The Pentagon Papers
Chapter 2, "U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968," pp. 277-604.
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1971)
Section 3, pp. 385-447.
F. WHAT DID IT MEAN?
Program 4 had important historical antecedents which provide the basic texture of the decision-making on Program 5. The preceding sections have outlined the major themes and historical developments which projected into the succeeding program with telling effect. These can be briefly summarized as follows:
(1) A precedent, albeit a seemingly fragile one, of essentially saying "no" to the COMUSMACV force requirements was established. Actually, DoD and the President were beginning to question the concept of operation for Vietnam which had led to programs, now becoming increasingly costly and depressingly barren of tangible results. The illusion of quick victory "on the cheap" had fled, and hard reality intervened. People in and out of government were beginning to seek alternatives to our policies in Vietnam with increased interest, and Program 5 was to increasingly reflect this basic mood surfacing in late 1966.
(2) The JCS had adopted a strategic concept based upon widely expanded operations in the North, widened and intensified operations in the South designed to seek out and destroy enemy forces, and committed to assisting the GVN in building an "independent, viable, non-communist society"--a vestige of the unfortunate wording of NSAM 288. The military heads had been denied the troops they said they required to successfully accomplish the objectives developed under the concept, but the concept itself had survived. This strategic thought was to provide the conceptual baseline for Program 5.
(3) The basic troop requirement numbers, so important to Program 5, were introduced during Program 4. In fact, the refined figure the JCS proposed in JCSM 702-66 for mid-1968, 524,288, became the eventual "approved" figure for Program 5. This number remained a focal point throughout the planning period despite frequent important changes in the strategic situation.
(4) Certain "oblique alternatives," those which were not directly substitutable options appeared during this time-all of them designed to relieve pressure on U.S. resources, especially manpower. Among these were the barrier plan (proposed by McNamara), new free world military force sharing formulas (KANZUS), efforts to subtly hold the RVNAF's "feet to the fire," and operations of various kinds in the "sanctuaries."
(5) The Reserve mobilization line--a political sound barrier as it were, remained unbroken.
The JCS had made a two-pronged case for breaking it: One, that we could not adequately meet CINCPAC'S 1967 requirements and simultaneously fulfill our Commitments to NATO and other threatened areas without mobilization (and even then probably dangerously late); and secondly, only such massive infusions of firepower in the North and manpower in the South as they proposed could possibly achieve our war termination objectives "in the shortest time with the least cost" and this could not be done unless we mobilized. Other arguments emerged in discussions. There were those who feared the move because of the inherent uncertainties about public reaction. To this the Chiefs replied that mobilization had traditionally unified the country, and it would also provide a strong indication of our national resolve--an important message to relay to Hanoi, and one in which Westmorejand as a field commander was also interested. Regardless, the issue loomed as the ceiling figure in the majority of ground-force strategy deliberations--it appeared that the level was periodically studied, possibly negotiated, but always there--the "Plimsoll line."
(6) Public disenchantment with the war was growing, and this was being manifested in diverse ways. On the "hawk" side powerful political figures (and many lesser ones) were increasingly vocal in their opposition to bombing restraints and restrictive force levels. Senator Stennis was in the vanguard of this group. On the other side, public and private figures alike were energetically working to create a genuine political war issue and to generate palatable alternative policies for the upcoming Presidential elections in 1968. Feeding a less focused sense of public dissatisfaction was an increasing awareness of the opportunity costs of the war in terms of national resources--men, money and attention--denied to domestic programs. As the defense slice of the budget hovered near the eighty billion dollar mark, the public realized it was "paying more and liking it less." There were strong inclinations to "paying less" as long as the voter was resigned to liking it less.
The press was moving beyond the bounds of its traditional adversary relationship vis-a-vis the Administration and assuming a leading role in catalyzing the swell of public opposition and questioning about the war. Acute even early on in the war, the press opposition intensified and expanded as the divergence of official public pronouncements on the war and what reporters and their sources saw on the ground increased.
(7) Failure is in the truest sense an orphan and as the sense of futility and self-doubt about achieving our objectives in Vietnam heightened, the architects of our military ground strategy found themselves increasingly isolated. The official base of support for the MACV strategy narrowed as more alternatives to it were seriously examined in Washington. This tended not only to aggravate a communications problem which had always hindered political-military planning, but it placed COMUSMACV-CINCPAC on the defensive, creating an information and planning bias (from those sources) toward protection, justification and continuation of present programs.
(8) Finally, we had a field commander facing a strategic dilemma with no high prospect of satisfactory resolution. If it had any hope of success, the Combined Campaign Plan for 1967 required both a military "shield" to keep large enemy units from the populated areas where pacification was proceeding, and a "shelter" under which pacified areas could be respectably kept that way. The "shield" concept could be implemented in a number of ways, statically or dynamically, (mobile vs. position defense) geographically oriented or enemy force oriented, or by different combinations of these at different times. General West-moreland's strategy based upon exploitation of our inherent superior mobility and firepower was designed to simultaneously attrite the enemy and retain the initiative by disrupting VC/NVA operations before they completely materialized. This led to seeking engagement with enemy main force units well out into the border regions, where they literally could be held at distance before jumping off in operations. Related to this was the notion that the important thing was to fight- to engage the enemy and create casualties. It mattered little that you accepted combat in regions with certain advantages for the enemy-the prime objective was to engage and to kill him.
Fighting the mobile defense kind of war provides an adequate but not perfect shield. You can liken it to a vast semi-permeable membrane which has significant leakage by small amounts, over time. Backing up this kind of a "shield" is the "shelter" also manned by combat troops, geographically dispersed (actually occupying) in the areas where pacification is going on. The combination of the two, shield and shelter, require men and the balance is crucial, especially so if you have limited resources. If your operating assumptions are those held by COMUSMACV in late 1966, then what you have for the "shelter" is a function of the kind and sizes of enemy forces you are fighting in the "shield" mission. If you are fighting large units at many points simultaneously, you are forced to strip "shelter" forces--or to use ARVN (or request more U.S. forces). As Program 4 closes we find MACV facing just those same large multiple threats, stripping the "shelter" forces, and relying upon an inadequate ARVN for the majority of pacification security. With sufficient forces, U.S. and ARVIN, the task was prodigious--and precarious. To attempt to "shield" without adequate forces to "shelter" was bound to be precarious.
IV. PROGRAM 5, DECEMBER 1966-NOVEMBER 1967
A. PRELUDE TO ACTION ON PROGRAM 5
1. Hedged Public Optimism Meets the New Year
The last month of 1966 was like all such months--a time for official retrospection and tally. The mood was one of cautious optimism, buoyed by hopes that 1967 would prove to be the decisive year in Vietnam.
The indicators showed that great progress had been made--quantitatively, anyway. The number of U.S. and FW maneuver battalions available for operations in South Vietnam had increased from 45 to 102. ARVN had added another 24 such units, bringing its total to 163, so altogether there were 265 battalions ready to commence operations in the new year. In short, the US-FW resources available for operations roughly doubled during the second year of the war, and they promised to be even higher during the third.
Large ground operations were mounting in number and duration, and the trend promised to continue pointed sharply upward (see Figs. 1-8). This upswing in activity was attributed to the rapid infusion of U.S. battalions; indications were that such a high level of activity was not independent, but so strongly correlated with our presence that, if we willed, it could be "sustained indefinitely."
More importantly, all of these gains seemed to be having a relevant impact on the enemy--causing his battlefield fortunes to decline closer to the point where he would be forced to stop fighting or negotiate, or both. Even accepting the historical overstatement of enemy losses--the bias is reasonably consistent--and the trend in enemy losses to all causes was rising sharply. Kill ratios (enemy KIA vs. allied KIA) were up to 4.2 from 3.3 during the preceding six month period. RVNAF losses actually declined; but unfortunately US/FW KIA doubled--a fact that the press was later to pick up and exploit in its criticism of the ARVN/GVN role in the war. (See Tables 4 and 5, Appendix B).
Observers believed that most of the enemy battalions, NVA and VC, were in place six months ahead of the U.S., and that only recently had the full consequences of our enlarged participation been reflected in enemy strength and OB figures. From July 1966, VC/NVA strength had appeared to decline slightly, although they had evidently been able to maintain their oft-cited target of 100,000 men in the field.
Irregular forces had apparently declined to about 180,000 (confirmed by a VC document captured on CEDAR FALLS) and their "solid" recruitment population base had shrunk. Another VC document contained an estimate that VC/ NVA forces had lost about 1,000,000 people to GVN control during the last half of 1966. There was increasing evidence that NVA was furnishing large numbers of replacements for damaged VC units, even for local forces and some units in the Delta. The great uncertainty, surely, if you accepted the indicators and the analysis of what they meant, was the infiltration rate and how successful we assumed we would be in controlling it.
Just as crucial seemed to be the level of VC/NVA activity as the year closed. Systems Analysis estimated that incidents were down 19% ("incidents" being attacks, terror, harassment and sabotage). Battalion-sized and larger enemy attacks in late 1966 were down to less than half those of the preceding six months, while small attacks nearly trebled. The significance of some relationships holding here was lost on decision-makers until much later in the new year when we began to seriously question the search and destroy strategy in Vietnam. The assumption that major enemy unit activity was a function of the total size of our forces, i.e., the more we have the more extensively active we can be in search, finding and destroying large units, is just not a convincing one when you look at enemy activity (large units) vs. our build-up. Also, leading from this, no one had yet questioned another assumption implicit in the COMUS-MACV attrition strategy; we needed to ask: Who initiates the battles when they do occur?
Revolutionary development plans were moving ahead. By 9 January 1967, the provincial RD programs had been approved by General Thaing, Commissioner General of RD; some 1,091 hamlets with a total population of 1,272,950 people were to be the targets of extensive RD effort. However, inputs and plans do not constitute outputs or results and such flimsy evidence as this offered as proof of "progress" was surely transparent. Concurrently, however, the reaction of the enemy to pacification seemed to be confirmation that the program was making headway. Looking back to the 1964-1965 "pacification programs" the enemy hardly bothered to react to what he considered a minimal threat, and an unwanted diversion from his successful military campaign. Only in late 1966 did he begin to exert significant effort and begin attacking RD cadre teams. Many disagreed with this interpretation, but few could dispute the graphic evidence of basic RD weakness (security) the VC/NVA operations had revealed. RD cadre desertions increased markedly (33 to 84 per week from January to March 1967) and the program was grossly unable to meet its recruitment goals (approximately 10,000 short of the 41,000 CY 67 target).
If military indicators were trending upward, the political indicators at the new year, both at home and abroad, were mixed. The Levy case had broken to the press and had become the temporary focus of anti-war group propaganda at the close of the year. U Thant had advanced his proposals for peace to the President who promised to give them "careful evaluation." Harrison Salisbury's dispatches from North Vietnam were generating an explosive debate about the bombing. Not only had he questioned the "surgical" precision claimed for the bombing of military targets in populated areas, but he questioned the basic purpose of the strategy itself. In his view, civilian casualties were being inflicted deliberately to break the morale of the populace, a course both immoral and doomed to failure. The counter-attack mounted by bombing advocates (and apologists) combined with the predictable quick denunciations and denials from official sources helped generate a significant public reaction.
The Pentagon reaction to the Salisbury articles touched off a new round of
editorial comment about the credibility gap. Polls at the start of the year
reflected the public's growing cynicism about public statements. One Harris
poll indicated that the public of January 1967 was just as likely to blame the
United States for truce violations (despite public announcements to the contrary)
as the enemy. Two years earlier this had not been so. Salisbury happened to
be in North Vietnam when Hanoi was first bombed--whether by accident or design
is uncertain. Consequently, his dispatches carried added sting--he was reporting
on the less
appealing aspects of a major escalation in the bombing campaign which would have attracted headlines on its own merits. His "in depth" of such an important benchmark added markedly to its public impact. So great was the cry that President Johnson felt impelled to express "deep regret" over civilian casualties on both sides.
Actual war news seemed good. Draft calls were down with the policy of "keeping [the] induction rate at a reduced level for 1967." (McNamara press conference). Allies like Thailand were helping to ease our manpower and commitment problems, the Thais announced in January that they were dispatching 1,000 troops to South Vietnam. The U.S. 9th Infantry Division had commenced landing at Vang Tau, highlighting the continuing infusion of U.S. strength now reaching the 380,000-man mark. North Vietnam's MIG force had come up to engage our bombers over Hanoi on 7 January. The result was the foe's worst day of air war--seven MIG's were downed. The United States made its first direct troop commitment to the Delta when Marines were landed at Thanh Phong Peninsula. This event generated a storm of criticism especially from Congressman Gerald Ford who attacked the Administration for expanding operations into the Delta without advising Congress.
There was little to be hopeful about in regard to North Vietnam's resolution, it was not eroding. The Washington Star, in an exclusive, quoted Premier Phan Van Dong of the DRV as being convinced that American public opinion would eventually force the U.S. to leave South Vietnam. He confirmed the oft-expressed fears of U.S. officials who prophesied great danger of a wider and bloodier war if North Vietnam mis-read the peace marches and opposition to the war, interpreting it as lack of U.S. determination. Earlier, Salisbury had quoted the Premier when he discussed the bombing, saying "that once hostilities are brought to an end it would be possible to speak of other things." The North Vietnamese were evidently resigned to a long bitter war.
To Walter Lippman, the New Year meant "there is hope only in a negotiated compromise" (emphasis added), but to others optimism was the keynote. Ambassador Lodge, in his New Year's statement, predicted that "allied forces will make sensational military gains in 1967" and "the war would end in an eventual fadeout once the allied pacification effort made enough progress to convince Hanoi that the jig was up." The New York Daily News informed 15 million New Yorkers that the "U.S. Expects to Crush Main Red Force in '67."
As if to balance the cacophony of war dialogue, a final dissonant note was sounded during those first two weeks of the new year. The famous "Goldberg Reply" to U Thant's note of 30 December had angered and dismayed the Secretary General. At a news conference he discussed the U.S. reply to his message which had basically implored the U.S. to discontinue the bombing so some kind of talks could open. The U.S. rejection, outlining its condition of "reciprocal acts" on the part of North Vietnam, he said was "much regretted," for in his estimation it was based upon an unfortunate misreading of history and the current situation as well as the result of misguided assumptions about the "domino theory," which he rejected. The strong opposition he voiced created important political "ripples" in the United Nations, Washington, and abroad. A certain mood of frustration and opposition which had already taken root was nourished and sustained by the incident.
2. Official Optimism and a Spur to Action: The Komer Memo
Seeds of optimism were not restricted to the public at large, but also found sustenance in official circles--primarily in the White House staff. R. W. Komer, in what he titled a "Vietnam Prognosis for 1967-68," provided a markedly optimistic view of the future and a firm conviction that the military situation was manageable, if not well in hand. He was convinced that COMUSMACV'S "spoiling strategy" had thrown Hanoi's calculations badly out of balance, and put us "well past the first turning point where we stopped losing the war." In this he agreed with the McNamara 14 October DPM; both believed that we had stopped losing.' He saw other major turning points. He suspected that we had reached a point where we were killing, defecting or otherwise attriting more VC/NVA strength than the enemy could build up--in the vernacular, the "cross-over" point. He cited the favorable indicators, but he neither sounded completely convinced nor conclusive.
A critical psychological turning point may have been crossed, he believed, because he detected that the bulk of SVN's population increasingly believed that we were winning the war. (He saw this as the chief significance of the 80% voter turnout on 11 September.) He concluded his introduction with:
"In sum--slow, painful, and incredibly expensive though it may be--we're beginning to 'win' the war in Vietnam. This is a far cry from saying, however, that we're going to win it-in any meaningful sense."
He saw quite clearly the imponderables which made any prognosis a hazardous undertaking:
A. Will Hanoi materially increase its infiltration rate? I gather this is feasible (though will the barrier make a major difference?).
B. Will the enemy escalate? Aside from increasing infiltration, I see little more Hanoi itself could do. Or Moscow. Peking could intervene in Vietnam or widen the area of hostilities in SEA, but this seems quite unlikely.
C. Will the enemy revert to a guerrilla strategy? This could be a serious complication before we get a major pacification effort underway. But the evidence suggests that the VC are still attempting to organize regiments and divisions. I'd also agree with Doug Pike's conclusion in his new book, Viet Cong that such de-escalation would shatter VC morale.
D. Will Hanoi play the negotiating card, and how? If I'm right about the trend line, Hanoi would find it wiser to negotiate. The only other options are escalation, growing attrition, or fading away. If Hanoi decides to talk sometime in 1967, a whole new calculus intervenes, involving questions of cease-fire, standstill, bombing pauses, etc. In this case we'll have to do a new prognosis.
E. Will the GVN fall apart politically? While it was a risk worth taking, we've opened Pandora's box by promoting a political evolution to representative government. A series of coups or political crises in Cochin China or Annam could so undermine GVN cohesiveness as to cause a major setback of popular revulsion in the U.S. I expect plenty of political trouble, but would hazard that a crisis of such magnitude can be avoided in 1967 if we work hard at it.
F. Will our new pacification program work? This too is a major imponderable. But we've nowhere to go but up. We're at long last planning a major new resource input plus the necessary focus on improving US management and redirecting ARVN assets. So to me the chief variable is how much progress we can make how soon. Will it be enough to make a significant difference in 1967 or even 1968?
G. Last but not least, will the US appear to settle down for a long pull if necessary? This is hardest to predict, yet crucial from the standpoint of SVN and NVN reactions.
Trends as he saw them would continue up (even sifting out the imponderables). The only explanation for under-achievement militarily, in pacification, and political development, would be "something unforeseeable" (not specified). We would be on the high-side of the curve, as he termed it, with the key issue one of "whether the U.S. appears prepared to stick it out as long as necessary or to be tiring of the war."
He closed by drawing the lessons imbedded in his analysis:
. . . . My prognosis of what is more likely than not to happen in Vietnam is reasonable only if we and the GVN mount a maximum effort in 1967-68 to make it so. The key is better orchestration and management of our Vietnam effort--both in Washington and Saigon. To me, the most important ingredient of such an outcome is less another 200,000 troops, or stepped-up bombing, or a $2 billion civil aid program--than it is more effective use of the assets we already have.
A. The wall will be "won" (if we can use that term) in the South. Now that we are successfully countering NVA infiltration and the enemy's semi-conventional strategy, what needs to be added is increasing erosion of southern VC strength (it has probably already peaked out).
B. Assuming the above is broadly valid, the key to success in the South is an effective pacification program, plus a stepped-up defection program and successful evolution toward a more dynamic, representative and thus more attractive GVN. These efforts will reinforce each other in convincing the Southern VC and Hanoi that they are losing.
C. Our most important under-utilized asset is the RVNAF. Getting greater efficiency out of the 700,000 men we're already supporting and financing is the cheapest and soundest way to get results in pacification.
D. By themselves, none of our Vietnam programs offer high confidence of a successful outcome (forcing the enemy either to fade away or to negotiate). Cumulatively, however, they can produce enough of a bandwagon psychology among the southerners to lead to such results by end-1967 or sometime in 1968. At any rate, do we have a better option?
Komer's primary misgivings related to the ability of GVN to exploit military successes and to convert them into meaningful steps forward in the nation-building program. Creating and sustaining viable political institutions in a revolutionary environment has never been easy, and many agreed with Komer's apprehensions. A widely circulated National Intelligence Estimate, published shortly thereafter, detailed the fragile nature of political development in South Vietnam, characterizing it as "a day-to-day, month-to-month phenomenon for some time to come, with periodic upheavals and crises [that will] threaten the entire process."
Despite a cautiously optimistic approach to the prospects for a more stable political situation, the same NIE identified serious potential sources of instability in the small nation. It saw regionalism as a factor whose influence might burgeon as political events quickened. The military domination of the political life of the country remained an explosive issue. Finally, United States presence and objectives remained a major consideration in analyzing the future behavior of the political actors in South Vietnam. Confidence in the American commitment and steadfastness in our objectives could remain as a counterweight to disruptive SVN political effects and could at least tentatively submerge the politically debilitating civilian-military rivalries, the bickering and jockeying for influence from within and without.
