ARVN troops fan out from an HMM-361 helicopter during an assault into the mountains of I Corps. (USMC Photo A420866).
effectiveness, of the Vietnamese armed forces declined sharply. The Viet Cong moved quickly to exploit the prevailing state of confusion by staging a rash of attacks in the weeks after Diem's overthrow-attacks which worked a profound influence on the already faltering Strategic Hamlet Program. 'The fall of the Ngo regime,' wrote one American scholar, 'was accompanied by the complete collapse of the pacification efforts in many areas, and vast regions that had been under government control quickly came under the influence of the Viet Cong.' ' The nation's new leaders therefore formally terminated the badly damaged Strategic Hamlet Program. Although it was soon to be replaced with similar pacification campaigns, most Vietnamese and American officials conceded that much time and energy would be required to restore momentum to the government's efforts at securing the allegiance of the rural population. So, by the end of 1963 both the tempo and effectiveness of South Vietnam's overall war effort was at its lowest ebb since the intensification of the U.S. military assistance program in early 1962.
This threatening situation was hardly consistent with American military plans which were being implemented at year's end. Drawn up at Secretary of Defense McNamara's direction and approved by him in the late summer of 1963, these plans called for a phased withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. servicemen from Vietnam by January 1964. The phased withdrawal plan, whose ultimate objective was to end direct American participation in the war, envisioned a gradual scaling down of U.S. involvement while simultaneously turning over more military responsibility to the South Vietnamese. Included in the initial 1,000-man reduction