November 19, 1966
Nha Trang, South Viet Nam--Being a newcomer to this country, it is not unusual to ask questions pertaining to the conduct of the war. Several have been asked of military leaders regarding several aspects of the war. The only answers one gets from military sources are disgusted nods of the head.
Some of the main questions asked include:
1. Are North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops massed in Cambodia and Laos preparing for an attack?
2. Why aren't we bombing the ships in the Hanoi and Haiphong ports, which are supplying the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong with arms?
3. Why do we allow the Russians to operate ships just off the coast of Guam, where our B-52s are based, and in the Gulf of Tonkin, where our aircraft carriers launch air strikes at the mainland?
4. Why must we clear through the Vietnamese Government our plans to bomb enemy troop concentrations?
The State Department recently told a commanding U.S. General to retract his statement that enemy troops were massed in Cambodia. The general did as he was ordered.
But the situation is a joke here. North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong troops have been pursued by American units into Cambodia and Laos, and large concentrations of enemy troops have been sighted in both countries.
But we can't bomb them or shell them with artillery. We somehow have hope that the rulers of both of these countries will turn to us eventually and eliminate the sanctuaries they now give our enemies.
As one military spokesman said, "The leaders of both these countries are going to go with the winner. They want to make sure who is going to win before they take sides. Right now they are riding the fence and don't know which way to jump."
In the meantime, all we can do is wait for the enemy to come out of his sanctuary and hope we can hurt him before he hurts us, the spokesman added.
On the second question, it is impossible to believe that we would not try to destroy every source of arms and materials used by the North Vietnamese. But that's what we are doing. Therefore, arm laden Russian ships are always docked in the harbor at Haiphong.
"We don't bomb the area if Russian ships are present," spokesmen admit.
The next two questions are intertwined. Russian trawlers patrol the coast of Guam, and it is believed they relay data on all outgoing flights of bombers to the North Vietnamese.
Russian trawlers run around our aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin like so many ants. It is believed they too relay all flight data on air strikes launched from the carriers to the North Vietnamese, and serve as early warning posts for B-52 strikes.
North Vietnamese captives have reported that they know the B-52s are coming two hours before they arrive. This gives time to disperse troop concentrations, nullifies significant intelligence reports, and gives time to ready anti-aircraft defenses.
It also irks the American military that once North Vietnamese or VC troop movements are spotted in South Vietnam and positively identified, that our forces cannot react immediately with air strikes on that area. Current procedures are that the Vietnamese government must consent, clear down to the local province chief, before an air strike is ordered.
The time delay sometimes allows the enemy to escape into the jungles. One disgusted military source said, "We are fighting this war with the screwiest set of ground rules I've ever seen. It's even worse than Korea, when we couldn't grind up Manchuria and the Chinese Communists. They could kill us from their side of the sanctuary and we couldn't fire back."
"It's screwy," he said.