Beginning in the summer of 1965, 3/4 (Third Bn, 4th Marines) were faced with an expanding tactical area of operational responsibility (TAOR) and shrinking numbers due to insufficient replacements coming in to fill combat losses. As a result, the Marines began working directly with the Popular Forces, local militias made up of old men and boys too young to be drafted into the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. The plan was approved by General Lewis Walt, the commander of III Marine Amphibious Force and overall Marine Commander in Vietnam at the time, as well as General Nguyen Van Chuan, the local ARVN commander. The Marines were given operational control of the PF platoons near Phu Bai.

Working directly with the PF were General Walt and Lt. General Victor Krulak, both veterans of the Banana Wars in Central America in the ’30s. The Banana Wars were instrumental in the formation of Marine “Small Wars” doctrine, codified in the “Small Wars Manual,” which remained the Marine counter-insurgency manual until it was replaced by FM 8-2, “Counter-Guerrilla Operations.”

From its beginning, the combination of Marines and local Popular Forces were referred to as the Combined Action Program (CAP).  Under the CAP-Platoon concept, a squad-sized element of Marines was combined with a platoon of PF in a local Vietnamese village. These Marines would stay in place for a long time; an entire year or more was not unheard of. They lived with the people of the village and worked with the Popular Forces to secure the village and the surrounding area.

The initial experiment was limited to picked volunteers from 3/4, and began in August, 1965.  There were seven CAP Platoons across I Corps by January, 1966. While it may have begun as a stopgap measure to adjust for the difficulties that 3/4 was facing with its expanding TAOR, it also reflected General Walt’s closeness to the Marine Corps’ Small-Wars Doctrine. From the Small Wars Manual:

“Native troops supported by Marines are increasingly employed as early as practicable in order that these native agencies assume their proper responsibility for restoring law and order in their own country as an agency of their government.” 

With Walt’s sponsorship, the stopgap measure to ensure 3/4 had the strength to secure their own TAOR became a tool of Lt. General Krulak’s “Clear-and-Hold” strategy.

There was a fundamental difference between Westmoreland’s Army’s “Search-and-Destroy” strategy and the Marine-preferred “Clear-and-Hold.” Westmoreland’s technique deliberately separated the Americans from the Vietnamese, ostensibly to avoid “incidents,” but had the effect of alienating the local populace, especially as the area-denial part of the strategy included forcing Vietnamese civilians out of certain villages and then razing the villages to the ground to deny their use to the VC. A Vietnamese peasant, when asked what he thought of the Americans after the completion of a civic-works program conducted in the wake of search-and-destroy operations, was quoted as saying, “How can I remember anything good about the Americans when they did so much bad?”

The “Clear-and-Hold” strategy focused on denying the enemy access to the populace, while the “Search-and-Destroy” strategy was focused on militarily destroying the Vietcong. The difference is perhaps most strongly illustrated by a quote from Mao Zedong: