418. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara1



  • Policies for the Conduct of Operations in Southeast Asia over the Next Four Months (U)
(TS) The purpose of this memorandum is to provide the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on planned and recommended military operations to be conducted in Southeast Asia over the next four months.
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed the progress and status of military operations in Southeast Asia and conclude that within the current policy guidelines, the single integrated strategy governing military operations in Southeast Asia is sound and will eventually lead to achievement of US national objectives as stated in N SAM 2882 and the US military objectives stated in JCSM-307–67, dated 1 June 1967, [Page 1076]subject: “Draft Memorandum for the President on Future Actions in Vietnam (U).”3
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff also have reviewed the plans for the coming months and further measures which might be taken in Southeast Asia. They conclude that there are no new programs which can be undertaken under current policy guidelines which would result in a rapid or significantly more visible increase in the rate of progress in the near term. There are some programs which are being intensified or accelerated. These are primarily related to expansion, modernization, and other improvements in the effectiveness of the RVNAF and Revolutionary Development. However, while desirable, such acceleration of these programs cannot be expected to provide substantially greater results within the next four months.
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff have previously recommended against a standdown in military operations for any of the forthcoming holidays. They continue in the opinion that any standdown or bombing pause would be disadvantageous to allied forces in proportion to its length. Progress during the next four months is dependent upon the maintenance of pressure upon the enemy. Any action which serves to reduce the pressure will be detrimental to the achievement of our objectives.
(TS) Operations to support the stated objectives for the next four months will continue to be in consonance with the US national objectives. The various major programs which comprise the strategy involved in the total effort are discussed in the Appendix.4 While progress toward the military objectives is expected to be sustained during the period under consideration, additional gains could be realized through the modification and expansion of certain current policies as indicated in the Appendix.
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered other proposals for operations to be conducted during the four-month period. Among these is Operation York II, which is strongly advocated by COMUSMACV. This operation, directed principally to establish a necessary lodgment in the Ashau Valley in Vietnam during February–March 1968, has as an essential part a raid operation by two to three ARVN battalions against Base Area 607. This base area, though a part of the enemy’s Ashau Valley complex, is located principally in Laos. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the proposal has merit and appears militarily necessary. However, they point out that, while the intent is to [Page 1077]mount the operation clandestinely, there is a possibility that it will become public with attendant political problems.5
(TS) The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that:
The pressure on the enemy be maintained during the period to sustain allied progress and to prevent any military exploitation resulting from standdowns or truces.
The current policies for the conduct of the war in Southeast Asia during the next four months be modified and expanded to permit a fuller utilization of our military resources in accomplishing the tasks set forth in the Appendix.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Earle G. Wheeler
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S-AH Files: Lot 71 D 461, Military Plans. Top Secret; Sensitive. An attached note from McNamara to Rusk reads: “Dean, attached are the Chiefs’ recommendations for the ’120 Day Program for Southeast Asia.’ You may want to start your staff analyzing it. I hope to be in a position to discuss my views with you before the end of the week. Bob.” A message at the end of the note indicates that Rusk approved a request for Bundy to prepare an analysis of the planned actions. Bundy’s commentary that the JCS proposals “inevitably portend steady pressures for expansion” that would have little impact on North Vietnam but would have “a serious negative and unsettling effect on opinion here and abroad” are in a memorandum to Rusk, November 30. (Ibid.) See also Document 426.
  2. Dated March 17, 1964; see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Document 87.
  3. See Document 187.
  4. Not printed.
  5. On November 17 Westmoreland discussed with the Joint Chiefs his plans for an operation called York, a measure that would start in February 1968. One part of York would involve action against the enemy command center in the VC’s Military Region 5 in the central highlands, while the second phase would consist of eradicating VC munitions stockpiles specifically in the Ashau Valley. For the third phase of York, Westmoreland envisaged preparation of the capability of amphibious assaults north of the demilitarized zone, which included utilization of C–130 aircraft from the field at Khe Sanh as transports for units of the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry Division, in order to launch an attack at the enemy’s rear. Although this part of the plan did not appear to be politically feasible, a build-up of such a capability would allow for implementation of a secondary strategy that involved a sweep of the provinces from Quang Tri to Quang Ngai within a year using the 1st Air Cavalry. This effort would be supported initially by the base at Khe Sanh and then by a supply line along Highway 9. In the central area of South Vietnam, the Army’s 101st Airborne would assault the VC’s Military Region 6 from Phan Rang beginning December 1. In addition, the 25th Division would initiate action in War Zone C. All of these movements would constitute a pincer action with “floating” brigades in reserve. The addition of Program 5 forces would bring the troop level up to 525,000, a number adequate for the job. “For the first time I will have enough troops to really start grinding them down,” Westmoreland told the military leadership. This plan would be a methodical way of grinding down their bases, instead of “moving troops all over the country putting out fires and reinforcing here and there and working on a day-to-day basis to keep ahead of the enemy.” Westmoreland’s scheme formed the basis of planning requirements for 1968. (Note of November 17 meeting attached to memorandum to the Joint Chiefs, November 21; Department of Defense, Official Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 911/520 (21 Nov 67), IR 3685; further documentation is ibid., 907/520 (10 Nov 67), IR 3935, 3936)