3. Fishing for Ideas with a Dragnet: The Abortive NSAM on Strategic Guidelines for Vietnam
With the new year it was becoming increasingly clear that American resolution, our massive presence and the determined pursuit of our objectives in South Vietnam would heavily influence political events there, but the nature of our objectives, the political bases of our resolution and the desirable magnitude of our presence were less than clear. In an effort to crystallize our thinking in these areas and to provide some more carefully delineated guidance for operations, the President asked Walt Rostow to float a draft NSAM embracing strategic guidelines for 1967 in Vietnam.
The draft NSAM, too, in the Komer vein, was basically optimistic in tone, opening with the observation that "skillful use of U.S. forces has greatly improved our military position. . . . it is imperative that we mount and effectively orchestrate a concerted military, civil, and political effort to achieve a satisfactory outcome as soon as possible." Accordingly, the draft laid out our strategic aims in 1967. They were to:
A. Maximize the prospects for a satisfactory outcome in Vietnam by December 1967 or, if this is not possible, put us in the best position for the longer pull.
B. Be equally suited to (a) forcing Hanoi to negotiate; (b) weakening the VC/NVA to the point where Hanoi will opt to fade away; or (c) at the minimum, making it patently clear to all that the war is demonstrably being won.
C. Complement our anti-main force campaign and bombing offensive by greatly increased efforts to pacify the countryside and increase the attractive power of the GVN--all these to the end of accelerating the erosion of southern VC strength and creating a bandwagon psychology among the people of SVN. This strategy is also well suited to exploiting any possibilities of a Hanoi/NLF split.
To achieve these objectives, nine program areas each "requiring a maximum continuing effort" were listed. These included pacification, mounting a major national reconciliation program, pressing for emergence of a popularly based GVN, continuing to strive for other objectives of the Manila Program (local government, land reform, anti-corruption), and keeping the lid on the economy. More relevant to our concerns were the four directly concerned with the land war:
B. Step up the Anti-Main Force Spoiling Offensive, as made feasible by the increase in FW maneuver battalions.
1. Introduce modest US forces into certain key Delta areas.
2. Stress offensive actions to clear VC base areas and LOCs around Saigon.
3. Lay on a major re-examination of our intelligence on VC/NVA strength.
C. Make More Effective Programs to Limit In filtration and Impose a Cost on Hanoi for the Aggression.
1. Refine the bombing offensive with respect to both efficiency of route harassment and quality of targets.
2. Press forward with barrier system.
3. Examine other ways to apply military pressure on the North.
* * *
H. Devise a Pre-Negotiating and Negotiating Strategy Consistent with the Above
1. Take such initiatives as will credibly enhance our posture that we are always ready to talk and ever alert for new avenues to negotiation.
2. Vigorously pursue serious negotiating leads.
I. Mount a Major Information Campaign to inform both the US electorate and world opinion of the realities in Vietnam, finding ways of credibly to measure progress.
The first two (B. and C.) would require force increases of varying magnitudes, dependent upon whose estimates of enemy capability and U.S. relative effectiveness you accept--JCS or DoD's or Komer's. Programs B. and C. patently endorse the offensive nature of our operations, but leave their extent or intensity undefined. Interpretation of the third item (H.) rests heavily upon what assumptions were held about negotiations; were they synonymous with military defeat and capitulation or something less emotionally loaded, and less satisfying, like compromise. Implicit in the last point (I.), concerning public information, is the acceptance of a certain "reality" that we wanted to advertise, this being also the mood that pervades the entire NSAM--victory is near.
The principal interest in this paper, however, derives not from disagreement as to technique and programs (nor even their basic configuration) but from the open discussion of basic objectives in South Vietnam which it prompted. Formal Department of Defense comment on the draft centered in two places: with McNaughton in ISA and in the JCS.
McNaughton's comments seem to reflect a growing concern with our diminishing prospects of early success and a desire not to irreversibly lock ourselves into either any fixed strategy or excessive ground commitments. These views were apparently shared with the Secretary of Defense. In his draft reply to Rostow (through McNamara) McNaughton essentially "loads the dice" against significant alteration of the strategic concept. In the preamble paragraph he states that .
. . . . The national commitment of the United States in South Vietnam (SVN), as stated in Manila, is that the South Vietnamese people shall not be conquered by aggressive force and shall enjoy the inherent right to choose their own way of life and their own form of government. The United States is committed to continue our military and all other efforts, as firmly and as long as may be necessary, in close consultation with our allies until the aggression is ended.
In the draft, the Assistant Secretary was painstakingly developing alternatives to continued widespread U.S. military involvement over time. His additions (or line-ins) placed emphasis upon participation by other Asian nations, development of a "rapid and effective" R/D effort, and continued . . .
. . . . reorientation of the bulk of RVNAF toward and into a steadily increasing role in R/D operations in coordination with regional and local civil and military forces. The goal is the establishment of security to permit revolutionary development to take place.
The reference to Manila was less than accidental. Paragraph 28 of the Joint Communique for the conference issued on the 25th of October 1966 stated:
The other participating governments reviewed and endorsed these as essential elements of peace and agreed they would act on this basis in close consultation among themselves in regard to settlement of the conflict. In particular, they declared that Allied forces are in the Republic of Vietnam because that country is the object of aggression and its government requested support in the resistance of its people to aggression. They shall be withdrawn, after close consultation, as the other side withdraws its forces to the North, and ceases infiltration, and as the level of violence thus subsides. Those forces will be withdrawn as soon as possible and not later than six months after the above conditions have been fulfilled.
McNaughton noted that President Johnson himself, in private session with the
Heads of State, had negotiated the language of this paragraph. According to
McNaughton's account, "the President was determined to get the language
in, including the reference to 'six months' (opposed by State, supported by
He also qualified statements in the White House draft which seemingly disregarded considerations of feasibility, for instance, adding that such increments of the barrier system "as are determined to be militarily and politically useful and feasible only" should be completed at the early date specified and that expansion of the scope of offensive operations should be done only "as made feasible by the increase in FW forces." These seemingly minor alterations loom significant as indicators of a subtle shift in approach by both McNamara and McNaughton--one which was more skeptical of the familiar projected claims of success and rapid solution to the South Vietnam problem.
JCS reaction to the draft was three-fold. They wanted to not only "refine" the bombing offensive, but to "adjust the air and naval offensive with respect to the extent and quality of targets." This was predictable, but the deeper disagreement about national objectives was more difficult to foretell. This cleavage appeared over two points in the draft.
The idea of developing any kind of contingency plan on how to handle VC/ NLF in the approaching elections was abhorent to the JCS. Just as distasteful was an enlargement of efforts to establish contacts with the VC/NLF. To them it was
. . . . Inconsistent with the attainment of the US national objective. It is inconceivable that the VC, instilled with ideals of communist domination for all of Vietnam, would peacefully contribute to shaping the destiny of SVN in conformity with democratic principles and without any foreign interference. To encourage contact with the VC would constitute a major shift in US policy in Southeast Asia which would certainly appear to the communists as a sign of weakness and lack of firmness of purpose and undermine the resolve of the GVN.
Furthermore, the JCS detected an unacceptable fraternization with the negotiating option which in their eyes might be justified by future attainment of some degree of representative government and political development. They stressed the "military role" in the GVN in both nation-building and national security, arguing that regardless of the eventual political outcomes and the success or failure of representative government, the extent of the present U.S. commitment had eliminated the option of "abandoning" the country on the grounds that "the government is not established by constitutional or legal processes and might be changed by illegal methods."
The crucial difference, however, arose over what the national objectives in South Vietnam should really be. In contrast to McNaughton's view, the Chiefs believed that the
. . . . national objective of the United States in South Vietnam (SVN) is an independent nation free of communist subversion and able to determine its own government and national aspirations.
and that to achieve this required three interdependent undertakings:
a. In the North--Take the war to the enemy by unremitting and selective application of US military power.
b. In the South--Seek out and destroy communist forces and infrastructure in concert with the GVN/FWMAF.
c. Nation Building--Extend the secure areas of South Vietnam by coordinated civil,/military operations and assist the GVN in building an independent, viable, noncommunist society.
The JCS were actually insisting upon the achievement of a noncommunist South Vietnam and their military aims accorded with that view. They were holding to the basic strategic concept written in JCMS 702-66, a month earlier, one which had elicited so little reaction from either McNamara or his staff. No doubt the resistance of the JCS was heavily influenced by the COMUSMACV-CINCPAC reaction to the draft NSAM. The language of the Pacific commanders had been less cautious, and their message unmistakable-we were militarily in South Vietnam to convincingly defeat the VC/NVA, that the war could be long and difficult, and the field commander should be granted the operational flexibility and resources he needed to do the job as he perceived it. To insure success, CINCPAC cabled, it was imperative that we get our guidance and objectives unequivocally and clearly laid down:
A. The hard fact is that, even if there were no war in progress in Vietnam, many of the objectives listed in the civil and political fields could not be realized in the 1967 time frame. The draft paper does not assess the adequacy of resources to carry out the Program B. The objectives listed for accomplishment are so all inclusive that publication in a national policy paper, one likely to receive wide publicity, is to invite future criticism if many objectives are not realized.
C. It could be interpreted that all aims and programs are to be pursued equally and simultaneously. It should be recognized that forces and other resources currently approved for South Vietnam do not provide the capabilities to accomplish all these programs in 1967.
4. There is a danger that the detailed and specific guidance in the paper would reduce the flexibility required by the operational commander in utilizing assets available to him to best accomplish his mission. The situation in Vietnam is fluid and dynamic requiring that decisions in use of forces and other assets be made in accordance with the dictates of the situation. It is therefore recommended that NSAM be restricted to a clear, concise statement of national policy for Vietnam, accompanied by a broad statement of integrated military, civil and political objectives to be pursued in 1967 under that policy.
5. The long range implications of the proposed actions for 1967 in Vietnam are of such magnitude that it is imperative that they be in consonance with our national objectives for South Vietnam. It is recommended that the NSAM stipulate in the preamble that "actions taken to terminate hostilities shall be in accordance with our national objective to assist the government of Vietnam and its armed forces to defeat externally directed and supported communist subversion and aggression, and attain an independent non-communist society in South Vietnam functioning in a secure environment.
We see that the problem of understanding and interpreting the country's objectives in South Vietnam was not limited to the JCS-Secretary of Defense-President trio, it went to the major field commanders charged with its execution as well. Events, as much conscious rational decisions, were to shape the outcome of the disagreement, but before the gap was closed, and people began to understand (if not accept) the dynamic and complex nature of our objectives in South Vietnam the divergence between Washington policy and the ground direction of the war was to assume important proportions.
4. The Strategic Concept Under Fire: Seeds of Doubt
State Department concern about the current strategic concept paralleled the debate in DoD. A paper prepared in Under Secretary Katzenbach's office historically analyzed the evolution (or more precisely non-evolution) of the strategic concept in Vietnam. It observed that:
Basic precepts behind the counterinsurgency doctrine have survived in principle but have been little applied in practice. As program has succeeded program, not only have the principal deficiencies in implementation become increasingly clear, but it has also become evident that these deficiencies have been essentially the same ones from the outset. They may be summarized as follows:
1. With rare exceptions arising from the attributes of individual commanders, the Vietnamese Army (ARVN) has never escaped from its conventional warfare mold. Both in its military tactics and in its relations with the people, it has all too often acted counter to the basic principles of counterinsurgency rather than in support of them. The US military leadership in Vietnam has, on balance, done little to reorient ARVN toward counterinsurgency. In the meantime, the paramilitary forces, locally recruited and locally based and theoretically the backbone of any counterinsurgency effort, have been repeatedly ignored or misused.
2. Despite elaborate planning and creation of machinery to execute and sustain a combined political-military pacification campaign, relatively few Vietnamese leaders have clearly understood the goals of pacification or articulated them effectively through the supporting administrative apparatus. Some leaders have viewed pacification largely in a military context while others, however committed to the political principles involved, have lacked either a pragmatic appreciation of their impact on the peasant or a willingness to approach pacification in revolutionary terms.
3. As a result, the GVN, despite increasing US assistance in men and materiel, has been relatively ineffectual in meeting the Communist military and subversive threat at the rice-roots level. Pacification has thus far failed to give the peasant sufficient confidence in the GVN's ability to maintain security, the first prerequisite in pacification, or, in longer run, to redress basic economic, political, and social inequities.
The current strategic concept was viewed as a reaction to our basic assumption that the military and political situation in South Vietnam in the spring and early summer of 1965 was irretrievably lost unless the U.S. committed substantial combat forces and unless Hanoi was forced to cease its support of the Viet Cong. From this beginning emerged a current strategy which . . .
. . . divides the Vietnam conflict into two wars: (1) a conventional war against the main Communist forces in the northern provinces of South Vietnam and against their logistic resources in North Vietnam and (2) an unconventional war or counterinsurgency effort against Communist control of the peasant in the southern provinces. The two wars are intended to be mutually supporting and pursued simultaneously, with relative equal priority.
The conventional war is an effort to obtain quick military results by purely military means. It seeks to reduce or terminate the infiltration of men and supplies into South Vietnam by continuing air strikes over North Vietnam and Laos, and to destroy regular North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong units and their logistic bases in the sparsely settled areas. In this war, the primary role is played by US combat forces deployed largely in the highlands area of Corps I and II where the bulk of North Vietnamese forces are committed, and where the enemy appears willing to engage in large formations. Major battles can occur without the danger of large civilian casualties. In support of their activities, the US forces maintain direct control of their own logistic, communications, and intelligence resources. In short, the highlands and the defense perimeters around certain strategic installations in effect constitute a US theater of operations.
The unconventional war or counterinsurgency effort continues to give priority to political-military pacification of the populated areas in the Mekong delta and coastal lowlands. It is thus a continuation of the long-term effort to give the population security and to win its support of the government by measures responsive to popular needs. These war areas remain under GVN control, despite the presence of thousands of US civilian and military advisors. ARVN, relieved of many of its combat and defense responsibilities elsewhere, is theoretically able to commit more forces to pacification as well as search-and-destroy missions, directed against the Viet Cong mainforce. The paramilitary forces retain their normal village-hamlet defense and pacification responsibilities.
The author then turned to the problems in South Vietnam which he saw as the direct or indirect result of our strategic emphasis:
There is no clear delineation of the conventional and unconventional wars either along territorial or population lines. US combat forces have been increasingly committed in search-and-destroy operations even outside the highlands area, as far south as Long An and Hau Nghia provinces around Saigon and as far east as the coastal regions of Binh Dinh province. US marines around Danang, in attempting to secure and expand their defense perimeter, have attempted to engage in pacification operations, as have the Korean forces in Corps 11. On balance, however, US combat forces remain essentially oriented toward conventional warfare, making adjustments (which are at times ingenious) as needed for the unusual physical settings in which their efforts take place.
ARVN meanwhile is also fighting essentially conventional war whether in sparsely settled areas or in populated ones such as the Mekong delta. Its commitment to pacification is negligible, and it continues to regard its mission essentially in conventional military terms. Even in areas where ARVN is engaged in pacification, the fairly low level of ARVN casualties shows that its commanders still remain unwilling to commit their troops in a manner best suited to finding the Viet Cong, and for periods of time sufficient to establish a realistic base of security from which pacification can begin. The principal if not the only security force in most pacification areas continues to be the under-manned and inadequately trained paramilitary forces, which of all Vietnamese forces are now suffering the greatest number of killed-in-action casualties over the past year.
The claims of top US and GVN military officials notwithstanding, the waging of a conventional war has overriding priority, perhaps as much as 9 to 1, according to the personal judgments of some US advisors. Saturation bombing by artillery and airstrikes, for example, is an accepted tactic, and there is probably no province where this tactic has not been widely employed. . . .
The new concept which appeared to be emerging, of recommitment of ARVN infantry divisions to pacification primarily in and around pacification areas did not, on the surface, appear to be anything but a long-term process, very sensitive to ARVN acceptance of the role. It failed the twin tests of being a panacea-it would not be fast, it would not be cheap. There was little doubt that most ARVN division and corps commanders continued to regard pacification operations as dull, less prestigious, and generally not in keeping with the basic mission, past tradition and organization of ARVN. This should not have been startling to the American observer-after all, U.S. units and commanders found pacification no more palatable, and they had nowhere near the same political or economic stakes in its consequences as their Vietnamese contemporaries.
The conclusions of the paper were not heartening. State believed that even assuming that all the attitudinal problems of ARVN could be overcome, many of its basic weaknesses would undermine its effectiveness in pacification-just as it had in conventional combat. These included:
a) poor leadership, preoccupation with political maneuvering at the senior officer level, the lack of experienced junior officers whose recruitment and promotion is based more on considerations having to do with economic and family status than with motivation or ability and whose assignments frequently reflect the use of influence to obtain headquarters or other safe and prestigious posts, and the lack also of competent and experienced NCOs;
b) poor morale (reflected not only in a continuous rise in desertions dating from at least 1962 but also in a very high battlefield missing-in-action rate) resulting from low pay rates; inadequate dependent housing, concern over the welfare of families, infrequent rotation of units in isolated outposts, and inadequate medical care;
c) poor relations with the population who, on the one hand, have had little reason for confidence in the ability of the military to afford them any lasting protection and, on the other, have all too frequently been victimized by them;
d) low operational capabilities including poor coordination, tactical rigidity, overdependence on air and artillery support arising in part from inadequate firepower, overdependence on vehicular convoy, unwillingness to remain in the field at night or over adequately long periods, and lack of aggressiveness.
Deployment of U.S. forces to the highly populated Mekong Delta would, in the writer's eyes, carry potentially adverse political repercussions. MACV was criticized for underestimating the impact on the grounds that they would be operating in remote and relatively unpopulated areas, the same justification used to generate State support for large operations in the border regions. But "remote" did not necessarily mean "remote," as the memorandum explained:
. . . . But even these areas, which do exist in the delta, are less remote and more populated than areas in the highlands where large US combat forces are currently committed. Moreover, the unpopulated stretches between populated areas are far smaller in size in the delta than in the highlands, and therefore there is greater danger that US forces operating in unpopulated areas could be drawn in the populated areas. Nor is it entirely certain that US forces will restrict their missions to search-and-destroy operations against Viet Cong mainforces. Indeed, it is to be expected that some US units will eventually participate in pacification, as in Danang for example, in order to protect the perimeters of US base facilities or encampments. As the size of the US force increases, it would be logical for MACV to attempt to expand these defense perimeters regardless of the proximity of populated areas. There is also the possibility that US commanders will be inclined to commit their units to pacification simply on the grounds that the Vietnamese are not doing the job efficiently.
Finally, although it is generally accepted that a military stalemate has existed for sometime in the Mekong delta, it is by no means certain that the GVN's inability to shift the balance against Viet Cong forces in the area is the result of lack of manpower resources. The basic problem is the manner in which ARVN forces are deployed in the delta rather than in the number of ARVN forces committed there. The current ratio of ARVN to Viet Cong mainforces in Corps IV is already more than 2: 1, better than in any other Corps area, and, if plans to reorient ARVN to pacification are implemented, the ratio of combat forces should theoretically improve in ARVN's favor since more ARVN units would be committed against the Viet Cong for greater periods of time.
In effect, the presence of large numbers of active U.S. units would not only risk civilian disruption and casualties, but may tempt U.S. units to "moonlight" in pacification, possibly alienating, or at least relieving the ARVN primarily charged with the mission. It was in vogue in the United States at the time to number as one of the causes of ARVN combat ineffectiveness and lack of aggressiveness the rapid assumption by the United States of the major combat role, leading the Vietnamese to "let George do it." Katzenbach's staff seemed to sense the same danger in "too much" U.S. pacification.
The memorandum was directed toward a rethinking of strategic concepts- in that it failed. It seemed to resolve the problem of achieving a unified strategic concept by leaving the same undefined. As long as the crucial force deployment and political settlement questions could be deferred, a concept sufficiently ambiguous or undefined appeared to be the best one to preserve harmony and encourage continued support. However, the memorandum was useful to point up a basically faulty premise about ARVN effectiveness in the pacification/security mission. If they were inadequate to assess the pacification task, as Katzenbach's staff contended, then our strategy and our manpower requirements could become quite different than was originally calculated as we pursued the elusive objective of "winning the war." As he astutely pointed out, the cleavage between the main-force and guerrilla wars was more imagined than real, and we could not hope to win them serially--they had to be controlled simultaneously or failing that, probably not at all. All of the clues were there, it only remained for someone to articulate the fear that so many decision-makers held--massive U.S. forces, engaged in every activity, provided the only reasonable probability of "winning" in Vietnam.
