83. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1
CAP 80484. February 22, 1968. Herewith a summary of a CIA assessment of future Communist military strategy in South Vietnam. I will forward the full text in the next pouch.2
Developments during the past three weeks have made it clear that the Communists now plan to put extensive and sustained military pressure on the urban areas of South Vietnam. At a maximum, they hope to move in and control some of the major cities; failing this, they hope to bring about a deterioration of the governmental authority in urban areas, as well as in the countryside, that eventually would be severe enough to force a political accommodation in the war on Communist terms.
During the last few weeks there have also been a number of indications, apart from the attacks on the cities, that additional shifts in Communist war strategy are in process. Among these has been evidence of plans to use the limited North Vietnamese air arm in a logistic or attack role in South Vietnam. New Communist weapons including tanks and possibly better artillery rockets have appeared in the DMZ area. Signs pointing to heavy new troop infiltration to the south have been noted, while the flow of supplies to the DMZ and down the Lao corridor has continued at a stepped-up pace. Additional enemy road building has also been under way which will improve the Communists' ability to support the military units in both the DMZ and the coastal area of the two northern provinces in South Vietnam.
The developments suggest that the enemy is trying to get in a position throughout this area which will permit him to conduct sustained offensive operations, probably along more conventional military lines than ever before in the war. Recently the bulk of one division of Communist troops from the DMZ area has slipped south into the coastal plains of Quang Tri and, along with NVA elements already in the sector, will probably attempt a sustained campaign to erode and destroy friendly control over the rural population and the cities in the area. It now appears that the Communists are going to make a major effort to hold their positions in the city of Hue, invest or capture Quang Tri,[Page 239] and, if possible, gain de facto administrative control over Thua Thien and Quang Tri Provinces.
Continued pressure on the allied bastion at Khe Sanh is likely in the course of the Communist effort in the North, with the enemy seeking to tie down a substantial allied reaction force. Whether Hanoi will make an all-out effort to overrun the base remains to be seen; there is some evidence in the shift of Communist troops to the eastward in recent days that the enemy may be reducing his forces in the general vicinity of Khe Sanh. It is possible that he plans at present only to mount a long-term siege operation against the base.
We believe the most likely course of over-all enemy action in Vietnam during the near term will revolve around a major effort in the north combined with selective pressure against the urban areas farther south. The pressure against the cities will include both limited ground probes and coordinated attacks by fire. We think it likely the enemy will make a special effort, both for political and psychological reasons, to harass and disrupt the city of Saigon.
The Communists will also be heavily engaged in trying to consolidate the gains they have made throughout the rural areas of the country since the government's retreat to defend the cities. In particular, the Communists will attempt to revise much that has been achieved in the pacification/RD program, and will utilize renewed access to the rural population to intensify recruitment efforts and the collection of taxes and other forms of logistic support.