Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Ann Wright: The History of Surges

A History of "Surges"

By Retired Colonel Ann Wright
t r u t h o u t | Columnist

Monday 08 January 2007

Vietnam: from 21,000 advisors to 400,000 combat troops in two years.

President Bush is strongly intimating that he will change US military commanders in Iraq and appoint generals who will not oppose his "surge" of from 20,000 to 40,000 in troop strength there. Current military commanders have opposed an increase of US military personnel in Iraq due to lack of clarity on missions, goals and exit strategies for the new forces.

A look at US history in Vietnam sheds light on the potential for extraordinarily large increases in US military troop strength in a short time, unless there is a huge, vocal, visible outcry from us, the citizens, and from the Congress.

In early 1964, the US had 16,000 military personnel in South Vietnam who were advisers to the South Vietnamese military. On July 27, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson ordered 5,000 additional military advisers to South Vietnam, bringing the total US troop level to 21,000.

A week later, on August 4, the USS Maddox, a US Navy destroyer, was conducting an electronic intelligence-gathering mission four miles off the North Vietnamese coast when it was allegedly attacked by three torpedo boats of the North Vietnamese navy. President Johnson decided that the attack could not go unanswered and ordered retaliatory strikes against North Vietnamese ports and oil facilities.

On the basis of the administration's assertions that the attacks were "unprovoked aggression" on the part of North Vietnam, on August 7, 1964, the US Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the president broad powers to conduct military operations without an actual declaration of war. The resolution passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and was opposed in the Senate by only two members. Tragically, neither Congress nor the American people learned that the incident was fabricated by the Johnson administration until the publication of the Pentagon Papers five years later, in 1969.

In March 1965, 3,500 US Marines "surged" to be the first US combat troops in South Vietnam, adding to the 25,000 US military advisers already there. In May 1965, the 173d Airborne Brigade "surged" to become the first US Army ground unit committed to the conflict in South Vietnam.

Seven months later, by November 1965, US military forces had "surged" to over 120,000. On November 27, Pentagon officials recommended that to defeat North Vietnamese troops and National Liberation Forces (NLF), US troop levels in South Vietnam would have to "surge" from 120,000 to 400,000.

In a series of meetings between General Westmoreland and President Johnson held in Honolulu, Hawaii, in February 1966, the general argued that the US presence had succeeded in preventing the immediate fall of the South Vietnamese government, but that another troop "surge" would be necessary to conduct offensive operations to defeat North Vietnamese and NLF military forces.

As a result of the Honolulu conference, President Johnson authorized a "surge" in troop strength to 429,000 by August 1966. So, in less than two years, the presidential "surge" in Vietnam had reached over 400,000 troops - from 21,000 in July 1964 to 429,000 in August 1966.

Late in 1967, Westmoreland said that it was conceivable that in two years or less, US forces could be phased out of the war, turning over more and more of the fighting to the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN).

Richard Nixon had campaigned for president in 1968 on a "secret plan to end the Vietnam War." But Nixon had no such plan, and the American involvement in Vietnam continued for another five years. The goal of the American military effort was to gradually build up the strength of the South Vietnamese armed forces and to re-equip them so that they could defend their nation on their own: the "Vietnamization" of the US effort. By October 1971, the total number of US forces in South Vietnam had dropped to 196,700, the lowest level since January 1966.

On January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords on "Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam" were signed, officially ending direct US involvement in the Vietnam War. President Nixon ordered the suspension of all offensive actions against North Vietnam, to be followed by a unilateral withdrawal of all US troops and an exchange of prisoners of war.

The first US prisoners of war were released by North Vietnam on February 11, 1973. All US military personnel were ordered to leave South Vietnam by March 29, 1973. As an inducement for the South Vietnamese government to sign the Paris Peace Accords, Nixon had promised that the US would provide financial and limited military support, in the form of air strikes, so that the South Vietnamese government could continue to defend itself.

In December 1974, the US Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974, which cut off all military funding to the South Vietnamese government and made unenforceable the peace terms negotiated by Nixon. Nixon, threatened with impeachment because of Watergate, had resigned as president, and Nixon's vice-president, Gerald Ford, had stepped in to finish his term. Ford vetoed the Foreign Assistance Act, but his veto was overridden by Congress.

By the end of April 1975, the weakened South Vietnamese military had collapsed on all fronts. On April 27, 100,000 North Vietnamese troops encircled Saigon, which was defended by only about 30,000 ARVN troops. On April 29, the US launched the largest helicopter evacuation in history and evacuated the remaining American employees and tens of thousands of Vietnamese.

The Cost of the "Surge" in Vietnam:

  • US killed in action, died of wounds, died of other causes, missing and declared dead - 57,690

  • South Vietnamese civilian dead - 300,000

  • South Vietnamese military killed - 243,748

  • North Vietnamese civilian fatalities - 65,000

  • The North Vietnam People's Army and NLF (combined) - 666,000

  • Republic of Korea military killed - 4,407

  • Australia and New Zealand (combined) military killed - 469

  • Thailand military killed - 351

What will be the cost of a "surge" in Iraq?

How many Iraqis and how many Americans will die with this "surge," and for what reason?




Ann Wright is a retired 29-year US Army Reserves Colonel and a former US diplomat. She resigned from the diplomatic corps in March 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war.

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Globetrotter: The Geopolitics Behind Spiraling Gas And Electricity Prices In Europe
The current crisis of spiraling gas prices in Europe, coupled with a cold snap in the region, highlights the fact that the transition to green energy in any part of the world is not going to be easy. The high gas prices in Europe also bring to the forefront the complexity involved in transitioning to clean energy sources... More>>

Julian Assange: A Thousand Days In Belmarsh
Julian Assange has now been in the maximum-security facilities of Belmarsh prison for over 1,000 days. On the occasion of his 1,000th day of imprisonment, campaigners, supporters and kindred spirits gathered to show their support, indignation and solidarity at this political detention most foul... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: The Mauling Of Novak Djokovic
Rarely can the treatment of a grand sporting figure by officialdom have caused such consternation. Novak Djokovic, the tennis World Number One, has always had a tendency to get under skin and constitution, creating a large following of admirers and detractors. But his current treatment by Australian authorities, and his subsequent detention as an unlawful arrival despite being granted a visa to participate in the Australian Open, had the hallmarks of oppression and incompetent vulgarity... More>>

Off To The Supreme Court: Assange’s Appeal Continues

With December’s High Court decision to overturn the lower court ruling against the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, lawyers of the WikiLeaks founder immediately got busy... More>>

Forbidden Parties: Boris Johnson’s Law On Illegal Covid Gatherings

It was meant to be time to reflect. The eager arms of a new pandemic were enfolding a society with asphyxiating, lethal effect. Public health authorities advocated various measures: social distancing, limited contact between family and friends, limited mobility. No grand booze-ups. No large parties. No bonking, except within dispensations of intimacy and various “bubble” arrangements. Certainly, no orgies... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Question Time Is Anything But
The focus placed on the first couple of Question Time exchanges between the new leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister will have seemed excessive to many but the most seasoned Parliamentary observers. Most people, especially those outside the Wellington beltway, imagine Question Time is exactly what it sounds... More>>