The NSAM effort was abortive. The evident division in DoD over the concept and objectives coupled with State's lukewarm response to producing any clear definition of aims/concepts convinced the White House that the best way to retain flexibility in South Vietnam and at home was to allow the ambiguity and uncertainty to continue.
B. THE OPENiNG DIALOGUE ON PROGRAM 5
1. Reclamas to Program 4--Fleshing Out
The turn of the year policy debate over basic U.S. objectives and strategic concepts was played out in the midst of a continuing dialogue within DoD, one which focused upon the adequacy and composition of Program 4. An exchange of memoranda between the JCS and SecDef in December 1966 and January 1967 fleshed out the profile of the program to near the 470,000-man figure.
The major reclama to Secretary McNamara's 18 November Program 4 decision was a sharply worded JCSM in which the Chiefs attacked the premise (ostensibly supported by the Secretary of Defense) that the restoration of economic stability in SVN was of overriding importance. They not only took issue with the use of the piaster ceiling employed to develop the force limit, but firmly regarded the ceiling of 470,000 men as inadequate and restrictive, a situation which might necessitate, in their words, "subsequent adjustments," especially in view of the I CTZ tactical situation. Additionally, they noted:
. . . . projected opening of land lines of communication (LOCs) in II, III, and IV CTZs, important to military operations and the Revolutionary Development Program, will be curtailed. US operations in the IV CTZ will be impeded and the capability to conduct riverine operations in this area will be reduced to a critical degree. The over-all US military capability to support extension of control by the Government of Vietnam in SVN will be limited and flexibility will be curtailed. . . .
. . . . while the restoration of economic stability in SVN is most important, the achievement of such stability will depend primarily on the capabilities of military and paramilitary forces to defeat the enemy, to provide the secure environment required for political, economic, and social development, and, concurrently, to provide essential impetus to the Revolutionary Development Program. Further, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that, in comparison to the forces requested by them on 4 November 1966, the forces listed in Program 4 will reduce the military capability to achieve our national objectives and execute our military tasks in SVN. The rate at which Program 4 can undertake area control, open land LOCs, and provide essential security for Revolutionary Development and other associated programs will be slower than was estimated with the forces previously requested. The intensity and frequency of combat operations may therefore be restricted, resulting in a slower rate of progress in SVN, some loss of momentum in operations, and possibly a longer war at increasing costs in casualties and materiel. . . .
Despite such protestations and recounting of dire outcomes, the recommendations of JCSM 739-66 primarily concerned no more than direct substitution of units below the 470,000-man ceiling (with no increase in piaster expenditures) and these were approved by the Secretary of Defense a week later.
While the actual numbers of troops and amounts of equipment involved in the reclamas were minor, the underlying nature of the dispute over Program 4, of which the small adjustments were barely symptomatic, had been more basic from its inception and both the press and Capitol Hill were picking up the tempo of debate between the Chiefs and their civilian superiors. General Wheeler was busy denying in a press conference that the civilian chiefs prevented General West-moreland from receiving the troops he felt necessary. Simultaneously, Secretary Rusk was spending a long four hours before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, defending the Administration's basic policies and those pursued by its Vietnam commander.
Two days later a poll of nineteen predominantly hawkish Senators revealed two basic areas of consensus; they believed we should give our military leaders more support (presumably troops) and we should hit North Vietnam harder (notably in Haiphong). More political pressure was generated on the troop issue by Senator Stennis' declaration that General Westmoreland's requests for troops should be met, "even if it should require mobilization or partial mobilization." Stennis publicly estimated that we were 100,000 men shy of the total needed to contain the Viet Cong militarily. A similar figure often appeared in classified studies at the time.
A public statement by Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson, probably intended to be reassuring, only heightened the sense of cost in manpower and national energy which the war might require. He said that withdrawal of U.S. units may be possible in 1 ½-2½ years because enemy strength was being broken down into small units that could be contained by smaller American units. Few people, as the commentators were quick to observe, were enamored with the thought of any American units in Vietnam in 2½ years, whatever the size! As if to underline the costs of an increasingly expanding war, Operation CEDAR FALLS in the Iron Triangle had produced a record number of U.S. deaths in a single week, 144, along with 1,044 wounded and 6 missing. The prospect of suffering 1,194 casualties per week for the next indeterminate number of years was hardly an appealing prospect, and a substantial number of the American people seemed to believe that political restraints imposed upon our military leaders were the chief cause of so little concrete progress. This belief and the potential untapped political support it revealed, was to be a powerful lever in the hands of the JCS as they pressed for force increases during Program 5.
Manpower, though, was becoming the crucial issue-its political ramifications were enormous, and politicians were prone to best detect them. Senator Ted Kennedy delivered a major speech on the draft to the National Press Club, urging reform. On the same day, Senator Mike Mansfield reintroduced his resolution calling for a "substantial reduction" in the number of American troops in Europe. Men, money and political will were the crux issues of the domestic debate; by the end of January all three had highlighted the news. The troop issue outstanding between the JCS and McNamara had been wrung out in public, $73.1 billion had been asked for defense and on 23 January, The Arrogance of Power was published.
2. Vietnam Strategy: Attention Rivets on the Borders and Sanctuaries
We have already described how MACV attention shifted to the borders and sanctuaries in late 1966. By January and February of the next year (1967), COMUSMACV and CINCPAC were riveted upon these crucial areas where major enemy units were being found and fought.
COMUSMACV assumed that a new phase of the struggle was beginning, one which demanded that we reexamine our military strategy. To take advantage of the existing opportunities which he detected, he decided to mount a "general offensive" designed to:
A. Maintain the momentum of the offensive on a seven-day-a-week, around-the-clock basis.
B. Decimate enemy forces, destroy his base areas and disrupt the VC infrastructure.
C. Interdict enemy land and water lines of communication, denying him the opportunity to resupply and reinforce his units and bases in South Vietnam.
D. Open, secure and use land and water lines of communication.
E. Convince the enemy, through the vigor of our offensives and accompanying psychological operations, that he faces defeat.
F. Support political and economic progress in SVN. . . .
He envisioned a sustained series of offensives against enemy base areas and main forces thereby destroying the VC/NVA combat potential, and threatening his supply systems, which he described as "the Achilles Heel of the VC/NVA." Westmoreland provided a solution to the build-up problem at the end of the NVN-Laos funnel, but again no real solution for stopping the flow:
. . . . The enemy is dependent on the buildup of weapons, equipment, food and medical supplies which are located in his base areas. Destruction of established enemy base areas denies him the opportunity to rest, retrain, recuperate and resupply easily. Thorough, meticulous search in areas in which our forces are operating is a key to the successful accomplishment of this important task. If we can neutralize the enemy base areas and prevent replenishment of the material captured or destroyed, we will have taken a long stride toward ultimate victory. . . .
Westmoreland also stated what was to become a growing concern among Americans at all echelons:
. . . .It is essential that the effectiveness of RVNAF be improved. Concurrently, the image of the military forces of South Vietnam in the eyes of the world and especially in the United States must reflect the contribution which has been and is being made to the overall effort in SVN. Much of the press reporting on this subject is unfair and indicates a lack of understanding of the RVNAF contribution. This, in turn, has a deleterious effect on RVNAF morale and effectiveness. RVNAF must be made to realize that there are military tasks as well as non-military tasks associated with RD. Every influence must be used to get RVNAF to cease conducting an intermittent war and instead to maintain continuous pressure on enemy forces. We must insure that maximum use is made of RVN forces in all our planned major offensives and that they are given tasks which are important and which will contribute to their continued growth potential. We then must insure that full credit is given to their accomplishments in each of these operations.
COMUSMACV's "command guidance" from which this is quoted, must be taken in context; ringing proclamations like these are directed to the troops. They are the things command histories are made of, but they seldom provide an undistorted picture of tactical or strategic reality.
The 1967 MACV Campaign Plan had focused upon the areas outlined in the COMUSMACV message, but it contained less bandwagon psychology and more careful evaluation of enemy capabilities and strategy. The Campaign Plan had been broadly based upon Westmoreland's assessment of the enemy's situation and his strategy, views which he repeated in a year end cable to General Wheeler and Admiral Sharp.
. . . . Forces currently available to the enemy in SVN as identified in MACV order of battle are nine division headquarters, 34 regimental headquarters, 152 combat battalions, 34 combat support battalions, 196 separate companies, and 70 separate platoons totaling some 128,600, plus at least 112,800 militia and at least 39,175 political cadre. The principal threats posed are in the DMZ area, the Chu-Pong region, and the Tay-Ninh/Phuoc Long area of northern III CTZ. Although enemy forces in these areas have been punished in operations during 1966, they have not been destroyed and are continuing efforts to reinforce, resupply, and plan for resumption of operations in a winter-spring campaign. Eenemy capabilities throughout SVN are summarized in the following paragraphs:
A. Attack. The enemy can attack at any time selected targets in I, II, and III CTZ in up to division strength and in IV CTZ in up to regimental strength, supported by local force and guerrillas. Simultaneously, he can continue harassing attacks throughout SVN.
(1) In I CTZ, he can attack objectives in the DMZ area (Quang Tri Province) with elements of the 324B and 341st NVA divisions supported by one separate regiment. Additionally, he can attack objectives in Quang Tin or Quang Ngai Provinces with the 2d NVA division and two regiments of the 3d NVA division. In Thua Tien and Quang Nam Provinces he can attack in up to regimental strength.
(2) In II CTZ, he has the capability to attack in Western Pleiku, Southern Kontum, or Northern Darlac Provinces with elements of the 1st and 10th NVA divisions, in Northern Binh Dinh Province with one regiment of the 3d NVA Division, and in Phu Yen and Northern Khanh Hoa Provinces with elements of the two regiments of the 5th NVA Division.
(3) In III CTZ, he can attack with the 9th VC and possibly the 7th NVA Divisions in Tay Ninh, Binh Long, Binh Duong, or Phuoc Long Provinces, and in Phuoc Tuy and Southern Long Khanh Provinces with elements of the two regiments of the 5th VC Division. He also can sabotage GVN and FW shipping transiting the Rung Sat Special Zone with a Sapper Battalion; harass installations and LOC's in Gia Ding Province with elements of the 165A VC Regiment. He has the capability of continuing his terror campaign in Saigon/Cholon.
(4) In IV CTZ, he can attack in up to regimental strength in Chuong Thien and Dinh Tuong Provinces, and in up to reinforced battalion strength throughout the rest of the CTZ. Militia and guerrilla forces predominate, and emphasis is on harassing attacks and local actions to consolidate and extend his control.
Westmoreland also expected what he labeled "political attack" and "economic attack" to continue. These he described as efforts to
. . . . Destroy the effectiveness of hamlet, village, district, provincial, and national governments by elimination, intimidation, and subversion of GVN officials; discredit and erode GVN political authority at all levels by conducting propaganda attacks against elected and appointed GVN officials and against GVN programs.
Enemy to intensify efforts to impose an economic blockade against the GVN by denying the latter access to its own resources; conduct overt and covert operations throughout SVN against targets of vital economic significance to the maintenance and growth of the GVN economy; stimulate inflation by diverting commodities destined for SVN markets and by denying commodities from markets through interdiction and harassment of LOC's; and undermine the people's confidence in SVN currency by propaganda and possible counterfeiting.
COMUSMACV then addressed the crucial question of enemy reinforcement capability:
. . . . The enemy has the demonstrated capability to reinforce in SVN by infiltrating personnel and units from NVN at a rate of about 8,400 men per month and by in-country recruitment of about 3,500 per month in VC Main and Local Forces. In the tactical sense, his dependence on foot movement normally precludes major reinforcement on the battlefield beyond attack forces initially committed. Defensively, he normally conducts holding actions to enable extrication of the main body rather than reinforcing.
(1) In I CTZ, he can reinforce his attack or defense through the DMZ and from Laos within three to ten days after commencing movement with three divisions, three infantry regiments, and eight infantry battalions. He can reinforce his attack or defense with one infantry division from Binh Dinh Province in II CTZ and one infantry regiment from Kontum Province in II CTZ in twelve days after commencing movement. Many of these units are presently understrength.
(2) In II CTZ, he can reinforce his attack or defense in Northern II CTZ within ten days by elements of one infantry division from Southern I CTZ and in Southern II CTZ within five to ten days after commending movement by up to two regiments from III CTZ.
(3) In III CTZ, he can reinforce his attack or defense in the Northern portion with three separate battalions from II CTZ and with one regiment from IV CTZ within three to ten days after commencing movement.
(4) Preponderance of militia and local forces in IV Corps and the reliance upon encroachment through local and harassing action makes large unit reinforcement unlikely in IV CTZ.
COMUSMACV continued by divining the enemy's overall strategy:
. . . . The conclusion to be drawn from the enemy's strength increase of some 42,000 during 1966 is that despite known losses, he has been able to maintain a proportional counter buildup to the growth of US/FWMA forces. Sources of this increase are in-country conscription and foot infiltration down the trails from NVN through the DMZ, but principally through Laos and the Cambodian extension. To understand what the enemy is doing and is likely to do in the coming year, it is essential to understand his objectives, strategy, and major tactics, all of which derive from the principles of insurgency warfare (or "Wars of National Liberation") which essentially are political in nature and which have been described by Mao Tse Tung, Vo Nguyen Giap, and others such as Che Guevara with clarity and conviction. To aid in conveying this picture I have summarized in the succeeding sub-paragraphs my estimate of his overall strategy and its probable continued application.
A. Objectives: The enemy's objectives in S\TN may be expressed under two dual headings: to extend his control over the population of SVN and to prevent the GVN from controlling that population; to reduce the will to resist of the RKF/FWMAF and their governments and correspondingly to strengthen his own posture and will.
B. Strategy: The enemy's favored doctrine of "strategic mobility" has been the subject of debate in NVN. Politburo member Nguyen Chi Thanh has held that the proper application is to initiate mobile warfare with simultaneous attacks throughout SVN. Defense Minister Vo Nguyen Giap, whose view has prevailed as soon by our experience, favors a "defensive/offensive" version of strategic mobility consisting of these factors:
(1) Developing strong, multi-division forces in dispersed regions accessible to supplies and security.
(2) Enticing AF/FWMA forces into prepared positions where dug-in communist forces may inflict heavy casualties upon them.
(3) Conducting concurrent, intensified guerrilla and harassment pressure counter-wide to tie down our forces, destroy small units, attack morale, and extend his control.
A. Present enemy dispositions, logistics, and level of combat indicate a continued adherence to the doctrine of strategic mobility implemented by Giap's "defense/offensive" major tactics. Our intelligence does not indicate a change in enemy strategy, tactics, or weapons now or in the coming year, although this possibility remains under continuous scrutiny. Specifically, we have no evidence of an intent to fragment his mainforces and revert exclusively to guerrilla-type operations.
B. The enemy was hurt during 1966 in many areas, and his principal concentrations near sanctuaries at the DMZ, in the Chu Pong region, and in the Tay Ninh/Binh Long areas have been contained by our preemptive operations as a result of which he has suffered heavy losses. He is avoiding major contact by fighting defensively when forced to do so, and attempting to rebuild and reinforce for winter-spring campaign operations. It would be premature to assume that an apparent decrease in activity in December just prior to holiday stand-downs is indicative of a change in trend. Further, it would be erroneous to conclude that VC Main Force and NVA formations are no longer dangerous, that their unit integrity has been destroyed, or that their logistical capability has fallen below that needed to sustain his war of conquest by attrition.
C. On level of battalion imbalance the enemy has maintained throughout 1966 is about 1 day in 30. [sic] This level is consistent with his strategy of conserving his forces while attriting US/FWMA forces, and is within his capability to support logistically. If forced to a higher level such as 1 day in 15, he will encounter difficulty.
D. It is probable that the enemy during the coming year will attempt to infiltrate men and supplies into SVN by sea, through Laos and Cambodia, and across the DMZ to: Counter-balance the US/FWMAF build-up; maintain a credible threat posture, attrite friendly forces and determination by inflicting casualties and prolonging the conflict; maintain and promote expansion of the insurgency base (intra-structure [sic] and militia); and continue his protracted war to control the people of SVN.
The emphasis in the assessment is unmistakable--the crucial strategic areas would continue to be the highland border areas, the DMZ-I CTZ area and the sanctuaries of Laos and Cambodia. The 1966 MACV Command History reveals that the enemy camp envisioned the highlands of MRS as a "killing zone" where the mountainous and jungled terrain favored VC/NVA operations; additionally the area was comfortably close to buildup areas near the DMZ and the secure areas in Laos and Cambodia.
When General Westmoreland claimed to have "taken the initiative" he usually appears to have referred to the manner in which FW forces (U.S. in particular) had prohibited the shift by VC/NVA into what counterinsurgent scholars call the "final battle of annihilation phase." MACV evidence indicated that VC/NVA were prepared to do this as far back as 1965. However, as an alternative (and this remained an important MACV operating assumption), MACV believed that the enemy was attempting to build up large forces in certain geographically distant areas-again in accordance with Giap's version of "strategic mobility." These areas were Quong Tri Province in I CTZ and the highland border areas in II CTZ. It also appeared that the opponent might create a holding force between the Delta and highlands (in III CTZ) to pin down friendly units and prevent FWMAF from reinforcing against the main threat in the highlands. An American strategy intent upon retaining the initiative (or gaining it) would logically concentrate upon enemy actions which promised to contest it. Giap's creation of "killing grounds" and "holding forces" were the kind of initiatives which COMUSMACV believed he had to disrupt ("spoil") before they materialized as integral parts of a coordinated strategy. This kind of thinking would lead U.S. forces to the border region battles, the clearing of in-country redoubts and sanctuaries and to major unit commitments in I CTZ in the North.
One Pacific commander during this time period, General Beach, put his views on strategy and escalation in unequivocal terms. Determinedly, he argued that we must "win" the war, and he outlined a plan which magnified the issues central to the COMUSMACV strategy by its direct presentation of the major ground strategy issues-the sanctuaries, the infiltration (and its relationship to the bombing), and the course which he believed would best counter the enemy's strategy of tying down large numbers of our forces away from the sensitive populated areas.
The USARPAC commander also felt that operations in the base areas.
. . . . must be pursued on a sustained basis and must fully penetrate, thoroughly cover, and sanitize these areas. Subsequently, these areas must be denied to the enemy's reentry by leaving behind occupying forces. Concurrently, forces should be deployed astride major routes the enemy habitually uses between these bases and to his sanctuaries to interdict his movements. If the enemy will stand and fight anywhere, he will stand and fight for these bases if they are seriously threatened. Moreover, serious inroads into the enemy supply base in SVN would tend to force the local guerrilla out of his lair to provide increased support to the main forces, thus facilitating our efforts to find, fix and destroy him. Destruction of enemy in-country bases and tactical stockpiles will have the most immediate adverse effect on enemy operations in SVN. COMUSMACV's campaign plan envisions such operations. The suggestion of this headquarters relates to ensuring that we penetrate the base areas completely and then leave forces behind to prevent reoccupancy by the enemy. . . .
Beach accepted the "killing ground/holding" version of the enemy strategic plan noting that:
. . . . The enemy is developing large forces in bases or sanctuary north of the DMZ near I CTZ, and on Cambodia, in the vicinity of Chu Pong Massif bordering II CTZ, and opposite Tay Ninh/Binh Long Provinces in III CTZ. These bases and forces, now politically beyond our reach, will pose a constant and serious threat. The enemy will attempt to tie down large numbers of our forces to preclude their support of RD and conduct of offensive operations as well as draw them into engagements staged in his favor. Our forces must not meet the enemy where we cannot engage him decisively. Rather, we should keep him under surveillance and be prepared to concentrate rapidly to engage him at a time and on ground of our choosing. . . .
Infiltration also occupied his thoughts, but he was concerned lest our efforts elsewhere become weakened by an undue emphasis on stemming the flow.
