At his departure from Saigon following a four-day inspection of South Vietnam, General Earle Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reports that “progress in Vietnamization is being steadily and realistically achieved,” but that U.S. forces will have to assist the South Vietnamese “for some time to come.”
President Nixon had announced his intention to “Vietnamize” the war at the Midway Conference in June, saying that it was time that the South Vietnamese assumed more responsibility for the war. Accordingly, he announced that as the South Vietnamese improved in combat capability, U.S. forces would be withdrawn and returned to the United States. Supposedly, these withdrawals would be predicated on the rate of improvement in the South Vietnamese armed forces and the level of combat on the battlefield. However, once the U.S. troop withdrawals began in the fall of 1969, the schedule achieved a life of its own and the subsequent increments were withdrawn with very little consideration of the original criteria. By January 1972, less than 75,000 U.S. troops remained in South Vietnam.