When Colonel Hieu took control of 22nd Division, Vietnamese and American units alike were applying search and destroy tactic imposed by General Westmoreland. This tactic was not effective because the VC used guerrilla warfare and would not show up unless enemy forces were weaker. Therefore, Colonel Hieu made some adjustment to suit the situation in changing it to lure and destroy as in Eagle Claw Operation. In 1968, after Tet Mau Than, General Creighton Abrams replaced General Westmoreland and discarded search and destroy tactic to adopt clear and hold tactic. According to this tactic, after clearing VC off a populated area, its security was entrusted to Regional Forces and Popular Forces. This tactic was also known as Pacification and Development Program.
22nd Infantry Division and Pacification Program
General Hieu implimented successfully the pacification tactic in the tactical area of 22nd Division.Nguyen Nho wrote:
In 1966 Colonel Nguyen Van Hieu, 22nd Infantry Commander appointed me his press media officer. I worked with him for about a year then was transferred to the Dalat Military Academy. Because I did not stay long with him, and besides I was only a First Lieutenant still limited in knowledge, I regretably do not recall General Hieu's well-mounted battles. But I did notice that since General Hieu assumed the command of the 22nd Infantry Division, the pacification program made great progress in the 22nd tactical zone. Each morning I went down to G3 to gather information, especially regarding pacification program, I discovered that we gained control of more and more villages.
The reason General Hieu achieved numerous results in the Pacification program was his focus in strengthening combat capabilities of units of Regional Forces and Popular Forces, by having leaders and deputy leaders of these forces take turn undergoing company leadership traning at Phu Tai training center reserved for regular army officers of 22nd Division. Beginning 1969, he was able to entrust the Regional Forces and Popular Forces with 90% of the territorial security task, enabling the 22d Division to free more of its battalions to conduct sustained mobile offensive operations.
In a matter related to Pacification program, Colonel Trinh Tieu recounted General Hieu clashed heavily with US I Fiel Force Commanding General :
In order to defend the sovereignty of the ARVN, General Hieu had to stand up against the American Commanding Lieutenant General of the 1st Field Task Force stationed in Nhatrang, who ordered the 22nd Division to put an infantry regiment commanded by a colonel under the disposition (OPCON) of a captain commander of a district in the Pacification and Development Program. This issue led to a complicated and heated argument, and General Lu Lan, the Commanding General of 2nd Corps had to step in to mediate both sides.
Nevertheless, General Larsen, US I Field Force Commander, showed fairness in recognizing 22nd Infantry Divisionís achievement in the pacification program and General Hieuís exceptional leadership in his report dated August 11, 1967 sent to the Deputy Secretary of Defense:
15. The 22d ARVN Infantry Division has worked closely and continuously with the US 1st Air Cavalry Division for the past ten months and has contributed measurably to the outstanding successes in Binh Dinh Province. The recognizable improvement in the ARVN combat effort and leadership are encouraging to the US commanders who work with these units.
17. The most successful National Priority Revolutionary Development area in Vietnam is in Binh Dinh where two years ago, practically the entire area was under Viet Cong control except for the city of Qui Nhon. This area now includes about 500,000 people.
18. The province which has shown the most improvement in two years is Phu Yen. The Viet Cong controlled 75% of the rice growing land and about 80% of the population in 1965. Now the Province is nearly completely under Government of South Vietnam control. A recent captured North Vietnam Army document admitted that, whereas two years ago they controlled 265,000 people, they now control 20,000.
5th Infantry Division and the Pacification Program
When General Hieu was called by General Tri to take control of 5th Division in August 1969, he brought with him wide experience pertaining to pacification tactic he had acquired during his three year stint at the helm of 22nd Division. Therefore, he made a great impression on General McAuliffe in terms of his broad knowledge when the two discussed about the topic of pacification program:
General Hieu then spoke about pacification. He commented that military operations are relatively straightforward and easy for a military man to comprehend. Pacification, on the other hand, is complex. Citing General Tri's recent guidance, he said that the 5th Division should move away from the pacified areas, leaving these to RF/PF forces to secure. He drew an analogy of thrusting one's fist into a fish bowl; the fish move away, and stay away as long as the arm is in the fish bowl; however, as soon as the fist is withdrawn, the fish return to that spot. He said that the same thing can happen with regard to VC in populated areas, i.e., when ARVN and US forces move away, the VC tend to return. He has spoken to all of the district chiefs in his AO, as well as to many village chiefs, and many are uneasy at the prospect of ARVN and US forces moving away from the populated areas. In his view, Binh Duong Province has sufficient RF/PF forces, but these forces require further improvement in combat effectiveness, and need the reassurance of support from nearby US and ARVN forces in order to keep out the VC and maintain security for the populace. Therefore, he indicated that he feels an obligation to over watch these territorial forces and to assist and support them as much as possible. I assured him that we shared this view. However, he considers this a most difficult problem, particularly in light of General Tri's guidance.
In a digression, he spoke about the generally narrow views which many district chiefs hold. Their concern, he said, is primarily about their pacification statistics, and they look at military activities only insofar as these will assist their statistical picture. General Hieu stressed, however, the desirability of battalion commanders (ARVN and US) coordinating daily operations with the chiefs of the districts in which their forces are operating -- as I pointed out is now being done in the Phu Hoa District.
