328. Editorial Note
On August 12, 1968, Secretary of Defense Clifford met with the Office of the Secretary of Defense staff and representatives of the services. Among the participants were Deputy Secretary Paul Nitze, Army Chief of Staff General William Westmoreland, Secretary of the Navy Paul Ignatius, Under Secretary of the Air Force Townsend Hoopes, Air Force Chief of Staff General John McConnell, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Warnke, and Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense George Elsey. Staff Secretary R. Eugene Livesay took notes of the meeting and transcribed the parts dealing with the war in Vietnam. The first topic of discussion was the Paris negotiations:
“Mr. Clifford said it has been an interesting week as far as the negotiations in Paris. This is one subject that we comment on each week. Mr. Vance has been back and he had dinner with him which lasted way into the evening. Mr. Vance makes a logical, objective and effective negotiator. He is not discouraged. Mr. Clifford said that he sees in the papers that some people engaged in meeting their own problems place different interpretations on the way the negotiations are proceeding. Although Mr. Vance had no progress to report he states that there is a better understanding among the negotiators. Mr. Clifford said he is rather encouraged by the report that Le Duc Tho is coming back to Paris from Hanoi. He stopped briefly in Peking, and is now having an extended visit in Moscow. It seems there is a real possibility that he will arrive in Paris in time for the Wednesday negotiating session. Both Mr. Harriman and Mr. Vance feel Tho is the senior negotiator. He is a member of the Politburo and a close personal friend of Ho Chi Minh. As long as he stayed in Hanoi there was not much hope that progress would be made.”
Later in the meeting, the subject of the military situation in Southeast Asia arose:
“Mr. Clifford said we get a weekly report on the military situation. We continue to get indications of the enemy activity and plans. General McConnell will give the report today in lieu of General Wheeler. General McConnell passed around maps to the group at the table. He said there was a cable in from General Abrams on Saturday concerning enemy intentions. Places where attacks are expected are noted on the maps. The map of the DMZ shows the location of 7 regiments which can attack there at any time. We do not expect any prior to 15 August or possibly up to 3 or 4 days afterwards. Intercepted communications indicate there will be country-wide attacks. The disposition of the troops, shown on the third map, indicate that they are capable of making attacks on [Page 951] Hue, Da Nang and Chu Lai, and two or three other locations, each with division size attacks. General McConnell then turned to the map of Saigon and said that all indications are that they will not attack Saigon at first but will delay for 3 or 4 days after initiation of the country-wide attacks.
“General McConnell said that General Abrams still continues to pound the daylights out of the enemy with B–52s, tactical fighters, artillery, etc. We are doing considerable ground reconnaissance, particularly with Air Cavalry Units and using ground follow-up after air attacks. The Defense Intelligence Agency estimates agree with those of General Abrams. General McConnell said he has prepared a memorandum to the President which outlines the whole situation which either he or Mr. Clifford can forward. He will give it to Mr. Clifford after the meeting.
“General McConnell said that in Thailand we might have an attack against Nakhon Phanon. All indications point to such an attack. The enemy has considerable forces 12–25 kms east. There are 25 Thai Security personnel, 150 Air Police, Army gunships and Air Force gun-equipped C–47s there. We have sent up one company of U.S. infantry and 30 Special Forces officers to assist.
“Last week, during 9–11 August, the allies had 15 killed (10 U.S., 1 ARVN, 4 civilians) and 97 wounded (66 U.S., 16 ARVN., 15 civilians), by allied forces. This may cause us unfavorable publicity. Mr. Clifford said he had already seen reports on this in the paper. Mr. Goulding said that each incident was reported separately but not added up as General McConnell has done.
“General McConnell said that air activity continued as usual. Over the weekend, 37 U.S. and 605 enemy were killed. There were 154 light contacts, all by small units. General Abrams has been able to move our forces around. We are flying 1,300 fixed wing airlift sorties a day which represents 3,000 tons of supplies and 13,000 troops. We continue to capture large tonnages of ammunition and food all over South Vietnam but particularly close to the DMZ, the Ashau Valley and IV Corps.
“Mr. Clifford asked if General Westmoreland had any comments. General Westmoreland said that intelligence on caches is coming mostly from ralliers. We are back in the Ashau Valley. We lost three helicopters going in. The enemy, however, has not chosen to confront our forces. They may attack with some of their units, however, we do hold the high ground. Another significant development is that our riverine forces are moving further south than ever before.
“General Westmoreland said as to the accidental firings on our own troops he feels that this is the price we pay for a one year tour of duty. This turnover requires the constant training of officers in a complex [Page 952] business. The accidents are basically the result of ‘green’ troops. He believes that our commanders overall have done a magnificent job in assimilating new arrivals. General McConnell said that these types of accidents are much less than in World War II. Mr. Clifford said he recalls several incidents from the Italian campaign. General Westmoreland said we now report publicly on such casualties; in World War II we did not report them because of censorship.
“Mr. Clifford asked General Westmoreland if he actually believed there was going to be another enemy offensive. General Westmoreland said the enemy plans to move but we believe that our fire power and maneuvers will preempt his attacks in several areas or reduce them to manageable proportions. He will attempt wide-spread initiatives. In some cases we will thwart these with B–52s. Elsewhere they will have some tactical success but with great casualties.
“General Westmoreland says another interesting recent development is the repeated public stance by President Thieu on the South Vietnamese progressively taking over more of the war, which they are capable of doing. General Westmoreland recalls that both he and Mr. Clifford talked to Thieu about this on several occasions. The fact that Thieu is making public statements is a good development. The ARVN is fighting extremely well in all Corps areas. General Westmoreland said that he had deployed a whole U.S. brigade of the 9th Division to open Highway 4 and secure it for hard-topping; he set a deadline for the ARVN to take over as of 1 August. They met this deadline. Mr. Clifford asked if they had done well since then. General Westmoreland said yes. Mr. Clifford said he thought the enemy had closed a bridge on this road. General Westmoreland said this was north of the area he is talking about.
“General Walt said that he agreed with General Westmoreland. The enemy wants to make an attack. In order for him to make an attack he has to build up his forces on the battlefield and move supplies forward. In the last two weeks he hasn’t been able to do so in I Corps. In fact, the troops have actually abandoned large amounts of supplies. They could move across the DMZ. General McConnell said they had been moving divisions in North Vietnam back towards the south gradually. General Westmoreland said that he has a hunch that they will attack a location near the Rockpile area.” (Johnson Library, Clark Clifford Papers, Minutes of the Secretary of Defense Staff Meetings, March–September 1968)
Additional notes of this meeting by Nitze are in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Nitze Papers, Defense Department, Deputy Secretary of Defense Notes, 1968, 5 of 6.