. . . . I concur with your position to resist pressures to devote a great share of our energies and resources to trying to stem the flow of men and materiel into SVN from the North. It is virtually impossible to stop or appreciably impede infiltration into SVN with ground forces now available or programmed for the theater, especially in light of the contiguous sanctuaries the enemy now enjoys. Although it would be desirable to stop or measurably impede infiltration, such action is not imperative to our winning a military victory. Moreover, maintaining that long and difficult LOC saps a sizeable measure of the enemy's effort and resources. It has, assuredly, exacted its toll on the fighting capabilities of NVA units. Our air and naval interdiction operations must be continued at the present level and, if possible, they must be expanded. Although not in themselves capable of quelling infiltration, their effects against the enemy and his movement of personnel and equipment to the South are appreciable.
While Beach's pessimism about stopping the infiltration jibes with that of COMUSMACV and CINCPAC, his view of how it would affect the chances of military victory were surely not. If killing VC/NVA was to be the indicator of military success or "victory," could not an unimpeded infiltration keep troops coming faster than they could be killed? And furthermore, could not free (or freer) flow of supplies degrade your kill capability/unit cost, e.g., your kill ratio could be adversely affected by the improved status of his equipment and logistics which the infiltration afforded. These negative aspects were not discussed, but surely if Beach clearly believed that the infiltration was not crucial, he would not have evinced less concern about the sanctuary routes and the bombing. He closed with two observations:
. . . . Our country harbors a natural desire to ease the hardships in the Vietnam conflict. The military, however, must press to go all out at all levels in SVN if we are to win. We are faced with a full blown and difficult war and our government has committed a huge amount of combat power to this conflict, yet we are still a long way away from achieving our objectives. If we are to reach an acceptable military decision in Vietnam, we must not permit our operational tactics to reflect the reticence which currently characterizes some bodies of public and official opinion. Our ground forces must take the field on long term, sustained combat operations. We must be prepared to accept heavier casualties in our initial operations and not permit our hesitance to take greater losses to inhibit our tactical aggressiveness. If greater hardships are accepted now we will, in the long run, achieve a military success sooner and at less overall cost in lives and money.. . . .
In summary, it is my opinion that the MACV campaign plan for 1967 is adequate to meet the anticipated enemy threat. However, within the plan's overall concept four aspects of offensive action must be emphasized. First, we must relentlessly attack and destroy enemy base areas in SVN. Secondly, we must avoid pinning down sizeable forces against his border-sanctuary areas. Rather, we should deal with forays by his major forces into SVN at times and locations of our choosing. Thirdly, we must press forward with an aggressive effort to destroy the guerrilla and his underground government in support of revolutionary development. Finally, we must avoid devoting too great a measure of our effort to anti-infiltration at the expense of more important operations. We should continue and, if possible, expand our air and naval interdiction of his infiltration system.
3. Vietnam Strategy: On the Ground
On the ground, large unit operations increased during January to 341, but the number having "significant results" decreased for the third consecutive month (from 24 to 19). Total enemy killed reached a new monthly high of 5,954, contributing to a total loss figure of 10,440, also a wartime high. Major military operations in January did not yet clearly reflect the thinking Westmoreland had revealed in his early January assessments and strategic prognosis; evidently MACV was still in the planning stage preparing for the major operations of February and March on the borders and in the sanctuaries. Furthermore, the magnitude of the threat in the DMZ-I CTZ that was to prompt the massive dislocation of troops to the North under TF OREGON in April was not yet clear, and operations were moving slow motion.
Operation CEDAR FALLS in the Iron Triangle, which began on 8 January, was the most significant operation of the month and the largest operation of the war in terms of forces employed. The operation was aimed at clearing the Triangle, an area denied to the GVN for over 20 years. In the estimation of the MACV staff it gained outstanding results, capturing large numbers of weapons, ammunition and other war materials, plus nearly a half-million pages of enemy documents. MACV concluded that CEDAR FALLS had destroyed the Iron Triangle as a secure VC base area (although the operation which superseded CEDAR FALLS, JUNCTION CITY, was in basically the same area).
Operation THAYER II conducted by the 1st Cavalry Division in Binh Dinh Province reported killing over 500 enemy, the second consecutive month such a figure was reached in that province. FAIRFAX, an open-ended operation which war to continue in one form or another for months, aimed at destroying enemy forces and eliminating the VC infrastructure in Gia Dinh Province southeast of Saigon was "meeting significant results." Operation ADAMS in Phu Yen Province, a "search and destroy rice harvest security and road clearing operation" was specifically designed "to provide a shield behind which Revolutionary Development [was] progressing." This was the precursor of the USMC Operation DESOTO in the Quang Ngai salt flats later that month. In preparation for DESOTO, ROK Marines conducted Operation SEINE in Quang Ngai, a ten-day search and destroy operation, which killed over 110 enemy in the period. The most significant RVNAF operations were conducted in the Capital Military District and in IV CTZ. Three areas were being closely watched for increased enemy activities, possibly large unit operations. In I CTZ the enemy troop build-up, resupply harassment, and reconnaissance increased in the DMZ area. Elements of the NVA 324th and 341st Divisions were confirmed as infiltrated south into Quang Tri Province. From every indication there would be future widespread enemy activity in that area. Enemy forces in II CTZ continued to evade friendly forces throughout the month, although the NVA NT 1 and NT 10 divisions located near the Kontum/Pleiku border were believed preparing to move, or actually moving, into those provinces. In III CTZ, despite the disruptive effects of CEDAR FALLS in the Iron Triangle, there were strong indications that elements of six VC/NVA divisions were preparing for future offensive operations in the Tay Ninh-Binh Long-Binh Tuong Province areas.
January was characterized by the insertion of more ARVN battalions into the role of direct support of revolutionary development for 1967. In-country, there were 120 ARVN infantry battalions assigned to 10 divisional tactical areas and two special zones. Of these, 50 were to have been assigned missions of direct support of revolutionary development for 1967. Operational control of these RD battalions varied throughout the country and included command under the province chief, the regimental commander, special zone commander or the division commander. In addition, three ranger, one marine and three airborne battalions were to have been assigned a mission of direct support of RD. There were eight U.S. battalions with an RD mission and other FWMAF contributed three battalions. Some American observers, however, were less than pleased with the ardor for RD which the Vietnamese were displaying. One source in III CTZ observed that:
. . . . The late 1966 enthusiasm which helped to launch 1967 RD progress has yet to work its way down to the district and village level where the impact must be realized.
The monthly meeting of the III CTZ RD council, scheduled for 3 February, was postponed, probably due to preparations for TET. The efficiency of the RD cadre teams continues in most areas to be marginal. Since the success of the entire 1967 hamlet program will be largely dependent upon the performance and accomplishments of these teams, their efficiency must be improved. . . .
Such views undoubtedly contributed to the basic uneasiness about whether ARVN
could (or would) "cut the RD mustard," a fear voiced by Holbrooke
a month earlier.
Briefly, analyzing the pattern of operations (see "Major Operations and Approximate Locations," Fig. 1) some sixty-two of the United States maneuver battalions in Vietnam were engaged at some time on what MACV termed "large operations." Realizing that the criterion for large operations of "100 or more enemy dead" is not necessarily the best for our purposes, and that such actions were influenced by the monsoon patterns, at least a rough picture of the operational center of gravity can be developed. Of the sixty-two battalions so engaged, twenty-six were participating on missions which had an RD component-either protecting the harvest, screening the local population, or keeping routes open so the crops could reach market. Thus, the U.S. was devoting approximately 25-30% of its forces in January 1967 to RD effort country-wide, although this simple statistic is misleading because some of the operations listed were combination search and destroy/RD actions. No major ARVN combat operations were specifically designed to support RD objectives, although as we noted earlier, on a battalion level basis an increasing number of Vietnamese units were being assigned such tasks.
4. Sanctuaries Revisited: Renewed and Heightened Concern About Laos and Cambodia
As the ground war pursued the path just described, concern about the infiltration and the importance of the sanctuaries deepened. On 18 January CINCPAC had come into the JCS with a request to expand the bombing in NVN to twenty-five "remunerative targets" to counter infiltration. This request was followed on 25 January by a detailed cable addressing the broader range of anti-infiltration measures. After pleading for a more "balanced" program, the message turned to a major recommendation:
. . . The enemy's capability to supply his forces in SVN has been degraded by our air interdiction campaign in SVN, Laos and NVN, and by our offensive ground operations in SVN. The confusion of his supply situation may account, in part, for his attempts to avoid significant contact with our forces. The enemy is dependent upon external sources for most of his weapons, ammunition, medical supplies and assorted technical equipment. The closing of Haiphong would disrupt the enemy's logistical capability to supply these items to SVN. Therefore, I recommend and will shortly submit a plan for closing the port of Haiphong, and other minor ports in NVN. Closing these ports would be the single most effective and economical method of drastically reducing the enemy's capability to carry on the war in SVN. The military advantages of this action would be manifold. It would still be necessary, however, to recognize the significance of infiltration throughout Cambodia. The more successful our operations in NVN and Laos become, the more communist pressure will be brought to bear on Cambodia to increase use of her ports and LOC's or infiltration of supplies into SVN.
Measures to improve the counter infiltration aspects of our current programs are aimed at striking at the enemy's vulnerabilities and countering his strength. These include:
A. Destroying his military and logistics bases.
B. Interdicting his LOC's.
C. Forcing the enemy into sustained combat operations.
D. Providing security for the SVN population to prevent impressment and to assist their economic, social, and political development.
Continuing, he reviewed various programs (MARKET TIME, GAME WARDEN, DANIEL BOONE, SEA DRAGON) and the detailed plans to broaden them, but once more the Pacific commander returned to the subject of the sanctuaries:
The problem of sanctuaries has been mentioned several times. Those in NVN and Laos are limited sanctuaries since they are subject to air attacks, albeit, with certain restrictions. The sanctuary in Cambodia, however, is complete. It would appear appropriate to undertake actions at an early date aimed at persuading the Cambodian leadership to adopt a more neutral position. Pursuant to a request by DOD it is understood that a Joint State, Defense, and CIA committee is considering this problem. It is hoped that recommendations from this group will be forthcoming at an early date which will indicate positive measures which may be taken. The importance of Cambodia as sanctuary and as a source of supplies, particularly rice, cannot be overemphasized. Consequently, we must get on with a strong program to inhibit this use of Cambodia, preferably by non-belligerent political and diplomatic means. If we do not achieve the required degree of success by these means then we must be prepared in all respects to use the necessary degree of force to attain our objectives.
In summary, the problem of countering infiltration of enemy forces into SVN is just one aspect of the total military problem in SEASIA. While inifitration cannot be absolutely stopped by direct military action, it can be made costly and its effectiveness blunted. The enemy's prodigious efforts to provide air defense and to repair damaged LOC's are strong evidence of the effectiveness of our air campaigns in NVN, Laos and SVN. Increasing interdiction of his supply system, especially by closing his ports, would be the most effective measure we could take against his capability to infiltrate. Additionally, shifting Rolling Thunder emphasis to attack selective target systems should have a significant impact upon his will to continue support to the insurgency in SVN. The more successful our operations become in NVN and Laos, the more use the enemy will seek to make of his supply sources and channels in Cambodia. To achieve our objectives in SEASIA our current strategy, a combination of carefully balanced military programs must be pursued in close coordination with political, economic, and sociological programs.
The next day, attention shifted to a ground anti-infiltration program when General Westmoreland came in with his PRACTICE NINE Requirements Plan, the study of his manpower and logistics requirements to implement the barrier plan outlined a month earlier. The cover memorandum on the plan prepared by the JCS made a determined case against the proposed time frame (a target date of 1 November 1967 had been set), and argued for providing the additional forces from outside resources rather than relying upon assignment of in-country forces already programmed for use elsewhere in the 1967 Campaign Plan. In light of the anticipated manpower draw-down within South Vietnam, the plan was relatively austere.
COMUSMACV was protecting plans already approved and rolling; accordingly he considered his plan to be no more than "the optimum which [was] reasonably attainable without an unacceptable impact upon the objectives of the 1967 Combined Campaign Plan."
MACV envisioned a strong point and obstacle system constructed on the eastern portion of northern Quang Tn Province to impede infiltration and to detect invasions. The plan visualized that the system of strong points and obstacles would serve as a base for possible future expansion of the system into the western portion of Quang Tn Province to the Laotian border; this expansion being contingent upon time, forces, material and security conditions. COMUSMACV also indicated a preference for extension of the strong point/obstacle system into the Western Sector instead of reliance on air delivered munitions and sensors.
His force requirement provided the excitement. In his words:
To have an effective obstacle system across SVN, south of the DMZ, would require a minimum additonal force of one division and one armored cavalry regiment.
The concept of operations for employment of these forces contemplated two operational areas, an eastern sector and a western sector. Force availability and logistical limitations would permit operations initially only in the eastern section with the exception of one area in the Western portion, that near Khe Sanh. An Army brigade (or Marine RCT) and an ARVN regimental force would construct and man the strong point obstacle system, with artillery, air and NFG fires supporting along the entire trace. III MAF would be prepared to reinforce threatened areas and provide depth to the defense. Two Marine battalions (as a minimum) were earmarked for positioning in the Dong Ha and Khe Sanh areas "until relieved." This large additional troop requirement of nearly two division equivalents and the basic COMUSMACV concept in the plan was to quickly reappear in a CINCPAC message early in February, one which discussed the barrier and infiltration in broader terms.
The JCS agreed with COMUSMACV citing objections which revolved around that they believed were two fundamental disadvantages:
The increased anti-infiltration capability that would be established would be located in northeastern South Vietnam where North Vietnamese infiltration has been minimal.
The diversion of resources required for execution of the plan would reduce the emphasis and impetus of essential on-going programs now approved for the conduct of the war in South Vietnam.
Furthermore, they observed that such diversion of resources and efforts might come at a crucial point. . . .
The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that military actions now in progress in Southeast Asia, in support of the concepts and courses of action approved by them are demonstrating substantial successes toward national objectives and that if expanded and pressed with continued vigor, these successes will accelerate. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, less the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, conclude that any additional resources that might be provided can be used to a greater advantage in executing CINCPAC's concept of operations for Southeast Asia.
There was no solid consensus among high officers on the barrier issue. In late February, General Wheeler wrote in reply to JCSM 97-67 that he believed contrary to COMUSMACV and JCS conclusions, that the implementation of the PRACTICE NINE Plan might enhance rather than inhibit the flexibility available to COMUSMACV. He wrote:
. . . . although I support much of the paper (JCSM 97-67, PRACTICE NINE Requirements Plan), I disagree with the recommendation that the plan not be approved for execution.
Although I recognize that the eastern portion of the DMZ does not now represent a major active infiltration corridor, it does possess a substantial potential for the rapid introduction of sizeable forces from the north; in fact, this portion of the border area provides the quickest and most traffic-able routes from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. Thus, an obstacle system impeding enemy capability to exercise such an option seems to me to represent a prudent military action.
Again, while I recognize that the obstacle system reflected in the COMUSMACV plan may require an undesirable diversion of in-country resources, it is not clear to me that this will of necessity be so; it is also possible that the level of activity in the vicinity of the DMZ will require the commitment of comparable forces to that area whether or not construction of the obstacle system envisaged by COMUSMACV is undertaken. Furthermore, proceeding now with the actions required to provide additive assets for support of the MACV plan does not, in my view, rule out a subsequent decision to utilize these assets in other ways should the turn of events so require. Thus, it is my view that proceeding now with preparatory actions to implement the COMUSMACV plan may enhance rather than inhibit the flexibility available to COMUSMACV.
In other words, the Chairman was displaying considerably more prescience than his military colleagues. Either this or he was the only one who really believed the MACV-CINCPAC reports of activity and assessment of the threat in I CTZ. He anticipated that events might outrun the requirement for decision on the barrier troop issue--an apprehension which materialized in rapid fashion.
The next day, the Central Intelligence Agency published a study entitled "Significance of Cambodia to the Vietnamese War Effort" in which it, too, disagreed with the assessment the military commanders had been making. Although the availability of Cambodian territory was granted to be of considerable psychological and military advantage to the Communists, and the access to the Cambodian rice surplus had evidently obviated any need to move substantial quantities of food down the Laotian route system to feed Communist forces in the rice-deficit Vietnamese highlands and Laotian panhandle, the study concluded:
Denying the Communists the use of Cambodian territory and supplies would make life more difficult for them; it would not constitute a decisive element in their ability to conduct military operations in South Vietnam.
The caveat added to this rather surprising conclusion noted that probably during 1967 Communist use of Cambodia would increase primarily due to:
The logistic burdens imposed on the Communists by their own military build-up and the increasing pressures imposed by allied forces.
If this were true, then, a very good argument could be made that as of the moment denial of Cambodia "would not be decisive," but as the weight of U.S. military pressure increased, and the Cambodian sanctuary and supply aspects increased in importance to the enemy, then it may become decisive. The decisive nature of denial of Cambordia to the VC/NVA would be a function of its increasing value to them.
5. Infiltration--Remains the Key
Into February, infiltration held the focus of attention. Following up his 18 January request, on the first of February, CINCPAC requested authorization to conduct offensive mining against the North Vietnamese ports. He stated his case:
A drastic reduction of external support to the enemy would be a major influence in achieving our objectives in NVN. Despite fewer ship arrivals in 1966 compared to recent years the tonnage of imports has increased. This increase demonstrates the rising need for external support in NVN. While the nature of cargoes discharged cannot be stated with precision, there is little doubt that a major portion contains war supporting materials. Additionally, the ability of NVN to export products to other nations through its seaports contributes significantly to its capability to support hostilities in RVN. The closure of selected NVN ports would result in a severely strained economy and reduce Hanoi's capability to support military actions in SVN.
Closure of the port of Haiphong to ocean-going ships is of paramount importance and would be effective in compounding NVN logistic problems for the reasons indicated below:
A. 85 percent of imports come through Haiphong. There is no satisfactory alternate port.
B. Soviet cargo presently entering NVN through Haiphong would have to be re-routed through Communist China or off-loaded in time-consuming barge operations. Thus far the CHICOMs have not permitted the Soviets unlimited use of their rail systems.
C. The ability of CHICOM/NVN rail systems to function as a substitute means to provide logistic support is marginal. A demand for increased rolling stock as well as new port facilities would be generated.
Closure of NVN ports would be a sign of U.S. determination to prosecute the war successfully thus bringing increased pressure on Hanoi to terminate hostilities. .
If Admiral Sharp received the "go" to conduct offensive mining against the NVN ports, initial efforts would be directed at Haiphong. He saw this action as. . . .
an effective means of depriving the enemy of imports required to continue the war. If used in conjunction with RT air strikes against the port system, Haiphong can be virtually sealed as a source of war supplies.
This CINCPAC bombing request message was followed on 6 February by a comprehensive PRACTICE NINE cable, which reviewed the "barrier plan" and discussed the previous MACV-CINCPAC planning. In it CINCPAC reemphasized that unless the additional troops COMUSMACV had requested were forthcoming the target date to reach the required levels of effectiveness could not be met.
He summarized the operational and logistical considerations by saying:
The COMUSMACV plan responds to the requirement for submission of an anti-infiltration plan in the northeastern area of Quang Tri Province, south of the DMZ.
Within the constraints imposed, the concept is feasible. The system of obstacles and strong points, with forces assigned, would be capable of impeding infiltration to a degree, and detecting any overt invasion threat.
The additive forces requested are essential to implementation of this plan. Furthermore, the diversion of in-country forces which would be required to support the plan would have an adverse impact on other necessary programs.
Then the message took a surprising turn:
The level of infiltration in the area the obstacle system is to be installed does not justify diversion of the effort required to construct and man such a system. Moreover, there is no indication that present operations are inadequate to cope with what has been an insignificant infiltration problem in this particular area of SVN.
Extension and expansion of the system of obstacles westward from Dong Ha mountain to the Laotian border to provide an effective anti-infiltration system is contingent upon additional forces, i.e., an infantry division and an armored cavalry regiment.
A rigid operational capability date of 1 November 67 should not obtain.
Consistent with this, the summary stressed General Westmoreland's concern. . . .
. . . . over the inflexible time frame, the need for additional forces to construct and man the obstacle system, and the impact of using in-country or programmed forces. He has made clear that the U.S. brigade or regiment requested in the plan is but the first increment of a full division and armored cavalry regiment force required to man an effective obstacle system south of the DMZ. Finally, he emphasizes that the course of action set forth in the plan would not in itself stop infiltration. In view of the numerous disadvantages listed above, and in light of the need to maintain balance in all anti-infiltration programs, CINCPAC recommends that the plan not be implemented within the time-frame envisioned.
