Explain the role of US Marines in the CAP. What was their unit organization and daily life like? Cite a specific patrol as an example of how CAP worked with indigenous force personnel. Identify three key strengths of the CAP and demonstrate three examples and their overall effectiveness in the war in South Vietnam. Give two examples of how the basic idea of CAP is in use today.
The Combined Action Program was a strategic military formation that was first devised to address a particular problem during the Vietnam War. An infantry battalion faced challenges with an expanding Tactical Area of Responsibility (TAOR). A squad of Marines is combined with locally recruited Popular Forces (PFs), which is collectively assigned a village to protect. This strategy worked out very effectively during Vietnam War operations and proved to be a force multiplier.
The configuration of a village defense platoon is arrived upon combining a Marine squad with indigenous forces. This proved very effective in thwarting enemy forces security at the village level. CAP, which was first implemented during operations in South Vietnam, has withstood the test of time. Although there is no comprehensive statistical evidence to prove its effectiveness, first hand observations of military officers and subjective evaluations have assented to its utility. The successes met by American troops in later wars in regions such as Haiti, Bosnia, Somalia, etc, underscore CAP-style organization’s relevance and usefulness.
The CAP was a natural extension of the martial traditions that the US Marines excelled in. The US Marines have long understood how pacification of locals and subsequent co-option to their cause drastically improves chances of success. A robust training program for the local recruits and provisions for their security greatly helped with administration of localities. The validity of the CAP concept is attested by its successful implementation in war experiences in Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, etc during the last two centuries. CAP-style organization is especially applicable in regions where the opposition employs guerrilla warfare tactics. In this sense, the CAP concept can be construed as counter-guerrilla warfare. The CAP organized the hamlet defense and lived in the hamlet on a 24-hour basis. Besides hamlet security,
“CAP teams provided the villagers medical care and assistance with hygiene and disease related problems. CAP teams also built simple structures and roads and conducted a variety of other civic projects aimed at helping the people. The Marine pacification program was successful in screening the people from the VC and in large part insulating them from some of the corruption and abuses of the GVN.” (Clark, 1990, p. 115)