The President's News Conference
[Held with Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense, Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. William C. Westmoreland, Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam]
SUMMARY OF DISCUSSIONS ON VIETNAM
THE PRESIDENT. [1.] I thought it would be desirable, since it was necessary for General Westmoreland to return to this country, to ask him to come from South Carolina, where he has buried his mother, to visit with me briefly before he returned to his duty.
The General came in a little after 10 p.m. last night and we talked until a little after midnight.
We resumed those discussions this morning with Secretary McNamara and General Wheeler. We have just concluded them at the luncheon table.
The General will be returning to pick up Mrs. Westmoreland this afternoon and he is going back to his post in the morning.
I have, in the last few days, received detailed reports on the Vietnam theater from Ambassador Bimker, Mr. Locke, Mr. Komer, Secretary McNamara, Mr. Katzenbach, and General Wheeler.
I have read all of those very carefully and have exchanged views with Secretaries McNamara and Katzenbach, General Wheeler, and Mr. Komer about them.
I have exchanged messages with Ambassador Bunker and Ambassador Lodge. I have talked about the various subjects involved in those reports in some detail with General Westmoreland: the military operations there, the plans, the programs, the results, and so forth.
I think that it is fair to say that at no time during my Presidency have I been more pleased with the quality of leadership, namely, the leadership being provided by General Westmoreland and the leadership being provided by Ambassador Bunker, there than I am now.
We have tried to evaluate our successes-they are many. And our problems--and they are many. We have tried to find solutions and resolutions to some of the unanswered questions--and we have. I know that you will want to explore some of those on your own.
Suffice it for me to say that we are generally pleased with the progress we have made militarily. We are very sure that we are on the right track.
We realize that some additional troops are going to be needed and are going to be supplied. The President, the Secretary, the Joint Chiefs, and General Westmoreland are in agreement on our needs.
In consultation with our allies, we will meet those needs as they arise. We still have 20,000 or 30,000 under our previous authorization to be fitted into Vietnam. We will have others to follow them.
The exact time, the exact number, the exact type, the exact country, we will work on back in Vietnam--following General Westmoreland's return--and also in our discussions with the services here, and the other allies involved.
We cannot, today, give you any specific figure other than to say what Secretary McNamara said yesterday: We can foresee, at this time, no necessity to call up the Reserves.
Secretary McNamara, do you want to observe anything?
SECRETARY MCNAMARA. No, other than to say, Mr. President, because of General Westmoreland's unexpected departure from South Vietnam, General Wheeler and I did not have an opportunity to complete our discussions with him while we were there. We have done so today.
I was very happy to have this chance to draw to a conclusion the discussions of potential troop requirements that we had begun there.
THE PRESIDENT. General Wheeler, do you have anything you want to say?
GENERAL WHEELER. No, sir; except to say that, as you said, Mr. President, we are in accord. The problem now is to settle upon the resources and how we are going to meet the requirements.
THE PRESIDENT. General Westmoreland.
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. Despite many speculations as to the number of troops that I have asked for, the fact is that I have not asked for any specific number of troops.
I have recommended a deployment to Vietnam of a certain number of combat units that would comprise a part of a balanced force. I am being provided the forces, as I have recommended.
Over the period of the last 2 years, we have built up in South Vietnam a large logistical base which is well organized and is flexible. It is one of our real strengths.
We are now in a position where for every man that is deployed we will get a double return in combat power. Or, to put my thought in other words, we have already written off the logistic support.
We will get greater return in combat power for the forces that are henceforth deployed.
Logistic forces can be provided by military personnel, by contract, or by indigenous hire. We are using all of these methods at the moment to provide this logistical support. We will continue to do this in the future.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, sir.
QUESTIONS NUMBER OF TROOPS
[2.] Q. Mr. Secretary, could you clarify for us what seems to be a discrepancy between the figure announced at the Pentagon of 264,000 troops in Vietnam and your explanation yesterday that there were still 20,000 or 30,000 to come to make 280,000?
SECRETARY McNAMARA. I think you are talking about 460,000 and 480,000.
SECRETARY McNAMARA. The figure I said yesterday was 480,000. We have there 450,000 or 460,000 and we have on the order of 20,000 or 30,000 to go. They will be supplied within the next few weeks.
Q. Mr. Secretary, will these consultations with the allies in the future involve a proposal for an outright increase in the number of troops they have in the field?
SECRETARY McNAMARA. We don't request troops from our allies for use in Vietnam. I think we must engage in joint discussions of the requirements.
They are assuming responsibilities, as are we, as sovereign states for participation in the defense of Vietnam. We will counsel with them as to their views as to what the requirements are and how we might jointly fulfill those.