All of which seems to be saying that if the troops required (1 division plus 1 regiment) were assigned to the barrier, it would probably reach the desired effectiveness, but since they most likely will not come from "outside" resources, and COMUSMACV does not desire to draw down other forces for them, the barrier would probably not be very effective or meet a real threat anyway.
On the ground in SEA observers were painstakingly searching the infiltration figures for indications of "reciprocal moves" on the part of the VC/NVA, or the "fade-out" various individuals had been predicting. The press was also speculating upon the political intent of North Vietnam, led there by MACV's year-end infiltration statistics. A MACV "backgrounder" in late 1966 had indicated a drastic falling off from earlier infiltration levels. Little had been done in the interim to correct (or update) these figures and speculation was rife in early February. Phil Goulding was frantically quizzing MACV for explanations. Military attaches were experiencing pressure from their ambassadors for interpretations and analysis. PACOM-MACV answered queries with a detailed discussion outlining the problems of interpreting (or even developing) infiltration estimates; information which may be useful at this point to highlight the problems and pitfalls of "infiltration watching." CINCPAC wrote that it was:
Our position . . . that the NVA must continue to infiltrate at significant levels to maintain maturing force structure. The VC cannot replace total communist losses as well as provide additional personnel to flesh out their joint (VC/NVA) planned force structure. It is true that figures may appear to suggest that infiltration dropped off sharply during last half 1966. Although statistical data indicates infiltration appears to have dropped during latter half 1966, the figures for last five months of year are not complete. Also, data after September 1966 represents only partial returns subject to considerable upward revision. Recent intensive community-wide review of the foregoing at CINCPAC resulted in an agreed data base with Oct 65 through Dec 66 time frame. (Oct 65 selected as historical start point attributable to initiation intensive NVA build-up). The mean monthly infiltration during this time frame has been about 6-7,000.
An example of late data recently incorporated in infiltration statistics follows: The 165 NVA regiment began infiltrating into SVN in March 1966 but did not complete infiltration until about July 66. Sufficient information became available in January 1967 to permit the acceptance of the 165 NVA regiment in the order of battle. It had been unidentified and unknown earlier. As the result, confirmed infiltration figures for July 1966 were revised upward in January 1967 by 1,950 to reflect the 165th regiment's strength upon reorganization in SVN. Review of statistical infiltration data also shows that figures require 90 to 180 day time frame to be developed. Concur, that the NVA may be approaching their current planned force structure in SVN. In the future, it will probably be even more difficult to generate short-term infiltration data. Infiltrators may enter SVN more often in groups vice large units. Groups may break up shortly after infiltration as replacements compounding the problem for our intelligence gathering agencies, and further complicating the statistical problem.
This is an estimate and we feel more time is required to gain substantiating information.
We take particular exception with statement in the reference that Hanoi may be willing to enter into negotiations to get bombing stopped.
CINCPAC position is there are no repeat no indications that indicate NVN has changed previously stated terms for negotiation which is basis for USG resumption of bombing just ordered. Negotiations embodying NVN terms would, in effect, require the surrender of our stated objectives in SVN.
In addition, there are no repeat no indications available here that NVN has changed original intent to vigorously prosecute the war notwithstanding allied bombing which has caused NVN severe difficulty.
In late February, as the debate over roles and missions (AB 142), progress in pacification, ARVN effectiveness, PRACTICE NINE Requirements, enemy intentions and infiltration reached a crescendo, it became clear that the deployment debate was centered upon one major uncertainty-How many more U.S. troops would it require to achieve U.S. objectives in SVN, and more basically in the face of the infiltration trends past and present could our massive infusions of U.S. forces turn the trick.
Operation CEDAR FALLS, deep into the Iron Triangle, redoubt had produced a windfall of enemy documents and plans, many of which bore directly upon enemy strategy and indirectly conditioned our expectations and confidence in our calculations. Some of them revealed a "new strategy developed after the entry of substantial US and Free World forces into South Vietnam." COMUSMACV, recounting the information obtained in the document, had stated that for the enemy:
. . . . The main emphasis is on continued reinforcement from North Vietnam to defeat US and RVN forces in South Vietnam. This strategy reaffirms the concept of the necessity for a protracted war, but nonetheless stresses the need both to seize and to create opportunities for decisive tactical victories of high impact effect in a relatively short time. At the same time it stresses intensified guerrilla action and public disturbances, all featuring the customary coordination between military and political action. It appears that the principal objective area is the highlands, the secondary areas being Quang Tn and Thua Thien and the coastal provinces of the II Corps. It is understood, of course, that the Saigon area is the ultimate objective.
Analysis of the broad strategic guidance contained in the early 1966 document just mentioned, along with later prisoner interrogations suggests the conceptual framework of enemy planning. This would include attacks in the I Corps and II Corps coastal areas to cause our forces to be redeployed. If the enemy could then succeed in weakening our forces in the highlands by luring part of them into the coastal areas and then pinning them down, conditions might be achieved which he would consider favorable for a spectacular victory in the highlands employing main forces already located there and possibly reinforced by continued infiltration from the North Vietnam. Such an attempt probably would not be with the intent to hold ground permanently, but rather to create a psychological shock designed to affect US public opinion against continuation of the war, to bolster his own morale, and to improve his position for negotiation or further combat. To achieve this, his favored objective, as shown by documentary evidence, would be the entrapment and "annihilation" of a large US unit, preferably a battalion of the 1st Air Cay Division; or alternatively, employment of a sweep against Pleiku, including destruction of installations, rapid withdrawal, and the ambush of reaction forces.
The present disposition of enemy forces can be analyzed in relation to such a strategy. Despite several major defeats and heavy casualties, the enemy still maintains three divisions near the demilitarized zone. Elements of these forces have infiltrated again into Quang Tri and Thua Thien provinces. They pose a constant threat to territory and installations in Quang Tri and Thua Thien Provinces and have forced the prolonged deployment of four US Marine battalions and four ARVN battalions to northern Quang Tn Province, enemy initiative in Quang Tri and Thua Thien has increased during the past several months and is expected to increase further. The enemy has the capability of launching large scale attacks across the DMZ at any time. This is not meant to imply that massive multi-division attacks necessarily will occur. More probably, by an increased buildup and tempo of coordinated main force/guerrilla operations, the enemy may attempt to expand his forces southward and gradually overwhelm the area below the DMZ. Whether by attack or encroachment, such efforts would serve to force the deployment of additional US and Vietnamese troops to the area and thereby thin out those forces in support of Revolutionary Development. The enemy's deployment of a division to Quang Ngai has served to increase his pressure in that Province. His division formerly in Binh Dinh has been mauled by the 1st Cavalry Division and either has dispersed in Binh Dinh Province or has withdrawn to Quang Ngai. The enemy division that was deployed to Phu Yen has been dispersed; however, one regiment has attempted to consolidate itself in Khanh Hoa. The enemy's strategy in attempting to pin down allied forces in the coastal areas in order to divert attention from the highlands has been unsuccessful thus far. However, his concentration of two divisions in Cambodia west of Pleiku and Kontum Provinces has forced the deployment of a minimum of four US battalions to the highlands to provide surveillance over the border areas. These minimum forces had to be reinforced during the past year from other areas, and further reinforcement probably will be necessary during the coming month when these two North Vietnamese Divisions ready themselves for offensive operations. In the III Corps area the enemy has adopted a similar strategy. He has deployed two divisions in the northwestern quadrant of the III Corps Tactical Zone and has been developing a base and assembling a division in the mountainous and jungle-covered areas of Phuoc Tuy Province.
7. The enemy's implementation of his strategy is characterized by:
A. Increasing his guerrilla forces and their tempo of operations with emphasis on the sabotage of US installations.
B. Expanding his local forces as manpower will permit for the purpose of harassing RVN, FW and US installations and forces and disrupting Revolutionary Development.
C. Concentrating North Vietnamese Army and VC main forces in numerous remote areas, thereby posing a continual strategic threat intended to prevent concentration of our forces in particular regions. These are areas from which enemy forces can conduct training and supply operations with minimum risk, and from which they may be deployed when ready. These areas are:
(2) In Laos opposite Hua Thien Province.
(3) In Eastern Cambodia adjacent to the Central Highlands.
(4) The jungle-covered areas of Northwestern III Corps (and the adjacent areas in Cambodia) and of Phuoc Tuy Province.
(5) The mountainous areas adjacent to the fertile coastal plains of Central Vietnam in the Provinces of Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa.
* * *
In summary, the enemy's strategy is a practical and clever one designed to continue a protracted war, inflict unacceptable casualties on our forces, establish a favorable political posture, minimize risks to main forces, and maintain in the option of going on the military offensive of his covert troop deployment.
Considering the desire of the world population to see a peaceful solution to the conflict in Vietnam during the coming months, it is likely that the enemy will attempt to parlay this desire for peace and American impatience with the war into major concessions prior to, or during, negotiations undertaken between opposing sides. This strategy has been used effectively by the communists in the past, as the record of the Korean negotiations will reflect.
To counter such a broad, coordinated strategy would require large numbers of troops--even more than those listed under Program #4. To many observers the concept of "sheer mass" doing the job was appealing. Robert Komer returned from a mid-February trip to Vietnam no less optimistic than before. Ever the inveterate optimist he reported to the President that:
After almost a year full-time in Vietnam, and six trips there, I felt able to learn a good deal more from my 11 days in-country, 13-23 February. I return more optimistic than ever before. The cumulative change since my first visit last April is dramatic, if not yet visibly demonstrable in all respects. Indeed, I'll reaffirm even more vigorously my prognosis of last November which would be achieved in 1967 on almost every front in Vietnam.
He firmly believed that in time we would just overwhelm the VC in SVN:
Wastefully, expensively, but nonetheless indisputably, we are winning the war in the South. Few of our programs--civil or military--are very efficient, but we are grinding the enemy down by sheer weight and mass. And the cumulative impact of all we have set in motion is beginning to tell. Pacification still lags the most, yet even it is moving forward.
Finally, and contrary to all military reports, he saw some let-up in the pressures for additional resources:
Indeed my broad feeling, with due allowance for over-simplication, is that our side now has in presently programmed levels all the men, money and other resources needed to achieve success.
The preceding statement curiously seems to contradict the tenor of the previous ones which plainly indicate the requirement for a massive influx of U.S. forces. Nevertheless, such optimism, even considering the source was surely to tell upon a President deeply engrossed in weighing alternatives in Vietnam and comparing their risks and benefits.
The most significant assessment of alternative strategies for Vietnam in late February was a short analysis prepared for the President's night reading by ISA and the JCS with an assist from Department of State. The assessment commenced with the presentation of three programs-A, B and C-each one analyzed in terms of its specific actions, the authority required and the policy changes required to implement them and the risk and impact of each. The programs themselves had been prepared by JCS at the request of Deputy Secretary Vance and they actually incorporated the various separate proposals made by the JCS over the past two months.
Programs A, B, and C
1. ROLLING THUNDER--Electric Power System, Thai Nguyen Steel Plant, Haiphong Cement Plant, All Unoccupied Airfields; eliminate 10 NM Hanoi Prohibited Area.
Authority/Policy Changes--Strike Hanoi where ordnance delivery is prohibited. This area then becomes part of 30 NM Restricted Area. No policy changes.
Risks/Impact--Risk to US forces consistent with normal ROLLING THUNDER operations in the heavily defended northeast area. Laos rates should not exceed acceptable limits commensurate with results to be achieved. Political risks are negligible.
2. NAVAL SURFACE OPERATIONS--Expand offensive operations to include valid military targets ashore south of 19° N.
Authority/Policy Changes--Forces now engaged in SEA DRAGON operations require authorization for offensive action against shore targets. Risks/Impact--No military risk beyond normal combat. Political risk is low since US ships now fire against shore targets in self-defense and against waterborn logistic craft beached and in rivers.
3. SHINING BRASS--Within current operational limits delegate authorities now held at DOD/STATE level to CINCPAC in coordination with Embassy Vientiane.
Authority/Policy Changes--Delegate existing authorities to CINCPAC in coordination wiht Embassy Vientiane. No policy changes.
Risks/Impact--No increase in military or political risk over that associated with current operations.
4. LAOS OPERATIONS--Continue as at present plus Operation POP EYE to reduce trafficability along infiltration routes
Authority/Policy Changes--Authorization required to implement operational phase of weather modification process previously successfully tested and evaluated in same area.
Risks/Impact--Normal military operational risks. Risk of compromise is minimal.
5. B-52s--Base part of operations at U-Tapao.
Authority/Policy Changes--Requires country clearance for aircraft and personnel to enter Thailand.
Risks/impact--No significant military risk. Political risk negligible; however, criticism is to be expected.
6. LAND ARTILLERY--Fire from positions in SVN against valid military targets in and immediately north of DMZ.
Authority/Policy Changes--No significant policy changes; requires approval of targets only.
Risks/Impact--No significant military risk. Negligible political risk.
7. DEPLOYMENTS--Accelerate Program #4 Deployments (including 3 Army Maneuver Battalions).
Authority/Policy Changes--Requires by 1 March 1967 decision to accelerate deployments. Requires corresponding end strength authorization.
Risks/Impact--Production of CONUS strategic reserve.
END OF PROGRAM A
8. ROLLING THUNDER--Elements of 3 ports, MIG airfields less those from which international civil transport operate, selected rail facilities, ammo dump, machine/too plant, 7 locks; reduce Haiphong Restricted Area to 4NM.
Authority/Policy Changes--Requires significant policy change to attack MIG airfields.
Risks/impact--Military risks are consistent with operations in heavily defended NE area. Loss rates acceptable in terms of expected results. Moderate political risk due to possibility endangering foreign ships, and increased civilian casualties.
9. MINE INLAND WATERWAYS AND ESTUARIES SOUTH OF 20° N.
Authority/Policy Changes--Operations can be authorized and conducted within framework of ROLING THUNDER.
Risks/Impact--Negligible military risk. Insignificant political risk.
10. NAVAL SURFACE OPERATIONS--Extend to 20° N.
Authority/Policy Changes--Requires authorization for offensive action against shore targets.
Risks/Impact--Military risk/losses commensurate with ROLLING THUNDER operations in NVN. Political risk is acceptable.
11. SHINING BRASS--Expand operational limits to 20 KM into Laos, increase helo operations, authorize larger forces, increase frequency of operations, decentralize control to CINCPAC in coordination with Embassy Vientiane.
Authority/Policy Changes--Requires delegation of authority to CINCPAC/ Embassy Vientiane. Policy change required to extend operational limits. Risks/Impact--Will increase to minor degree risk of exposure of activity. Political risks increased only slightly over present levels.
12. LAND ARTILLERY--Fire from positions in SVN against valid military targets in Laos.
Authority/Policy Changes--Minor policy change required.
Risks/Impact--Negligible military risk. Political risk less than that associated with current air strikes and SHINING BRASS in Laos.
13. DEPLOYMENTS--Deploy the 9th MAB (3 BLT, 2 TFS, 2 HMM) from Okinawa/Japan to the I CTZ in March 1967.
Authority/Policy Changes--Requires by 1 March 1967 decision to accelerate deployments. Requires corresponding end strength authorization.
Risks/impact--Moderate military risk associated with loss of PACOM amphibious reserve. Political risk less than moderate.
END OF PROGRAM B
14. ROLLING THUNDER--4 ports, remaining MIG airfields, AD HQ, Ministry Defense HQ, dikes; eliminate prohibited/restricted areas.
Authority/Policy Changes--Requires significant policy change although operations can be conducted within framework of current ROLLING THUNDER program.
Risks/Impact--Military risk commensurate with objectives to be achieved. Higher losses initially, but lower thereafter as air defenses degraded. Political risk moderate or higher. Usual propaganda reaction expected on basis of "escalation."
15. MINE MAJOR PORTS AND APPROACHES. Mine INLAND WATERWAYS and estuaries north of 20° N.
Authority/Policy Changes--Major policy change required.
Risks/Impact--Military risk no greater than associated ROLLING THUNDER programs in port area. Political risk is acceptable-no direct military confrontation likely; no realignment of power bloc. Propaganda outcry severe. Possible increase in USSR/China cooperation to NVN.
16. NAVAL SURFACE OPERATIONS--Expand north of 20° N.
Authority/Policy Changes--Moderate policy change required.
Risks/Impact--Moderate military risk. Less than moderate political risk.
17. SHINING BRASS--Battalion size exploitation forces [text missing].
Authority/Policy Changes--Significant policy change required.
Risks/Impact--Moderate military risk associated with increased size/duration of operations. Political risk moderate, but acceptable. Deniability is lessened, but operations defensible on basis enemy conduct.
18. DEPLOYMENTS--[text missing]
Authority/Policy Changes--Requires decision by 1 March 1967 to call up reserves, extend tours and terms of service, repetitive tours, increase service strengths, and partial industrial mobilization.
Risks/impact--Military risk significant in that strategic reserve degraded until end CY 67. Political/domestic risk in terms of increased draft, call up
END OF PROGRAM C
For instance, Program A included ROLLING THUNDER, naval surface operations, SHINING BRASS, Laos operations, land artillery firing across the DMZ and ground force deployments. The deployments recommended under Program A consisted of merely accelerating Program 4 deployments and possibly adding three Army maneuver battalions. The remainder of Program A represented no more than minor expansions in operations, recommendations for which the JCS had been on record since last fall. Program B featured expanded ROLLING THUNDER operations to include attacking the North Vietnamese ports, mining the inland waterways and estuaries south of 20° North, attacking the MIG airfields previously excepted, expansion of SHINING BRASS operations into Laos and, significantly, the deployment of the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade from Okinawa/Japan to the I Corps Tactical Zone in March 1967. Program C subsumed all of the recommendations of the two preceding Programs A and B, but added an expansion of the mining quantitatively, to include all of approaches and inland waterways north of 20°, authorized battalion-sized expedition forces in the SHINING BRASS area and recommended deployments of up to four U.S. divisions (3 Army, 1 USMC) and up to nine tactical fighter squadrons (5 Air Force, 4 USMC).
Major authorization would be required from the President to expand the air attacks to the ports and MIG airfields as recommended in Program B, but other than that, only minor policy changes were required to initiate Programs A and B. In order to deploy the 9th MAB by 1 March 1967, a decision had to be made concerning acceleration of deployments, some corresponding end strength increases for Program 4 had to be authorized. Program C, of course, was the major deployment proposal, one which the JCS believed would require a decision by 1 March 1967 to call up Reserves, to extend tours and terms of service, to authorize repetitive tours, to increase service strengths, and effect partial industrial mobilization. None of the recommendations included in all of these programs possessed more than "moderate military risk" in the eyes of the JCS. Some, such as expansion of ROLLING THUNDER to the port targets, were rated as possessing "moderate or higher" political risks. The major deployment recommendation requiring Reserve mobilization carried "significant military risk in that strategic Reserves would be degraded until the end of the Calendar Year" and "political domestic risk in terms of increased draft and call-up of Reserves," but again the JCS played down the seriousness of such a move.
The documents available do not indicate what usage the President made of this particular analysis. However, it remains interesting as an historical event, being the first explicit presentation of new alternative programs in the development of Program 5.
C. THE MACV REQUEST AND THE SEARCH FOR OPTIONS
1. The Guam Conference, 20-21 March 1967
In late March, President Johnson, along with members of the White House Staff, DoD and State met with President Thieu, Premier Ky, General Westmoreland and other key military officials at Guam. The President was determined to accelerate the rate of progress in the collective military and nation-building task confronting the United States and South Vietnam and he believed that a face-to-face meeting with Thieu and Ky could best speed up the process and possibly relieve some of the heavy political pressures on what he termed "the absolutely vital political base in the country." The basic objectives of the Guam meeting in the Secretary of State's words were to:
1. Stimulate good relations between them [Thieu and Ky] and our new team [Bunker and Locke].
2. Provide an opportunity to impress upon them the high importance of expeditiously completing and bringing the constitutions into effect, and holding effective and honest elections. Continued GVN unity and broadly based government are critical to the maintenance of the U.S. political base.
3. Help to dramatize post-war planning and the role of David Lilienthal and his opposite number.
4. Closely examine the current status of the land reform program and determine what steps can be taken to accelerate the rate of progress in this field."
