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264 CONCLUSION Triumph Mistaken Revisionist historians claim that the United States won a lost victory in Vietnam due to the success of pacification and Vietnamization in the years after Tet 1968. By now it should be clear that neither succeeded in Binh Dinh, despite the unique commitment of an entire US combat brigade in direct support of pacification for eighteen months. There were many causes for Operation Washington Green’s failure, but the most important was that its twin objectives of pacification and Vietnamization were at odds with each other. General Barnes assumed that both could be pursued simultaneously, but experience proved that every advance the 173rd Airborne made in pacification only broadened and deepened the GVN’s dependence on American support—and leadership. In Binh Dinh, as elsewhere, “fast and thin” pacification ’s achievements were largely the result of “gathering up the slack” in regions where the insurgency had gone unchallenged for years. NLF liberated areas were broken up, dozens of enemy-controlled hamlets were shifted into the “contested” category, and many less committed VCI and guerrillas were convinced to defect. But after the Sky Soldiers took up the slack, only the South Vietnamese could do the “heavy hauling” needed to finish off the weakened insurgency. Washington Green became hopelessly bogged down at this point because little or no progress was ever made in Vietnamization. This was particularly true of the all-important Territorial Forces, which had become more reliant than ever on American support. A 1972 study by the Institute for Defense Analysis suggested that “brigading” US and RF and PF troops together, as they were in northern Binh Dinh, was actually counterproductive: On balance, the use of the buddy system with ARVN units was a most effective training technique, since ARVN units had the [same] general level of supporting arms and services as US units. However, in the case of brigading US units with the territorials . . . it may well be that the combat performance of Territorial Forces which have become accustomed to a high level of US support (particularly helicopters), may be degraded when forced to operate with the more limited Vietnamese external support resources.1 Triumph Mistaken 265 Operation Washington Green also undermined efforts to boost the 40th and 41st ARVN Regiments’ performance by overextending the Territorial Forces to the point where gaps in population security could be closed only by using ARVN regulars in the role of RF troops. This was expedient as long as there were few Communist regulars on hand, but it impeded Vietnamization by making it impossible for the ARVN troops to replace American units in mobile offensive operations. The 1970 campaign plan set the pendulum swinging back in the opposite direction by requiring ARVN units to be employed offensively in the clearing zones, but it proved very difficult for the 40th and 41st Regiments to make the adjustment (particularly as the continuing shortage of Territorial Forces greatly slowed their redeployment). The yearly oscillation back and forth between the two very different missions of supporting pacification and combating Communist regulars left the regiments ill prepared to perform either one effectively. ARVN commanders in Binh Dinh accordingly tended to act with excessive circumspection in both roles—reinforcing their habitual inertia and defensive mentality. The fundamental weakness that plagued both the ARVN regulars and the RF and PF—and the GVN’s civil administration—in Binh Dinh was, of course, poor leadership. It hamstrung Operation Washington Green at every turn, preventing the Territorial Forces from achieving self-sufficiency, slowing refugee resettlement, undermining civic action initiatives, and ensuring that Phoenix remained only a “paper” program. Sheer incompetence was frequently to blame, although the theft of materials and the embezzlement of funds by GVN officials were often the principal reasons why public service and economic development programs failed to meet their objectives. However, the greatest shortcoming in leadership was excessive caution. Most ARVN and RF and PF officers in Binh Dinh neither aggressively pursued the enemy nor ensured that their subordinates did. In many cases, their inactivity was the result of tacit “accommodations” negotiated with the local Vietcong— and the scale of the problem was huge. In April 1971 the Pacification Studies Group estimated that between 60 and 80 percent of all GVN officials in Phu My had made accommodations with the enemy.2 This was the GVN’s greatest weakness—the regime’s inability to motivate even its own leaders to risk their lives on its behalf—and no amount of US training, equipment, funding...


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MARC Record
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