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battle. This is especially true in view of the fact that this is their first time. One just doesn't win every battle anyway. But I think you must measure the operation in terms of its overall impact on the situation in Southeast Asia, not by the result of some isolated tactical event which might attract your attention at the moment.
Looking at it in that context, we feel it is going to have a significant beneficial impact, although it will take some time to really analyze what has happened, just as the Cambodia operation last May and June. Yet there is no question about the fact that the North Vietnamese have been hurt heavily. At the same time you can't expect the South Vietnamese to get into a fight of this tempo and not have some major losses and some difficulties themselves.
SOUTH VIETNAM TROOPS AND LOSSES: B-52 AND TACTICAL AIR STRIKES
Chairman ELLENDER. How many were engaged on both sides in the area?
Admiral MOORER. The South Vietnamese actually put into the area about 17,000, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman ELLENDER. How many North Vietnamese were engaged !
Admiral Moorer. The North Vietnamese put in about 30,000 and they lost over a third. That is the estimate. I should go on to say that there have been some 375, what we call B-52 boxes; that is, areas where the B-52's have conducted strikes. And we have only had troops in about 67 or 70 of them. In other words, we haven't been able to on the ground, assess the result of these strikes.
You have somewhere between 250 and 300 B-32 strikes that have been put down in this general area where we know they have been damaged; but we don't know how much because we haven't been in there. The same thing goes for some of the tactical air. I should point out also that as a result of the interdiction that we have been conducting on this entire area since October 1, it is estimated that the North Vietnamese have lost about 8,000 trucks. Some of these trucks, about half of them, are empty, going north, and half of them are going south.
SOUTH VIETNAM TROOPS AND LOSSES
Chairman ELLENDER. What were the losses on the South Vietnamese side?
Admiral MOORER. I was about to tell you about that, sir. They had 17,000 troops in there, about 30 maneuver battalions.
So far they are reporting somewhere between [deleted] losses. In fact, they just went over the [deleted] mark a couple of days ago. I am sure that there will be more losses. There will be people die who were wounded and things of that kind. But our figures on the South Vietnamese are that, just a little over [deleted] they reported so far.
FIRE SUPPORT BASE 30 BATTALION SERVICE: LOSSES AND DAMAGE INFLICTION
If you will recall, some time ago there was quite a bit written in the press about fire support base 30. The battalion at that base did suffer heavy casualties, but at the same time it inflicted over 600 casualties on the enemy. We have photographs of the losses taken by aircraft.
The battalion at base 30 was lifted out, refitted, resupplied with personnel and material, but it went back in again and continued to fight. I think that is an example of the fact that the South Vietnamese do have the incentive and the morale necessary for them to conduct fighting of this scope even though there have been isolated cases where, as I said, the performance hasn't been as good as it may have been.
FOURTH BATTALION, 1st DIVISION, SERVICE: LOSSES, CAPTURES, AND DAMAGE
Down in this very hot area right here (indicating), one battalion, the 4th Battalion of the 1st Division, was continuously engaged for about 3 days. They were the battalion farthest deployed to the west. This battalion suffered heavy casualties, but they reported 1,200 North Vietnamese killed.
As some indication of the activity, they captured several hundred rifles. That is one indicator of the validity of enemy killed in action, that is, the number of the enemy's personal weapons that they manage to retrieve.
There is still heavy fighting going on, and it will continue, I think, for a few more days, at least, in this particular area and perhaps even longer in other areas. On balance, we feel it has been a beneficial operation and this will be clearly shown in the months ahead.
Chairman ELLENDER. Senator Young.
LAST NORTH VIETNAM MAJOR OFFENSIVE AGAINST SOUTH VEITNAM: TET
Senator Young. I recall during the Tet offensive the press had me pretty well convinced that we were taking a bad beating. But since then the North Vietnamese haven't launched a major offensive on the South Vietnamese. Is that true?
Admiral MOORER. That is correct, Senator. The North Vietnamese never publish their losses. As a matter of fact, this is one of the peculiar aspects of this war. (Deleted.]
TOTAL NORTH VIETNAM CASUALTIES
Senator Young. According to the informatiton I get from some intelligence sources, the North Vietnamese have lost around 600,000. That would be equivalent to about 6 million in losses to us. Is that estimate somewhere near correct?
Admiral MOORER. Since they have been fighting? Senator Young. No; altogether, the North Vietnamese have lost around 600,000.
Admiral Moorer. Yes, sir; I have read numbers that are even higher than that. Of course, when dealing in figures like that, you have to be careful. Yet I would estimate that the number is fairly accurate,
Secretary Laird. They have acknowledged about 500,000 themselves, but that is their own acknowledgement. I think the evidence indicates that it is somewhat higher than their acknowledged casualty rate.
Chairman ELLENDER. Does that include prisoners also ?
SOUTH VIETNAM WITHDRAWAL FROM FIRE BASES : PLANNED PROCEDURE
Senator Young. The news emphasizes so much the South Vietnamese being driven from these fire bases. Have the South Vietnamese been driven from all of these or have they withdrawn from some of them as planned?
