The North Vietnamese Communist leadership's ability to reassess and adapt during the Vietnam War was reflected in how well they combined guerilla and conventional operations to achieve their strategic goal of unifying Vietnam under communist rule. Throughout the conflict, the Viet Cong (VC) were employed to conduct guerilla operations while North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and VC "main force" units were used to transition to conventional operations. Guerilla operations enabled Hanoi to inflict a steady flow of casualties on US forces which increased anti-war sentiment in America. NVA and VC main force conventional operations reinforced the US Army's conventional approach to the fight which caused the Americans to alienate the people of South Vietnam. By alienating the South Vietnamese people, the Americans enhanced the VC's ability to conduct guerilla operations and control rural population centers which weakened the credibility of the Government of South Vietnam (GVN). The combined effects of guerilla and conventional operations supported the North Vietnamese strategy of a protracted conflict that was sure to weaken the resolve of the United States and eventually defeat the GVN. The relationship between conventional and guerilla operations was a key element of the Vietnamese communists’ “Dau Tranh” strategy to fight and win the Vietnam War. A brief description of the Dua Tranh (meaning struggle) strategy is appropriate since it was the basis for North Vietnam’s success. The strategy consisted of an armed struggle and a political struggle. The armed struggle began with Stage One hit and run guerilla tactics to “decimate the enemy piecemeal and weaken then eliminate the government’s administrative control of the countryside.” In Stage Two, “the war becomes less guerrilla-like and resembles a conventional small-scale war.” Finally, in Stage Three, the war becomes almost completely military and “the battle is between armies of troops, and in the battle is the decision.” Each stage of the armed struggle entails a transition between guerilla and conventional operations. The two kinds of Dau Tranh, political and armed, worked together during the war to ensure North Vietnamese and VC victory. (Pike, 224-225) As the Vietnam War progressed, People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) generals led by General Giap reassessed and adapted their strategy to fit the circumstances. This enabled the VC revolutionaries, supported by North Vietnamese regular forces, to achieve success without ever defeating US forces on the battlefield. For instance, the Tet Offensive in 1968 represented an operational failure in Stage Three of the Dau Tranh strategy but was considered a success for the North since it weakened American public support for the war. As a result the defeat on the battlefield, Giap adapted Dau Tranh to avoid concentration of forces and the effects of superior US firepower by transitioning back to Stage Two. The return to guerilla operations ensured sustained US casualties and the continued erosion of public support between 1968 and 1971. At the same time, main force units that were decimated during Tet could withdrawal and reconstitute. (Pike, 229) During this period another form of Dau Tranh was developed which called for a return to conventional operations. The revised strategy was tested in the 1972 Easter Offensive and the South Vietnamese again prevailed with aggressive fighting supported by US firepower. As a result of this setback, the communist leadership again reverted back to guerilla operations to continue the fight while their conventional forces prepared to fight another day. The communists were eventually successful in defeating the Army of the Republic Vietnam (ARVN) in another conventional offensive in 1975 that led to the fall of the Saigon. (Pike, 229) Although the communists suffered serious conventional defeats in 1968 and 1972, their ability to return to...
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