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Following the deaths of JFK and Ngo Dinh Diem, it was only a matter of time before US combat troops became involved in Vietnam. Within days of the JFK assassination in November 1963, President Johnson had reversed JFK's plan to withdraw US personnel by the end of 1965. As LBJ told one impatient general, "Just get me elected; you can have your damn war."In August 1964, the CIA and related military intelligence agencies helped fabricate a phony Vietnamese attack in the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam. This supposed act of North Vietnamese aggression was used as the basis for escalating US involvement.In March 1965, US troops began pouring into Vietnam. Nine years of backing the French, another nine years of backing Diem and two more years of CIA operations had failed. From this point on, the US Army took over the war effort.Since the Vietnamese people overwhelmingly supported their own National Liberation Front (the NLF, or "Viet Cong" as we called it), the Army began destroying villages, herding people into internment camps, weeding out the leaders and turning the countryside into a "free-fire zone" (in other words, shoot anything that moves).The CIA still had a role to play, however. Called Operation Phoenix, it was an assassination program plain and simple. The idea was to cripple the NLF by killing influential people like mayors, teachers, doctors, tax collectors-anyone who aided the functioning of the NLF's parallel government in the South.Many of the "suspects" were tortured and some were tossed from helicopters during interrogation. William Colby, the CIA official in charge of Phoenix (he later became director of the CIA), insisted this was all part of "military necessity"- though he admitted to Congress that he really had no idea how many of the 20,000 killed were Viet Cong and how many were "loyal" Vietnamese.Colby's confusion was understandable, since Phoenix was a joint operation between the US and the South Vietnamese, who used it as a means of extortion, a protection racket and a way to settle vendettas. Significantly, the South Vietnamese estimated the Operation Phoenix death toll at closer to 40,000. Whatever the exact number, there's no question the killings were necessary-after all, we were trying to prevent a blood bath.
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Q: What was operation Phoenix- Vietnam?
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