Monday, November 13, 2017

CRS Syndrome

Before he died, former LTC Hackworth used to rant occasionally about the U.S. Army's CRS problem. "CRS" stood for "Can't Remember Shit", and it was symbolic for the Army's predilection for forgetting the hard-earned lessons of previous wars. A perfect example that jumped out at me when I read about it was the troubles along the MSRs in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was almost as if the services had stuffed the hard lessons learned about convoys in Vietnam down the memory hole and had to re-learn the same lessons all over again, at the usual cost in blood and treasure.

Here's another lesson from Vietnam we seem to have forgotten; sending Americans to fight small dirty wars in small, corrupt places in the unpaved parts of the world don't result in those shitholes becoming less corrupt but, rather, in corrupting the Americans.

As Charlie Pierce points out, this CRS problem goes all the way back to the beginnings. In his hearings on the Vietnam War, SEN Fulbright said:
“Under our system, Congress, and especially the Senate, shares responsibility with the President for making our Nation's foreign policy. This war, however, started and continues as a Presidential war in which the Congress, since the fraudulent Gulf of Tonkin episode, has not played a significant role.

The purpose of these hearings is to develop the best advice and greater public understanding of the policy alternatives available and positive congressional action to end American participation in the war."
Given their recent enthusiasm in kiboshing any sort of limits on what they see as the open-ended 2001 AUMF the Trumpkins have neither interest in nor worries about not limiting this endless whack-a-muj game the U.S. has been playing for 16 years now.

Somewhere in a dingy bar in Valhalla Sun-tzu reminds Dave Hackworth what he said about the problems inherent in fighting long wars, and Hack replies that, no shit, Sherlock, it is for that exact reason that the dopeslap was invented, and that the only problem is that nobody in the U.S. government seems willing to use it on the dumb bastards than need it.


  1. Coincidentally, I actually wrote an article draft (which I never submitted anywhere) about the convoy security topic back in 2003 or 2004 or so.
    Lots of U.S.Army and Rhodesian/South African lessons learned were among the inspirations.

    It turned out to not apply to Iraq much, if at all. The remote-controlled mine thing was not unheard-of before, but rather uncommon. The whites were the only ones owning motor vehicles in South African wars, so pressure-trigged AT mines were the dominant mine type there. Vietnam was both in the 50's and the 60's much more about classic ambushes and harassing fires than about remote-controlled mines.

    The low intensity harassing with RC mines was not foreseen by me, even taking into account several U.S.Army lessons learned, articles and so on.

    BTW, I still have that article draft. Drop me an e-mail if anyone is interested:

  2. Sven - I'd like a copy. Will email you.

  3. FDChief -

    Way off topic: At 9pm tonight PBS is broadcasting a piece on the MODOC War. Or maybe not so far off topic as there was some CRS involved in that also.

  4. One of the persistent hazards to convoys in the RVN were what were then called "command-detonated mines". Turned out the VC were adept at repurposingUS UXO to use as ambush initiators. So the only real innovation the 21st Century muj added was substituting the cell phone for wire. The effect was very similar, and the difficulty of securing convoy routes against that threat was predictable had any US logistician bothered to learn it. The gun trucks for ambush suppression? Agreed; not so much. But the "IED was a very old trick and a nasty one that the US occupiers should have anticipated. Just as the "Club Scandal" and the drug smuggling that were a feature of the Vietnam War - and the endemic corruption of the US's other Long War, the "war on drugs" - should make this sort of story utterly predictable.

    1. It's a question of emphasis.- Command-detonated mines have become the almost sole kind of attack on convoys in Iraq. That's an altogether different thing from using them to sow some confusion and block the road with some wrecks in order to shoot the trapped convoy up.

    2. "Altogether"? I do not think that word means what you think it means...

      Snark from "The Princess Bride" aside, the mining, including "IED" type mines, was common into RVN. Yes, it was usually accompanied by a direct-fire attack (which the Iraqi and Afghan muj have tried, as well). But the US engineers swept the VN MSRs daily, which suggests that the threat of static mines and IEDs was considerable in its own right.

      And beyond the pure technicalities the notion that securing supply routes in a guerilla war would be a difficult, manpower-intensive, dangerous chore isn't exactly rocket science. If the lessons of Vietnam weren't sufficient there's a pretty impressive body of experience from other places like Napoleonic Spain. Point being, some military problems are not just foreseeable but inevitable in given circumstances. Local corruption corrupting US forces - especially those in low-profile, poorly supervised operations -is as shocking as gambling at Rick's Cafe.

  5. It was both of course - both static mines/IEDs and those that were covered by ambush. Road sweeps in Nam were frequently bogged down. The VC locals, JSRs, would bury tin cans, expended brass, and other assorted metallic detritus just to slow down the road sweeps. Or sometimes just disturb the surface so that it looked like something was buried there. A real IED was usually nearby and typically a 155 shell or a 250 pound bomb rigged with pressure plates, or sometimes a locally manufactured jury-rigged bamboo mine.

    The majority of casualties related to mines and IEDs were not on the roads. Those casualties were off-road boobytraps on pathways and paddy dikes around hamlets and villages, or on jungle trails. Some were locally made, but many others were captured ARVN or American stocks of M-16 or M-18 mines or hand grenades.

    As for command detonated IEDs I'm sure there were thousands, but the only one that I was personally aware of was a US M-18 Claymore that the VC had rigged with their own electrical firing device. It did not work.

    1. Of course it probably differed in other areas. My recollections are predominately of southern I Corps.