The Việt Cộng (Vietnamese: [vîət kə̂wŋmˀ](listen)), also known as the National Liberation Front, was a mass political organization in South Vietnam and Cambodia with its own army – the People's Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam (PLAF) – that fought against the United States and South Vietnamese governments during the Vietnam War, eventually emerging on the winning side. It had both guerrilla and regular army units, as well as a network of cadres who organized peasants in the territory it controlled. Many soldiers were recruited in South Vietnam, but others were attached to the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), the regular North Vietnamese army. During the war, communists and anti-war activists insisted the Việt Cộng was an insurgency indigenous to the South, while the U.S. and South Vietnamese governments portrayed the group as a tool of Hanoi. Although the terminology distinguishes northerners from the southerners, communist forces were under a single command structure set up in 1958.
North Vietnam established the National Liberation Front on December 20, 1960, to foment insurgency in the South. Many of the Việt Cộng's core members were volunteer "regroupees", southern Việt Minh who had resettled in the North after the Geneva Accord (1954). Hanoi gave the regroupees military training and sent them back to the South along the Ho Chi Minh trail in the early 1960s. The NLF called for southern Vietnamese to "overthrow the camouflaged colonial regime of the American imperialists" and to make "efforts toward the peaceful unification". The PLAF's best-known action was the Tet Offensive, a gigantic assault on more than 100 South Vietnamese urban centers in 1968, including an attack on the U.S. embassy in Saigon. The offensive riveted the attention of the world's media for weeks, but also overextended the Việt Cộng. Later communist offensives were conducted predominantly by the North Vietnamese. The organization was dissolved in 1976 when North and South Vietnam were officially unified under a communist government.
Guerrilla forces from North Vietnam's Vietcong movement cross a river in 1966 during the Vietnam War
The term Việt Cộng appeared in Saigon newspapers beginning in 1956. It is a contraction of Việt Nam Cộng-sản (Vietnamese communist), or alternatively Việt gian cộng sản ("Communist Traitor to Vietnam"). The earliest citation for Việt Cộng in English is from 1957. American soldiers referred to the Việt Cộng as Victor Charlie or V-C. "Victor" and "Charlie" are both letters in the NATO phonetic alphabet. "Charlie" referred to communist forces in general, both Việt Cộng and North Vietnamese.
The official Vietnamese history gives the group's name as the Liberation Army of South Vietnam or the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (NLFSV; Mặt trận Dân tộc Giải phóng miền Nam Việt Nam).[nb 1] Many writers shorten this to National Liberation Front (NLF).[nb 2] In 1969, the Việt Cộng created the "Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam" (Chính Phủ Cách Mạng Lâm Thời Cộng Hòa Miền Nam Việt Nam), abbreviated PRG.[nb 3] Although the NLF was not officially abolished until 1977, the Việt Cộng no longer used the name after PRG was created. Members generally referred to the Việt Cộng as "the Front" (Mặt trận). Today's Vietnamese media most frequently refers to the group as the "People's Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam (PLAF)" (Quân Giải phóng Miền Nam Việt Nam).