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Pleiku attack, Bundy included in his report the recommendation that the U.S. develop a "sustained reprisal policy" using air and naval forces against North Vietnam. According to Bundy, the situation in South Vietnam was:

. . . deteriorating, and without new U.S. action, defeat appears inevitable-probably not in a matter of weeks or perhaps even months, but within the next year or so. There is still time to turn it around, but not much.10

On 9 February, just prior to the VC attack on Qui Nhon, General Westmoreland offered his appraisal of the war. He recalled that in the past he had considered requesting American combat troops to provide for close-in security of the U. S. bases in Vietnam. This course of action had been rejected for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that the presence of American forces might cause the South Vietnamese to lose interest and relax. The general was now of the opinion that the attack on Pleiku marked a new phase of the war. With direct Communist attacks on American personnel and facilities, MACV could no longer ignore the question of protecting these troops. Westmoreland believed that this would require at least a division declaring: "These are numbers of a new order of magnitude, but we must face the stark fact that the war has escalated."11

Following the Qui Nhon attack, on 11 February the Joints Chiefs of Staff forwarded to the Secretary of Defense a program of reprisal actions to be taken against Communist provocations. The chiefs observed that the retaliatory air raids against North Vietnam had not achieved the intended effect. They recommended in its place a "sustained pressure" campaign to include continuing air strikes against selected targets in North Vietnam, naval bombardment, covert operations, intelligence patrols and cross-border operations in Laos, and the landing of American troops in South Vietnam. On 13 February, President Johnson approved a "limited and measured" air campaign against North Vietnam, which took the code name ROLLING THUNDER. The ROLLING THUNDER campaign was delayed until 2 March because of a combination of bad weather and the instability of the South Vietnamese political situation.12

In mid-February, the South Vietnamese were in the midst of another power struggle. The South Vietnamese Armed Forces Council declared on the 15th that it alone had the responsibility for selecting the Premier and Chief of State. While the veteran politician Phan Khac Suu remained as Chief of State, the Council appointed a Saigon physician, Dr. Phan Huy Quat, who had formerly served as Foreign Minister in 1964, as the new Prime Minister. Six days later, a group of senior generals led by Major General Nguyen Van Thieu, the South Vietnamese IV Corps Commander, and Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, Commander of the Air Force, deposed General Khanh, a veteran of other coup attempts, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.

Confronted with both a deteriorating political and military situation, General Westmoreland directed his deputy, Lieutenant General John L. Throckmorton, USA, to determine what American ground forces were needed for base security. After completing his survey, Throckmorton recommended the deployment of a three-battalion Marine expeditionary brigade to Da Nang because of the vital importance of the base for any air campaign against the north and "the questionable capability of the Vietnamese to protect the base." General Westmoreland several years later recalled:

While sharing Throckmorton's sense of urgency, I nevertheless hoped to keep the number of U.S. ground troops to a minimum and recommended instead landing only two battalions and holding the third aboard ship off shore.13

On 22 February, General Westmoreland forwarded this request to Admiral Sharp who in turn informed the JCS that he agreed with Westmoreland's assessment of the situation. Although expressing strong reservations about sending any American ground forces to Vietnam, Ambassador Taylor, in a message to the State Department on 22 February, agreed to placing one Marine BLT at Da Nang "in view of General Westmoreland's understandable concern for the safety of this important base."14

By this time, BLTs 1/9 and 3/9 were back on board ship at their former stations near Cap St. Jacques and Da Nang. The Task Force 76 flagship, the USS Mount McKinley (AGC 7), with the task force commander, Rear Admiral Don W. Wulzen, and General Karch on board, accompanied the amphibious task group carrying BLT 1/9 off Vietnam. General Karch had met with Westmoreland and the MACV staff in Saigon. The Marines were

 

 

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