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Command and Control in the Khe Sanh Area of Operations

We are approaching the 55th anniversary of the Siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB). For the reader, to appreciate what has and is being presented, he needs to understand the very confused and dysfunctional command and control relationships that existed in the Khe Sanh Area of Operations (AOO).  There were at least 5 different higher headquarters issuing orders and taking actions that affected what happened.

Quang Tri Province bordered North Vietnam and Laos.  The western third of the province was Huong Hoa District with a population of about 10,000 (only 1500 Vietnamese in Khe Sanh village and the rest were members of the Montagnard Tribe called the Bru.  Over the years they had concentrated along route nine (within 10 kilometers north and south of the route. The area bounded by Lang Vei in the west and big turn in route 9 east of the SOG French Fort in the east.)

The advisory team of 5 soldiers responded to the province advisory team (Advisory Team 4) in Quang Tri.  The District Chief Captain Tinh-A-Nhi responded to the province Commander who was a full Colonel in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). 

The Special Forces (Special Forces Detachment A-101) at Lang Vei along the border with Laos reported to a C Team headquartered in Hue Phu Bai, which in return reported to the 5th Special Forces Group in Danang.

In the village headquarters was the headquarters of a Combined Action Company (CAC-O) and one Combined Action Platoon (CAP O-1) of 10 Marines and about 25 Montagnards.  There was a second such platoon about 200 yards west of the District Headquarters blocking rout 9 from the west. The CAC reported to Colonel David Lounds the KSCB Commander but also had a battalion headquarters in Danang.

Located as an appendage on the western edge of the KSCB there was a special forces Forward Operating Base (FOB-3).  The men of FOB-3 with their Montagnard soldiers (mostly Nungs) conducted reconnaissance and raids in North Vietnam and Laos.  They reported to a Battalion commander in Hue Phu Bai and Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACVSOG or SOG) in Saigon.

Finally there was a two man intelligence team located in the village headquarters that reported to a headquarters in Danang. It’s head was LT Jamie Taronji.  This two man team had a separate tent and did not mingle with any of the other occupants of the compound.  They co-located into the District command post during the fight , but were invisible to us at the time.

Colonel David Lounds as the senior American officer in the Khe Sanh Area of Operations (AO) exercised very loose operational control over the units in the area.  All the units would go to the Marines at the combat base for support, but when that support was not forthcoming they would go to their parent units.  This was especially true for the Special Forces and Advisory team.

The relations between the Army units—special forces and advisory team—and the Marines were so bad that they had developed their own code terms and frequencies to coordinate with each other so the Marines could not listen in.

Additionally each of the units mentioned had very different missions and therefore different objectives.  The lack of unity of command resulted in a loss of unity of effort, which is what the whole concept of unity of command is all about.  Unity of effort is supposed to flow from unity of command.  All of the units would be working towards a common goal.  The Marines goal was to kill NVA.  The Advisory Team and District Government’s goal was to provide political leadership for the people of the area and to provide them security from small enemy forces. 

A-101’s mission was border surveillance and to block the major avenue of approach into the area—route 9.  The SOG team at FOB-3 only staged in Khe Sanh for out of area operations in Laos and North Vietnam.  Thus no unity of effort.

This spaghetti bowl of relationships was the situation that existed when the battle of Khe Sanh began on 21 January 1968. 

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