Operation Zenith – July 26-28, 2013
Fall 1967. The 5th Special Forces has recently concluded Operation Daniel Boone,which exposed the scale of the NVA’s logistical operations along the Sihanouk Trail through southern Cambodia. The trail allows the NVA to deliver men and materiel right next door to the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam, and the NVA is exploiting it to a greater extent than previously believed.
Daniel Boone also identified a key point on the trail, when it must traverse complex and difficult terrain across the Mekong. The best route is an irrigation dam built on a branch of the Mekong, just a handful of miles from the Cambodian/Vietnamese border. The NVA is beginning to move equipment into place to improve the crossing to allow for vehicle traffic. Free flow of NVA supply trucks, or even armored vehicles, along the Sihanouk trail would pose tremendous strategic challenges for U.S. Forces defending the Mekong Delta.
MACV has authorized Operation Zenith to stop the NVA in its tracks and shut down the Sihanouk Trail for good. Zenith’soperational objectives are 1) establish a firebase at or near the irrigation dam to prevent further NVA road improvement efforts; 2) Gather further intelligence on enemy activity in the area; and 3) Seek and destroy enemy units in the area.
Task Force Zenith consists of the A Company, 686th Cavalry (Air Mobile), as well as the 686th’s Long Range Recon Patrol (LRRP) capabilities, and MACV-SOG personnel that have remained in the area. MACV has authorized helicopter operations over the area, but for political reasons further air support is not authorized. Discrete artillery strikes are at discretion of command, and a handful of the 686th’s M114 155mm Howitzers are within range, eight miles away, across the border in Vietnam.
Initial MACV-SOG reports indicate a sizeable force of NVA, believed to be the elements of the 42nd Infantry Regiment. The 42nd is well-known as one of the NVA’s most elite units, familiar with U.S. tactics and possessing combat experience spanning back to the Sino-Vietnamese War.
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