The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff inform Defense Secretary Robert McNamara that they “are wholly in favor of executing the covert actions against North Vietnam.”
President Johnson had recently approved Oplan 34A, provocative operations to be conducted by South Vietnamese forces (supported by the United States) to gather intelligence and conduct sabotage to destabilize the North Vietnamese regime. Actual operations would begin in February and involve raids by South Vietnamese commandos operating under American orders against North Vietnamese coastal and island installations. Although American forces were not directly involved in the actual raids, U.S. Navy ships were on station to conduct electronic surveillance and monitor North Vietnamese defense responses under another program called Operation De Soto.
Although the Joint Chiefs agreed with the president’s decision on these operations, they further advocated even stronger measures, advising McNamara: “…We believe, however, that it would be idle to conclude that these efforts will have a decisive effect on the communist determination to support the insurgency, and it is our view that we must therefore be prepared fully to undertake a much higher level of activity.” Among their recommendations were “aerial bombing of key North Vietnamese targets,” and “commit[ment of] additional U.S. forces, as necessary, in support of the combat actions within South Vietnam.”
President Johnson at first resisted this advice, but in less than a year, U.S. airplanes were bombing North Vietnam, and shortly thereafter the first U.S. combat troops began arriving in South Vietnam.