In 1970 the joint South Vietnamese and U.S Cambodian Incursion was viewed as an overall success after allied troops successfully captured a huge enemy cache consisting of food and weapon supplies. Although relatively little contact was made during the operation, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops were forced to move deeper into Cambodian territory.
One year following the incursion, General Nguyễn Văn Hiếu and General Do Cao Tri made a plan to go back into Cambodian territory to find and destroy the Viet Cong. According to General Hieu's plan, instead of searching for the enemy, the ARVN would use one regiment to try to lure the Viet Cong out and then trap them once they come out to attack. South Vietnamese commanders called this the "luring the tiger down the mountain tactic".
In order to carry out their mission, South Vietnam was ready to commit the rest of the ARVN 5th Division, as well as the 18th and 25th Divisions just in case the Viet Cong came out in force.
Prior to the luring operation, 11 sensors were implanted along Route 13 north and south of Snuol during two separate sensor implanting operations. The monitoring equipment was operated by the ARVN 5th Division located in Loc Ninh.
On January 4, 1971, the ARVN Task Force 9 was formed with the mission of luring out the Viet Cong. Task Force 9 consisted of the 9th Regiment, 74th Ranger Battalion, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 5th Engineer Company. They were supported by the US 3rd Squadron/17th Air Cavalry.
On February 26 General Nguyen Van Minh took over command of the operation after General Do Cao Tri died in a helicopter crash. Instead of continuing on with the original plan, General Minh choose to apply withdrawal tactics without air-support, if successful the Viet Cong would be annihilated by several ARVN divisions during the final phase. But if not, the task force would be destroyed.
During the months of January and February the ARVN made little contact with the enemy because the Viet Cong often avoided heavy engagements. However, by May things were about to change after Task Force 9 was replaced by Task Force 8 (8th Regiment). Throughout April Task Force 8 conducted raid and sweeping operations near Viet Cong bases, but the South Vietnamese were disappointed again as the Viet Cong melted away without putting up significant resistance.
On May 25 the Viet Cong 5th and 7th Divisions began encircling Task Force 8 positions. For the next five days the Viet Cong assaulted the besieged Task Force 8, but they could not destroy the main South Vietnamese formation because of diversionery attacks conducted by the ARVN on the night of May 29, which led VC commanders to believe that Task Force 8 would attack them from the north. The Viet Cong subsequently deployed their anti-aircraft units to the north, and left their units in the south of Snuol exposed to the firepower of the U.S 17th Air Cavalry.
Massed formations from the regular VC divisions placed immense pressure on the ARVN's movements, and without any air support or rescue, Task Force 8 was on the brink of collapse. At that point, General Nguyễn Văn Hiếu decided to execute his withdrawal plan which occurred over three stages. Despite the encirclement, the South Vietnamese Army were able to fight their way out under extreme duress and made it home.
When the battle had ended ARVN casualties included 37 killed, 167 wounded and 74 missing. Yet they still claimed to have 1,043 Viet Cong killed throughout the battle.
From the South Vietnamese point of view, if General Minh had not changed battle plans then the ARVN could have won a decisive victory with the destruction of the VC's 5th and 7th Divisions. Although Task Force 8 was threatened with destruction during the encirclement at Snuol, they displayed discipline and determination. But the failure to destroy the Viet Cong 5th and 7th Divisions would have negative consequences for South Vietnam 10 months later, when the Viet Cong 5th Division would overrun Loc Ninh during the Easter Offensive.
The Viet Cong victory at Snuol gave North Vietnam another opportunity to boast about Communist successes. On June 2, 1971, North Vietnamese propaganda claimed that "over three hours' fierce engagement with Saigon troops on May 30, wiped out the 8th Infantry Multi-Battalion Unit, the 1st Armoured Regiment, and a mixed artillery battalion, killing or wounding 1,500 troops and capturing 300 others, and inflicting other losses on the enemy".
Order of battle
- 9th Regiment (Task Force 9)
- 8th Regiment (Task Force 8)
- 74th Ranger Battalion
- 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment
- 5th Engineer Company
- 5th Division
- 7th Division
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