Operation Cedar Falls was the largest ground operation conducted by US Forces against the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. It was initiated on January 8, 1967, and ended on January 28, 1967. The objective of this large-scale search and destroy mission was to eliminate the Iron Triangle, a major Viet Cong stronghold, located near Saigon, from which the communist guerrilla force carried out attacks on South Vietnamese Army’s and US bases.
To eradicate the Iron Triangle as a Vietcong stronghold, Operation Cedar Falls also entailed the complete relocation of the area civilian population to new villages in order to isolate them from communist contacts and influence, as well as the defoliation of whole areas. To successfully carry out Operation Cedar Falls, more than 30,000 US and South Vietnamese troops were deployed, supported by military aircraft such as the F-105 fighters.
Operation Cedar Falls was planned as a hammer and anvil operation. Under the cloak of deceptive deployments on seemingly routine operations, the 25th Infantry Division with the 196th Infantry Brigade attached to it was to assume blocking positions west of the Iron Triangle, along the Saigon River, whereas one brigade of the 1st Infantry Division was assigned the same task along the Song Thi Tinh River east of the area of operations. The remaining units were then supposed to “hammer” the Vietcong against this “anvil” by rapidly moving through the Iron Triangle, scouring it for enemy troops and installations, and clearing it of civilians. A tight encirclement of the area was to prevent communist units from retreating.
Although Operation Cedar Falls was scheduled to begin on January 5, 1967, it started three days later, when weather conditions were most favorable. It was divided into two distinct phases. During preparatory phase I, January 5–9, the “anvil” was set up by positioning the relevant units along the Iron Triangle’s flank, and an air assault on Ben Suc, a key fortified Viet Cong village, was to take place on January 8 (D-day). These operations were to be succeeded by the completion of the area’s encirclement as well as a concerted drive of American forces through the Iron Triangle (the “hammer”) from both the south and the west in phase II.
The American army officers who conducted the operation later evaluated it as a success. Nevertheless, left-biased journalists gave a bleaker picture, arguing that Cedar Falls failed to achieve its main goal since the Vietcong’s setback in the Iron Triangle was temporary.