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South Vietnamese troops have abandoned two of their four fire bases south of Highway 9 and have fallen back 15 miles in the last five days in what U. S. pilots have called a "bad retreat."
According to field dispatches and military sources, almost 2000 South Vietnamese soldiers pulled out of Fire Base Lolo Monday after three days of fighting in the area. Heavy North Vietnamese fire made it impossible for U. S. helicopters to fly in supplies.
Three helicopter gunships were reported shot down at Lolo while evacuating casualties. As one American officer said, "It became an untenable position."
The North Vietnamese radio reported that 17 helicopters had been shot down around Lolo, which they said was seized in an attack that "wiped out" one 600-man South Vietnamese battalion and "badly mauled" other units.
Fleeing to the Frontier
National Liberation Front spokesmen also said that "survivors fled into the surrounding jungles hoping to reach the border," while North Vietnamese troops were "in hot pursuit of the fleeing enemies."
Some of the troops of the South Vietnamese 1st Division abandoning Lolo were ordered to relocate at Landing Zone Brown, a base five miles to the east which the South Vietnamese had planned to use for raids southward against a branch of the Ho Chi Minh trail.
U. S. pilots have reported heavy North Vietnamese mortar and rocket fire at the base, which they claim is "doomed." Because of the heavy fire pilots are having difficulty flying in supplies, and some South Vietnamese forces were reported running low on artillery ammunition.
Around the Clock
According to one U. S. pilot, Landing Zone Brown will fall because "they're hitting it around the clock."
"They can talk about helicopter mobility all they want," one pilot said, "but from where I'm flying there's only one way to describe it-retreat, and a bad one."
Despite U. S. pilot military reports to the contrary, South Vietnamese officials have stated that pullbacks were tactical.
Pentagon spokesman Jerry W. Friedheim has said that the South Vietnamese troops are engaged in "mobile maneuvering according to plan." When asked if the "mobile maneuvering" was a synonym for retreat, Friedheim answered, "No."
According to American pilots, North Vietnamese trucks mounted with loud speakers have moved into the area of the bases calling for the surrender of the South Vietnamese soldiers.
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