February 25, 2017

1968. Will the Vietnam Conflict Spread to Neighboring Countries?

Intelligence Reports of North Vietnamese Troops in Laos and Cambodia
An American reconnaissance unit moves through the jungle in Vietnam with elephants being used to transport supplies, June 27, 1964 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

January 4, 1968

The question which is uppermost in the minds of official Washington concerning the spate of peace rumors from Southeast Asia is this:

Is the US bombing finally driving Hanoi to the negotiating table as designed, or are the North Vietnamese engaged in a massive diplomatic maneuver in conjunction with Red China to gain time and prepare to spread the war to Laos, Thailand, and now, even Cambodia?

The abrupt about-face of Prince Sihanouk to reopen diplomatic channels with the United States concerning American military action against Viet Cong forces using Cambodia as sanctuary is important. It indicates that Sihanouk, as the Thailand government did last year, decided to join the West as a method of keeping the conflict from engulfing his country. Or perhaps the Cambodian Prince decided it was time to jump on the bandwagon because an Allied victory is near.

But what worries US officials here are the reports from Laos that North Vietnamese regular army units are showing up in substantial numbers to the west. And intelligence from northern Thailand indicates that the Red Chinese are increasing their support to Communist-led insurgent groups which already control islands of remote Thai territory through Viet Cong terror tactics.

For these and other reasons and other reasons, both the State Department and the Pentagon view the diplomatic maneuvering now underway in a half-dozen world capitals with the utmost caution.

This is Bill Downs reporting from Washington.