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Planning for the Future

With the new command structure in I Corps largely in place at the beginning of March, the allies began to plan the counteroffensive. As General Cushman later explained, the idea was to go "after the enemy first in the coastal areas in a series of short duration operations, using the mobility of our forces to fix and destroy enemy forces which had escaped from the major Tet battle areas." On 2 March, at a meeting at III MAF headquarters in Da Nang, Generals Cushman and Abrams approved the planning concept for the final phase of the offensive. Operation Pegasus, the relief and breakout from Khe Sanh.45

On 10 March, with the formal establishment of Prov Corps, Lieutenant General Rosson* at his headquarters in Phu Bai outlined for both Generals Westmoreland and Cushman his full plans for the counteroffensive in the north. The first effort would be the continuing operations against enemy forces in the Con Thien-Gio Linh forces north of Dong Ha. At the end of March and the beginning of April, the 1st Air Cavalry Division and the 3d Marine Division would give priority to the opening of Route 9 and beginning Operation Pegasus for the relief of Khe Sanh.** Following the relief of Khe Sanh, Prov Corps would then undertake a reconnaissance-in-force into the A Shau Valley southwest of Hue.46

At the 10 March meeting, General Westmoreland approved Rosson's concept and also directed General Cushman to undertake a broad-based study to estimate the future requirements for the defense of northern I Corps. General Cushman turned the task over to his acting G-3, Brigadier General Hoffman with a due date of l April. For planning purposes, Hoffman's study group was to assume that the political aspects of the war would not change and that there would be no further refinement of the rules of engagement. The planners were to assume that by l September Khe Sanh was no longer in danger and that Route 9 would be open from Khe Sanh to Dong Ha. By that date, one of the Army divisions, either the 1st Air Cavalry or the 101st Airborne, would have been detached from I Corps. Also included in the scenario for the study were the assumptions that the enemy would not have made any major reinforcement of his forces in the north and that the situation elsewhere in I Corps would not have required any depletion of the remaining units in the northern two provinces. According to MACV's guidelines, Hoffman's group was to look especially at "the pertinent aspects of the dyemarker system" relative to Khe Sanh and the DMZ strongpoints. Westmoreland directed that the analysis be '"wide open' and not constrained by past policies or precedents."47

Hoffman's group completed its study within the designated time and
made several proposals relative to the war in the north. Given their
guidelines, the III MAF planners concentrated on the future of the barrier,
the strongpoints and allied forces along the DMZ, and the base at Khe
Sanh. As far as the A Shau Valley, the group recommended only the establishing
of a fire base in the approaches to the valley, and limiting operations
to artillery and infantry raids. In probably one of its more controversial
conclusions, the panel suggested the abandonment of Khe Sanh in favor
of a much smaller base at Ca Lu. The group argued that the defense of
Khe Sanh would require a force of at least 10 battalions. Relative to
the barrier, the Hoffman panel observed that the enemy threat in the
DMZ sector was "invasion, as opposed to infiltration." The study group
contended that the barrier strongpoints actually assisted the enemy
by placing Marine and allied forces in fixed and static positions within
NVA artillery range. Still the III MAF study advised against cancellation
of Dyemarker because a "major conceptual change at this time might not
be politically or psychologically acceptable." Instead, the III MAF
panel suggested an "indefinite deferral of further Dyemarker SPOS [strong
point obstacle system] while maintaining current positions with a reduced
number of forces." While most of its recommendations were not immediately
implemented, the III MAF study clearly outlined the future prospects
facing the allied forces in the northern war.

March Operations in the DMZ Sector

While the American command planned to take the initiative from the enemy, the North Vietnamese still maintained formidable forces in the field, especially in the eastern DMZ sector in Operations Kentucky and Napoleon/Saline. In the Cua Viet region, in early March, this became increasingly evident. In Operation

* Although General Rosson did not assume command of Prov Corps until 10 March,
since 1 March he had been the Deputy Commander, MACV (Forward). Waldron
and Beavers, "The Critical Year, 1968," p. 19.

** According to General Rosson, he first wanted to mount a major offensive in the center and eastern portion of the 3d Marine Division and then sometime later follow with the Pegasus operation. He wrote that both Generals Cushman and Westmoreland overruled him "in turn based on what I was told was President Johnson's insistence that Khe Sanh be relieved soonest." Gen William B. Rosson, USA, Comments on draft, dtd 27Feb95 (Vietnam Comment File). See also Chapter 14 for the Pegasus planning.

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