chapter  2
23 Pages

The widening war

The 18th Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Lao Dong Party convened on 1 January 1970 to appraise the political and military situation since the Tet Offensive of 1968 and to discuss the way forward.1

In their assessment, Nixon was calculating both the timing and the number of troops he could withdraw without compromising the military strength of the Saigon administration. In the view of the Hanoi leadership, the decisive period would be around the end of 1970 and 1971 before the next presidential election in 1972. The meeting thus called for the tighter integration and the intensification of the military, political and foreign policy offensives to defeat the ‘Vietnamisation’ strategy. At the same time, the leadership could foresee that the military struggle would become increasingly important and as such, it was important to focus on improving the effectiveness of the communist main fighting force. The leadership noted that they had adopted an offensive strategy while the enemy still had large forces on the ground, and they anticipated that the next phase of the war would be long, fierce and complicated. Turning to Laos where the Plaine of Jarres-Xieng Khoang military

campaign has been going on since August 1969, the leadership directed that special and urgent attention must be given to coordinating the fighting with the Pathet Lao. On 11 February 1970, the combined Pathet Lao-Vietnamese communist troops under the command of Vu Lap and Huynh Dac Huong (as the political commissar) counter-attacked. Participating in the counter-offensive were the 316th and the 312th infantry divisions and the 866th infantry regiment (comprising two battalions), the 16th artillery regiment, an armoured company, six battalions of special forces and engineers, one battalion of regional troops from Nghe An and ten battalions from Pathet Lao. They recovered Canh

Dong Chum on 20 February 1970, which enabled them to reinforce and expand the ‘liberated’ areas in Laos and further integrate the war in Laos and the war in South Vietnam. At one point during the fighting, they even managed to threaten Vang Pao’s base at Long Cheng. The Hanoi leadership also foresaw that the enemy would soon target

Cambodia to cut off the supply routes to Nam Bo and parts of Tay Nguyen. It therefore called for the urgent expansion of the alternative river and land routes. In his account of the events during this period, Luu Van Loi admitted that there were indeed a sizeable number of communist forces in the Mo Viet (Parrot Peak) and Moc Cau (Fishing Hook) region in Cambodia. The US was correct in its assessment that the Cambodian government was allowing the communist forces to shuttle across the border and to encamp on Cambodian territory, specifically in the region of Base 353 where COSVN was located.2