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. The headquarters of the Viet Cong based at Memot came to be known as Central Office for South Vietnam or COSVN by its MACV and South Vietnamese counterparts, a near-mythical "bamboo Pentagon" from which the Việt Cộng's entire war effort was being directed. For nearly a decade the fabled COSVN headquarters, which directed the entire war effort of the Viet Cong was the target of the RVN/US war effort, and which would have collapsed the insurgency war effort. US and South Vietnamese Special Forces sent to capture them usually were killed very quickly or returned with heavy casualties to the point that teams refused to go. Daily B-52 bombings had failed to kill any of the leadership during Operation Menu despite flattening the entire area, as Soviet trawlers were able to forewarn COSVN, whom used the data on speed, altitude and direction to move perpendicular and to move underground.
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 Hồ Chí 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 Tết 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. Two further offensives were conducted in its wake, the mini-Tet and August Offensive. In 1969 the Việt Cộng would establish the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, a shadow-country in South Vietnam intended to represent the organisation on the world stage and was immediately recognised by the communist bloc and maintained diplomatic links with many nations in the Non-Aligned Movement. Later communist offensives were conducted predominantly by newly mechanised PAVN forces, as the ability of the Việt Cộng to recruit among the South Vietnamese became much more limited. The Việt Cộng remained an active military and political front. The organisation was dissolved in 1976 when North and South Vietnam were officially unified under a communist government.
Political and military organization of the Việt Cộng was complex, with a series of well-constructed, overlapping networks, committees and organisations, see strategy, organization and structure. Material aid was primarily provided through the well-established, ingenious Hồ Chí Minh trail which withstood the most sustained bombing campaign in history while expanding the war effort, see logistics and equipment. They had further developed a complex insurgency warfare method capable of countering overwhelmingly superior numbers and technology, retaining the strategic initiative during much of the war. According to the Pentagon Papers, 90% of large firefights were initiated by the PAVN/VC and 80% were well-planned VC operations throughout most of the war and as early as 1966 US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara expressed doubt about the US ability to win the war (see NLF and PAVN battle tactics).
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. Media worldwide referred to them as "Vietcong". American soldiers referred to them 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).