Australia announced the Howard Doctrine whereby Australia would become more active in regional affairs. There was a massive kickback from ASEAN which felt, probably with some justification that it could look after its affairs and those of its members very nicely thank you very much. Similar regional interventions have been attempted with varying degrees of success in Africa. perhaps the actual question is What’s in Afghanistan for NATO?

♣ Would it just be easier to load up everyone who does not want to return to the living hell of Taliban rule and relocate them to New Afghanistan somewhere else? Is the war about saving the people or is it about stopping the Taliban getting their hands on nukes as per the head of the British Army, General Sir David Richards’ warning last week?

♣ In another parallel with Vietnam, the Taliban are being supported by a neighbouring nation albeit without the direct blessing of the Government of Pakistan. Like North Vietnam, although for different reasons perhaps, NATO is unable to shutdown this support via military means and diplomatic means only have limited effect because Pakistan is not officially support the Taliban. Applying the ‘isolate the insurgent’ line from COIN doctrine, how do we isolate the Taliban from its support base in Pakistan  over what is some of the most unnavigable and inhospitable terrain on the planet (You’re not in the Fulda Gap anymore, Dr Ropata)?