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February 07, 1967 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 1967-02-07

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r I

Officials Debate Effect of Continuing
U.S. Bomb Offensive in North Vietnam


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EDITOR'S NOTE: Should North
Vietnam be immune from U.S.
bombing? Should Americans pilots
subject themselves to concentrations
of anti-aircraft fire because of re-
stricted routes? Why are North
Vietnamese MIG airfields off limits
to U.S. attackers? What is the
cost in lives and effectiveness?
These are questions in a continuing
debate in the United States as t11e
bombing of North Vietnam moves
into its third year. This is an AP
survey of the conditions that sur-
rund the bombings, and the dis-
pute they have engendered.
SAIGON P) - The American
bombing offensive against North
Vietnam is two years old today.
To date, it has cost the United
States more than 400 pilots dead,
captured or missing and 471 air-
craft worth roughly $1 billion by
Pentagon estimates.
In the wake of publicity and
protests about the bombing, a
great debate is raging. Is the
bombing worth it? Or is the of-
fensive, as some insist, largely a
failure in achieving U.S. objec-
Frequently Nort Vietnam hints
that the bombing is the greatest
single obstacle to negotiations on
the Vietnam war. But Hanoi has
failed to say what it would do to
scale down the war if the offensive
is halted.
There are confusion and ap-
parent contradiction in official
statements about the effectiveness
of the raids on the North.
Some say stop the bombing all
together. Others say restrictions
on U.S. pilots create frustrations
for them and sanctuaries for the
enemy in the North. Some say the
restrictions render ineffective the
effort to impede infiltration of
troops and supplies to the Viet
Cong in the South.
President Johnson says the
United States is "conducting the
most careful and self-limited air
war in history."
Sen. Stuart Symington (D-Mo.),
leading Senate protests against
restrictions, says: "One thing is
sure. We must either fight or get
Here are some major complaints

of U.S. pilots and other military
U.S. bombers use approved and
known runs to established targets,
and the North Vietnamese', aware
of this, can concentrate heavy
antiaircraft fire.
U.S. airmen now are forbidden
to bomb key targets in the North:
industrial complexes, oil depots and
the vital irrigation system, either
because of a possiblity of hitting
civilians or because of prospective
political complications.
U.S. pilots must bypass barges
loaded with trucks and ammuni-
tion, must pass up enemy airfields
crowded with Communist jet war-
planes. One flier said he had to fly
past barges unloading trucks and
supplies "which later I attack,
with questionable success, in the
jungles of the Ho Chi Minh
After a tour of Vietnam recently,
Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, re-
ported a trend in the Communist
North to disperse antiaircraft bat-
teries and key supply depots
among heavily populated areas
because the Communist know
"our policy is not to attack pop-
ulated areas per se." The net re-
sult, he said, was in some instances
to make installations immune to
Bomber Flights
Washington sources have re-
ported the administration in Janu-
ary barred bomber flights from
an area 10 miles in diameter over
the center of Hanoi, which can be
penetrated only if an American
pilot is engaged in air combat with
enemy fighters. But one source
said this hardly mattered because
"we're so restricted anyway."
The Pentagon has not confirmed
or denied these reports, nor one
that the Air Force and Navy must
have permission for each bombing
raid within 30 miles of Hanoi.
They can attack surface-to-air
missile sites without explicit De-
fense Department approval, though
the 10-mile diameter rule likely
would hold in this case, too.
U.S. policy makers prefer not

to bomb airfields in the North on
grounds that it might force the
North Vietnamese to use fields
in Red China. It is argued that
this could lead to "hot pursuit"
across the border, thus raising a
possibility of direct Chinese in-
volvement in the war. U.S. officers
in Vietnam say this restriction
threatens the American bombing
offensive itself.
U.S. Losses
Officers say that since U.S.
losses to MIG fighters totaled 10
planes in the year and a half since
the first MIG encounter, it is con-
ceivable that 10 planes and pilots
would have been saved if air-
fields had been attacked at the
However, they express more con-
cern about the bombing offensive
itself. The North Vietnamese, the
argument goes, have used MIGs
not so much to attack U.S. fighters
as to menace mombers and force
them to lighten loads by dropping
bombs before targets are reached.
Hensy, they add, the MIG prob-
lem has been not so much one of
pilot casualties as one of impeding
the effectiveness of the bombing
runs. Many pilots say they want
to bomb the MIG bases, four of
which are in Hanoi-Haiphong
As for losses, the Defense De-
partment estimates the value of
the planes at an average of $2
million each. This would be $942
million for 471 planes. The Penta-
gon declines torsay exactly how
many pilots were downed, but ob-
viously all but a few of those lost
were brought 'down over North
The losses-and Western visit-
ors' reports of civilian casualties
in the North-have fanned the
embers of the debate, but the
argument is not new. It dates back
almost to the day the offensive
began, Feb. 7, 1965.
The story was much the same
on the first anniversary a year
ago. In the first year 30,000 tons
of bombs were dropped in 15,000
sorties, but troops and supplies

continued to pour from north to
south. The "main lesson was that
planes would have to fly more
often and drop many more bombs
on a greater variety of targets
if the raids were to serve their
purpose," an AP analysis at that
time said.
Pilots could destroy or neutral-
ize "assigned" targets, but major
targets were not assigned. Pilots
were restricted to bridges and ve-
hicles on eight major highways,
rail lines, rolling stock, ferries,
barges, power plants and the like.
Second Year
In the second year of the of-
fensive, the number of sorties in-
creased sharply. The U.S. com-
mand discontinued announcing
"sorties-one attack by one plane
-against the North. But Saigon
sources say 90,000 or more in the
second year would be a reasonably
good estimate.
Since late December, however,
restrictions on the U.S. pilots have
been even greater, possibly be-
cause of publicity resulting from
the visits of Western newsmen
and others to Hanoi, and their
reports on civilian casualties. No
bombs have fallen on the Hanoi
suburbs since the Dec. 13-14 at-
tacks on a truck depot and rail
yard there. The depot and yard
now are off limits.
The bombing offensive was
launched two years ago as an an-
nounced response to a major Viet
Cong terror attack on U.S. instal-
lations at Pleiku, staged at a time
when Soviet Preimer Alexei N.
Kosygin was in Hanoi talking to
Ho Chi Minh's regime. The bomb-
ing was described as a retaliation,
and also as an effort to make the
war too expensive for Hanoi and
to halt infiltration of troops and
supplies from the North to the
Viet Cong.
How effective has the offensive
been. The estimates are confusing.
Fuel Depots
Last June 29 U.S. bombers hit
fuel depots in the Hanoi-Hai-
phong areas. The Pentagon said
the depots represented 60 per cent
of the North's strategic oil supplies
and commented: "The price of the
war has gone up." But it also said
only 15 per cent of the North
petroleum facilities had been
knocked out.
On June 30, House Speaker John
W. McCormack, (D-Mass.) said
the bombing would "seriously af-
fect the ability of the Viet Cong
and the North Vietnamese to car-
ry on guerrilla and military activi-
ties." Sen. Everett M. Dirksen, (R-
Ill.) said: "We're absolutely
astounded at the real precision
results" and that 66 per cent of
petroleum storage facilities in the
North had been reached "right on
But on July 9, U.S. officials con-
ceded that the oil depot near Hal-
phong had been much less severely
hit than originally claimed.
Defense Secretary
A week later, Cyrus R. Vance,
.deputy defense secretary, reported
about two thirds of the North's
oil storage capacity destroyed. He
conceded the raids could not com-
pletely shut off the flow of men
and munitions to the South but
could "impose a ceiling, and we
believe it will do so."



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