The last of three posts relating to the extensive reports of the total failure of Operation Rolling Thunder as detailed in the Pentagon Papers.
SIGNIFICANCE OF BOMBING CAMPAIGN IN NORTH TO OUR OBJECTIVES IN VIETNAM
The bombing of North Vietnam was undertaken to limit and/or make more difficult the infiltration of men and supplies in the South, to show them they would have to pay a price for their continued aggression and to raise the morale in South Vietnam. The last two purposes obviously have been achieved.
It has become abundantly clear that no level of bombing can prevent the North Vietnamese from supplying the necessary forces and materiel necessary to maintain their military operations in the South. The recent Tet offensive has shown that the bombing cannot even prevent a significant increase in these military operations, at least on an intermittent basis.
The shrinking of the circles around Hanoi and Haiphong will add to North Vietnam’s costs and difficulty in supplying the NVA/VC forces. It will not destroy their capability to support their present level of military activity. Greater concentration on the infiltration routes in Laos and in the area immediately North of the DMZ might prove effective from the standpoint of interdiction.
Strikes within 10 miles of the center of Hanoi and within four miles of the center of Haiphong have required initial approval from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretaries of State and Defense, and, finally, the President. This requirement has enabled the highest level of government to maintain some control over the attacks against targets located in the populous and most politically sensitive areas of North Vietnam. Other than the Haiphong Port, no single target within these areas has any appreciable significance for North Vietnam’s ability to supply men and material to the South. If these areas of control were reduced to circles ‘having a radii of 3 miles from the center of Hanoi and 1-1/2 miles of the center of Haiphong, some minor fixed targets not previously authorized would be released for strike. More significant is the fact that the lines of communication lying within the area previously requiring Washington approval would be open for attack by shrinking the control areas around Hanoi and Haiphong. The question would simply be whether it is worth the increase in airplane and pilot losses to attack these lines of communication in the most heavily defended part of North Vietnam where our airplane loss ratio is highest.
The remaining issue on interdiction of supplies has to do with the closing of the Port of Haiphong. Although this is the route by which some 80% of North Vietnamese imports come into the country, it is not the point of entry for most of the military supplies and ammunition. These materials predominantly enter via the rail routes from China.
Moreover, if the Port of Haiphong were to be closed effectively, the supplies that now enter Haiphong could, albeit with considerable difficulty, arrive either over the land routes or by light rail, which has been so successful in the continued POL supply. Under these circumstances, the closing of Haiphong Fort would not prevent the continued supply of sufficient materials to maintain North Vietnamese military operations in the South.
Accordingly, the only purpose of intensification of the bombing campaign in the North and the addition of further targets would be to endeavor to break the will of the North Vietnamese leaders. CIA forecasts indicate little if any chance that this would result even from a protracted bombing campaign directed at population centers.
A change in our bombing policy to include deliberate strikes on population centers and attacks on the agricultural population through the destruction of dikes would further alienate domestic and foreign sentiment and might well lose us the support of those European countries which now support our effort in Vietnam. It could cost us Australian and New Zealand participation in the fighting.
Although the North Vietnamese do not mark the camps where American prisoners are kept or reveal their locations, we know from intelligence sources that most of these facilities are located in or near Hanoi. Our intelligence also indicates that many more than the approximately 200 pilots officially classified by us as prisoners of war may, in fact, be held by North Vietnam in these camps. On the basis of the debriefing of the three pilots recently released by Hanoi, we were able to identify over 40 additional American prisoners despite the fact that they were kept in relative isolation. Heavy and indiscriminate attacks in the Hanoi area would jeopardize the lives of these prisoners and alarm their wives and parents into vocal opposition. Reprisals could be taken against them and the idea of war crimes trials would find considerable acceptance in countries outside the Communist bloc.
Finally, the steady and accelerating bombing of the North has not brought North Vietnam closer to any real move toward peace. Apprehensions about bombing attacks that would destroy Hanoi and Haiphong bay at sometime help move them toward productive negotiations. Actual destruction of these areas would eliminate a threat t hat could influence them to seek a political settlement on terms acceptable to us.