by Kelly Bell
In the early summer of 1966, U.S. Marines had been established for about a year at a fire support base outside the Vietnamese hamlet of Chu Lai. The leathernecks' main mission there was to keep a close watch on the twisting valleys and rugged hill country 20 miles to the west, where Communist forces staged, trained and planned for their depredations against the coastal communities the Americans were trying to secure and protect. Remaining dispersed until just before their attacks, the Communists presented few targets of opportunity for the American or Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces to mount a counterattack. The frustrated Marines at the Chu Lai garrison waited eagerly for their foes to make a mistake that would leave them vulnerable.
At the beginning of June, U.S. intelligence sources indicated the massive buildup of a mixed force of Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars in the highlands, but the enemy were not yet sufficiently concentrated to warrant a mass attack. Infiltrating through dense foliage in platoon-size and smaller units, the Communist troops had little trouble evading any large forces sent after them. In an attempt to flush out the enemy, Marine Lt. Gen. Lewis W. Walt began dispatching patrols of from 8–20 men. Should these smaller units make contact with any substantial force, they were to radio for heliborne reinforcements, and then guide them to the objective. In the more likely case of the reconnaissance elements locating only small groups of enemy soldiers, they were to call down artillery and air strikes. Walt dubbed the project Operation Kansas.