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local populace and thereby enhance their own organizational efforts.

Still faced with the possibility of a conventional attack across the demilitarized zone, President Diem was reluctant to commit his regular military units to a problem which seemed to demand police-type operations. Seeing no clear-cut threat, he relied on the Village Self Defense Corps and the Civil Guard to maintain order in the provinces. Poorly led and equipped, and trained primarily in urban police methods, the paramilitary forces proved unable to prevent the diffuse terrorist attacks. In the 12-month period between July 1957 and July 1958, for example, some 700 more South Vietnamese officials reportedly died at the hands of Communist terrorists.3

The Viet Cong terror-propaganda campaigns continued apace throughout 1958. The occurrence of the first attacks on U.S. facilities in Saigon and the initiation of an anti-American propaganda campaign near the end of that year, moreover, indicated that the Communists were broadening the scope of their activities. By this time, the internal disturbances were beginning to assume the dimensions of a concerted guerrilla movement in several of the country's more heavily populated regions, including parts of the important Mekong Delta. Near the close of 1958 President Diem finally began ordering regular military units into the provinces with instructions to eliminate the. Viet Cong and restore government control. The very nature of the enemy, however, tended to render such government operations ineffective. Essentially, the Viet Cong derived their strength from the clandestine political structure which agents had established in portions of the countryside. Interwoven into the social fabric of the hamlets and villages, this political infrastructure, as it later came to be called, served a dual purpose. It was both the machinery by which the Communists exercised control over the population and a vital base of support for the growing guerrilla forces, providing the Viet Cong with men, food, intelligence information, and refuge.

As the Viet Cong guerrillas were recruited from and lived among the local populace, outsiders found it virtually impossible to identify them. Their familiarity with the local terrain, their methods of operating in small groups, and massing for attacks mostly at night made locating them equally difficult. Even their patience seemed to enhance their ability to survive. Unwilling to engage a stronger military force and realizing that a specific government operation could not continue indefinitely, the Viet Cong normally would melt into their environment with the arrival of regular units. When the operation terminated and the regular government forces withdrew, the Communists would re-emerge, often stronger than before. In many cases the guerrillas could give real meaning to their anti-government propaganda once the local population had felt the weight of military operations in their particular community. Operating in this manner, the Viet Cong were able to husband their strength while simultaneously expanding their influence.

There was ample indication that the Communist movement was not wholly indigenous to South Vietnam. Indeed, evidence of increasing North Vietnamese support for the Viet Cong was becoming apparent near the end of the decade. In May 1959, the Central Committee of the North Vietnamese Communist Party publicly announced its intention "to smash" the government ofNgo Dinh Diem.4 By the summer of that year the Viet Cong were being reinforced with men and limited quantities of equipment infiltrated from North Vietnam. Many of the Communist infiltrators, who at this early stage were entering Diem's country across the DMZ and by sea, were southerners who had gone North with the Viet Minh in late 1954. Trained in political and military operations, these returnees added substantially to the Viet Cong's discipline and technical capabilities.* So strengthened, the Communist guerrillas reportedly were operating in battalion strength (300- to 400-man battalions) in some areas by mid-1959. Throughout the country they had expanded their activities to include hit-and-run attacks on paramilitary posts, district headquarters, hospitals, schools, and agricultural stations. Like the assassination campaign which was underway concurrently in areas still controlled by the GVN, these attacks

*A State Department publication released in 1965 placed the number of confirmed North Vietnamese infiltrators for the years 1959 and 1960 at 1,800. It also noted that an additional 2,700 North Vietnamese were estimated to have been infiltrated during this two-year period. The vast majority of these were thought to have been former residents of southern Vietnam. CDepartment of State, Aggression from the North, p. 33.)

 

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