in 1968 ...." This would occur "without the heat of the spotlight, absent because of the lack of priority status which exists only in a concept, not in practice."20
By the end of 1967, progress in pacification in both I Corps and country-wide was very much in the eye of the beholder. According to the latest HES ratings more than 60 percent of the population country-wide lived in relatively secure areas. In I Corps, III MAF reported that more than half of the people in that sector lived in "secure hamlets." Both of these figures, nevertheless, needed to be taken with several grains of salt. Thomas Thayer, a senior Defense Department analyst, later wrote that there were several factors that may have caused the increase. These included the fact that the secure population included urban regions, refugees, and not the least, "optimistic evaluation of programs." The statistics also underestimated the strength of the VC control in Communist-dominated hamlets. Given all that, Thayer believed that the extension of allied protection into the countryside accounted for most of the hamlet security gains.21
Other factors at the Saigon level reinforced this initial optimism. According to the MACV historians, the momentum of 1967 progress "gave hope to all concerned that a workable solution to the problem of pacification had at last evolved." CORDS officials spoke about "Project Takeoff, a management tool designed to bring maximum pacification assets to bear on the most important problems."22
The MACV intelligence estimate also gave impetus to the belief that the war was finally going the allies' way. In their analysis of enemy strength in the second half of 1967, MACV intelligence officers began to talk about enemy casualties reaching the "crossover point," where the gaps left in enemy strength could not be filled by new replacements and recruits. Westmoreland then approved a controversial decision to omit from the MACV order of battle two whole classes of so-called Communist irregulars: Self Defense Forces and the VC infrastructure. This reduced the estimated total number of guerrillas, irregulars, and cadre from 114,348 to 81,300. All of the 81,300 irregulars carried in the proposed new MACV estimate were under the category of guerrillas. Under the classification spaces for Self Defense Forces and VC infrastructure were two footnotes. According to the MACV rationale, "the self-defense forces provide a base for recruitment as well as for political and logistical support, but are not a fighting force comparable to the guerrilla." While acknowledging that local VC hamlet self-defenses "cause some casualties and damage, they do not represent a continual or dependable force and do not form a valid part of the enemy's military force." Relative to the enemy infrastructure, "the political cadre (infrastructure) has no military function. ""
As could be expected, the proposed revised MACV order of battle caused a furor among the various intelligence agencies, especially the CIA. In an eventual compromise, essentially everyone agreed to disagree. The new estimates carried the MACV changes, but with the footnotes explaining that Self Defense Force and VC figures were not included in the new figures. MACV HES estimates, however, continued to show an enemy guerrilla force of about 155,000 rather than the 81,000 published by the MACV-J2 or intelligence section. Furthermore, MACV through CORDS supported the newly initiated ClA-sponsored Phung Hoang (All Seeing Bird) or "Phoenix" program as it was known in English, aimed at the elimination of high-ranking VC cadre.24*
At the end of 1967, despite some feeling of optimism, there were continuing doubts about progress in pacification both in I Corps and the country at large. From both American and South Vietnamese sources came indications of increased enemy offensive intentions. This was especially true in I Corps where the allies expected another large enemy push in the north. At Da Nang, also, there were reports of a major enemy attack on the base and the number of enemy small unit actions had increased."
* Although later alleged to be an assassination campaign, the stared purpose of the Phung Hoang was "to enlist and coordinate the efforts of local leaders police and paramilitary groups to identify and dismantle the subversive apparatus." Based upon the newly created District Intelligence Operational Coordinating Committees, consisting of police and village and hamlet officials, the idea was to target by name and arrest the local enemy ranking cadre, employing force if necessary. Various Vietnamese agencies carried out the actual campaign, including the national police, military security teams, armed propaganda teams. Census Grievance cadre, RD cadre, and an especially ClA-trained group called Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU). Colonel Black, who was responsible for III MAF civil affairs, recalled that because of its classification, not even the III MAF staff was "in the know" on the program, but that the staff "thrived on rumor about Phoenix." James Black Comments. Major Donald E. Milone, who commanded the 3d MP Battalion in 1968, related that the program "failed to coordinate its activities" with Marine units, especially the Combined Action platoons: "No one knew what was happening in a certain village." Maj Donald E. Milone, Comments on draft, n.d. [Dec94] (Vietnam Comment File). Lieutenant Colonel Corson, who headed the Combined Action Program in 1967, considered Phoenix "a bounty program . . . with little regard ... for 'guilt' or 'innocence.'" He stared that he reached an understanding that the Phoenix teams would keep away from the Combined Action hamlets. Corson Comments.
**See Chapters l and 6.