The Tet Offensive and the Media
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Combined Action Platoons: Vietnam War

U.S. Marine Corps pacification initiative. The tactical area of responsibility (TAOR) assigned to U.S. Marines in Vietnam lay in the northernmost portion of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), designated as I ("Eye") Corps. More than most U.S. military forces, the Marines took countryside pacification seriously. Marine officers realized that they had to gain the confidence of villagers if they were to deny the Viet Cong (VC) local support and bases of operations.

Called at various times by such names as Internal Defense and Development, Rural Reconstruction, Stability Operations, Revolutionary Development, Internal Security, Nation Building, and Neutralization Operations, pacification was not "the other war," as General William Westmoreland and many others thought of it. It was the supporter of military combat operations and at least as important. Based on earlier experiences in the Caribbean and in Central America, III Marine Amphibious Force (MAF) formed combined action platoons in the fall of 1965 as a means of support for RVN's Revolutionary Development Program.

Administered by the G-5 Civil Affairs section based in Da Nang, III MAF fielded four battalions of CAPs between October 1967 and July 1970. Each consisted of one Marine rifle squad and one Navy corpsman plus one platoon of Regional Force/Popular Force (RF/PF) soldiers of the RVN. These men were assigned to a particular village, often one that was home to the RF/PF members of the unit, and made it their base of operations for extended periods. Marines got to know villagers as individuals, helped in civic and health projects, and taught locals the arts of booby-trapping, entrapment, ambush, and self-defense.

As noted by Jean Sauvageot, an Army officer who spent several years in Vietnamese pacification projects: "There was absolutely no comparison between CAP and what most Army units were doing. For example, if CAP killed fifteen enemy soldiers, they usually had fifteen weapons to show for it. At the same time Army units were killing fifteen or five or fifty enemies and might not have a single weapon to show when the firing stopped-not one! In other words they were killing noncombatants and claiming them as dead enemy soldiers." In 1970 the program changed to "combined action groups," using a Marine company and an RF/PF battalion. The last such unit was withdrawn in the spring of 1971.

Cecil B. Currey


Further Reading
Cincinnatus [Cecil B. Currey]. Self-Destruction: The Disintegration and Decay of the United States Army during the Vietnam Era. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981.; Corson, William. The Betrayal. New York: W. W. Norton, 1968.
 

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