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

MAC 2951. In order to quickly furnish information required by your JCS 02430,2 I am replying to your questions piecemeal. This relates to the purely military area referred to in para two of your message.

Question A: What military and other objectives are additional forces designed to advance?

Answer: (1) Defeat and evict from SVN the new NVA units now present in western Quang Tri and central Thua Thien Provinces, to include the Ashau Valley and base areas 101 and 114.

(2) Maintain positive governmental and military control over Quang Tri and Thua Thien Provinces, particularly the populous areas of the coastal lowlands and the DMZ area. Be prepared to block or interdict the infiltration/invasion routes from NVN through Laos.

(3) Destroy VC/NVA main force units and base areas in the remainder of I Corps and in the northeastern coastal and northwestern Laos border areas of II Corps.

(4) Reduce the “calculated risk” currently entailed in our economy of force posture in II and III Corps by providing the added flexibility and “punch” of an armored cavalry regiment.

(5) Conduct aggressive and continuing offensive campaigns throughout the coastal areas of II Corps and into traditional enemy base areas and sanctuaries in III Corps along the Cambodian border; especially in war zones “C” and “D”. Restore the offensive combat and pacification momentum lost in III Corps as a result of the enemy’s Tet offensive and the requirement to transfer the 101st Airborne Division (-) to I Corps to stem the NVA incursion into Quang Tri.

(6) Be prepared for contingency operations if required.

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Question B: What specific dangers are their dispatch to SVN designed to avoid, and what specific goals would the increment of force, if recommended by you (the committee), aim to achieve—in the next 6 months? over the next year?

Answer: (1) (Predicated on the scheduled delivery of forces indicated during your Feb 68 visit.) Additive forces would serve to forestall the danger of local defeats due to the tactical degeneration or temporary disorganization of some ARVN units in the event of another general enemy offensive coupled with a massive invasion across the DMZ. The need to be prepared to support or reinforce ARVN units that are surprised by the nature and intensity of VC/NVA attacks became manifest during the enemy’s Tet drive and must be recognized in US troop requirement and deployment plans for the foreseeable future. By providing a two division mobile “swing force” which could be positioned and employed as required, the need to draw down on forces directly engaged in territorial security tasks probably would be reduced. Thus the danger of losing popular confidence in and support for GVN/US capabilities, policies and aspirations as a result of temporary military or psychological setbacks would also be diminished.

(2) Provision of the immediately required additional forces also would make it possible to apply continuous pressure to some degree in all corps areas and thus reduce the danger of allowing the enemy the opportunity to solicit support from the population and to reorganize, refit and recoup so that he could soon field rejuvenated units, despite heavy losses suffered during the Tet offensive. This is particularly important in view of the enemy capability to move additional divisions south through the Panhandle or DMZ without any clear intelligence indicators of such action. (This matter is of particular concern to me.) These forces will also make it possible to retain that degree of flexibility and rapid responsiveness necessary to cope with an apparent new enemy tactic of searching for thin spots in our force structure or deployment in order to launch his concentrated mass attacks.

(3) In the next six months the presence of the Armored Calvary Regiment in II or III Corps would reduce the degree of calculated risk inherent in the economy of force posture in those areas, provide added territorial security and further the goal of providing added combat flexibility. Addition of another Marine regiment and its division headquarters in I Corps would thicken troop density in critical I CTZ, add to combat flexibility and improve command and control capabilities in that critical area.

(4) Over the next year the increment of force would make it possible to: [Page 306]

Move progressively from North to South with a continuing series of hard hitting offensive campaigns to invade base areas, interdict and disrupt infiltration routes, and eliminate or evict VC/NVA forces from SVN.
At the same time, the highly mobile exploitation force (two divisions) would be available to splinter enemy aggression or to exploit opportunities for tactical success anywhere in SVN without reducing the minimal essential force necessary to guarantee maintenance of security in those areas where successful military campaigns have already been waged.
Addition of the new division in III Corps during this time frame would re-establish the capability for conducting constant operations in and around war zones “C” and “D” and make possible the constant use of a division size force in the IV CTZ which capability was removed with transfer of the 101st Airborne Division (-) to I Corps. In addition, combat operations conducted by this division would provide added security for LOC and the vital seat of government and economic center of Saigon.
With the total additive combat forces requested it will be possible to deal with the invader from the North, and to face with a greater degree of confidence the potential tank, rocket and tactical air threat as well as the ever present possibility that he may reinforce with additional elements of his home army.

Other data and answers will follow.3

Warm regards.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 4, Tabs C–M. Top Secret; Noforn; Limdis; Eyes Only. Repeated to Admiral Sharp.
  2. In addition to questions A and B as quoted in this telegram, in telegram JCS 2430 to Westmoreland, February 29, Wheeler asked about the necessity to alter political objectives, the possibility of rapid expansion of the ARVN, success in getting the ARVN back into the countryside, plans to attack enemy units around Saigon, alternative strategies to defend the South Vietnamese population using only the Program 5 forces plus the six battalions already deployed, whether evacuating Khe Sanh would improve the military situation, and the feasibility of allowing the ARVN to operate in the Delta on its own. (Ibid.)
  3. Westmoreland replied to the other questions in telegrams MAC 2952–2956, all March 2. (Ibid.) In telegram MAC 3092 to Sharp, March 4, Westmoreland noted his desire to submit a request to lift the 525,000 ceiling restriction. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 407, Litigation Collection, Westmoreland v. CBS, MACV Backchannel from Westmoreland, 1–31 March 1968 (Folder 1))