Vietnam War: The Documents - 13

Excerpts from briefing book prepared for the November 1963 Honolulu Conference on Vietnam

There is no doubt that U.S. policy makers, including President Kennedy, wanted to reduce U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and hoped that the U.S. could be have the majority of troops removed by the end of 1965. The issue, however, is whether the Kennedy administration was intent on withdrawal regardless of the consequences, or whether the withdrawal was contingent on the South Vietnamese ability to defend themselves against communist agression.

From the briefing book prepared for the 20 November Honolulu Conference:



1. The US Comprehensive Plan for the Republic of Vietnam resulted from discussions at the Secretary of Defense Conference in Hawaii in July 1962. Based on the asssumption that the insurgent action would be reduced by the end of calendar year 1965, to a level which the Vietnamese themselves could control, the Plan develops the peak force structures for Vietnamese regular, paramilitary, and irregular forces during the active phases of the war, and provides for the phase-down of those forces - as well as the progressive reduction of all U.S. special military assistance as the tempo of the war diminishes.

SOURCE: JFK National Security Files 1961-1963 Country Files: Vietnam, Honolulu Meeting, Briefing Book, 11/20/63 (B), Box 204

The same briefing book indicates that the original Counterinsurgency Plan (CIP) approved in 1961, envisaged the change-over from US to Vietnamese would be accomplished by June 1966. The shift to December 1965 therefore constituted a speed-up of six months in the already proposed schedule. In fact, there is no major change of already described policy other than to move the PROJECTED date for completion of the program up by six months. The CIP (Counter-Insurgency Plan) approved by Kennedy shortly after taking office proposed a rough timetable in which 1962 operations would focus on the six provinces around Saigon and to the Kontum area. Second priority (1963) would be given to expansion of operations southward into the Delta and southward in the Central Highlands from Kontum. Third priority (1964) would be to spread GVN control in the highlands and shift the emphasis in the south to the provinces north and east of Saigon. According to this schedule, the majority of the insurgency would be controlled by 1965. [cf Gravel Edition, Pentagon Papers, Vol II, p 138] Although the sequence in which the effort was carried out would change, the overall timing for completion did not.

It was not until March 1964 that there was finally an acknowledgement that the insurgency would probably continue past the end of 1965. Anyone looking for a real reversal of US optimism and shift in policy should see NSAM 288, based on the conclusion contained in McNamara's 16 March 1964 report that:

"The U.S. policy of reducing existing personnel where South Vietnamese are in a position to assume the functions is still sound. Its application will not lead to any major reductions in the near future, but adherence to this policy as such has a sound effect in portraying to the U.S. and the world that we continue to regard the war as a conflict the South Vietnamese must win and take ultimate responsibility for. Substantial reductions in the numbers of U.S. military personnel should be possible before the end of 1965. However, the U.S. should continue to reiterate that it will provide all the assistance and advice required to do the job regardless of how long it takes." [SOURCE: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Vol I, Vietnam 1964, p 155]

David Fuhrmann

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