General Hieu then talked about how to improve the coordination of both the military and political effort against the enemy. He commented that the regimental/brigade commanders are the ones who have sufficiently broad focus and the resources to plan, coordinate, and carry out major operations. Similarly, he regards the previous chiefs and sector commanders as having sufficiently broad responsibilities to view the situation beyond narrow district limits. Therefore, he announced that he is instructing his regimental commanders to meet daily with the provincial sector commanders in their area, as well as with the US brigade commanders for the purpose of planning and supervising the execution of military operations against the enemy, as well as those in support of pacification. In addition, he intends to suggest to the Bind Duong Province Chief that he conduct weekly coordination conferences aimed at the problems of military support for pacification. He envisions that his regimental commanders and the US brigade commanders who operate in Binh Duong Province, as well as the appropriate district chiefs and battalion commanders, would participate in the weekly provincial meetings. He hopes that such conferences would stress (among other things) the support and assistance required for RF/PF forces. I assured General Hieu that this concept of coordination was completely in accord with ours, and that we would cooperate completely.
In summary, in order to allow the Regional Forces and Popular Forces to perform well in the pacification and development program, General Hieu promoted close coordination between units of regular forces and units of Regional Forces and Popular Forces in ordering regimental commanders and battalion commanders to hold weekly meetings with province and district chiefs in their operational areas; he also insisted that regular army units lend unwavering support to units of Regional Forces and Popular Forces when needed.
Furthermore, General Hieu set out the same action concept to units of Regional Forces and Popular Forces as to regular army combat units of 5th Division:
Our Division mission is to search and destroy the enemy. Each unit will be assigned an objective and must make efforts days and nights to destroy that objective. Sectors can also apply this concept to RF and PF units. If we all apply this concept of search and destroy the enemy, we will be able to annihilate all enemy forces within a short time.
In fact, it took General Hieu only approximately half a year after his arrival at 5th Division to render VC units ineffective in the provinces of Binh Duong, Binh Long and
Phuoc Long; and the National Front of Liberation of South Vietnam HQ lost their safe heaven in Duong Minh Chau and Ho Bo sanctuaries and was forced to migrate inside Kampuchean territory. Therefore, in April 1970, units of 5th Division had their hands free to participate in cross-border operations Total Victory 42,..., 46 together with units of III Corps, IV Corps and US units.
Besides, when General Hieu took control of 5th Division, US 1st Infantry Division, US 1st Calvary Division and US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment were still active in 5th Division's operational area with US 1st Infantry Division HQ located at Lai Khe, US 1st Cavalry Division HQ at Bien Hoa and US 11th Armored Cavalry HQ at Long Giao. After President Nixon announced the implementation of Vietnamization of the War, in September 1969, US 1st Infantry Division HQ relinquished Lai Khe camp to 5th Division and relocated to Di An in November 1969 and US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment HQ relocated to Bien Hoa in October 1969, then to Di An in July 1970. Meanwhile, US combat units limited their activities to camp security in preparation for their total withdrawal to USA. Units of US 1st Infantry Division completed their withdrawal in April 1970, those of US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in March 1971 and those of US 1st Cavalry Division in April 1971.
While US units were withdrawing, General Tran Van Don came to 5th Division HQ to study the consequences of the Vietnamization. He recounted in Fall of South Vietnam: Statements by Vietnamese Military and Civilian Leaders authored by Stephen T. Hosmer, Konrad Kellen and Brian M. Jenkins (1980):
I visited (some units in the field) and tried to understand the program of Vietnamization of the war...it was in the headquarters of 5th Division. I discussed the question with the commander of the division, General Nguyen Van Hieu, a most honest general, and capable, too. I was surprised by his answer; it opened my eyes. I asked him, 'What do you think of Vietnamization?' He said to me, 'It's impossible to be implemented.' 'Why?' He said, 'The 5th Division covers an area where there were two other divisions, Americans, and now with the departure of the two American divisions I have only my division to cover the whole area. I have three regiments for this area and must use one regiment to replace one division. How can I face the enemy like this? I have become weaker.' He looked very disappointed. I was surprised; he was a quiet man, a polite man, and he tried to do his best. But he said to me that this was impossible. 'How can I cover a bigger area with fewer units?'
He just said so. In reality, although he encountered many difficulties in troop's redeployment, General Hieu not only enabled the three 7th, 8th and 9th Regiments of 5th Division to carry the workload of US 1st Infantry Division, US 1st Cavalry Division and US 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, but he also ascertained a better security condition than when the three American big units were operating in the three provinces within the operational areas of 5th Division. The proof was that from 1970 to June 1971, when he was relieved of 5th Division Command, General Hieu pursued the enemy entirely with cross-border operations inside the Kampuchean territory, without having to be concerned enemy units had the capability to stir trouble in his back yard. This fact proves that General Hieu had succeeded in carry out the pacification program within his areas of responsibility.
It is not known if General Hieu had had the opportunity to meet with General Abrams to discuss the pacification tactic of clear and hold. However, Raymond E. D'Addario, General Abrams' Personal Security officer, after seeing General Hieu's web site, sent an e-mail:
I had the honor to know your Brother. He was a wonderful man, courageous as can attest to how his enemies could only resort to vile trickery to kill him. I served as the Personal Security officer for General Creighton Abrams. I can tell you he had great respect for your Brother and always spoke highly of his integrity, honor and valor.