161. Memorandum From John Holdridge of the Operations Staff of the National Security Council to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • NSC Paper on DeFacto Withdrawals from Vietnam

Per your request,2 we have prepared a summary of the paper on de facto enemy withdrawals from South Vietnam prepared by the Vietnam Ad Hoc Group in accord with an NSC request of July 10.3 This paper was prepared at a time when a long hiatus was occurring in the departure of new infiltrators for SVN. There was therefore good reason to assess whether the enemy was passing a signal of his intent to de-escalate the war. (Tab A)4

Main points of the paper are as follows:

  • —It could not as yet be concluded what the lull in infiltration signified. It could have meant an intent to de-escalate, it could have been a seasonal pause, or indicative of a change in combat tactics.
  • —There are a number of criteria important in judging the enemy’s intent and the significance of the infiltration slowdown for his force structure. Among these are the net attrition of enemy forces, whether further infiltrators are being trained, and whether some enemy forces are actually being withdrawn.
  • —When and if we believe the criteria indicate the enemy is undertaking defacto withdrawals, we should attempt to encourage this by signalling the other side of our intent to respond with further withdrawals of our own.
  • —We will then face the problem of equating defacto enemy withdrawals with our own drawdown of troops. The paper poses a hypothetical arithmetical relationship. For a 20 percent reduction in enemy strength, for example, we would withdraw up to 60,000 men. For a pullout of some 230,000 of our (500,000 plus) men, Hanoi would have to take out about 80 percent of the North Vietnamese. A balanced, two divisional force of U.S. troops would be left along with necessary combat support and would be withdrawn as the security situation permits.5

Comment: This paper is largely an exploration of the issues connected with a defacto enemy withdrawal. Although it makes some serious policy recommendations, it is heavily weighted in favor of the military viewpoint. In an actual development of this type, we might feel the need for considerably more flexibility and hence the need for more options on the relationship of our withdrawals to the enemy’s.

Since the defacto withdrawal issue seems to be a dead one at present, I do not believe the paper warrants further work at this point. It has been dispatched to Paris and Saigon for their background use.


There should be no further Review Group action on this paper. Copies now in the Secretariat should be distributed for information to the Review Group members, excluding the OEP and USIA.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files),Box H–213, NSSM Files, NSSM 37. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis.
  2. Kissinger made the request in a note on a memorandum from Holdridge, November 28. (Ibid.)
  3. See Document 96.
  4. Tab A was the final draft of NSSM 37, October 30, with the addendum on de facto reduction in and/or withdrawal of forces, which Sullivan sent to Kissinger on October 31; attached but not printed.
  5. Kissinger wrote the following note in the margin next to this paragraph: “it depends on what level U.S. remains.”
  6. Approved by Kissinger on December 29.