Saturday, July 21, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Reconnaissance Patrols Are Best Trained-Military Intelligence Digs Out Information Deadly To Enemy

November 20, 1966

Saigon, South Viet Nam--The tactics and equipment being used by our military to seek out and then destroy the enemy resemble the plot of a James Bond thriller, but here, everything is very real.

One of the most important but seldom publicized activities of the war is the role of military intelligence.

Our intelligence system operates in every locality with a network of spies that numbers well into the thousands. Each day, reports from these spies are sifted for vital information on the movements of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops, the possible locations of rice caches, or weapons.

But our intelligence system does not depend entirely on the spies on the ground. Seldom does a minute go by when our reconnaissance planes are not flying over key points of the country, photographing entire areas.

And what the photographs show, through close study, has proved fatal to many Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops.

The enemy cannot hide, even at night. The recon planes, flying at undisclosed altitudes, photograph areas with infra red cameras which seek out their camp fires.

The enemy has gone to great lengths to keep from being spotted. At streams where bridges along supply routes have been demolished, the enemy has constructed submerged bridges, about three feet under water, but they have not been able to hide the ruts made by trucks and equipment, which show on either bank of the streams.

Photo recon also has uncovered wide roads, over which arbors have been built to camouflage them from the air.

Operation Ranch Hand, a project in which chemicals have been sprayed on large areas to defoliate the dense jungles, has uncovered several such arbored roads. In one set of aerial photographs, it was noticed a clearing was lined with rows of bushes which were too orderly for a jungle clearing.

An air strike was ordered for the area, and a later report said 12 Viet Cong had been killed in the attack. What looked like bushes from the air were clumps of twigs and leaves which each soldier had tied to his hat and pack.

Planes, with cameras mounted horizontally, patrol the Cambodian and Laotian borders constantly and take pictures far into each country, trying to pinpoint North Vietnamese troops.

Intelligence reports have been key factors in recent captures of large quantities of rice and arms. One of the next aims of the military will be to deny the VC and North Vietnamese salt from the salt pans located throughout the coastal areas in North and South Viet Nam.

The Vietnamese obtain salt by running sea water into a canal and into masonry pans. When the water evaporates the salt is scraped from the pans.

The military is moving to control, or oversee, salt production in all of South Viet Nam. Salt production in the north will be stopped by bombing attacks.

Although we depend heavily on aerial photography and our spy system, another key operation which alerts us to enemy movements are the special reconnaissance teams of the Army, Marine Corps, and Special Forces.

The recon patrols usually consist of no more than four or five men. They are assigned an area to patrol and either go in by helicopter or parachute to accomplish their missions. How long they stay depends upon when they finish their jobs.

Since these men carry only enough supplies for a few days, many patrols wind up living off the land...snakes, fish, various plants and herbs, and fruits from the trees.

When their missions are finished, they either walk back to their camps, or try to find a safe area to have a helicopter pick them up.

Members of these patrols are the most rugged, best-trained troops seen here. They dress in camouflaged uniforms and blacken their faces to blend with the jungle. Though they are heavily armed and equipped with a radio, they are under orders not to engage in combat or use the radio unless they are trapped or have urgent information to relay to their camps.

It is not uncommon for them to be gone for two weeks on patrols.

Many of them never come back.

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