Noticeably missing from the list of objectives was any detailed discussion or reevaluation of the military situation. In fact, the Agenda for the conference included but two short sessions on the military effort. President Johnson had publicly announced that his purpose in calling the Guam Conference was to introduce the newly appointed U.S. team of Bunker, Locke and Komer to the leaders of the GVN. Just as the Agenda had indicated it would, and as had been the case in the two previous occasions of top US-GVN talks (Honolulu and Manila), the conference communique of the two-day meeting emphasized political, economic and social concerns. The military picture was presumed to be so encouraging and improving that it required no special attention. However, three general impressions about the thrust of the military briefings emerge from the conference documents and notes.
First, is the basically optimistic view held by General Westmoreland. He noted that we were pursuing a constant strategy aimed at destroying the enemy's main forces, providing security for the populace so that pacification could proceed, improving the lot of the people, pressing the North Vietnamese through the ROLLING THUNDER program and, finally, creating conditions favorable for settlement on U.S. terms. Westmoreland's main conclusions revolved around a new assessment that the enemy was weakening, that ROLLING THUNDER did help, and that the enemy's losses would soon exceed his gains. To buttress these views he quoted a number of "indicators": that intensity of allied operations was up versus those of last year; that the enemy's losses had doubled; that we were taking four times the number of prisoners we had; that the number of defectors had doubled; that the enemy was losing 2½ times the weapons that he had in the past year; and that 18% more major roads in South Vietnam had been opened in the past three months. Enemy weakness was evident from the fact that 54 of his maneuver battalions were rated only 50% combat effective compared to ARVN's performance in having all but 7 of its 154 battalions combat effective. ARVN leadership was also cited as being "better."
COMUSMACV's analysis of RVNAF effectiveness was based upon a MACV study completed early in 1967, one devoted to determining the shortfalls, weaknesses and limitations of that organization. The analysis indicated that the ARVN kill ratio had risen from 3.6 in 1965 to 3.7 in 1966 and that there was a noticeable decline (27%) in personnel missing in action. The MACV study had concluded "that it was apparent that both the Vietnamese Army and Vietnamese Air Force had made significant improvements during the year.
A Systems Analysis study completed in DoD just prior to the Guam Conference concluded that U.S. and ARVN forces had surprisingly equal effectiveness per battalion day on search and destroy operations when the relative strengths of the battalions were taken into account. At a time when American decision-makers were casting about for any favorable reports on Vietnamese performance, these descriptions of ARVN progress were surely welcome. Unfortunately, they only contributed to the unrealistic military euphoria which pervaded the Guam discussions.
The second major impression one takes from reviewing the military briefings at Guam was that some increases in the Program 4 levels would be necessary, but these would not be major. The enemy strategy was reiterated; nothing found on CEDAR FALLS or other recent operations did anything but confirm the MACV year-end assessment of VC/NVA strategy. Recent American successes reinforced the belief that we had hit upon the key to winning-despite continued large scale infiltration, Westmoreland and others on his staff believed we were again flirting with the illusive "crossover point" when enemy total strength would begin to decline, battle, disease and desertion losses would exceed gains. Yet, despite the indicators, infiltration remained an uncertainty, as did the continued good performance of ARVN. Without a relatively efficient RVNAF performance, pacification (especially as its roles and missions were allocated) was doomed to failure. The hope generated by the encouraging report on ARVN (from both MACV and OASD/SA) and the favorable outcomes of US current operations, seemed to confirm what most were led to believe: any forthcoming Program 4 requests would be small.
The briefing papers prepared for the conference merely affirmed the prevalent belief when one concluded that:
. . . . There does not appear to be any great return to be realized from further force increases. The best alternatives are to increase the effectiveness of the force already employed. This may be done through improved tactics and intelligence as well as through greater fire-power and mobility.
The same paper listed some of the factors that it believed might lead to significant changes in Program #4. They were:
a) PRACTICE NINE--Should this concept be implemented significant troop increases may be necessary. The physical barrier on the east flank would require (according to MACV) about 7700 additional personnel--1 brigade, support and 2 NMCBs. The remainder of the system would generate requirements for 2 or 3 more brigades (possibly ROK), an armored cavalry squadron and support--a total Practice 9 force of about 40,000.
b) Assuming the presently planned force levels and combat pace, some minor reductions in construction and support personnel should be possible in CY 1968. The magnitude and phasing cannot be determined at this time but might total 10-15,000 personnel, beginning mid CY 1968.
c) If the war against the hard-core VC/NVA units should drop off sharply next year, it may be possible to withdraw a major slice of U.S. combat and support units--perhaps as many as 100,000. This would encompass one or two divisions and support and five to ten tactical fighter squadrons. Such a step would reduce the overall cost of the war to the U.S.A. and hopefully stimulate the GVN to play a more responsible role. It would also lessen the economic dislocations caused by the massive U.S. presence, and ease the burden in the U.S. of supporting the effort in SEA.
Interestingly only one of the three dealt with an increase while the others concentrated upon step-downs in U.S. strength. The barrier remained a high probability-planning as we have seen (as well as some stationing) was proceeding; the other two were definitely low probability events. All of these considerations at Guam could only lead the decision-makers to conclude that although more troops would probably be requested, their numbers would be relatively small.
Finally, the third thrust of the military discussions at Guam could be detected in the military briefings which repeatedly stressed MACV's alarm about the enemy campaigns unfolding in I CTZ. He believed that the VC/NVA main force operations concentrated in the I CTZ area were part of their initial attempt to seize the tactical initiative. Westmoreland was more than ever impressed by the size and equipment of those enemy forces in the area; in his eyes they posed a serious threat to U.S. operations not only in I CTZ but all of SVN. The General also saw opportunity beckon, for here the decisive battles would be fought--present and portended combat in I CTZ had become the schwerpunkt.
The record of what additional views were exchanged between COMUSMACV and the Washington leaders remains unclear. One can speculate that Westmoreland surely indicated he might require more troops, but he probably did not use any but round numbers, if he used them at all. At one point in John McNaughton's notes the notation "100,000 more troops to VN?" is listed under "Dirties," or unpleasant subjects for consideration, but other than that no formal record of force level discussions remains.
Guam 1967, was attacked in the press as a political jaunt that impressed few and exhausted many. Symbolic as it may have been, it hardly seemed worth a trip to the distant Pacific to introduce some new ambassadors and award some air crew medals in the rain. The rapid transit through time zones and wearing nature of the discussions generated little enthusiasm among the official entourage, a malaise reflected throughout the newspaper and official accounts of the trip. The mood of optimism about the ground war situation and the general low pressure aspect of the military side of the Guam Conference did little to prepare the decision-makers for the MACV-CINCPAC force requests which broke in late March.
2. The MACV Request: "Essential" Looks Like "Optimum"
On 18 March, General Westmoreland submitted his analysis of current MACV force requirements projected through FY 68. This request was to furnish the base line for all further force deployment calculations during the Program 5 period. In preface to his specific request, COMUSMACV reviewed his earlier CY 67 requirement which asked for 124 maneuver battalions with their necessary combat and combat service support, a total strength of 555,741. This figure was the maximum figure requested during the Program 4 deliberations. The approved Program 4 package included only 470,366 and was considerably below the MACV request, a fact which led to the series of reclamas described in Section II. Westmoreland related that MACV-CINCPAC had not strongly objected earlier to the 470,000-man ceiling because of adverse piaster impact and the realities of service capabilities, but, subsequent reassessment of the situation had indicated clearly to him that the Program 4 force, although enabling U.S. force to gain the initiative did not "permit sustained operations of the scope and intensity required to avoid an unreasonably protracted war."
As the cable continued, the American commander in Vietnam briefly restated his earlier assessment of enemy trends: That the enemy had increased his force structure appreciably and was now confronting Free World Military Forces with large bodies of troops in and above the DMZ, in the Laotian and Cambodian sanctuaries and certain areas within SVN. In light of this new appraisal, he had established an early requirement for an additional 2½ divisions which he proposed be accommodated by restructuring the original 555,741-man force package proposed during Program 4. This force was required "as soon as possible but not later than 1 July 1968." Part of the reasoning was that this in effect constituted no more than a 6-month "extension" of the CY 67 program and as such would permit shifting force programming from a Calendar Year to a Fiscal Year basis, a shift long needed in COMUSMACV's estimation to make force programming for Vietnam compatible with other programs and to provide essential lead time in the procurement of hardware. Westmoreland then looked further ahead, noting:
. . . . It is entirely possible that additional forces, over and above the immediate requirement for 2½ Divisions, will materialize. Present planning, which will undergo continued refinement, suggests an additional 2½ division equivalents whose availability is seen as extending beyond FY 68.
Then as if to take the edge off his request, COMUSMACV turned attention to
two programs which were becoming increasingly attractive to American decision-
makers. These were development of an improved RVNAF and an increase in the other Free World Military Forces committed to the war in Vietnam. He com
mented that despite the force ceiling on RVNAF currently in effect some selective increase in Vietnamese capabilities was required, such as creation of a suitable base for establishing a constabulary, an organization vital to the success of the Revolutionary Development program. Westmoreland stated that it was the position of his headquarters that provision for any and all Free World Military Forces was welcomed as "additive reinforcements," but they would be treated as additions only, thereby having no effect upon U.S. force computations.
The concept of operations under which the new forces he requested were to be employed varied little in its essential aspects from that outlined in MACV's February "Assessment of the Military Situation and Concept of Operations," which had reached Washington but a week earlier. However, the new cable integrated the new forces as part of the MACV operational forces. Westmoreland reviewed the period just past then turned to the future:
. . . . our operations were primarily holding actions characterized by border surveillance, reconnaissance to locate enemy forces, and spoiling attacks to disrupt the enemy offensive. As a result of our buildup and successes, we were able to plan and initiate a general offensive. We now have gained the tactical initiative, and are conducting continuous small and occasional large-scale offensive operations to decimate the enemy forces; to destroy enemy base areas and disrupt his infrastructure; to interdict his land and water LOC's and to convince him, through the vigor of our offensive and accompanying psychological operations, that he faces inevitable defeat.
Military success alone will not achieve the US objectives in Vietnam. Political, economic, and psychological victory is equally important, and support of Revolutionary Development program is mandatory. The basic precept for the role of the military in support of Revolutionary Development is to provide a secure environment for the population so that the civil aspects of RD can progress.
He then detailed corps by corps the two troop request requirements labeling
them the "optimum force" (4 2/3 Divs) and the "minimum essential
B. Force requirements FY 68
(1) The MACV objectives for 1967 were based on the assumption that the CY 67 force requirements would be approved and provided expeditiously within the capabilities of the services. However, with the implementation of Program Four, it was recognized that our accomplishments might fall short of our objectives. With the additional forces cited above, we would have had the capability to extend offensive operations into an exploitation phase designed to take advantage of our successes.
(2) With requisite forces, we shall be able to complete more quickly the destruction or neutralization of the enemy main forces and bases and, by continued presence, deny to him those areas in RVN long considered safe havens. As the enemy main forces are destroyed or broken up, increasingly greater efforts can be devoted to rooting out and destroying the VC guerrilla and communist infrastructure. Moreover, increased assistance can be provided the RVNAF in support of its effort to provide the required level of security for the expanding areas undergoing Revolutionary Development.
(3) Optimum Force. The optimum force required implement the concept of operations and to exploit success is considered 42/3 divisions or the equivalent; 10 tactical fighter squadrons with one additional base; and the full mobile riverine force. The order of magnitude estimate is 201,250 spaces in addition to the 1967 ceiling of 470,366 for a total of 671,616.
(A) In I Corps, the situation is the most critical with respect to existing and potential force ratios. As a minimum, a division plus a regiment is required for Quang Tn Province as a containment force. The latter has been justified previously in another plan. Employment of this force in the containment role would release the units now engaged there for expansion of the DaNang, Hue-Phu Bai and Chu Lai TAOR's as well as increase security and control along the corps' northern coastal areas. One of the most critical areas in RVN today is Quang Ngai Province even if a major operation were conducted in this area during 1967, the relief would be no more than temporary. A force is needed in the province to maintain continuous pressure on the enemy to eliminate his forces and numerous base areas, and to remove his control over the large population and food reserves. The sustained employment of a division of 10 battalions is mandatory in Quang Ngai Province if desired results are to be realized. Employment of this force would provide security for the vital coastal areas, facilitate opening and securing Route 1 and the railroad and, perhaps equally important, relieve pressure on northern Binh Dinh Province.
(B) In II Corps, the task is two fold: destroy the enemy main and guerrilla forces in the coastal areas; and contain the infiltration of NVA forces from Cambodia and Laos. Continual expansion both north and south of the present capital coastal TARO's opening and securing Route 1 and the railroad, securing Route 20 from Dalat south to the III Corps boundary, destruction of enemy forces in Pleiku and Kontum Provinces, and containment of the enemy forces in the Cambodian and Laotian sanctuaries are all tasks to be accomplished given the large area in II Corps and the continuous enemy threat, an optimum force augmentation of four separate brigades is required to execute effectively an exploitation of our successes. An infantry brigade is needed in northern Binh Dinh Province to expand security along the coastal area and to facilitate operations in Quang Ngai Province to the north. A mechanized brigade in the western highlands will assist in offensive and containment operations in the Pleiku-Kontum area. An infantry brigade in the region of Ban Me Thout is needed to conduct operations against enemy forces and bases there and to add security to this portion of II Corps now manned with limited ARVN forces, and finally, a mechanized brigade is needed in Binh Thuan Province to neutralize the enemy forces and bases in the southern coastal area, and to open and secure highway 1 and the national railroad to the III Corps boundary.
(C) In III Corps, operations to destroy VC/NVA main forces and bases in the northwestern & central parts of the corps area and to intensify the campaign against the enemy's infrastructure are being conducted. These operations are to be completed by intensive efforts to open and secure the principal land and water LOC's throughout the Corps Zone. However, deployment of the US 9th Div to IV Corps will create a gap in the forces available in III Corps to operate against seen significant base areas in Phuoc Tuy, Binh Tuy, and Long Lhanh Provinces. These areas constitute the home base of the still formidable 5th VC Division. This unit must be destroyed, its bases neutralized and Route 1 and the national railroad opened and secured. Other critical locales that will require considerable effort are War Zone D and Phuoc Long area in which the VC 7th Division is believed to be located. With the forces operating currently in III Corps, substantial progress can be made, but to exploit effectively our successes an addition of one division, preferably air mobile is required. By basing this division in Bien Hoa Province just north of the RSSZ, it would be in position to conduct operations against the 5th Div, and War Zone D, as well as to reinforce the US 9th Div in Delta operations as required.
(D) In IV Corps, with deployment of the US 9th Div to the Corps area and with increasing success of ARVN operations there, the situation will be greatly improved. Primary emphasis will be given to destroying VC main and guerrilla units and their bases, to intensifying operations to extend GVN control, to stopping the flow of food stuffs and materials to the enemy through Cambodia, and to assisting in the flow of goods to GVN outlets in Saigon. In addition emphasis will be accorded the opening and securing of principal water and land LOC's which are the key to all operations in the Delta. It is noteworthy on this score, that effectiveness of forces available is hampered severely by an inadequate mobile riverine force. In IV Corps, the essential requirement is to flesh out the mobile riverine force with three APB's (Barracks Ships) one ARL (repair ship), and two RAS (river assault squadrons).
(4) The Minimum Essential Force necessary to exploit success of the current offensive and to retain effective control of the expanding areas being cleaned of enemy influence is 2½ divisions with a total of 21 maneuver battalions. One division, with nine infantry battalions--each with 4 rifle companies--and an ACR of three squadrons are required. The other division of nine maneuver battalions, each battalion organized with four rifle companies is required in Quang Ngai Province. Four tactical fighter squadrons, each generating 113 sorties per month per identified maneuver battalion, are required. Two squadrons will be stationed at Phu Cat and two at Tuy Hoa. One C-130 or equivalent type squadron can provide adequate airlift and is justified on the basis of current planning factors: This SQD would be based at Cam Ranh Bay. A minimum essential logistic base can be provided by selective augmentation of NSA DaNang, and by provision for lift capability equivalent to eight LST's in addition to two LST's identified previously for the containment force in Quang Tri Province. Two nondivisional Army combat engineer battalions and four Army construction battalions will be required to support divisional engineering effort to augment two navy construction battalions that previously have been identified with the containment force in Quang Tri Province.
(B) Effectiveness of the US 9th Division's operations in IV Corps will be degraded unacceptably without adequate mobility on the waterways. For this reason, addition of two river assault squadrons with their associated support is deemed essential. The Mekong Delta Mobile Riverine Force originally was tailored and justified as a four RSA level. This requirement still is valid. The primary media of transport in the Delta are air and water. Air mobility is recognized as critical to success of operations in the area, but the size of offensive operations that can be mounted is limited by the inherent physical limitations of airborne vehicles. Accordingly, any sizeable offensive operation such as those visualized for the US 9th Division must utilize the 300km of waterways in the Delta to exploit tactical mobility. Maintenance of LOC's and population control in the areas secured by the division's operations, along with extension of the interdiction effort, necessitates expansion of the game warden operation. Fifty PBR's can provide this capability based on experience factors accrued thus far.
The piaster impact of this request to which much lip-service was still being paid varied from 44 billion piasters for the 4½ division optimum force to 41.7 billion piasters for the minimum essential force. The proposed increase added an estimated 1.1 billion piasters to the 1967 program for a total estimated cost of 46.7 billion estimated additional costs for CY 68 under the projected programs would total 2.8 billion piasters, 1.2 billion coming during January through June and the remaining 1.6 billion for July through December.
Westmoreland concluded the long request with an observation which was to provide the basis for considerable dispute within the government. He wrote:
. . . . Whereas deployment of additional U.S. forces in FY 68 will obviate the requirement for a major expansion of the RVNAF, selective increases are necessary to optimize combat effectiveness. Regular forces proposed for FY 68 total 328,322, an increase of 6,367 spaces of the FY 67 authorization. As US, Free World and RVNAF operations are expanded, additional areas will be made available for the conduct of Revolutionary Development operations. Based on experience gained thus far, an increase of 50,000 RF/PF spaces will be required to provide a planning figure of 350,000 spaces for this force. The increase will accommodate necessary support of Revolutionary Development and concomitantly, will be compatible with requirements incident to implementation of the constabulary concept.
His emphasis upon RF/PF spaces in lieu of expansion of the RVNAF which could theoretically substitute for additional U.S. troops prompted many who disagreed with the basic increases to ask why the US should meet such expanded troop requirements when the Government of South Vietnam would neither mobilize its manpower nor effectively employ it according to US wishes.
3. The JCS Take Up the March: The CINCPAC Force Requirements Task Group and JCSM-218-67.
JCS reaction to the COMUSMACV message was predictably rapid. The Chiefs realized that the general analysis provided in the original MACV request would prove to be inadequate for the SecDef to either assess the validity of the requirements or the sufficiency of the means of meeting them. Consequently, they directed that detailed analyses be submitted to them from MACV/CINCPAC on a time-phased basis commencing on 26 March. In a realistic reflection of the feasibility of the two proposals, the JCS required that the minimum essential force be addressed in as much detail as time permitted and that the optimum force be addressed in only general terms. They asked that the analysis include not only an expansion of the concept but: (1) a listing of the force requirements additive to OSD Program 4; (2) the rationale to validate these increased requirements; (3) the service capabilities to provide validated force requirements; (4) the logistic implications and the discussion of any problem areas which they (MACV) anticipated in meeting them.
On 26 March COMUSMACV submitted to the CINCPAC Requirements Task Group a detailed troop listing for the 2½ division "minimum essential force." Other than providing a detailed list of TO&E's and unit small strengths, the document provides little of interest. It did stipulate that the northern portion of the minimum essential force would be directed toward an expanded infiltration interdiction mission and that the southern portion of the force would pursue "presently prescribed operations."
