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1968

South Vietnamese recognized to have increased combat capabilities

In a news conference, Defense Secretary Clark Clifford declares that the South Vietnamese have “acquired the capacity to begin to insure their own security [and] they are going to take over more and more of the fighting.”

Clifford, who had succeeded Robert McNamara, had taken office with more than a little skepticism about the way the United States was conducting the war in Vietnam. This skepticism increased after the communists launched their massive offensive during the Tet (Chinese New Year) holiday earlier in 1968. Clifford set up a Vietnam task force to reassess the situation. He learned that U.S. military leaders could offer no plan for victory or assurance of success. Accordingly, he told President Lyndon B. Johnson that victory was probably impossible and recommended that the president initiate a bombing halt of North Vietnam and try to negotiate an end to the war. Clifford’s comments about the combat capabilities of the South Vietnamese were part of his effort to set the stage for U.S. disengagement from the war. Johnson would follow Clifford’s advice on the bombing halt in October 1968 when he called an end to Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign against North Vietnam that had been ongoing since March 1965. Clifford left office in 1969 with the rest of the Johnson administration. The next president, Richard M. Nixon, instituted a new policy that echoed many of the things that Clifford had recommended. In June 1969, Nixon announced his “Vietnamization” policy, a strategy built around two main objectives: increasing South Vietnamese combat capability and withdrawing U.S. troops.

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