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air and artillery support." He remarked that while weather was a factor
the forecasts were that the weather would improve rather than deteriorate.
As he concluded, "I was concerned but not worried about the battle."
While General Westmoreland, the MACV commander had less confidence in
the defensive measures taken by the Marines at the base, he later wrote
that his decision to hold Khe Sanh, "was to my mind militarily sound
and strategically rewarding."34

Even while General Westmoreland ticked off the reasons why Khe Sanh
could be defended, the bigger question was: why should it be defended?
General Westmoreland later wrote:

Khe
Sanh could serve as a patrol base for blocking enemy infiltration from
Laos along Route 9; a base for SOG operations to harass the enemy in
Laos; an airstrip for reconnaissance planes surveying the Ho Chi Minh
Trail; a western anchor for defenses south of the DMZ; and an eventual
jump-off point for ground operations to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail.35

General Westmoreland's proposal for a ground operation against the
Ho Chi Minh Trail took the form of a planned invasion of Laos, codenamed
Operation El Paso. Although planning for the operation continued through
January, MACV did not intend to execute it until fall or winter, after
the northeast monsoon had passed. General Westmoreland said he wanted
the plan to be ready in time for the November 1968 presidential elections
"so that we would have a military plan that could take advantage of
a possible change in national policy."36

In addition to these reasons for defending Khe Sanh, General Westmoreland
pointed to tactical considerations, noting that "had we not taken a
stand in that remote area, our forces would have inevitably been required
to fight in the more populous coastal areas where the application of
firepower would have been hampered in order to protect civilians."37

Lieutenant General Cushman was "in complete agreement" with the decision
to hold Khe Sanh, pointing out that, although the combat base did not
really deter infiltration, it was "a complete block to invasion and
motorized supply." He further felt that it was necessary to retain bases
like Khe Sanh because they allowed him to conduct mobile operations
in the enemy's base areas at a time when III MAF did not have enough
troops effectively to cover all of the territory near the DMZ.38

Even General Krulak, who in 1966 had opposed the idea of large unit
operations near Khe Sanh, now agreed with General Westmoreland, saying
that while "to withdraw would save lives that would otherwise be lost....
nobody ever won anything by backing away."39 Although agreeing with
the need to defend Khe Sanh once engaged, Krulak continued to insist
that the Marines never should have been there in the first place. He
quoted General Giap as wanting to stretch "the Marines as taut as a
bow string and draw them away from the populated areas."40 While the
North Vietnamese continued to place pressure on the Marines at Khe Sanh,
General Krulak doubted that General Giap would engage the Americans
on their terms. For Krulak, "Khe Sanh was an unsound blow in the air."41

The intentions of the North Vietnamese at Khe Sanh still are a subject
of debate. In contrast to General Krulak, Army Brigadier General Philip
B. David-son, the MACV intelligence officer or J-2, later argued that
General Giap meant for "Khe Sanh to be Phase III, the culmination of
the Great Offensive, Great Uprising." Davidson maintained that the North
Vietnamese planned to overwhelm the American base with two to four divisions
and end "the war with a stunning military victory."42

In one of their recapitulations of the Khe Sanh experience in 1969,
the North Vietnamese appeared to agree in part with elements of General
Krulak's analysis of their designs and also those of General Davidson
and General Westmoreland. The North Vietnamese authors stated that the
mission of the overall general offensive including Khe Sanh "was to
draw the enemy out [into remote areas], pin him down, and destroy much
of his men and means of conducting war." Specifically, the Khe Sanh-Route
9 campaign portion of the overall offensive had several aims, including
the destruction of "an important portion of the enemy's strength, primarily
the American." The North Vietnamese wanted to draw the U.S. forces "out
Route 9, the further the better," and then "tie them down." The campaign
called for close coordination with other North Vietnamese and Viet Cong
commands throughout South Vietnam, especially with Military Region
Tri-Thien-Hue
. According to the North Vietnamese study, the destruction
of "enemy strength and coordination with other battlefields [military
regions] are the most fundamental [and] important." The plan directed
that North Vietnamese commanders "focus mainly on striking the enemy
outside his fortifications," but "to strike the enemy in his fortifications
when necessary and assured of probable victory. "In effect, the North
Vietnamese would take Khe Sanh if they could, but there were limits
to the price they were willing to pay.







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