In a follow-up message to the Task Requirements Group on the 28th of March COMUSMACV again commented on the restrictive aspects of Program 4. This in turn was picked up and amplified by CINCPAC in a message to the JCS on the same day. CINCPAC pointed out that as of 9 March 1967 Program 4 was 38,241 spaces short of full implementation and that this figure included spaces for five battalions or their equivalents which could not be considered for trade-off purposes. All of these spaces, especially the battalion equivalents, were significant elements when considered within the perspective of MACV's operational requirements and could not be deleted without seriously impairing MACV capability to achieve its objectives. In light of this shortfall in Program 4 CINCPAC requested that the JCS reconsider its earlier proposal that a 4th rifle company be added to all U.S. Army infantry battalions in Vietnam. The logic behind such a raise in program ceiling which would increase materially the combat power and effectiveness of the infantry without increasing unit overhead was irrefutable in CINCPAC's eyes. CINCPAC proposed that the addition of the rifle companies, a total of 8,821 men, be added to the Program 4 ceiling for a total of 479,231 of all services. The space requirements for the 2½ division minimum essential force reflected in the OMUSMAC request would then be added on to the adjusted Program 4 total of 479,000. However, in the event that any or all of the spaces reflected in that 479,000 were not approved or that the package itself would be reduced, the Pacific Commander predicted grave curtailment in MACV operations and a danger that the operational objectives set for the force requirements initially would not be achieved.
By 28 March the JCS through the CINCPAC group had the detailed justification and planning calculations for the COMUSMACV 67 force requirements in hand. MACV had added little that was new in the way of strategic concept other than to reaffirm their intention to concentrate on certain priority areas in each corps tactical zone. Priority areas themselves were selected because they seemed best suited to achieve destruction or neutralization of enemy main forces and bases-persistently prime MACV goals. Despite this strong declaration of intent MACV hedged by noting that "the enemy will be struck wherever he presents a lucrative target." Forces would also be maintained by MACV outside the priority areas to contain the enemy in his out of country sanctuaries. In this connection, the planners anticipated that there would be large scale offensive operations continuously conducted during FY 68 to detect and destroy infiltration or invasion forces in the DMZ-Highland Border regions.
If the forces outlined under the optimum force request were granted priority was to be accorded to the expansion of secure areas. The RVNAF would be given the primary responsibility of providing military support of Revolutionary Development activities and Revolutionary Development operations would be intensified throughout the country as the pacified areas were expanded. MACV explained that such increased demands on the RVNAF would establish a concomitant demand for additional U.S. force resources to fill the operational void resulting from the intensified Revolutionary Development orientation of the RVNAF. The long message also broke out the minimum essential and optimum package forces by service and by total troops as shown in the table below.
|(2-1/3 Div Min essential force)||(2-1/3 Div Addition for optimum force package)||(Total Optimum Force)|
* Includes 5,547 spaces required to incorporate MACOV Study recommendations
The total optimum force end strength was 678,248 arrived at by adding the approved Program 4 strength of 470,000 to the earlier MACV reclama of 8,821 (see page 428 this section) and the "optimum force" additive of 199,017. The justification for additional forces broken out by corps tactical zones were essentially the same as those presented in the original MACV request on 18 March. However, the later document prepared at PACOM Hqs on the 28th reflected the increased concern with the enemy threat developing in the I Corps tactical zone. Concerning this threat, COMUSMACV wrote:
In I Corps tactical zone, the bulk of the population and the food producing regions are within 15 miles of the coast. In the northern part of the zone, multiple NVA Divisions possess the capability to move south of the DMZ. Additionally, there is constant enemy activity in much of the coastal area. The topography of I Corps lends itself to the establishment and maintenance of enemy base areas in the remote, sparsely populated regions. The enemy has operated for years virtually unmolested throughout most of Quang Ngai Province because friendly forces could not be diverted from other important tasks.
There are several important tasks which must be performed in I Corps. Security of bases and key population centers must be maintained. The area under GVN control must be extended by expanding existing TAOR's, and by opening and securing major LOC's, particularly Route 1. The enemy must be contained in his sanctuaries, and denied use of infiltration and invasion routes. Enemy main forces and bases must be sought out and destroyed. Surveillance and reconnaissance in force throughout the CTZ must complement the tasks discussed above.
The deployment of a division and an armored cavalry regiment to Quang Tn Province, south of the DMZ, would make it possible for Marine Corps units now conducting containment operations to secure and expand tactical areas of responsibility (TAOR's).
The RVNAF and US/FWMAF will intensify operations against organized enemy forces and base areas in and near the populated and food producing areas of the coastal plains thus denying them access to population and food resources.
Clearing and securing operations will be pursued to facilitate the expansion of the secured areas, the ultimate goal being to connect the Hue-Phu Bai, Danang, and Chu Lai TAOR's. The following major LOC's will be opened and secured: Route 9, from Route 1 to Thon San Lam; and Route 1 and the railroad throughout the entire length of I CTZ, including the spur to the An Hoa industrial complex.
One of the most critical areas in the RVN today is Quang Ngai Province. A division is required there to maintain continuous pressure on the enemy, to eliminate his forces and numerous base areas, and to remove his control over large population and food resources.
Sustained employment of a division in Quang Ngai would obviate the necessity to use other forces to meet a critical requirement. The division would provide security for the coastal area, facilitate opening and securing Route 1 and the railroad, and relieve some of the pressure on northern Binh Dinh Province. Of particular significance is the support which would be provided to the RVNAF in securing the important Mo Duc Area with its dense population and three annual rice crops. Additionally, deployment of the division as discussed above would allow III MAF to expand its clearing and securing operations into the heavily populated Tam Ky area north of the Chu Lai TAOR. Long term security must be provided for both of these areas so that Revolutionary Development can progress.
Failure to provide two and one-third divisions for I CTZ would result in the diversion of existing forces from other tasks to deny and defeat infiltration or invasion. Security in support of Revolutionary Development could not be increased to the desired degree in the coastal area, the major LOC's could not be opened throughout the CTZ, and the enemy would be able to continue operating virtually unmolested throughout the key Quang Ngai Province.
It is emphasized that the relationship of the two and one-third division force requirement for I Corps to that of Practice Nine is coincidental. This force is the minimum essential required to support operations planned for FY 68 without reference to Practice Nine.
. . . .
The next most dangerous situation appeared to be that in II Corps, a diverse geographical area which included major population centers along the coastal plains as well as sizeable population centers and military bases on the western plateau, such as Binh Dinh, Anke, Kontum, and Pleiku. Here the enemy, orienting himself on the population, presented a different problem which, in the words of General Westmoreland, required "a high degree of mobility and flexibility in U.S./FWMAF/RVNAF." As he analysed the corps tactical situation, Westmoreland reemphasized what he had already said about containing the large enemy military forces at the boundaries of the sanctuaries:
Enemy forces in the Pleiku and Kontum areas must be destroyed, and infiltration from Cambodia and Laos must be contained. Forces in-country will continue to make progress in areas of current deployment. Those programmed for deployment will augment this effort. However, there are gaps, as discussed below, that must be filled before success can be exploited and minimum essential security can be provided within the II Corps area.
Large enemy forces remaining in heavily populated Binh Dinh Province must be destroyed. Security must be established and maintained in the northern portion of the province, particularly along the coastal area, so that Revolutionary Development can progress, these security forces also will facilitate the conduct of operations in Quang Ngai Province.
Inadequacy of forces in the border areas is a significant weakness in II Corps. Reinforcement of units in the western highlands is needed to assist in the conduct of offensive and containment operations. With the large enemy forces located in border sanctuaries, II Corps is faced constantly with the possible requirement to divert critical resources from priority tasks to counter large scale intrusion.
The most pressing military objective in III Corps area was to expand security radially from the Saigon-Cholon area. MACV planned to accomplish this primarily by standard clearing and security operations featuring an intensified campaign conducted to root out the VC infrastructure. In conjunction with this, continuous pressure presumably in the form of search and destroy operations would be applied to the enemy in War Zones C and D, the Iron Triangle, and the base area clusters in the Phuoc Long area. Denial of these areas to the enemy would provide a protective shield behind which the Revolutionary Development programs could operate. However, deployment of the U.S. 9th Division to the 4th Corps area would create a gap in the forces available in III Corps and seriously degrade the capability to provide this shield. The possible repositioning of the assets existing within III Corps to either I CTZ in the north or the 9th Division relocation just to the south just mentioned could also seriously limit the offensive capabilities in the northern and central portion of III Corps. Accordingly, COMUSMACV expressed an urgent requirement for an additional division for III Corps. This unit would be positioned just north of the Rung Sat operation zone and would assist in maintaining the protective shield around Saigon-Cholon. Revolutionary Development operations would then be able to proceed unhindered and operations against the VC 5th Division could be reinforced if required.
Throughout the force requirement justifications, one is immediately struck
by the implicit ordering of the priorities for assignment of forces and missions.
It is quite clear that the "minimum essential force" which COMUSMACV
requested was intended to be employed against VC/NVA main force units in a containment
role in the border areas and a destruction-disruption mode in I CTZ as well
as the base areas within the country itself. Those forces over and above the
essential," so labelled the "optimum force," were those intended to take up the slack in the RD "shield" role. MACV, probably rightly, calculated that not even minimal gains such as were forthcoming in the under-manned RD program would be possible unless the VC/NVA main force operations could be stymied and kept from directly assaulting the "shields."
Before the JCS could formally ratify the COMUSMACV-CINCPAC FY 68 force requirements, two other events transpired which had significant influence on the development of ground force requirements. On 7 April, as the situation in I CTZ deteriorated COMUSMACV posted a provisional division named Task Force OREGON to Quang Ngai Province. This development caused a reappraisal of the 2½ division minimum essential force requirement submitted in the 28 March message. In effect, the requirement for a division in Quang Ngai Province which was identified in the late March cable was being filled by Task Force OREGON. The provisional division was composed of the 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, 196th Light Infantry Brigade and the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. Permanent assignment of the airborne brigade to the north had an especially adverse impact because it was the sole reserve of the First Field Force. This shifting of forces created an undesirable situation in that MACV would possibly be forced to assign a mechanized battalion as the Field Force reserve. Accordingly, COMUSMACV cancelled his urgent request for a cavalry unit in the north and asked to delay further discussions on this subject until during his visit to Washington in the next two weeks. Concurrent with the movement of Task Force OREGON to the north COMUSMACV submitted via CINCPAC to the JCS a request to deploy the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade from Okinawa to South Vietnam. JCSM 208-67, prepared by the Chiefs on the subject, proposed that two special landing forces from the brigade be stationed off the Vietnamese coast to be committed when required by COMUSMACV and the remainder of the MAB placed on 15-day call in Okinawa. The proviso that unless these forces were employed on a contingency basis they would revert to their normal schedules by 1 September was inserted in the recommendation at CINCPAC's request. He disagreed with the dismemberment of the PACOM strategic reserve. This proposal was approved by the Secretary of Defense on 14 April and the brigade removed to Vietnamese waters shortly thereafter.
On 20 April, the JCS, in JCSM-218-67, formally reported to the Secretary of Defense that MACV required additional forces to achieve the objectives they considered the U.S. was pursuing in Vietnam. The JCS announcement came as little surprise to the Secretary of Defense since as early as 23 March he had seen the original message in which COMUSMACV had outlined the minimum essential and optimum force requirements.
JCSM-l 28-67 reaffirmed the basic objectives and strategic concepts contained in JCSM 702-66 dated 4 November 1966. Briefly, these entailed a national objective of attaining a stable and independent non-communist government in South Vietnam and a four-fold military contribution toward achieving the objectives of:
(a) Making it as difficult and costly as possible for the NVA to continue effective support of the VC and to cause North Vietnam to cease direction of the VC insurgency.
(b) To defeat the VC/NVA and force the withdrawal of NVA forces.
(c) Extend government dominion, direction and control.
(d) To deter Chinese Communists from direct intervention in SEA.
The JCS listed three general areas of military effort that they felt should be pursued in the war:
(1) Operations against the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Army (VC/ NVA) forces in SVN while concurrently assisting the South Vietnamese Government in their nation-building efforts.
(2) Operations to obstruct and reduce the flow of men and materials from North Vietnam (NV) to SVN.
(3) Operations to obstruct and reduce imports of war-sustaining materials into NVN.
They continued by assessing the achievements of the US and allies in these three areas:
In the first area, the United States and its allies have achieved considerable success in operations against VC/NVA forces. However, sufficient friendly forces have not been made available to bring that degree of pressure to bear on the enemy throughout SVN which would be beyond his ability to accommodate and which would provide the secure environment essential to sustained progress in Revolutionary Development. The current reinforcement of I CTZ by diversion of forces from II and III CTZs reduces the existing pressure in those areas and inevitably will cause a loss of momentum that must be restored at the earliest practicable date.
In the second area, US efforts have achieved appreciable success. Greater success could be realized if an expanded system of targets were made available.
In the third area, relatively little effort has been permitted. This failure to obstruct and reduce imports of war-sustaining materials into NVN has affected unfavorably the desired degree of success of operations in the other areas.
The Joint Chiefs strongly recommended not only the approval of additional forces to provide an increased level of effort in SVN but that action be taken to reduce and obstruct the enemy capability to import the material support required to sustain the war effort. They argued that the cumulative effect of all these operations, in South Vietnam, in North Vietnam and against the enemy's strategic lines of communication would hasten the successful conclusion of the war and would most likely reduce the overall ultimate force requirements. Their rationale for the 1968 forces was summarized as follows:
The FY 1968 force for SVN is primarily needed to offset the enemy's increased posture in the vicinity of the DMZ and to improve the environment for Revolutionary Development in I and IV CTZs. To achieve the secure environment for lasting progress in SVN, additional military forces must be provided in order to (1) destroy the enemy main force, (2) locate and destroy district and provincial guerrilla forces, and (3) provide security for the population. The increased effort required to offset VC/NVA main forces' pressure is diminishing the military capability to provide a secure environment to villages and hamlets. Diversion of forces from within SVN and the employment of elements of CINCPAC's reserve are temporary measures at the expense of high-priority programs in other parts of SVN. Thus, if sufficient units are to be available to provide both direct and indirect support to Revolutionary Development throughout SVN, added forces must be deployed.
The three-TFS force for Thailand and the additional Navy forces in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Tonkin are required to bring increased pressures to bear on NVN.
The service capabilities to meet the force requirements which the chiefs recommended presented another problem. The JCS examined these capabilities under two alternative cases:
Case I--No Reserve callup or extension of terms of service. Present tour and rotation policies would be maintained. By July 1968, only a one and one-third Army division force, a part of the mobile riverine force, and no additional Marine Corps forces could be in place in SVN. A second Army division force to fill out the FY 1968 requirement probably could not be provided until the first half of FY 1970. The additional 8 gun cruiser, five additional destroyers, and about half of the in-country naval forces could be provided in FY 1968, but only by the undesirable expedient of extending present periods of deployment. The three TFS in Thailand and five in SVN requested by CINCPAC could be furnished in FY 1968. Three TFS in SVN would be required to meet the need for air support of the one and one-third divisions that could be deployed in FY 1968.
Case II--Callup of Reserves and a twelve-month involuntary extension of terms of service. Present tour and rotation policies would be maintained. A Reserve callup and the collateral actions enumerated below would enable the Services to provide the major combat forces required. [material missing]
(a) CONUS depot assets and programmed production deliveries not committed to higher priority requirements.
(b) Operational project stocks.
(c) Contingency stocks. (d) Reserve components not scheduled for callup.
(e) Pre-positioned equipment Europe.
(f) Diversion of items for recently activated units.
(g) Drawdown from nondeploying active units in CONUS.
(2) Reopening of CONUS inactive installations, as required.
4. The Stimulation of Inter-agency Reviews: A Proliferation of Alternatives
The Chiefs' recommendations, if carried out, promised to spawn significant political and economic repercussions and they stimulated a plethora of interagency reviews and studies of the situation in Vietnam. The majority of these in one way or another examined the wisdom of sending more forces there. The first of these reviews originated in the State Department, in the office of Undersecretary Nicholas deB. Katzenbach. In a memorandum, he listed three jobs which he felt had to be done in Vietnam.
1. Assess the current situation in Viet-Nam and the various political and military actions which could be taken to bring this to a successful conclusion;
2. Review the possibilities for negotiation, including an assessment of the ultimate U.S. position in relationship to the DRV and NLF; and
3. Assess the military and political effects of intensification of the war in South Viet-Nam and in North Viet-Nam.
He asked that the responsible agencies (Defense, White House, CIA, State) prepare relevant study papers under the three tasks which he outlined. DOD was asked to define and analyze consequences of two likely alternatives: the first, Course A, added a minimum of 200,000 men and greatly intensified military actions outside the south especially against the north. This option included two deployment phases. The first coinciding to the minimum essential force which General Westmoreland and the JCS had requested, that is 100,000 troops (2½ divisions plus 4 tactical air squadrons) to be deployed in FY 67 and a second phase of another 100,000 (2½ divisions and 6 tactical air squadrons) to be deployed in FY 67. Course A, as Katzenbach described it, also included "more later to fulfill the JCS alternate requirements." Course B confined troop increases to "those that could be generated without calling up the reserves"--perhaps 9 battalions or about 10,000 men in the next year.
The first option, Course A, was to be analyzed across a matrix of many factors such as cost, actions required, trends, call up of reserves, extension of tours, enlargement of uniformed strength, effect on U.S. force deployment, involvement in pacification, possible stimulation by this course of great intensification of military actions outside South Vietnam including invasion of North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The domestic reaction including possible polarization of opinion and stimulation of pressures for actions outside Vietnam, the manner in which to approach the public and the Congress on this course, and finally the international reactions on the part of the North Vietnamese, Soviets, Chinese and other nations were also to be examined. The Undersecretary also asked for an analysis of the effect of Course A on the possibilities for a settlement.
In addition to addressing the same considerations as under Course A in Part B, the respondents were asked to analyze how our military strategy under this meager troop level increase would differ from that of the larger level, how the level of actions against North Vietnam and Cambodia would look, the effect of such a small added increment on our flexibility, and the effect on the VC/NVA. Finally, McNaughton representing DOD was requested to analyze possible bombing strategies in the North as they related to both courses of action.
Katzenbach suggested consideration of measures which could be taken in the south to strengthen the GVN and develop the RVNAF as a substitute for more U.S. troops, thereby placing primary emphasis on the war in the South and perhaps allow us to cut back on the bombing in the North. Katzenbach also felt that some consideration should be given to a study of the present use of U.S. forces and whether they are being used in the most efficient ways possible, in effect a reappraisal of ground force strategy. He asked that such measures as the following be discussed:
(a) Expansion of RF/PF by 100,000 in FY 1968;
(b) Efforts to improve RVNAF leadership, including insistence on dismissal of incompetent commanders, withholding of MAP from ineffective units, and some sort of US rewards for competent commanders;
(c) A Joint Command;
(d) A great expansion of the US advisory structure, especially with RF/PF;
(e) Increased training for ARVN;
(f) Increase RVNAF pay, housing, rations and other incentives; push for a better promotion policy;
(g) Improve RVNAF equipment.
On the same day, 24 April, Robert Komer, upon his departure from Washington
for Saigon submitted a memo to the President in which he presented his
thoughts on future strategy in Vietnam. He began by lamenting the emergence of a tendency on the part of the United States to resort in our frustration to actions in Vietnam which we could control, e.g. bombing operations, U.S. ground force operations in lieu of what he termed "the much tougher, slower and less certain measures required to make the Vietnamese pull their weight." He recommended that we reexamine trade-offs for making the Vietnamese do their part because, in his estimation, measures which had been previously rejected looked a great deal more appealing now when matched against the potential alternatives of major troop increases or a widened bombing offensive. He concluded that the critical variable in the equation for success in Vietnam during the following 12-18 months was the conflict in the South. He saw the VC as the "weak sister" of the enemy team; in fact, he believed that the NVA strategy in I Corps was designed to take pressure off the VC in the South. Then he addressed ways to maximize the chances of a breakthrough in the South:
Therefore, if we could maximize the pressures of all kinds on the VC--direct and indirect--political, economic, psychological and military--we might at the optimum force Hanoi to fade away, or at the minimum achieve such success as to make clear to all that the war was being won. Such a course would also reinforce the pressures for negotiation. But if we can't get a settlement in 12-18 months, at the least we should shoot for such concrete results in South Vietnam that it might permit us to start bringing a few troops home rather than sending ever more out.
