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The North Vietnamese masked their direct control through a web of
cover organizations. In 1960, the Communists announced the formation
of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF), a so-called
coalition of "democratic forces" to lead the struggle against the South
Vietnamese government and give the appearance of a popular uprising.
Even within the Communist apparatus in the south, the North Vietnamese
went to extraordinary lengths to conceal their participation. In late
1961, the Communists changed the name of their party in the south from
the Lao Dong (Worker's Party) to the People's Revolutionary Party. Shortly
afterward, they created the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN)
to coordinate both the political and military aspects of the war in
the south. Under COSVN, a myriad of interlocking regional, provincial,
and district committees tightly controlled the Viet Cong political infrastructure
and military forces down to the hamlet and village level. Yet, COSVN,
itself, reported directly to the Politburo of the Lao Dong Party of
North Vietnam through the Reunification Department with its headquarters
in Hanoi.26

The extent of North Vietnamese involvement and control of the war
was more obvious in northern South Vietnam than elsewhere. Very early,
the Communists separated the two northern provinces of Quang Tri and
Thua Thien from their Military Region (MR) V, which roughly
corresponded to I and II Corps. MR Tri-Thien-Hue, as the new
region was named, came directly under the North Vietnamese high command
rather than COSVN. All told, "three ill-defined military headquarters"
in what had been part of MR V reported directly through North
Vietnamese channels. In addition to Tri-Thien- Hue, there were
the B-3 Front, which controlled military operations in the
Central Highlands of South Vietnam, and the DMZ Front, which
apparently had command of all units in the DMZ sector and at Khe Sanh.
Despite denials and elaborate attempts by the North Vietnamese to cover
troop movements through constantly changing unit designations, American
intelligence in 1967 identified seven North Vietnamese Army divisions
within South Vietnam, five of these divisions in I and II Corps.27

By the end of the year MACV held in its order of battle of enemy forces
some 216,000 troops. These included some 51,000 North Vietnamese regulars,
60,000 Viet Cong main and local forces, and about 70,000 full-time guerrillas.
About 35,000 administrative troops rounded out the total. The MACV estimate,
however, omitted certain categories such as VC "self-defense" forces
and other irregulars and some 70,000 political cadre. Although extensive
disagreement existed within the U.S. intelligence community over these
exclusions and the total strength of the enemy, the numbers of regulars
and full-time guerrillas were largely accepted.28 As General Westmoreland
later explained: "Intelligence is at best an imprecise science: it is
not like counting beans; it is more like estimating cockroaches. . .
."29 More open to question was the MACV claim that the total enemy strength
had diminished.30*

From an American perspective, the Communists had suffered only defeats
since the U.S. intervention in the war in 1965. American units in extensive
operations ranging the length and breath of South Vietnam had taken
a large toll of enemy forces. The allies turned back with heavy Communist
losses every thrust the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) made from the Ia
Drang Valley in the Central Highlands during 1965 to the hills around
Khe Sanh in the spring of 1967. For the year 1967 alone, MACV estimated
the number of enemy killed in battle as more than 88,000.31

The Communist view of the situation remains obscure. In late summer
1967, the North Vietnamese Defense Minister and architect of the Dien
Bien Phu victory, General Vo Nguyen Giap, wrote: "... the situation
has never been as favorable as it is now. The armed forces and people
have stood up to fight the enemy and are achieving one great victory
after another."32 Yet, apparently there was divided opinion
among the North Vietnamese leadership as to the best course of action.
There were the advocates of a reversion to guerrilla warfare and a protracted
war while others argued in favor of taking the offensive against the
allies and especially the Americans on all fronts. Because of the extraordinary
secretiveness and paranoia within the higher reaches of both the Lao
Dong Party and the North Vietnamese government, neither the extent of
these differences nor even the makeup of the opposing factions was obvious.
Much of the speculation centered around Giap whom various authorities
identified with one or the other of the cliques or with neither. What
is known is that in June 1967 the politburo of the party met to assess
the sit-

* Commenting on the MACV perception of the Communist forces, General
Krulak, the former FMFPac commander, recently wrote: "our strategic
intelligence was uniformly poor." LtGen Victor H, Krulak, Comments on
draft chapter, dtd 31Oct94 (Vietnam Comment pile).

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