73. Memorandum From Philip A. Odeen of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • CIA Assessment of Enemy Intention in South Vietnam

Attached is the fresh assessment of VC/NVA intentions in the current offensive you requested on April 8.2

The CIA Assessment

In assessing the Communists’ overall objectives, the CIA reaches the following conclusions:

  • —The overall objective is the offensive to destroy the growing cohesion and strength that the GVN has demonstrated since 1968. If the offensive is successful, Hanoi will, in the CIA’s judgement, have “gone a long way toward recovering the losses of the past four years.”
  • —To meet these objectives, “The Communists have turned to relatively straight-forward conventional invasion.” “This time they are likely to fight for territory and position, particularly at the Northern end of South Vietnam.”
  • —While the Communists are willing to accept very heavy losses, this is not a “do or die effort.” Even if the offensive is not successful, [Page 236] the NVA will be able to continue the war, though not without an “agonizing reappraisal” in Hanoi.
  • —The Communists are, however, in a situation similar to the allied situation in 1965—absence of clear victory will mean defeat.

On the whole, the CIA is convinced that the offensive is an all out effort that will last “for many weeks” and “with recycling” will probably be extended until mid-summer or beyond.

The immediate NVA tactical objectives and likely results of the offensive are seen as follows:

  • —The overall objective is “to seize and hold virtually all of the Thua Thien and Quang Tri provinces, including the cities of Hue and Quang Tri.” While a major effort will also be made in MR 3 and to a lesser extent in MR 4, these are seen as diversionary attacks.
  • —The enemy will use all his main forces in seeking these objectives. The local forces will be withheld, except in the Delta, until the NVA get “a clearer picture of the likely outcome.”
  • —The enemy offensives are likely to be geared tightly to the weather—with more action in MR 1 to be expected shortly while the offensive in the highlands (MR 2) may be held up until late May or early June—the onset of the Southwest monsoon.

Given this effort, the CIA predicts mixed results for the enemy:

  • In Northern MR 1, “Given the size of the enemy forces, repelling them will not be easy.” The CIA notes that the NVA will commit three divisions against Quang Tri city which is defended only by one regiment of the 3rd ARVN division and the VNMC/Ranger battalions recently sent as reinforcements.
  • In Southern MR 1 (Hue), the CIA thinks the enemy will “have a hard time taking Kontom City, let alone holding it or pushing east to the sea.” Despite their impressive numbers, the CIA does not think the enemy’s MR 2 forces can do too much because they lack good combat units.
  • In the Saigon area, “The threat to Binh Long and Phuoc Long is high, but these provinces, by their nature, are not lucrative targets for the North Vietnamese.” Moreover, the CIA thinks that “any drive toward Tay Ninh City and points south would be extremely vulnerable . . . and the government almost certainly has enough forces nearby to push them back out and certainly enough to limit their progress toward Saigon.”
  • In MR 4, no substantial threat is foreseen.

In general, this represents, I believe, a generally optimistic assessment of the situation. I would, for example, raise the following questions.

  • —If the enemy is able to concentrate three divisions against Quang Tri on a cloudy day, won’t he succeed in seizing it? Once it is overrun, can’t he defend it without being extremely vulnerable to air attack?
  • —If Quang Tri and Hue were put under simultaneous attack, what would be the outcome? ARVN reserves are largely committed and more bad weather is not unlikely? Could we substantially reinforce either city at this point?
  • —The argument that the enemy’s forces, including the 320th, are weak in the highlands is not entirely convincing. Aren’t the 21st and 22nd ARVN divisions—the units in the firing line—about the worst the GVN has? If so, can we be as confident as these assessments that they will be victorious? I think the CIA assessment understates the risks.
  • —The assessment implies we have nothing to worry about in MRs 3 and 4. I would question this judgement since it seems that the entire outer tier of MR 3 provinces (Binh Long, Phouc Long, and Tay Ninh) are very exposed to enemy attack. Even if they are not “lucrative targets” can we or the GVN afford to lose them? If we really are secure there, should we investigate moving more units North to MRs 1 and 2 where the threat is greater?
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–085, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Vietnam 4/13/72. Secret. Urgent; sent for information.
  2. The memorandum, entitled “Communist Intentions in the Current Campaign in South Vietnam,” is in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box SCI 23, Geopolitical File, Vietnam, National Security Council, Committees and Panels, Washington Special Actions Group.