SOUTH VIETNAMESE EFFORT
[3.] Q. General Westmoreland, could you comment for us, from your viewpoint in Saigon, on the adequacy of the mobilization and effort by the South Vietnamese?
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. During the last 3 years the South Vietnamese Armed Forces have more than doubled in strength. This includes the three major components, namely, the regular ground forces--the ARVN, the regional forces, and the popular forces. This has involved quite a strain on their leadership resources.
During the past year there was a slowdown in the creation of new units because we realized about a year ago they were overextending themselves. They have made tremendous strides during the past year in improving their quality and their general proficiency.
They are now in a position where they can, again, expand. It is implied that during the coming year, there will be an increase in the strength of their forces. I cannot give you the specific numbers, but the increase will be fairly substantial.
BASIS FOR TROOP REQUESTS
Q. General Westmoreland, could you tell us, to help us understand both the present situation and, as these periods are repeated of troop requests, just how you do recommend, how you frame your recommendations, without necessarily giving away any specific numbers?
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. This matter is under constant study. It is a function of the enemy strength, the Vietcong strongholds that must be cleared and pacified, the objectives that we set for ourselves in connection with clearing areas, holding areas, opening up lines. of communication, invading well established VC base areas, containing North Vietnamese forces--such as along the demilitarized zone in western Pleiku and Kontum.
Needless to say, our requirement for U.S. forces has to take into consideration the free world military assistance forces and the ARVN forces. Our plans are based on integration of all of these type forces into a single military force and a great deal of study is given to it.
IMPACT ON DRAFT CALLS
[4.] Q. Mr. Secretary, could I ask you, quite apart from the figures that may be involved, what will be the impact of the additional personnel needed on the draft calls?
SECRETARY MCNAMARA. There won't be any significant impact on current draft calls. The statements I made at the President's ranch last November will still hold.
The draft calls for 1967 will be significantly lower than for 1966 in total.
TOUR OF DUTY
Q. Mr. Secretary, along that line, will there be any need to increase that 1-year tour of duty?
SECRETARY MCNAMARA. No, definitely not. I am glad you asked that question. None of the plans that we are considering involves any change in the basic program of a 1-year tour of duty in South Vietnam, except for those who volunteer to extend their tours beyond that.
I should say in passing--and General Westmoreland can add to this--a substantial percentage of the men have volunteered for an extended tour, but the basic tour is 12 months.
THE MILITARY SITUATION
[5.] Q. Sir, what is your outlook? What can we expect in the next year or so in military terms in Vietnam?
THE PRESIDENT. I wonder if you could tell us what we have done in the last year and expect in the next year, very briefly. Touch on this "stalemate" creature.
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. The statement that we are in a stalemate is complete fiction. It is completely unrealistic. During the past year tremendous progress has been made. I think the Secretary noted this during his recent trip.
The Secretary was there about 9 months ago and I am sure that the progress was evident to him. I live it from day to day and it is not as evident to me as it is to visitors who come in periodically.
It is like watching your children grow up. The grandmother comes and sees them once a year. She is always surprised at the extent to which they have grown.
I am living with the situation day to day and it is more evident to visitors than it is to me, but when I research my memory, go back into the records, it becomes quite evident that we have made tremendous progress.
We have opened up roads. They are now being used not only for military purposes but for commercial purposes.
We have invaded long-established base areas representing tremendous investment value such as in the vicinity of Saigon. We have pushed the enemy further and further back into the jungles.
The enemy had planned to take control of the two northern provinces, Quang Tri and Thua Thien. He has been stopped. He has suffered large casualties.
The enemy had planned to take over domination of the highlands. Again, he has been defeated and great casualties have been suffered. Greater population has been secured and taken away from Communist domination.
The revolutionary development program has made encouraging progress. It has a long ways to go, I admit, but the Government's program is off to a good start.
The ARVN troops are fighting much better than they were a year ago. They are showing greater professionalism. We have paramilitary units that are defeating North Vietnamese regular forces and Vietcong main forces. A year ago this was unheard of.
The number of defectors coming into the Government has substantially increased. The ratio of friendly troops killed to those killed of the enemy continues to increase. It has doubled during the past year.
The number of weapons lost by the Government forces, compared with those captured from the enemy, has turned in favor of the Vietnamese forces.
Two years ago they were losing two weapons for every one captured. Now they are capturing two to three weapons for every one they lose. These are all very favorable trends.
I think to measure progress, one has to think in terms of objectives. Our objective in South Vietnam is to give the people freedom of choice, to resist the aggression from the North, to try to give the people protection from the terror and intimidation of the Vietcong.
On the contrary, the enemy's objectives have been to terrorize the people, to disrupt the revolutionary development program, to take over more of the population, to sabotage the roads and lines of communication.
