lieved to have been located northeast of Saigon in Binh Duong Province, COSVN exercised direct control over six military regions (MRs). Designated MR-5 through MR-9 (arranged in a north to south pattern) with an additional Saigon-Gia Dinh Special Zone, the Communist military regions served essentially the same purpose as the government's corps tactical zones. Within these six regions COSVN utilized a province and district structure only slightly different from that of the Diem government to exercise administrative and military control. At each level within this organization a small, disciplined Communist political committee orchestrated the activities of its subordinate military units with the actions of its political apparatus.
To counter the strengthened NLF organization and to satisfy American demands that he adopt some form of national strategy. President Diem launched one of the most controversial large-scale undertakings of the war-the Strategic Hamlet Program. Instituted on an informal basis in the closing stages of 1961, the program became fully operative in mid-1962. Although heralded as a new concept, the campaign actually grew out of an existing program whose broad objective had been to bring improved economic and social conditions to South Vietnam's rural areas. Named the Agro-ville Program, this effort had been in effect since late 1959 under the direction of Ngo Dinh Nhu, the president's brother and principal advisor. Since its institution, however, the program had achieved little aside from the resettlement of many rural families into government constructed communities. Few meaningful reforms, either social or economic, had been realized. During the early 1960s, moreover, many of the Agrovilles had been victimized by the Viet Cong, who saw the developments as symbols of the government's presence in contested areas. By mid-1961, in an effort to protect the more remote Agrovilles, authorities in several provinces had begun fortifying the otherwise helpless population centers.
Concurrent with this evolution of the Agrovilles into fortified communities, Sir Robert G. K. Thompson, the head of a newly formed British Advisory Mission in Saigon, suggested that President Diem consider adopting a similar scheme with broader strategic objectives. Thompson, who had helped implement such an effort in Malaya in the 1950s during the struggle there against Communist insurgents, specifically proposed that the South Vietnamese integrate various economic and social programs into an effective campaign to reestablish its influence in the heavily populated Mekong Delta. This campaign, Thompson advised, "should lead by stages to a reorganization of the government machinery for directing and coordinating all action against the communists and the production of an overall strategic operational plan for the country as a whole. . . ." 1
Under pressure from the U.S. Embassy to develop some sort of national strategy for countering the insurgency, President Diem accepted the concept of Thompson's proposal. Shortly thereafter. Diem named Ngo Dinh Nhu to head a campaign formally designated the Strategic Hamlet Program. Nhu was instructed to plan the program and to create a combined agency that would insure its coordination within the various government ministries. These instructions resulted in the creation (in February) of the Interministcrial Committee for Strategic Hamlets. A counterpart American organization, the U.S. Interagency Committee for Province Rehabilitation, was formed in April to provide assistance to Nhu's agency.
With advice from Thompson and the U.S. Embassy, the Vietnamese formulated a program which in theory was to evolve in several rather distinct phases. First it would be necessary to select specific geographic areas wherein the Strategic Hamlet Program would be implemented. Once specific objective areas had been established, regular military units would initiate operations to clear those areas of Viet Cong formations. Following the completion of these operations RVNAF units would resettle the inhabitants of the area in fortified hamlets. Initially these hamlets were to be defended by Civil Guard units while regular forces continued screening operations in the surrounding countryside. In the final phase, Self Defense Corps units would assume responsibility for local security while regular units continued to screen Viet Cong forces from the developments. During this phase district civil authorities would initiate economic and social programs within the newly formed communities in an effort to recapture the allegiance of the local populace. Thus, in this final phase, it was expected that the Communist political infrastructure would be broken.