I confess here to a strong bias that we are already winning the war in the South. No one who compares the situation today to that of April 1966 (much less April 1965) can deny we're doing better. But many contend we've just stopped losing, not started winning. Much depends on one's confidence in our 0/B estimates, which I for one flatly question--especially with regard to VC recruiting rates and losses in the South. Much also depends on how much weight one gives to political trends, changing popular attitudes, etc. But I won't argue the case here--time will tell who's right. In any case, we're not drawing ahead clearly enough or fast enough to optimize our confidence in achieving a 12-18 month turnaround.
Finally, he questioned the rationale for the major force increases COMUSMACV had asked:
How Much Would We Achieve from a Major New US Force Commitment? COMUSMACV is asking for 210,000 men no later than June 1968 and roughly 100,000 as soon as possible (on top of the 470,000 plus 60,000 ROK's, etc. already programmed). However, MAC V's justification for these added forces needs further review. To what extent are they based on inflated 0/B estimates of enemy strength? If enemy main force strength is now levelling off because of high kill ratios, etc., would the added US forces be used for pacification? General De Puy estimates that 50% of US/ROK maneuver battalions are already supporting RD by dealing with the middle war, the VC main force provincial battalions. How good are US forces at pacification-related tasks, as compared to RVNAF? What are the trade-offs? A major US force commitment to pacification also basically changes the nature of our presence in Vietnam and might force us to stay indefinitely in strength. Whether or not the added US forces would become heavily involved in pacification, however, another major US force increase raises so many other issues that we must carefully examine whether this trip is necessary.
To this Komer added a package of alternative measures designed to get the GVN moving-militarily, politically, economically-all of which he felt might reduce or obviate the need for a major U.S. force increase. This program included:
1. First is an all-out effort to get more for our money out of RVNAF. We have trained and equipped over 650,000 (and for so little cost that it is a good investment in any case). But can't we greatly increase the return?
(a) Insist on jacking up RVNAF leadership at all levels. All observers agree that this is RVNAF's most critical weakness. A massive attack on it could pay real short-run dividends. Insist on dismissal of incompetent commanders. Find US means for rewarding competent ones, such as withholding MAP from ineffective units.
(b) Insist on a joint Command. Putting at least ARVN under Westy and his corps commanders might be the best short-run way to get more response out of ARVN. If it would ease the GVN problem, the contingents of the other five contributors could be added . . . [words illegible]
(c) Greatly Expand the US Advisory Structure, Especially with RF/PF. Here's another quick way to get more for our money. In some cases the troop to advisor ratio in RF/PF is 1,000 to 1. Only 1,200 advisors (the strength of one USMC maneuver battalion) might have many times the payoff.
(d) Expand RVNAF as a substitute for more US forces. Westy wants 50,000 more RF/PF in FY 1968. Let's consider 100,000 in a two-phase expansion.
(e) Increase RVNAF pay, housing, ration, and other incentives. Bull through a better promotion policy. The savings from cutting back on nonproductive units and expenditures might finance much of the increase.
(f) Enrich RVNAF equipment. I'm told the rifles and carbines are poor, that more radios for RF/PF would help greatly, that new equipment would build up morale and effectiveness.
A crash program along the above lines would be cheap at the price, in fact so cheap that we probably ought to do most of it anyway. Piaster and manpower constraints are manageable in my view.
2. Expand civilian pacification program along similar lines:
(a) We're turning out RD teams about as fast as feasible. So supplement them with instant RD teams on model of civil/military team in Binh Dinh.
(b) Even 44 more US advisors for RD teams would make a big supervisory difference. Ditto for 50 more US advisors for the police.
(c) Give RD teams and police all the equipment they need-from military stocks.
(d) Integrate the US advisory effort on pacification to provide a new forward thrust.
(e) Press harder for removal of incompetent or corrupt province and district officials.
3. Revamp and put new steam behind a coordinated US/GVN intelligence collation and action effort targeted on the VC infrastructure at the critical provincial, district, and village levels. We are just not getting enough payoff yet from the massive intelligence we are increasingly collecting. Police/military coordination is sadly lacking both in collection and in swift reaction.
4. Press much harder on radical land reform initiatives designed to consolidate rural support behind the GVN.
5. Step up refugee programs deliberately aimed at depriving the VC of a recruiting base.
His argument and one which he was about to have the opportunity to prove in Vietnam was simply that such a package of measures might offer just as much prospect of accelerating the favorable trends in SVN over the next 12-18 months as new U.S. military commitments. He closed by pointing out that the "Komer package" could be combined with other U.S. unilateral measures such as a minor force increase to the 500,000 level, accelerated emphasis on the barrier, and some increased bombing, but he cautioned that all of this was vitally dependent upon his underlying premise that we were already doing well enough in SVN "to see light at the end of the tunnel." But, despite his optimistic assumptions he believed that his package at least offered sufficient promise to deserve urgent review by the President.
On 25 April, General Westmoreland returned to the U.S. ostensibly to address the Associated Press Annual Convention in New York, but actually to both undertake an intensive review of his strategy and force requirements for Vietnam in 1967 and to marshall public support for the war effort. John McNaughton, then ASD(ISA) reported portions of the conversation which occurred between the President, General Westmoreland, and General Wheeler on 27 April 1967. Westmoreland was quoted as saying that without the 2 1/3 additional divisions which he had requested "we will not be in danger of being defeated but it will be nip and tuck to oppose the reinforcements the enemy is capable of providing. In the final analysis we are fighting a war of attrition in Southeast Asia."
Westmoreland predicted that the next step if we were to pursue our present strategy to fruition would probably be the second addition of 2 1/3 divisions or approximately another 100,000 men. Throughout the conversations he repeated his assessment that the war would not be lost but that progress would certainly be slowed down. To him this was "not an encouraging outlook but a realistic one." When asked about the influence of increased infiltration upon his operations the general replied that as he saw it "this war is action and counteraction. Anytime we take an action we expect a reaction." The President replied: "When we add divisions can't the enemy add divisions? If so, where does it all end?" West-moreland answered: "The VC and DRV strength in SVN now totals 285,000 men. It appears that last month we reached the crossover point in areas excluding the two northern provinces." (Emphasis added.) "Attritions will be greater than additions to the force. . . . The enemy has 8 divisions in South Vietnam. He has the capability of deploying 12 divisions although he would have difficulty supporting all of these. He would be hard pressed to support more than 12 divisions. If we add 2 1/2 divisions, it is likely the enemy will react by adding troops." The President then asked "At what point does the enemy ask for volunteers?" Westmoreland's only reply was, "That is a good question."
COMUSMACV briefly analyzed the strategy under the present program of 470,000 men for the President. He explained his concept of a "meat-grinder" where we would kill large numbers of the enemy but in the end do little better than hold our own, with the shortage of troops still restricting MACV to a fire brigade technique-chasing after enemy main force units when and where it could find them. He then predicted that "unless the will of the enemy is broken or unless there was an unraveling of the VC infrastructure the war could go on for 5 years. If our forces were increased that period could be reduced although not necessarily in proportion to increases in strength, since factors other than increase in strength had to be considered. For instance, a non-professional force, such as that which would result from fulfilling the requirement for 100,000 additional men by calling reserves, would cause some degradation of normal leadership and effectiveness." Westmoreland concluded by estimating that with a force level of 565,000 men, the war could well go on for three years. With a second increment of 2 1/3 divisions leading to a total of 665,000 men, it could go on for two years.
General Wheeler, who was present during the discussions, then interjected his concern about the possibility that U.S. may face military threats in other parts of the world simultaneous with an increase in strength in Vietnam. He commented that the JCS was then reviewing possible responses to threats in South Korea, Soviet pressure on Berlin, the appearance of "volunteers" sent to Vietnam from Soviet Union, North Korea and Red China and even over intervention by Red China. Additionally, he listed three matters more closely related to Vietnam which were bothering the JCS. These were:
(a) DRV troop activity in Cambodia. US troops may be forced to move against these units in Cambodia.
(b) DRV troop activity in Laos. US troops may be forced to move against these units.
(c) Possible invasion of North Vietnam. We may wish to take offensive action against the DRV with ground troops.
The bombing which had always attracted considerable JCS attention was in Wheeler's estimation about to reach the point of target saturation-when all worthwhile fixed targets except the ports had been struck. Once this saturation level was reached the decision-makers would be impelled to address the requirement to deny to the North Vietnamese use of the ports. He summarized the JCS position saying that the JCS firmly believed that the President must review the contingencies which they faced, the troops required to meet them and additional punitive action against DRy. Westmoreland parenthetically added that he was "frankly dismayed at even the thought of stopping the bombing program."
There followed a short exchange devoted to Cambodia and Laos in which Westmoreland described his impression of the role of Cambodia in the DRV's grand design, one which incorporated the use of Cambodia as a supply base, first for rice and later for ammunition. The American commander in Vietnam also believed we should confront the DRV with South Vietnamese forces in Laos. He reviewed his operational plan for Laos, entitled HIGH PORT, which envisioned an elite South Vietnamese division conducting ground operations in Laos against DRV bases and routes under cover of US artillery and air support. He saw the eventual development of Laos as a major battlefield, a development which would take some of the military pressure off the south. He also thought it would be wise to think in the same terms as HIGH PORT for Cambodia; he revealed that he also possessed contingency plans to move into Cambodia in the Chu Pong area, again using South Vietnamese forces but this time accompanied by US advisors.
The President closed the meeting by asking: "What if we do not add the 2 1/3 divisions?" General Wheeler replied first, observing that the momentum would die; in some areas the enemy would recapture the initiative, an important but hardly disastrous development, meaning that we wouldn't lose the war but it would be a longer one. He added that .
Of the 2 1/3 divisions, I would add one division on the DMZ to relieve the Marines to work with ARVN on pacification; and I would put one division east of Saigon to relieve the 9th Division to deploy to the Delta to increase the effectiveness of the three good ARVN divisions now there; the brigade I would send to Quang Ngai to make there the progress in the next year that we have made in Binh Dinh in the past year.
The President reacted by saying:
We should make certain we are getting value received from the South Vietnamese troops. Check the dischargees to determine whether we could make use of them by forming additional units, by mating them with US troops, as is done in Korea, or in other ways.
There is no record of General Westmoreland's reply, if any.
Little if anything new was revealed in the discussion but it serves to indicate the President's concern with the opportunity costs associated with the large force increase. The discussion also reveals the kind of estimates about the duration of the war which were reaching the President.
Two other memoranda outlining alternatives to the Westmoreland March request for additional troops were written by Mr. Richard Steadman of ISA and Mr. William Bundy of State for Undersecretary Katzenbach. The Steadman memo was nothing more than a brief review of the original MACV request and as such did not outline strategic alternatives. It was to provide a basis for portions of the analysis in the DPM prepared by McNaughton later in May. The Bundy memo, on the other hand, did analyze possible changes in our military strategy. He analyzed several factors which he believed seriously affected the direction of our military actions. Among these were:
Force Increases. In terms of contribution to our strategy over the next nine months, I believe any increase directly related to meeting the threat in the northern part of SVN, and at the same time, not reducing our effort in II and III Corps unacceptably, must be considered essential. (I have just lunched with Paul Nitze, who gives an off-the-cuff estimate that we may need a total increase of 50,000 to meet this specification.)
To the extent that any increase is related to needs in the Delta, I would be most skeptical of the total advantage of such action at least this year. The Delta does not lend itself to the most effective application of our forces, and the Viet Cong in the Delta are in key areas so deeply dug in that in the end they will be routed out only by a major change in the over-all situation, and particularly in the prestige and effectiveness of the GVN. (For example, this is already Colonel Wilson's conclusion with respect to key areas in Long An.)
In sum, we should leave IV Corps basically to the GVN, trying to deny it as a source of food and men, but leaving it to be truly pacified more slowly and later.
Apart from the military merits, any force increase that reaches the Plimsoll Line--calling up the Reserves--involves a truly major debate in Congress. Under present circumstances, I believe such a debate could only encourage Hanoi, and might also lead to pressures to go beyond what is wise in the North, specifically mining Haiphong. Unless there are over-riding military reasons--which I do not myself see--we should not get into such a debate this summer.
Ground Action Against North Vietnam. I understand this to be only a contingency thought in any event. I would be totally against it, for the simple reason that I believe the chances are 75-25 that it would bring the Chinese truly into the war and, almost equally important, stabilize the internal Chinese situation at least temporarily.
Laos. Last Friday we went through General Starbird's plans for more effective action against the Corridor in Laos. I think these make sense, although they cannot be expected to do more than make use of the Corridor somewhat more difficult. (We should at once get away from linking these with the true Obstacle planned in the eastern area of SVN next to the DMZ. The two are entirely different, and the words obstacle or barrier as related to Laos have very unfortunate political implications in both Laos and Thailand.) The small ground force teams Starbird needs in Laos can be handled, in Sullivan's judgment.
Beyond this point, Sullivan and I would both be strongly opposed to any such idea as sending a GVN division into Laos. It would almost certainly be ineffective, and the cry would at once go up to send more. Sullivan believes, and I agree, that Souvanna would object violently and feel that his whole position had been seriously compromised.
Bundy believed that Cambodia was becoming increasingly important to the North Vietnamese war effort. Nevertheless, he doubted, at that stage, if any significant change in our actions in Cambodia could really affect the supply routes or be worth the broad political damage of appearing to attack Cambodia.
Turning to the bombing in the north he commented:
E. Additional Action in the North. Of the major targets still not hit, I would agree to the Hanoi power station, but then let it go at that, subject only to occasional restrikes where absolutely required. In particular, on the airfields, I think we have gone far enough to hurt and not far enough to drive the aircraft to Chinese fields, which I think could be very dangerous.
I would strongly oppose the mining of Haiphong at any time in the next nine months, unless the Soviets categorically use it to send in combat weapons. (It may well be that we should warn them quietly but firmly that we are watching their traffic into Haiphong very closely, and particularly from this standpoint.) Mining of Haiphong, at any time, is bound to risk a confrontation with the Soviets and to throw Hanoi into greater dependence on Communist China. These in themselves would be very dangerous and adverse to the whole notion of getting Hanoi to change its attitude. Moreover, I think they would somehow manage to get the stuff in through China no matter what we did to Haiphong.
His concluding overall assessment of the situation was that Hanoi was waiting us out believing that the 1968 elections would cause us to change our position or even lose heart completely. He believed that our "herky-jerky" and impatient actions had greatly strengthened this belief in Hanoi. He felt that our major thrust must be now to persuade them that we were prepared to stick it out if necessary. He continued by turning to the political factors which he felt were really important:
B. The Real Key Factors in the Situation. I believe we are making steady progress in the South, and that there are things we can do--notably effort with ARVN--to improve the present slow pace of pacification. Overall progress in the South remains the key factor that could bring Hanoi to the right attitude and actions.
The really important element in the South over the next few months is political. There could be a tremendous gain if the elections are honest and widely participated in, and if the result is a balanced civilian/military government that commands real support in the South. Such a gain would do more than any marginal action, except for the essential job of countering the Communist thrust in I Corps.
At the same time, if the election process is thwarted by a military coup or if it is turned into a military steam-roller, the results could be sharply negative. We might even be forced to re-assess our basic policy. This is simply a measure of the vital importance of the political front for this year.
In addition, we must consider at all times the effect of the Chinese internal situation. We cannot affect whether convulsion resumes, but we should certainly avoid actions that might tend to reduce the possibility of convulsion. (This is argued strenuously by Edward Rice in Hong Kong 7581, received today.)
Argued in another way, I would now reckon that the odds are considerably better than 50-50 that there will be a renewal of convulsion in China in the next few months. In December and January, I think this was the added factor that caused Hanoi to give off a tremor and at least to make a significant tactical change in its position. If convulsion now occurs again, it will offset whatever encouragement Hanoi may have received from the apparent recent promise of additional Soviet aid and the easing of whatever transit tensions may have existed between Moscow and Peking. In fact, renewed convulsion in China could at some point become a really major factor to Hanoi. This is a dubious effect on which we cannot and should not rely. But it serves to put into focus the relative importance of any additional military actions, particularly in the North. And it is a very strong argument indeed against any additional step-up in our bombing of the North, or mining Haiphong.
C. Over-All Estimate. If we go on as we are doing, if the political process in the South comes off well, and if the Chinese do not settle down, I myself would reckon that by the end of 1967 there is at least a 50-50 chance that a favorable tide will be running really strongly in the South, and that Hanoi will be very discouraged. Whether they will move to negotiate is of course a slightly different question, but we could be visibly and strongly on the way.
If China should go into a real convulsion, I would raise these odds slightly, and think it clearly more likely that Hanoi would choose a negotiating path to the conclusion.
Just as many others were doing, Bundy revealed an increasing sensitivity for the urgent development of a coherent negotiating strategy. On this he wrote:
While we need a thorough review of our whole objectives and negotiating position, I doubt very much if we shall find any points on which we now wish to change our public position or to take any new initiative vis-a-vis Hanoi.
Basically, in line with the idea of conveying an impression of steady firmness to Hanoi, I think we should avoid new initiatives except as we have to respond to some significant third party such as U Thant or the Canadians. I would certainly not go into the UN or the World Court.
Behind this strategy lies the judgment that Hanoi is in all probability dug in at least until after the Vietnamese elections. After that, we could take another look, but I still doubt that any serious change will be indicated. If it is, some approach like the Ne Win one seems to me by far the most promising.
A key question is of course how we handle the Soviets. My own hunch is that Kosygin burned his fingers somewhat in February, but that they have built their position in Hanoi at least back to its former level. In the process, they will have almost certainly undertaken some additional aid. Knowing as they do all our peace moves, they may have a strong feeling that we are in a hurry and perhaps susceptible to change. This would argue against pressing them hard in the near future, as we did in early April in any event.
On the other hand, we certainly could impress upon them our belief that their own interest lies in getting the situation resolved, and that they should be exerting real influence to this end. But this should be coupled with a calm firmness in our own determination to go ahead and not to be thrown off by anything additional they may be doing or threaten to do. In the last analysis, they can judge whether they really have any leverage and how to exert it.
At any rate, the next major contacts with the Soviets-Dobrynin's return and Brown's visit to Moscow in late May-should in my judgment be played in this measured but essentially low key unless they come up with something. Brown is not himself inclined to try something new at the moment, and we should do nothing to encourage him. (He has a full plate anyway of other issues.)
Bundy's basically optimistic estimate (50-50 was in the context of the time optimistic) was partially supported by the reports of ground action coming out of South Vietnam, although the increasing enemy threat in I CTZ remained an ominous and somewhat puzzling development.
Go to the Next Section of Volume 4, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968," pp. 277-604
Glossary of Acronyms and Terms
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "Background to the Conflict, 1940-1950." pp. 1-52
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Involvement in the Franco-Viet Minh War, 1950-1954," pp. 53-107
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 3 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Geneva Conference, May-July, 1954," pp. 108-178.
Go to Volume 1, Chapter 4 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. and France in Indochina, 1950-56," pp. 179-241
Volume 1, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "Origins of the Insurgency
in South Vietnam, 1954-1960," pp. 242-314
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Kennedy Commitments and Programs, 1961,"pp. 1-127
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Strategic Hamlet Program, 1961-1963," pp. 128-159.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "Phased Withdrawal of U.S. Forces, 1962-1964," pp. 160-200.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem, May-November, 1963," pp. 201-276.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 5 of the Pentagon Papers, "US-GVN Relations, 1964-1967," pp. 277-407.
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 6 of the Pentagon Papers, "The Advisory Build-up, 1961-67," pp. 408-514
Go to Volume 2, Chapter 7 of the Pentagon Papers, "Re-Emphasis on Pacification: 1965-1967," pp. 515-623.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Programs in South Vietnam, Nov. 1963-Apr. 1965," pp. 1-105.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 2 of the Pentagon Papers, "Military Pressures Against North Vietnam, February 1964-January 1965," pp. 106-268.
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 3, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder Begins, February-June, 1965," pp. 269-388
Go to Volume 3, Chapter 4, of the Pentagon Papers, "American Troops Enter the Ground War, March-July 1965," pp. 389-485
Go to Volume 4, Chapter 1, of the Pentagon Papers, "The Air War in North Vietnam, 1965-1968," pp. 1-276.
Go to Volume 4, Chapter 2, of the Pentagon Papers, "U.S. Ground Strategy and Force Deployments, 1965-1968," pp. 277-604.
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