assassinations and terror of the Phoenix.
The Phoenix Program was a brutal counterinsurgency program run by William Colby, later head of the C.I.A., aimed at weeding out Viet Cong and their sympathizers. According to some sources, more than 25,000 suspected Viet Cong were killed, many of them assassinated, as part of the operation. The Phoenix Program program designed, coordinated, and executed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United States special operations forces, special forces operatives from the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam and the Republic of Vietnam’s (South Vietnam) security apparatus during the Vietnam War. The program was in operation between 1965 and 1972, and similar efforts existed both before and after that period. By 1972, Phoenix operatives had “neutralized” 81,740 suspected NLF operatives, informants, and supporters, of whom 26,369 were killed.
The Program was designed to identify and “neutralize” (via infiltration, capture, terrorism, torture, and assassination) the infrastructure of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF or Viet Cong). The CIA described it as “a set of programs that sought to attack and destroy the political infrastructure of the Viet Cong”. The major two components of the program were Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs) and regional interrogation centers. PRUs would kill and capture suspected VC. They would also capture VC and civilians who were thought to have information on VC activities. Many of these people were then taken to the interrogation centers where some were tortured in an attempt to gain intelligence on VC activities in the area. The information extracted at the centers was then given to military commanders, who would use it to task the PRU with further capture and assassination missions.
In a paper for the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, Colonel Andrew R. Finlayson of the U.S. Marine Corps wrote: “The Phoenix program is arguably the most misunderstood and controversial program undertaken by the governments of the United States and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was, quite simply, a set of programs that sought to attack and destroy the political infrastructure of the Lao Dong Party (hereafter referred to as the Viet Cong infrastructure or VCI) in South Vietnam. Phoenix was misunderstood because it was classified, and the information obtained by the press and others were often anecdotal, unsubstantiated, or false. The program was controversial because the antiwar movement and critical scholars in the United States and elsewhere portrayed it as an unlawful and immoral assassination program targeting civilians. [Source: Colonel Andrew R. Finlayson, USMC (Ret.), A Retrospective on Counterinsurgency Operations, The Tay Ninh Provincial Reconnaissance Unit and Its Role in the Phoenix Program, 1969-70, CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence ^^]