Friday, April 28, 1972

Red Drive Slowed in Viet Highlands

SAIGON (AP) --The North Vietnamese drive in the central highlands slowed Wednesday and South Korean troops to the east cleared the Communists from a vital pass that may open the way for resumption of convoys to the imperiled highland cities.

Another major threat developed in the coastal highlands behind the South Koreans, however. North Vietnamese troops swarmed out of the hills into the coastal Binh Dinh Province, seized one base and pushed into three populous districts.

The North Vietnamese are north of Highway 19, where the South Koreans are operating at An Khe Pass. But should the Communists push south to Qui Nhon, the gateway to Highway 19, the route would be closed again.

In past offensives, the Communists goal has been to seize the highlands and Binh Dinh Province to sever South Vietnam at its waist. The objective in this spring offensive seems to be the same.

A Korean spokesman and John Paul Vann, the senior U.S. advisor in the highlands, announced that An Khe Pass had been cleared after more than two weeks of sharp fighting.

Reports from Qui Nhon said the highway is still closed by destroyed culverts and damage to the roadway.

Unless the North Vietnamese return, repair work can be rushed so that the convoys can roll again. The highway runs from Qui Nhon to Pleiku, one of the two major cities in the highlands threatened by the Communist offensive.

Moving behind armored personnel carriers, a company of Korean infantrymen reached the top of An Khe Pass, met no opposition, and a short time later returned to the main line.

The South Korean command claimed 705 communist soldiers had been killed since the fight for the pass began April 11. Korean casualties were listed as 51 killed and 115 wounded.

The situation appeared serious in coastal Binh Dinh Province. Landing Zone Delta a government base on Highway 1, was given up under heavy attack Wednesday afternoon.

The district town of Hoai An fell last week. Now the districts of Bong Son, Tan Quan and Phu My are under heavy pressure.

The battlegrounds of Binh Dinh Province have been fought over repeatedly. Years of operations by Americans, Koreans and South Vietnamese troops were required to bring a semblance of government control to the province.

Now with most allied troops gone and South Vietnamese forces committed largely to dealing with the 28-day-old North Vietnamese offensive in other areas, it appears there would be no help for Binh Dinh Province.

Fighting continued for the 20th day at An Loc, 60 miles north of Saigon, and fresh battles erupted at points 25 miles northwest and 40 miles southeast of the capital.

The U.S. command said a four-engine C130 transport was shot down a mile southwest of An Loc while making a pre-dawn supply drop to South Vietnamese forces. The six crewmen were reported missing. A C130 was disabled April 15 and another one shot down April 18 while on similar missions, with one crewman killed and six wounded.

The command reported that an Army OH58 light observation helicopter was shot down in the central highlands near Dak To, held by Communist forces, but there were no casualties.

The U.S. command said a total of 24 American helicopters and 18 planes have been lost throughout Indochina supporting South Vietnamese forces since the North Vietnamese launched their offensive March 30. The command listed a total of 25 Americans killed, eight wounded and 41 missing in the air losses. These figures, spokesmen said, do not include Americans killed or wounded in aircraft that are damaged in the air but not counted as total losses.

In the highlands, field reports said the North Vietnamese drive south down Highway 14 toward the provincial capital of Kontum City appeared stalled.

The Saigon command claimed that South Vietnamese and U.S. fighter bombers and gunships destroyed 10 Communist tanks and a supply convoy of 33 trucks in the Tan Canh-Dak To area, just above the blown out bridge and about 20 to 25 north of Kontum City.

Communist forces kept up their sporadic shelling attacks of airfields in Kontum and Pleiku, 25 miles to the south.

Field reports said elements of the South Vietnamese 23rd Inf. Div., based in the southern central highlands below Pleiku, were being sent north to reinforce Kontum.

Elsewhere, heavy fighting continued along the corridor north of Saigon.

One battle was reported near the district town of Cu Chi, only 25 miles from Saigon, South Vietnamese infantrymen claimed killing 54 North Vietnamese troops with support from air and artillery strikes. Six South Vietnamese troops were reported killed and 12 wounded.

Fighting was reported both to the north and south of the besieged provincial capital of An Loc, 60 miles north of Saigon. Communist gunners poured about 2,000 rounds of shells into the city Tuesday.

Fighting also erupted 40 miles southeast of Saigon. Militiamen backed by artillery and air strikes reported killing 30 Communists near Duc Tanh district town. Government losses were put at six men killed and 10 wounded.

"Red Drive Slowed in Viet Highlands", by Saigon (AP), published in the Pacific Stars and Stripes on Friday, April 28, 1972 and reprinted from European and Pacific Stars and Pacific Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense publication copyright, 2002 European and Pacific Stars and Stripes.
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