1968 – Vietnam War: Battle of Khe Sanh: One of the most publicized and controversial battles of the war begins
. The Battle of Khe Sanh was conducted in Khe Sanh of northwestern Quảng Trị Province, Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), between 21 January and 9 July 1968 during the Vietnam War. The belligerent parties were elements of the United States III Marine Amphibious Force (III MAF), 1st Cavalry Division, the US Seventh Air Force, 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment, minor elements of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) against two to three division-size elements of the People's Army of Vietnam (generally referred to in Western sources as the North Vietnamese Army or NVA). The American command in Saigon initially believed that combat operations around the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB) during the summer of 1967 were just part of a series of minor North Vietnamese offensives in the border regions. That appraisal was altered when it was discovered that the NVA was moving major forces into the area during the autumn and winter. A build-up of US Marine Corps forces took place and actions around Khe Sanh commenced when the Marine base was isolated. During a series of desperate actions that lasted 5 months and 18 days, Khe Sanh Combat Base and the hilltop outposts around it were under constant North Vietnamese ground, artillery, mortar, and rocket attacks. During the battle, a massive aerial bombardment campaign (Operation Niagara) was launched by the United States Air Force to support the Marine base. Over 100,000 tons of bombs (equivalent in destructive force to five Hiroshima-size atomic bombs) were dropped until mid-April by aircraft of the Air Force, US Navy and Marines onto the area surrounding Khe Sanh. This was roughly 1,300 tons of bombs dropped daily–five tons for every one of the 20,000 NVA soldiers initially estimated to have been committed to the fighting at Khe Sanh. In addition, 158,000 large-caliber shells were fired on the hills surrounding the base. In March 1968, an overland relief expedition (Operation Pegasus) was launched by a combined Marine–Army/South Vietnamese task force that eventually broke through to the Marines at Khe Sanh. American commanders considered the defense of Khe Sanh a success, but shortly after the siege was lifted the new American commander in Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams, decided to dismantle the base rather than risk similar battles in the future. Historians have observed that the Battle of Khe Sanh may have distracted American and GVN attention from the buildup of Viet Cong forces in the south before the early 1968 Tet Offensive. Even at the height of the Tet Offensive, General Westmoreland maintained that the true intentions of the offensive was to distract forces from Khe Sanh. On 19 June 1968, another operation began at Khe Sanh, Operation Charlie, the final evacuation and destruction of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. The Marines withdrew all salvageable material and destroyed everything else. The NVA continued shelling the base, and on 1 July launched a company-sized infantry attack against its perimeter. On 9 July 1968, the flag of the Viet Cong was set up at Ta Con (Khe Sanh) airfield. On 13 July 1968, Ho Chi Minh sent a message to the soldiers of the Route 9–Khe Sanh Front affirming their victory at Khe Sanh. It was the first time in the war that the Americans abandoned a major combat base because of enemy pressure.