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Stalking the Vietcong, Inside Operation Phoenix: A Personal Account.

Stalking the Vietcong, Inside Operation Phoenix: A Personal Account. By Stuart A. Herrington. Published by Random House Publishing Group, New York, NY., 279 pages, softcover, $6.99. Reviewed by Major Keith Everett.

Originally published as Silence Was a Weapon in 1982, this 2004 reprint with its catchy title is especially useful today. Stuart Herrington recounts his days participating in the Vietnam war, as a Military Intelligence officer. After a first Vietnam tour, Herrington returned to Vietnam putting his increased language capability and formal intelligence training to the test.

Herrington worked with the Phoenix program in Military Region III, fairly close to Saigon. The primary goal of the Phoenix program was to attack and dismantle the Vietcong shadow government. Herrington vividly describes the frustrations of advisor life as he develops ties working alongside South Vietnamese troops often disinterested in actual action against the Vietcong. Meanwhile the Vietcong successfully pushed the belief on the North Vietnamese that Americans are using the puppet South Vietnamese government to get the wealth of Vietnam. The inability of American and South Vietnamese troops to provide adequate security lent credence to Vietcong propaganda. The Americans provided only an inadequate security protection for the Deim regime, and the parallels with the current Iraqi war are striking.

Promoted to captain, Herrington introduces some of the personalities of his second Vietnamese tour, such as Nguyen Von Phich, a VietCong defector. Phich served as the executive officer of his VC company. This father of six sacrificed his life, as he was assassinated by insurgents for aiding the South. CPT Herrington pulls us into his personal relationships with Phich and several others. The frustration and anxiety are clearly felt as American efforts to protect their defector allies fail. Herrington later introduces Captain Hai Tiet, a Vietcong company commander, and the successful techniques used to get tactical information from Tiet as well as others is revealed. Modern U.S. Military Intelligence Soldiers would easily gain insight on the application of the tactical intelligence gathering methods learned in Army schools.

The heart of this account is CPT Herrington learning from another Army officer how to extract information from defectors or captured enemy soldiers. He learned one of the keys to getting captured Vietcong to talk was decent treatment. Decent treatment was the first step to set up those hard core soldiers for intel exploitation. Also, the careful preparation of a case file for each Vietcong source is explained as the only way to get a conviction of alleged insurgents under Vietnamese law. By studying Herrington's selected use of case studies, a Military Intelligence Soldier could learn how to set up procedures to make the most of captured soldiers. In fact, this account is a good primer for commanders, intelligence officers, and Military Police as well on how to work with the enemy and exploit the information gained.

The successes outlined in Stalking the Vietcong are valuable lessons learned. Ba Tung, a Vietcong who gave himself up, identified 28 enemy cadre members. Tung's story is a shining example of how skillful handling can result in wrapping up enemy infrastructure. Tung identified 23 of the Vietcong cadre in his area and they were later arrested. These arrests snowballed to more than 300 captured cadre, and many of these subjects were also recruited to work against their former organization.

The failures of the Saigon special police are a direct result of their brutal interrogation methods, which sometimes resulted in deaths. Teaching the special police effective techniques and monitoring their work was the toughest part of Herrington's job. The success or failure of counterinsurgency intelligence efforts can be directly traced to the ability of advisors to train and persuade their native counterparts to use humane detention and effective interrogation methods.

Stalking the Vietcong is a valuable guide to build a foundation to defeat an insurgency. Every Soldier interested in defeating an insurgent enemy should read and study this book.
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Publication:Infantry Magazine
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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