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Recommendations of Additional Deployments to Vietnam

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Notes for Memorandum from McNamara to Lyndon Johnson, "Recommendations of Additional Deployments to Vietnam," 20 July 1965

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 4, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 619-622

20 July 1965

Recommendations of additional deployments to VN

1. Our object in VN is to create conditions for a favorable outcome by demonstrating to the VC/DRV that the odds are against their winning. We want to create these conditions, if possible, without causing the war to expand into one with China or the Soviet Union and in a way which preserves support of the American people and, hopefully, of our allies and friends.

2. In my view a "favorable outcome" has nine fundamental elements:

a. VC stop attacks and drastically reduce incidents of terror and sabotage.

b. DRV reduces infiltration to a trickle, with some reasonably reliable method
of our obtaining confirmation of this fact.
c. US/GVN stop bombing of NVN.
d. GVN stays independent (hopefully pro-US, but possibly genuinely neutral).
e. GVN exercises governmental functions over substantially all of SVN.
f. Communists remain quiescent in Laos and Thailand.
g. DRV withdraws PAVN forces and other NVNese infiltrators (not regroupees) from SVN.
h. VC/NLF transform from a military to a purely political organization.
i. US combat forces (not advisors or AID) withdraw.

. . . . more likely to evolve without an express agreement than with one.

3. Estimate: The situation in SVN is worse than a year ago (when it was worse than a year before that). After a few months of stalemate, the tempo of the war has quickened. . . . The central highlands could well be lost to the NLF during this monsoon season. Since June 1, the GVN has been forced to abandon six district capitals; only one has been retaken. US combat troop deployments and US/VNAF strikes against the North have put to rest most SVNese fears that the US will forsake them, and US/VNAF air strikes in-country have probably shaken VC morale somewhat. Yet the government is able to provide security to fewer and fewer people in less and less territory as terrorism increases.

. . . . The odds are less than even that the Ky government will last out the year. Ky is "executive agent" for a directorate of generals.

. . . . The Govt-to-VC ratio overall is now only a little better than 3-to-1, and in combat battalions little better than 1.5-to-1

. . . . Nor have our air attacks in NVN produced tangible evidence of willingness on the part of Hanoi to come to the conference table in a reasonable mood. The DRV/VC seem to believe that SVN is on the run and near collapse; they show no signs of settling for less than complete takeover.

4. Options open to us:

a. Cut our losses and withdraw under the best conditions that can be arranged--almost certainly conditions humiliating the US and very damaging to our future effectiveness on the world scene.

b. Continue at about the present level, with the US forces limited to say 75,000, holding on and playing for the breaks--a course of action which, because our position would grow weaker, almost certainly would confront us later with a choice between withdrawal and an emergency expansion of forces, perhaps too late to do any good.
c. Expand promptly and substantially the US military pressure against the VC in the South and maintain the military pressure against the NVNese in the North while launching a vigorous effort on the political side to lay the groundwork for a favorable outcome by clarifying our objectives and establishing channels of communication. (Amb. Lodge states "any further initiative by us now--before we are strong--would simply harden the Communist resolve not to stop fighting." Ambs. Taylor and Johnson would maintain discreet contacts with the Soviets, but otherwise agree with Amb. Lodge.) This alternative would stave off defeat in the short run and offer a good chance of producing a favorable settlement in the longer run; at the same time, it would imply a commitment to see a fighting war clear through at considerable cost in casualties and materiel and would make any later decision to withdraw even more difficult and even more costly than would be the case today.

My recommendations in par. 5 below are based on the choice of the third alternative as the course of action involving the best odds of the best outcome with the most acceptable cost to the US.

5. There are now 15 US (and 1 Australian) combat battalions in VN; they together with other combat and non-combat personnel, bring the total US personnel in VN to approx. 15,000.

a. Increase by October to 34 maneuver battalions; plus other reinforcements, up to approx. 175,000. . . . It should be understood that the deployment of more men (perhaps 100,000) may be necessary in early 1966, and that the deployment of additional forces therefore is possible but will depend on developments. (Ask Congress to authorize call up of 235,000 men in Reserve and National Guard; increase regular forces by 375,000 men. By mid-66 US would have 600,000 additional men as protection against contingencies.)

((VNese have asked for forces: for 53 bns.))

. . . . The DRV, on the other hand, may well send up to several divisions of regular forces in SVN to assist the VC if they see the tide turning and victory, once so near, being snatched away. This possible DRV action is the most ominous one, since it would lead to increased pressures on us to "counter-invade" NVN and to extend air strikes to population targets in the North; acceding to these pressures could bring the Sovs and the Chinese in.

. . . . The success of the program from the military point of view turns on whether the VNese hold their own in terms of numbers and fighting spirit, and on whether the US forces can be effective in a quick-reaction reserve role, a role in which they are only now being tested. The number of US troops is too small to make a significant difference in the traditional 10-to-1 government-guerrilla formula, but it is not too small to make a significant difference in the kind of war which seems to be evolving in Vietnam--a "Third Stage" or conventional war in which it is easier to identify, locate and attack the enemy.

. . . . The SVNese under one government or another will probably see the thing through (Amb Lodge points out that we may face a neutralist government at some time in the future and that in those circumstances the US should be prepared to carry on alone) and the US public will support the course of action because it is a sensible and courageous military-political program designed and likely to bring about a success in Vietnam.

It should be recognized, however, that success against the larger, more conventional, VC/PAVN forces could merely drive the VC back into the trees and back to their 1960-64 pattern--a pattern against which US troops and aircraft would be of limited value but with which the GVN, with our help, could cope. The questions here would be whether the VC could maintain morale after such a setback, and whether the SVNese would have the will to hang on through another cycle. It should be recognized also that even in "success" it is not obvious how we will be able to disengage our forces from Vietnam. It is unlikely that a formal agreement good enough for the purpose could possibly be negotiated--because the arrangement can reflect little more than the power situation. A fairly large number of US (or perhaps international) forces may be required to stay in Vietnam.

The overall evaluation is that the course of action recommended in this memo . . . stands a good chance of achieving an acceptable outcome within a reasonable time in Vietnam.

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