He has failed in achieving his objectives. We have succeeded in attaining our objectives. Despite the fact that North Vietnam has now apparently fully mobilized, sending her best troops and leadership to the South, developed a very large air defense system, and having her physical infrastructure progressively destroyed by our offensive strategy, our air war, she has nothing to show for it.
The enemy has not won a single significant victory during the past year, despite the tremendous effort that she has put forth.
SOUTH VIETNAMESE FORCES
[6.] Q. General, could you explain in connection with that why the South Vietnamese have not fully mobilized?
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. The South Vietnamese have a very large force under arms now, over 700,000 men. This is a considerable military force for a country of 15 million, approximately.
True enough, they are capable of organizing additional military forces. As I stated a moment ago, they will increase their regular and paramilitary structure during the coming year.
Leadership has been a problem and a major problem. Their leadership potential has been stretched almost to the elastic limit. Training facilities, budgetary considerations, demands of the local economy and the local government have, too. It makes no sense at all to increase a military force if you are going to degrade the quality.
One has to always strike a balance between quality and quantity. I feel that during the past year, we struck a pretty good balance-the Vietnamese Armed Forces--between the quality considerations and the quantity involved.
But now that they have had a chance to settle down to improve the quality of their force, with emphasis on their leadership, they are now in a position to continue to expand.
Q. General, was your request for additional units primarily for American units?
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. Frankly, I did not specify.
POSITION OF NORTH VIETNAM
[7.] Q. I wonder if I could ask you about some stories we have been reading and hearing about based on intelligence reports from the North. There seems to be a division in the North about their judgment on our staying power. Is the North weakening now? Do they feel we are going to stay there as long as we have to? Are they weakening their position? What is your view of that?
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. Frankly, my intelligence I don't believe is any better than yours in this regard. The leadership in Hanoi continues to send the regular troops to the South. They are continuing to move supplies to the extent that weather and the disruptive effect of our air strikes permit to the South.
As I mentioned a minute ago, their national effort has been enormous, almost to the capacity of the country. It must be a bit discouraging when they realize they have nothing to show for it.
Q. The coming year--what would be your view of what is going to happen?
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. I am in no position to speculate on that.
NUMBER OF UNITS NEEDED
[8.] Q. General Westmoreland, without going into numbers, could you say, using your phrase "units," about how many units have been agreed upon?
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. I am not privileged to discuss that.
GENERAL WESTMORELAND'S REQUEST
Q. (Alvin A. Spivak, United Press International.) Will this increase, Mr. President, in whatever form it takes, fully meet the request that General Westmoreland has made?
THE PRESIDENT. The General can answer that as well as I can. But we have both answered it before. The answer is: Yes, we have reached a meeting of the minds. The troops that General Westmoreland needs and requests, as we feel it necessary, will be supplied.
General Westmoreland feels that is acceptable, General Wheeler thinks that is acceptable, and Secretary McNamara thinks that is acceptable. It is acceptable to me and we hope it is acceptable to you. Is that not true, General Westmoreland?
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. I agree, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT. General Wheeler?
GENERAL WHEELER. That is correct, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT. Secretary McNamara?
SECRETARY MCNAMARA. Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Spivak?
MR. SPIVAK. Yes, sir.
NORTH VIETNAMESE FORCES
[9.] Q. General, could I ask, sir, how much of the main Vietnamese force has been committed to the struggle, percentage and otherwise, and are we prepared, in case the North Vietnamese decide to put the bulk of their army against the forces?
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. There are over 50,000 regular North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam right now. There are other troops north of the demilitarized zone, and there are additional troops in the so-called "panhandle" of Laos.
As to the total number involved, frankly we are not sure. It is certainly far in excess of those that we are in contact with in the South.
Now the enemy has a substantial number of forces tied up in their air defense system in order to counter our air offensive actions to the north. There is a substantial number of people involved in maintaining their lines of communication.
No doubt they could send additional troops to the South and they may do so. But they will do so at great risk.
As long as we continue our air interdiction program, I believe they will be hard pressed to properly support them.
FREE WORLD FORCES
[10.] Q. Sir, will the majority of additional troops or units be other than American?
GENERAL WESTMORELAND. As Secretary McNamara pointed out, discussions will be taking place with our allies.
As to the number of Americans, I think it is impossible to say at this time. I think the Secretary will agree with me. I am confident that we will welcome contributions from the free world forces.
SECRETARY McNAMARA. As the General pointed out, there will be significant increases in the Vietnamese forces. I believe the other allies will add to their forces as well.
Mr. Spivak: Thank you very much.
Note: President Johnson's one hundred and fourth news conference was held in the living quarters at the White House at 2:10 p.m. on Thursday, July 13, 1967.
As printed above, this item follows the text of the Official White House Transcript.
Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/238133