Sunday, April 21, 2024


Ankhe, Now a Highlands Ghost. Town, Remains an Important Battlefield

Ankhe, Now a Highlands Ghost. Town, Remains an Important Battlefield
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April 22, 1972, Page 10Buy Reprints
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ANKHE, South Vietnam, April 21—With the Ameri cans nearly all gone and the Communists confidently mov ing their forces ever closer, Vietnamization is turning Ankhe into a ghost town.

Stores, barbershops and bars are boarded and desert ed. Military installations along the main streets are ringed with triple coils of barbed wire, and electrically operated mines point men acingly at passers‐by.

Ankhe has lost its tawdry, boomtown luster it acquired while a division of Ameri cans lived here, providing a livelihood for upwards of 10,000 Vietnamese and mon tagnards. But it has lost none of the importance it has had since the days when the French Army was bled white trying to hold it against Communist Vietminh forces.

With the North Vietnamese poised once again for an on slaught, the importance of Ankhe, which lies in moun tainous country athwart Route 19 midway between the Laotian border and the South China Sea port of Quinhon, is in sharp focus once again.



Ordinarily the Central High lands of South Vietnam are supplied almost exclusively on Route 19, but on April 9 the 12th Regiment of the Third North Vietnamese Di vision moved in and cut the road about eight miles east of here. The invaders then dug in.

Squeeze Maneuver Fails

At first the forces defend ing the region decided to try to squeeze the enemy off the road, using American‐paid South Korean troops from the east and South Vietna mese from the west.

Coordination was poor and the Koreans accidentally killed a number of Vietna mese soldiers by shelling. Since then the Vietnamese have restricted their opera tions to the part of the road west of Ankhe and the Kor eans have not made any progress.

After the Korean units had been hit by several mortar rounds, they shelled a ham let, destroying 22 houses, wounding 2 persons and kill ing 14 cows.



A Vietnamese officer, evi dently in a transport of fury, said: “Not only are the Ko reans brutal and stupid. They are also damned bad sol diers!”

As a result of the road block, food in Ankhe and everywhere to the west, in cluding Pleiku, Kontum and outlying villages, is becoming scarce and expensive.

People throughout the area are trying to beg or pay for plane or helicopter rides over the roadblock to the east coast, where Communist forces are also strong but where there is plenty of food.

36,000 People in District

According to current mili tary statistics, the 36,000 peo ple of the Ankhe district live in 10 villages, 24 others hav ing been abandoned, and 48 hamlets, 150 others having been abandoned.



Not long ago American G.I.'s, roaring past the new bars and brothels of Ankhe in their jeeps, never really blended with the nearly nak ed Stone Age people of the hill tribes who had come to escape the bombing and to earn some dollars.

The last of the American combat units left in October, and things have changed radi cally since.

Ankhe's remaining house of prostitution has closed with the departure of the Ameri can civilian contractors who had rebuilt the highway. The staff of six girls, who made it clear they were not inter ested in Vietnamese clients, moved away.

Buses on Perilous Runs

As long as the Americans were here with their swarms of helicopters, Route 19 stayed open. Despite occa sional incidents, it was nor mally perfectly safe to drive between Pleiku and Quinhon. Some experienced American officers feel now, however, that conditions were never as rosy as they seemed.

“Sure, the road was clear,” one said, “but the Americans never accomplished anything permanent.”

Whatever the merits of American pacification efforts along Route 19, they seem like ancient history, now. Even the section of the road between Pleiku and Ankhe is regarded as dangerous by ci vilians and military men alike.



Buses ply the road, but they carry relatively few pas sengers, all of whom betray nervousness, especially when Government antitank guns and machine guns start firing.

Up in the perilous, winding curves of the Mangyang Pass west of Ankhe, the drivers, ignoring the chilly fog and rain that make the pavement slick, push the buses to breakneck speed past wrecked vehicles and obvious ambush spots.

It was here that a huge French armored task force was destroyed piecemeal by Communist ambushes and at tacks in 1954, speeding the collapse of Dienbienphu and the whole French campaign.

As serious as the condi tions are now, they are evi dently getting worse. Intelli gence sources say that at least two North Vietnamese battalions have been spotted south of Route 19 moving toward Mangyang Pass.



Along the road from Pleiku to Ankhe, South Vietnamese armored units are strung out, with tanks and armored per sonnel carriers spaced along the flanks of the road at long intervals. The soldiers man ning them fight off boredom, sometimes snoozing in the shade.

They scarcely seem to rep resent serious protection for the road. The South Viet namese armored forces have been taking sizable losses from single enemy infantry men who move in undetected and then fire tank‐destroying rockets.

The Communists continue to blow up bridges almost at will, not only on Route 19 but on other key highlands roads. The entire Central Highlands region seems on the verge of being throttled.

“One of many key tests of Vietnamization will be right here,” an American of ficer said. “So far I don't like the looks of it.”


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