DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
SPECIAL TACTICAL ZONE 24
26 Aug 68
The following News Release was prepared by the II Corps Information Office and released to all U.S. News Media in Vietnam:
“Ia Tower Valley, Vietnam (MACV 10, 22 Aug.)—Elements of the Vietnamese Army (ARVN) 24th Special Tactical Zone today entered the fifth day of heavy combat in a rugged mountainous area between Pleiku and Kontum cities.
ARVN forces in the multi-battalion Operation Binh Tay have tackled what the senior advisor, Colonel James P. Cahill, feels is a reinforced regiment of North Vietnamese regulars—probably five battalions. U.S. advisors have confirmed at least 87 NVA killed as of yesterday afternoon.
The battle centers around a jungle-covered ridge called Chi Ro Bu which rises to elevations above 3,700 feet, looming more than half a mile above the lush, green Ia Tower Valley to the north where ARVN brought government control to a population, which the enemy had ruled for two years.
The battle was triggered by a sequence of events dating into early July in which 24th Zone troops swept areas for 40 kilometers (25 miles) north and northeast of Kontum City to eliminate the enemy threat of attack by the 24th NVA Regiment.
In early July, ARVN moved into a secret enemy base area called “Kon Gum” capturing literally bushels of documents, and then into the Dak Akoi river valley northeast of the city. Their intent was two-fold: either to force the 24th Regiment from that area, or to make them stand and fight.
Little contact resulted, and the 24th apparently retreated south into the Ia Tower area east of Highway 14 and just south of the Pleiku-Kontum Province border.
24th Zone Battle
Meanwhile, intelligence reports began to indicate a so-called “Third Offensive” would take place in middle or late August. With ARVN having cleared areas to the north and east, and U.S. forces securing to the west, the most imminent threat to Kontum seemed to be from the south.
ARVN forces led by Colonel Nguyen Ba Lien, 24th Zone commander, then set out to tip the enemy’s hand, and what Col. Lien describes as “the toughest battle I have ever fought” developed rapidly.
Fourteen companies were dispatched into this valley for cordon and search operations centering on half a dozen Montagnard villages which had been under enemy control for two years. The results of the effort, begun on August 13, were unique.
Rather than watching the usual entertainment provided by Vietnamese psychological operations teams, the Montagnard villagers insisted on providing their own entertainment for the government forces liberating their villages.
On the first day, 34 volunteers from one village came forward to form a Popular Forces platoon to defend their homes. Government control of the Ia Tower Valley, it seemed, was very welcome. Village elders invited province officials to rice wine ceremonies; music and dancing were included.
But the enemy was not so pleased—friendly cordon elements on the south side of the valley began taking fire from a hill called Chi Pou. So ARVN and Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) units began to sweep south into the mountains. Driving past Chi Pou toward the Chi Ro Bu ridge, they found fresh trails cut through the jungle toward the west.
CIDG soldiers followed these trails across Highway 14 and made contact with the enemy. It was reasoned that enemy forces must occupy the areas at the east end of the trails also, so 24th Zone Scout elements with their advisors were sent to reconnoiter.
24th Zone Battle
The Scouts made contact as they tried to ascend Chi Ro Bu on Sunday, and by nightfall the enemy fire had become so intense that retreat was impossible.
ARVN then moved in from Highway 14 with a multi-battalion relief force, which was able to get within 500 yards of the Scouts before being pinned down by fire from Hill 881 about 2 miles southwest of Chi Ro Bu. Intense fighting developed until Wednesday afternoon.
So tough was the NVA resistance that no reinforcements could be brought in to the beleaguered Scout units. Not until midnight Tuesday could helicopters get in to evacuate casualties. Supplies were airdropped; ammunition was kicked out of helicopters as they sped over Scout’s positions.
U.S. helicopter pilots reported enemy dead were laying “all over the place”—some as close as 15 meters to the mortar-packed Scout unit perimeters. ARVN finally broke through to the Scouts late yesterday afternoon, and friendly forces, still under heavy fire, managed to pull back.
ARVN artillery batteries have pounded the NVA-held heights from their firebase about 4 ½ miles north of the contact area, throwing literally thousands of 105mm and 155mm shells into the enemy positions. Big 8-inch howitzers and 175mm cannon from U.S. bases as far away as Pleiku and Kontum have blasted the area with hundreds of rounds.
Yesterday, the ARVN disengaged to allow high-flying B-52 Stratofortress bombers to come in and rain hundreds of tons of high-explosive bombs on the area.
ARVN is back in the Chi Ro Bu region today, with hopes of wresting control of the strategic enemy base area from the determined NVA.
Col. Cahill expects the enemy body count from the week’s action to mount past 300. What finally develops will be reported as soon as possible.”
Chuck Schwiderski took part in Operation Binh Tay and writes of these events in several of the poems on these pages.