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Defense Secretary McNamara Arrives in Saigon

Dec. 19, 1963 - Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara arrived in Saigon today and plunged immediately into an analysis of the state of the war against the Communist Viet Cong guerrillas. U.S. officials said the briefings given Mr. McNamara, who was sent to South Vietnam by President Johnson on a two-day fact-finding mission, were the bluntest ever prepared for a top-level American visitor. A high-ranking officer who arrived in Saigon from Washington three days ago said preliminary briefings indicated that the situation in the populous, Communist-infested Mekong Delta region south of Saigon was “rough — really rough.” A number of U.S. officials have voiced grave fears about the prospects of winning the war unless the new Government, which seized power Nov. 1, moves with greater vigor in the weeks ahead. One U.S. official told reporters: “If things don’t get moving in the next 90 days, we’re lost.” These officials are counting on Mr. McNamara’s talks with leading generals tomorrow to impart a new sense of urgency as well as to reassure Vietnamese leaders of Washington’s support at this critical juncture. In October, after Mr. McNamara’s last visit to South Vietnam, the Kennedy Administration had stated the goal of withdrawing the bulk of U.S. military forces from Vietnam by the end of 1965. Key U.S. officials in Vietnam, however, already regard the 1965 target date as unrealistic. Several felt at the time it was set that it was used for domestic political reasons. Others suggested it stemmed from an over-optimistic military estimate of the war. The question of a possible change in the date was expected to be a major item in Mr. McNamara’s talks in Saigon this week.


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