Admiral MOORER. They have withdrawn from the fire bases shown in these blue dots. This was about as far west as they went, and then when they commenced the withdrawal, the procedure was all planned in advance. The fire-support base is the last place to be evacuated. It is kind of a leapfrogging proposition. They may go from this fire base to this one (indicating] while this one protects, and then there is a mutual support here and they just leapfrog back. That is the way they got in. They leapfrog over and leapfrog back.
NONINTENTION TO OCCUPY AREA
Secretary LAIRD. I think the misunderstanding is that there are some who feel that this operation was set up to occupy that territory. We made it clear in all of our briefings on the public record that this operation was not to occupy the territory in Southern Laos, Base Area 604. The operation was to disrupt the enemy's supplies and to try to force the enemy to concentrate its forces.
It was always anticipated that this withdrawal would go forward. . The difficulty is that when you are making a withdrawal when you are in contact with the enemy, it is a very difficult military operation. A withdrawal when there is no contact with the enemy is much easier. But a withdrawal when you are in constant contact is very difficult.
This withdrawal is being carried out in contact with the enemy. When President Thieu and General Vinh briefed me and briefed Admiral Moorer on this operation and requested air support for it in January when I was there, we went into this in great detail. It was anticipated by Piesident Thieu and General Vinh that this operation in this particular area would last from 5 to 8 weeks, and, further, that the forces woud then withdraw.
OPERATION ('OMMUNICATIONS: MISUNDERSTANDING OF U.S. POSITION
I think the problem that we have as far as communicating and as far as the public affairs aspects of this are concerned, is that there are some who felt we would encourage and insist that the South Vietnamese remain in Laos.
This has not been the position of our Government. This has not been the position of General Abrams. Occupying this territory has never been an objective of this operation.
Senator YOUNG. I strongly supported the Cambodian incursion. I think that should have been done long ago. But I was apprehensive about the Laotian venture because it is closer to the North Vietnamese base of operations, where they are stronger. But the television pictures you see do indicate a frantic withdrawal on the part of some of the South Vietnamese.
The television people probably utilize some of the worst cases. I suppose that will happen in any war.
Secretary Laird. Any man who comes out of combat and is interviewed immediately out of combat-I know I had the same feelingsand I think anyone who has gone through the combat experience under shelling and under fire, if he is immediately interviewed following that experience, exhibits a little fright.
I know I did, the first time we were illuminated with shells. It is a very tough experience. When you put a television camera in front of a young man and microphone, and ask him if it was tough in there, he is going to say it was tough. And it is tough because it is tough, hard, rough fighting that is going on in that area at the present time.
As this withdrawal goes forward, and this phase of the operation, and the contact continues, it is going to be hard and tough fighting.
DESTROYED AND DOWNED HELICOPTERS AND U.S. PILOTS MISSING IN ACTION
Senator Young. How many helicopters have we lost beyond repair? Secretary Laird. Let me ask Admiral Moorer to give you the details. Admiral Moorer. In Laos there have been 75, Senator Young, lost in this operation as of this morning. Actually, about half of the helicopters that go down are recovered and brought back. They are either lifted out or they are repaired on the ground and flown out.
A helicopter can go down for many reasons. Sometimes they only have an oil line separation or the pilot can get what is called a "red light" on the instrument panel, meaning something is wrong and he has to get on the ground. He will go down and they will repair it and he will take off.
So about half-the figures fluctuate slightly-of those that go down are recovered and of those that are recovered, some 90 percent are put right back into operation.
Senator Young. Do some of these pilots become prisoners of the
Admiral Moorer. Perhaps, sir. Some pilots are at the moment
Secretary Laird. That doesn't mean that all those pilots and other
SOUTH VIETNAM ORDERLY WITHDRAWAL
Senator Corton. I think the public in general understands that this is a temporary incursion, and it is expected that the South Vietnamese
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will leave. The only thing that is troublesome now is that as one sits and watches the television screen, it looks and sounds like the Battle of Bull Run. They make it appear that it isn't in any sense an orderly withdrawal, that the South Vietnamese are fleeing in panic, and so forth. Of course, it is understandable in many cases when they are pressed hard.
But you would still characterize what is going on at this time as an orderly withdrawal, and certainly as orderly as you anticipated?
Admiral MOORER. Under these circumstances; yes, sir. I have discussed this with General Abrams. He has sent General Brian up there to take a look. So the answer to your question is “Yes.”
BACKGROUND BRIEFINGS FOR PRESS IN SAIGON Secretary LAIRD. Mr. Chairman, I think it might be worthwhile to say that within the last 24 hours the J-2 and J-3 of General Abrams' staff had a background briefing for the press in Saigon and also General Abrams answered questions from the press in Saigon on a background basis. I would like to turn over the records of those briefings and the answers to those questions to the members of this committee. Perhaps it would be well for it to appear in your record, these background briefings by General Abrams and by the J-2 and 5-3.
Chairman ELLENDER. Are they available?
Secretary LAIRD. They are available. I have them with me. I think it would be useful for your committee to have them.
Chairman ELLENDER. Without objection, they will be received and put into the record at this point.
(The briefing follows:)