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General Harkins Remains Optimistic on Vietnam

Mar. 5, 1963 - “This is the key year,” General Paul D. Harkins (pictured right) said in Saigon today in winding up a mostly optimistic appraisal of the present course of fighting in Vietnam. In support of his belief that 1963 will be a year of decision in the long struggle of South Vietnam against the Communist Viet Cong, Gen. Harkins, leader of the U.S. military assistance command in South Vietnam, made the following two points:

1 — Continued expansion of the strategic hamlet program will progressively isolate Communist guerrillas from the Vietnamese rural population.

2 — The South Vietnamese armed forces have now attained the experience, training, and equipment prerequisite to victory.

Gen. Harkins said Government protection is now given to more than 6 million people located in some 4,000 strategic hamlets. The people have taken well to the idea of living in these hamlets, the general said. “All these people want is a chance to work in their fields and to live in peace,” Harkins said. Many of the younger ones cannot remember a time when there was peace, he added. To reach the people, the Viet Cong now must fight their way into the villages — a method which is counter to their traditional strategy of winning support through sympathetic identification of themselves with the villagers’ problems. As the various sections of the country are insulated in the strategic hamlets against Viet Cong penetration, there will be increasing necessity for the Communists to mount armed attacks against the people, according to the general, and these assaults are calculated to erode whatever good will the villagers hold for the Communist raiders. General Harkins suggested that as much as 90% of South Vietnam would be reasonably free of the Viet Cong by the end of 1963.

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