South Viet Nam: Toward the Showdown?

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guerrilla warriors themselves, who are experts in stealth and the quick kill, the green-bereted Special Forces work with specially trained Vietnamese units to beat the enemy at his own game, have constructed a string of 50 outposts from which 150-man teams prowl the Cambodian and Laotian frontiers in search of Communist infiltrators. "I'll never forget the expressions on the faces of the villagers when we killed the Viet Cong tax collector, district chief and propaganda officer in one day," says one U.S. Special Forces officer. As the Special Forces prepare to move into new areas, they often send in a squad of natives weeks ahead bearing gifts: often the advance men are under orders to marry village maidens to establish local connections.

Last week, in jungle-shrouded Tayninh province northwest of Saigon, a burly American Special Forces colonel stood triumphantly atop Black Virgin Mountain. Just a month ago, the heights of Black Virgin were a stronghold of the Viet Cong; now, thanks to the Special Forces, 200 peasants were building a government fort on the rugged peak.

Buffalo & Dysentery. Another band of hardy heroes is Viet Nam's U.S. civilian AID brigade. Half of them are always posted in the boondocks, counseling peasants on everything from seeding to irrigation. They often sleep on bamboo mats, eat buffalo meat (roasted with hair, hide and all), contract dysentery—and live in constant danger. Driving through Quangngai province one day, AID-man Robert Kelly spotted a Vietnamese he had known in the past and stopped to say hello. "You had better get out of here," the Vietnamese replied. 'Tm Viet Cong now and an attack is under way." Sure enough, as he sped away, Kelly saw dozens of guerrillas pop out of the bush and move toward a nearby target. Ed Navarro, provincial AID representative in Tayninh, has twice found himself one Jeep back of deadly explosions on the mine-infested roads of the province.

Along with the promise of more men and funds, AID has a brand-new boss, a table-pounding ex-union leader named James Killen. Naturally, the hope exists that the expanded U.S. assistance will slowly turn the tide, and some observers see optimistic signs that it just might. But if it should fail to do so—or not do so fast enough—there remains the question of what then?

Longer & Harder. One top Washington official believes that war-weary Vietnamese morale could stand at most two more years of hopelessness without cracking severely—and that a string of dramatic Red victories could advance the date. For if it has been a "long, hard war" for Americans, it has been incalculably longer and harder for the 14 million South Vietnamese. To date, the war has cost 100,000 Vietnamese dead on both sides, and an estimated 20,000 more will die this year. Thus Khanh is increasingly squeezed on one hand by neutralist sentiment and on the other by desperate cries of "Bac tien [To the north]!" The loudest grumbling is coming from officers who are under renewed Red pressure. To make matters worse, General Big Minh is surly. At a recent meeting of the Military Revolutionary Council, Minh reportedly contradicted Khanh several times. Khanh finally stopped the meeting, looked straight at Minh and said: "If you want this job, you can have it any time. But just remember: when you take this job,

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