85. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 80542. Herewith Bus and Westy respond to our query of yesterday2 with their picture of the situation.

From here the enemy situation looks like this:

  • I Corps—The enemy attacked Khe Sanh yesterday with a heavy attack by fire and continues to adjust his fire to increase the effectiveness of his artillery. The threat to Quang Tri has been reduced somewhat and now consists of the 803rd Regiment attempting to interdict the Cua Viet River, north of Quang Tri City, and the 812th Regiment attempting to cut Route 1 south of Quang Tri City. There are at least eight equivalent combat effective battalions threatening Hoi An and Danang. The battle at Hue involves about eight combat effective battalion equivalents and the fighting is heavy as the enemy attempts to hang on in the city. There is extensive supply activity in A-Shau Valley, and the enemy is building a road from the valley to join Highway 547 which runs to Hue. We have no information on what troop units are located in A-Shau.
  • II Corps—The enemy is tactically deployed to conduct offensive operations in the Dak To area. He is capable of conducting ground attacks with seven battalions of the 1st NVA Division supported by elements of the 40th Artillery Regiment. Available evidence indicates that these attacks can be initiated at any time. In Kontum City, the relocation of major units coupled with evidence of detailed planning indicates an offensive action against the city with as much as three infantry and two sapper battalions at any time. In Pleiku City, the enemy does not pose an immediate major threat at this time. He is however, capable of attacks by fire and harassment type activity.
  • III Corps—The three regiments of the 9th VC Division remain in the northern and western Gia Dinh Province. Elements of the 101st NVA Division have been identified north of Saigon, and a PW from the 141st NVA Regiment, captured in southern Binh Duong stated his battalion was following two others to Gia Dinh. Airborne direction finding located a terminal serving the 2nd Battalion, 274th VC Regiment on 23 February in eastern Gia Dinh. Thus, elements of three divisions threaten Saigon, although some of them have been hit hard in the past weeks.
  • IV Corps—The enemy is currently attempting to capitalize on the fact that ARVN forces in the Delta have been forced to concentrate upon the defense of urban centers throughout the area. While keeping his maneuver units within striking distance of the major cities and lines of communication, his efforts in the rural areas have centered around recruitment and anti-GVN/US propaganda. It is not clear, however, that he is moving rapidly to exploit the situation in the countryside throughout the corps. During recent weeks the enemy has been able to successfully interdict Highway 4 throughout the Delta. Road blocks, cratering, and harassing attacks have been used to bring traffic on this major thoroughfare to a near standstill. We doubt the enemy believes that this will cut off food supply to Saigon.

Strength—About 60,000 enemy combat and combat support troops were committed in the first two days of the Tet offensive. Up to 25 percent more were committed from the guerrillas, administrative services and political infrastructure. Of the total, about 30 percent were NVA troops. In the three weeks since that time the enemy has committed additional forces (five to seven battalions in I Corps, four battalions in II Corps, five to nine battalions in III Corps, and none in IV Corps). Main force strength at the beginning of the offensive was about 133,000 due to the arrival of the 304th and 320th Divisions. About half of enemy’s main force strength probably remains uncommitted, the most significant intact elements being those at Khe Sanh, the DMZ, the Highlands, and four NVA regiments (2nd Division and 31st Regiment) in the Danang-Hoi An area.

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Reinforcement—Although a few PW’s have stated that the 308th and 30th Divisions are in the DMZ, there is no credible intelligence held by MACV indicating that additional divisions are in or near South Vietnam or enroute thereto. The NVA divisions located in NVN have not exhibited any unusual communications patterns which would indicate southward deployment, although the 308th Division is not currently isolated in SIGINT.

Summary—We agree with you that the enemy can conduct simultaneous large scale attacks against Khe Sanh, Hue, Danang, Dak To, and Saigon. He will no doubt attack other towns and cities at the same time. With due consideration for the location and strength of the enemy threat COMUSMACV has deployed his forces to be in the best posture to counter these simultaneous attacks throughout the country.

While we are prepared to defend against multiple attacks, there is some evidence that the enemy may delay for weeks, even months before initiating his next offensive. In the interim he will attempt to invest the cities and towns, attriting the Air Force of the Republic of Vietnam and weakening the will of the civilians and their loyalty to the GVN. To capitalize on any such delay, together with RVNAF we are proceeding with operations designed to destroy the enemy or to push him away from the towns, while moving to reopen lines of communication and reassert friendly presence in the countryside.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 3, Tabs A–Z and AA–QQ. Top Secret; Sensitive. Received at the LBJ Ranch on February 23 at 11:17 a.m.
  2. In telegram OSD 2175 to Wheeler and Westmoreland, February 23, Rostow wrote: “Roughly speaking, our appreciation of the situation, as seen from here, runs about as follows: The enemy is preparing to strike in the Western Highlands (Pleiku, Kontum, Dak To). He is apparently bringing major units in towards Saigon. He is, of course, positioned to attack at both Khe Sanh and Quang Tri. He has forces around Hue and Danang; degree of readiness less certain, although major contact northwest of Hue is reported. In the Delta, especially, but elsewhere as well, he is moving rapidly to exploit the relative vacuum in the countryside to recruit in an effort to make up recent losses, to expand rural control, and exert pressure on towns. The effort to close off Route 4 to deny food supplies to Saigon continues, as well as the effort to keep Route 1 closed between Danang and Hue to limit military supplies to I Corps. Diplomatically, the enemy is establishing a whole range of diplomatic contacts ‘to explain his victories’ and to keep lines open for a later negotiating offensive. We now estimate that more than 60,000 were used in the first wave of attacks at Tet made up as follows: 37 percent North Vietnamese units; 29 percent VC main forces; 34 percent VC local forces. CIA estimates that main force units (North Vietnamese and VC), estimated by MACV at 115,000 in December, were higher than that at Tet. ‘Over half’ of main forces are available for follow-on major attacks. There is the suggestion in intelligence that additional North Vietnamese regulars are being brought south—perhaps two additional divisions. It may well be that the enemy is about to make a virtually total effort with the capital he has in hand. He may then try to lock us into a negotiation at his peak position before we can counterattack. In particular, he may try to dissipate Westy’s reserves by simultaneous attacks at a number of places and take Khe Sanh, if possible. In what way would your appreciation on the spot conform or differ from this thumb-nail sketch?” (Ibid.)