220. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

This cable from Gen. Westmoreland spells out his concept of where heʼs come from since 1 May 1965 and where he proposes to go from 1 November 1966 forward—towards pacification, without reducing the heat on the VC and NVN main force units.

It underlines the need to mount a maximum political campaign, overt and covert, designed to defect VC and start Saigon VC negotiations as soon after the Sept. 11 election as possible.

That is the political track required to match Westmorelandʼs military plan which is, clearly, in the right direction; although he and Lodge must engage Ky and the ARVN fully if it is to work.





  • Concept of Military Operations in South Vietnam

In order to promote a better understanding of the role which military operations play in the overall effort in South Vietnam, I discern a [Page 604] need at this time to review the military situation in South Vietnam as it relates to our concepts; past, present and future. This is an appropriate time in light of the fact that we are on the threshold of a new phase in the conflict resulting from our recent battlefield successes and from the continuing US/Free World military buildup.

The enemy has launched a determined campaign to gain control of South Vietnam—its land, its people, and its government. There are no indications that the enemy has reduced his resolve. He has increased his rate of infiltration, formed divisions in South Vietnam, introduced new weapons, and maintained his lines of communications into South Vietnam in spite of our increased air efforts. He continues to use Laos and the border regions of Cambodia as sanctuaries and recently moved a division through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into the First Corps Tactical Zone. His campaign of terror, assassination, intimidation, sabotage, propaganda and guerilla warfare continues unabated. The enemy still holds sway over large segments of the land and population. Although thwarted in his overt large scale campaign, he is still determined.

As a companion of the foregoing appreciation of the present enemy situation, a review of our strategic concept for the past year would appear to be useful.

During the period 1 May 1965 to 1 November 1965, our task was to build up our combat and logistical forces; learn to employ them effectively; gain confidence in ourselves in fighting in the counterinsurgency and Southeast Asian environment; gain the trust of the Vietnamese in our military skills, courage and ability; and protect our installations and forces from distraction by the enemy.
During the period 1 November 1965 to 1 May 1966, our objectives were to extend our deployments toward the frontiers; exercise our logistics in furnishing support to troops in sustained combat; indoctrinate commanders on the techniques of sustained ground combat; interdict intensively by air the lines of communications leading from North Vietnam to South Vietnam; disrupt enemy bases by B–52 strikes; deny the enemy rice by protecting harvests and capturing caches in storage areas; increase our surveillance along the coast; and initiate a program of patrolling certain vital inland waterways. In summary, our purpose was to disrupt the enemyʼs effort to prepare his battlefield, to throw his plans off balance by offensive operations, and to continue to gain experience and self-confidence in this environment.
During the period 1 May to 1 November 1966—the Southwest monsoon season—our strategy has been and is to contain the enemy through offensive tactical operations (referred to as “spoiling attacks” because they catch the enemy in the preparation phases of his offensives), force him to fight under conditions of our choosing, and deny him attainment of his own tactical objectives. At the same time we have utilized [Page 605] all forces that could be made available for area and population security in support of revolutionary development, rice harvests heretofore available to the enemy have been protected, lines of communication required by us have been opened, and some of the inland waterways used by the enemy have been interdicted to disrupt his communication and supply systems. The threat of the enemy main forces (Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army) has been of such magnitude that fewer friendly troops could be devoted to general area security and support of revolutionary development than visualized at the time our plans were prepared for the period.

During the period 1 November 1966 to 1 May 1967—the Northeast monsoon season—we will maintain and increase the momentum of our operations. Our strategy will be one of a general offensive with maximum practical support to area and population security in further support of revolutionary development.


The essential tasks of revolutionary development and nation building cannot be accomplished if enemy main forces can gain access to the population centers and destroy our efforts. US/Free World forces, with their mobility and in coordination with Vietnamese Armed Forces, must take the fight to the enemy by attacking his main forces and invading his base areas. Our ability to do this is improving steadily. Maximum emphasis will be given to the use of long range patrols and other means to find the enemy and locate his bases. Forces and bases thus discovered will be subjected to either ground attack or quick reaction B–52 and tactical air strikes. When feasible, B–52 strikes will be followed by ground forces to search the area. Sustained ground combat operations will maintain pressure on the enemy.

The growing strength of US/Free World forces will provide the shield that will permit ARVN to shift its weight of effort to an extent not heretofore feasible to direct support of revolutionary development. Also, I visualize that a significant number of the US/Free World Maneuver Battalions will be committed to Tactical Areas of Responsibility (TOAR) missions. These missions encompass base security and at the same time support revolutionary development by spreading security radially from the bases to protect more of the population. Saturation patrolling, civic action, and close association with ARVN, regional and popular forces to bolster their combat effectiveness are among the tasks of the ground force elements. At the same time ARVN troops will be available if required to reinforce offensive operations and to serve as reaction forces for outlying security posts and government centers under attack. Our strategy will include opening, constructing and using roads, as well as a start toward opening and reconstructing the National Railroad. The priority effort of ARVN forces will be in direct support of the revolutionary development program; in many instances, the province [Page 606] chief will exercise operational control over these units. This fact not-withstanding, the ARVN division structure must be maintained and it is essential that the division commander enthusiastically support revolutionary development. Our highly capable US division commanders, who are closely associated with corresponding ARVN commanders, are in a position to influence them to do what is required.

We intend to employ all forces to get the best results, measured, among other things, in terms of population secured; territory cleared of enemy influence; Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Army bases eliminated; and enemy guerrillas, local forces, and main forces destroyed.
Barring unforeseen change in enemy strategy, I visualize that our strategy for South Vietnam will remain essentially the same throughout 1967.

In summation, the MACV mission, which is to assist the Government of Vietnam to defeat the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Army forces and extend Government control throughout South Vietnam, prescribes our two principal tasks.

We must defeat the enemy through offensive operations against his main forces and bases.

We must assist the Government to gain control of the people by providing direct military support of revolutionary development in coordination with the other agencies of the U.S. Mission.

The simultaneous accomplishment of these tasks is required to allow the people of South Vietnam to get on with the job of nation building.

Ambassador Lodge concurs, with the following comment:

“I wish to stress my agreement with the attention paid in this message to the importance of military support for revolutionary development. After all, the main purpose of defeating the enemy through offensive operations against his main forces and bases must be to provide the opportunity through revolutionary development to get at the heart of the matter, which is the population of South Vietnam. If this goal is achieved, we will be denying manpower and other support to the Viet Cong.”

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, vol. LVII. No classification marking. The President wrote on the source text: “Letʼs get Komer to pick up & spark this inspiration.”
  2. Top Secret.