Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Preferred Name

Pake Davis


Date of Award

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


Steven W. Guerrier

P. David Dillard

Shah Mahmoud Hanifi


American counterinsurgency in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan relied on conventional warfare methods than counterinsurgency warfare methods. These methods proved detrimental to operational success and put members of the military at risk. To find this, I used after-action reports from Vietnam by the 1st Cavalry, 4th Infantry, and 25th Infantry Divisions. I used oral histories by the Veterans History Project and the Cantigny First Division Oral Histories to reveal their experiences while conducting these campaigns. The primary method began in Vietnam with Arc Light (B-52) strikes, artillery strikes, and napalm as preparatory strikes. American units then used search-and-destroy maneuvers to root out the Viet Cong. Not only did these air power methods fail to kill large numbers of Viet Cong, it led to the Viet Cong controlling the population’s support that is so vital to counterinsurgency warfare. During the Global War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American military implemented similar methods with negative effects. House-to-house sweeps in Iraq resembled Vietnam’s cat-and-mouse game with insurgents in the jungle. Afghanistan’s mountains granted the insurgency its fluidity, which the U.S. was unable to effectively counter. The only viable solution that the military saw was to continue its reliance on American technological superiority.

The ineffective practices in Iraq led to the Surge in 2007. Army General David Petraeus sparked doctrinal and operational change that acknowledged the population and used it to undermine the insurgency. However, the Surge came too late in Afghanistan in 2009 to make a difference. A change in presidential administration in 2008, paired with an exhausted American public that grew warry of the validity of these campaigns, which is the greatest vulnerability of counterinsurgency operations. The Obama administration prosecuted the war in Afghanistan the only way it could realistically do so, through drone warfare. This enabled the killing of insurgents without putting servicemembers at risk. The reversion back to this conventional, traditional mentality from methods like the Surge revealed how the U.S. viewed counterinsurgency warfare.