43. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Westmoreland) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)1

MAC 01464. At 0545 hours, General Wheeler called me on the secure telephone and directed that I call Mr. Rostow at the White House and provide answers on behalf of Ambassador Bunker and myself to six questions. At 0650 hours, I contacted on the secure telephone General Binsberg. The following is a transcript of my oral report.

This is General Westmoreland speaking.

I was instructed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to call the White House and ask for Mr. Rostow.

Six questions have been posed. I will read these as I interpret them and will give you our answers. I am speaking for Ambassador Bunker and myself—I have covered with Ambassador Bunker all these matters on the telephone.

Question number 1: Our estimate of friendly and enemy casualties.

Answer: From the beginning of the truce period—1800 hours, 29 January—the following casualties have been suffered by us or inflicted on the enemy in accordance with our best estimates. KIA, friendly, 421, [Page 97] which includes 189 US, 3 Free World, and remainder—229—Vietnamese. Enemy 4320 KIA, 1181 detainees, a number of whom are prisoners of war.

Question number 2: How long do we estimate the present campaign will continue?

Answer: We see this as a three-phase campaign. The first involved preparation, build-up, sporadic attacks, and a well-orchestrated psy war program. We are now in the second phase, which is an all-out military effort in South Vietnam, excepting the two northern provinces. The enemy has achieved some local successes, but there is evidence that the initiative is turning against him. However, we feel he has the capability of continuing this phase for perhaps several more days, at great risk to himself. The third phase involves a massive attack in Quang Tri and Thien Provinces. The enemy is now poised for this phase, which he considers his decisive campaign. Our air strikes may have blunted this attack, but we still give him the capability to strike at any time with large forces supported by an abundance of artillery and rockets.

Question number 3: Do we believe there is a relationship between activities in South Vietnam and those in Korea?

Answer: It would seem to us that there is a relationship.

Question number 4: The French press allege that there is an impasse in South Vietnam. What is our comment?

Answer: We do not consider the situation an impasse, since the initiative is turning in the favor of the government and her allies and the enemy is suffering unprecedented casualties.

Question 5: Is the enemy holding any towns in South Vietnam?

Answer: The enemy does not control any single town in South Vietnam. However, he has some degree of control in several towns. Specifically, he has forces in Quang Tri, Hue, Duyxuan, Kontum City, Chau Phu and Ben Tre, he has scattered elements in Saigon. Repeat, he does not control any single town. In those towns he has troops, they are confronted by Vietnamese troops and fighting is continuous.

Question number 6: What political problems do we anticipate as a result of this enemy activity? Will it have a psychological impact on the people and affect the stability of government?

Answer: It seems to us that initially there will be some psychological impact on the people and the government. However, if the government handles the matter carefully, they can seize an opportunity to strengthen their position with the people. President Thieu has the opportunity to exercise real leadership. The National Assembly has the opportunity to be more constructive. The President has declared martial law, but this will have to be approved by the Assembly after 12 days, in accordance with the Constitution. The situation should not slow down [Page 98] (for a prolonged period) major programs. It may well harden the government’s position on negotiations with the Front. It may tend to set back civilianization of the government. Military successes should give the ARVN and its leadership self-confidence and encourage the acceleration of their improvement.

End of statement.2

  1. Source: Johnson Library, William C. Westmoreland Papers, #29 History File, 1–29 Feb 68 [1]. Secret; Eyes Only. Repeated to Admiral Sharp and Ambassador Bunker.
  2. In his History Notes for the month of February, Westmoreland wrote: “On Thursday, February 1, there was great consternation in Washington. Frequent messages and telephone calls assisted in bringing balance to the real situation. However, this was more than off-set by the alarming headlines and the gloom-and-doom type editorials that proceeded to propagandize the limited successes by the VC. One received the impression that the press were gleeful that the VC had finally accomplished something significant and the U.S. and South Vietnamese were in an awkward position. In order to make known my assessment of the situation and try to bring about a certain balance in attitude and perspective, I held, at the suggestion of Washington, an on-the-record press conference at 1645 in the JUSPAO auditorium. I outlined the general situation, my assessment of the enemy’s strategy, and pointed out that this was a major, go-for-broke offensive but that I anticipated that the enemy would shortly run out of steam. I was asked if I thought that the offensive had anything to do with negotiations, to which I made a noncommittal reply. I was, however, decidedly under the private and personal impression at the time that there was definitely such an association in the mind of the enemy. I had made this view privately but was in no position to do so publicly.” (Ibid.) A copy of Westmoreland’s remarks and his responses to press queries is ibid.