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Article About the VC in Quang Ngai Province

Copy of article provided by Dave Eckberg

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The Squeeze Is On for Quang Ngai's VC

By SPEC. 5 Bob Mantell

S&S Staff Correspondent

QUANG NGAI PROVINCE, Vietnam - As Allied units meet with diminishing enemy resistance on the once farm-rich battlefields of this once strongly Viet Cong province, government officials and their American advisors are moving to squeeze out the remaining tenacious terrorists.

Once dubbed a "ribbon province" with many of the more than half a million residents seeking safety along government-controlled Highway 1, Quang Ngai officials have firm goals for the return of some 170,000 refugees to the land.

So far this year 50,000 people have followed the path of American Army bulldozers to re-establish homes and villages as they push roads toward the hills and the sea.

Province senior adviser Henry B. Cushing says he hopes that by next summer the booby-trap riddled Batangan peninsula, east of Highway 1 and north of Quang Ngai City, will be completely repopulated.

By the end of next year all the fertile areas are expected to be reclaimed from the Communists, even if U.S. ground troops are withdrawn during the year.

"The GVN is moving more and more to recognize and meet problems on its own," says Cushing, "and it is showing that it is not just going to stay around Highway 1 and Quang Ngai City."

A good example of government determination came Sept. 9 when VC terrorists burned 140 homes in Dai Loc, a newly resettled village.  The threat was met promptly with aid from the government and increased security forces, he said, and the people have shown a willingness to stay on in spite of the attack and rebuild their village.

Civil operations and rural development support officials say they hope the resettled people will make a greater effort to protect their new homes and thus deny the enemy the mobility needed to launch large scale attacks.

There are already signs the government's hopes will be met. Although there is more terrorism lately, it is having less of an effect, says the advisors.  VC recruitment is down, perhaps because of increasingly high taxes levied by the VC in the areas remaining under their control, they say.

The Communist desertion rate in Quang Ngai Province is the highest in I Military Region.   Former Viet Cong list malnutrition and disillusionment with VC promises high among their reasons for desertion.

Informed sources say that since August the only NVA division to operate in the province -- believed to have been badly hurt in the attack on Hiep Duc during the summer -- and the other NVA units in the area have been splitting up to operate with the smaller VC units.  The sources report bad leadership and discipline problems among less experienced NVA soldiers.

MR-5, the major Communist headquarters, has recently directed its subordinate units to detail 16 per cent of their manpower to growing food, they say.

Enemy strength in Quang Ngai and neighboring Quang Tin is put at 14,000 men by the sources.  Opposing them are the U.S. Americal Div. headquartered in Chu Lai and the 2nd ARVN Inf. Div. in Quang Ngai.

Cushing says he feels territorial forces and the 2nd ARVN Div. will be able to maintain security in Quang Ngai if present trends continue.  But he says American artillery, air and logistical support will be needed.

The ARVNs, in fact, have reported more enemy killed and more weapons captured than the Americans since the first of the year.

The Americal has been engaged in pacification, division officers say, and has projects planned to build police stations, maternity wards, schools, roads and marketplaces in district capitals.  They have been running 125 medcaps a week reaching 5,000 patients.

The return to the countryside should bolster the economy, too. Currently not enough sugar cane is being grown in what was once Vietnam's leading sugar cane producing province to supply a new mill being constructed near Quang Ngai City.  When completed and the cane replanted, the mill could handle 150 tons a day.

Government officials are charting areas for cultivation, and the whole project is given as another indication of determination to maintain security, since a grower's entire investment can be easily burned to the ground.

The abundant crops of new IR-8 rice are already lowering rice prices in the province, upsetting some farmers but helping to curb inflation.

But other revenue producers like timber and cinnamon will be out of reach for some time in the Viet Cong-held mountains. The timber mill at Tra Bong has been out of operation for years, and the Ranger outpost there is often under attack.

The government put a halt to cinnamon export several years ago to stop the profits from its sale in world markets from reaching enemy hands.

Although Quang Ngai Province -- third most populous in Vietnam -- ranks lowest in I MR in hamlet evaluation figures, there are signs of increased security in the government-controlled area along Highway 1.

Brightly painted concrete block houses have replaced the huts along the road, and evenings and Sundays the shoppers come out in numbers only seen during the holidays just a year ago.

Quang Ngai City is noticeably free of trash and garbage and the stores are bright with new goods displayed to catch the eye.

Thirty-three per cent of government funded self-development projects in the villages is being paid for by the people.

Another problem area often mentioned by the advisors is education, essential to make development plans work.  Currently only 10 per cent of the high school age children are in schools and this year only 200 were graduated in the whole province.

The Communists traditionally have been strong in Quang Ngai.  It was the North Vietnam prime minister's birthplace and a stronghold of the Viet Minh during the war against the French, so strong, it is said that Duc Pho was used as an R&R site.

For years the only government the people have known has been Viet Minh or Viet Cong.  Yet today all but the most pessimistic observer would have to agree with one veteran American advisor who said, "Maybe we haven't won everyone's support, but at least the VC have lost it."

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