Phuhoadong, South Vietnam, Sept. 23--For eight days this dusty farming village northwest of Saigon has been surrounded by a tight cordon of American and South Vietnamese soldiers.
The central market and all the shops have been shuttered and the fertile rice fields left untended while the soldiers have combed the village house by house in search of Vietcong. Traffic to and from the village has been completely cut off.
The cordon was drawn because the village is thought to be a command center and key supply point for local guerrilla units. By every military measure the operation has been a thorough success.
Seven hundred soldiers quietly encircled the village in a few hours on the night of Sept. 15. The surprise was apparently complete. As far as is known no Vietcong slipped through the net, though several tried to shoot their way out. Twenty-two were killed, 17 have been taken prisoner and 13 surrendered, and 23 suspects were arrested. In addition, 11 draft-dodgers have been picked up.
The military men who planned and executed the cordon are pleased so far. Lieut. Col. Ronald Ochis, commander of the joint American-South Vietnamese force, told a visitor today that the local Vietcong network has been "knocked for a loop." He added: "It will be months before they recover from this one."
The villagers of Phuhoadong are not so sure that the operation has been a success. They had seen four cordon operations in the last 15 months, including one that lasted 13 days. The Vietcong are everywhere, they say, and will be back when the Americans leave.
The villagers have also seen another side of the operation, one that Col. Ochis failed to mention in his briefing. Twenty____________________