The Tet Offensive and Its Aftermath
Ngo Vinh Long
By 1967 the American "war of attrition" and its "pacification program" had failed in Vietnam, allowing the National Liberation Front (NLF) to control most of the countryside in South Vietnam. Confronted by the deteriorating situation in the South, the United States intensified its air campaign against North Vietnam to unprecedented levels. Throughout 1967, the United States hoped that the bombing would persuade the North to end NLF attacks in exchange for a bombing halt. It was under these circumstances, in October, that the Central Committee of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) decided to carry out a series of widespread offensive operations against urban centers in South Vietnam. The NLF leaders wanted to remind U.S. leaders that their main enemy was in the South and not in the North. They also hoped that these operations would convince the United States to end the bombing of the North and begin negotiations.
The attacks began during the Vietnamese New Year in 1968, and thus were labeled the "Tet Offensive" in the West. The offensive was composed of three phases, lasting until October of that year. During the first phase, which lasted from the end of January to the beginning of March, the NLF strike force achieved dramatic gains while receiving relatively light casualties. In my opinion, at this point the attacks should have been broken off, with military forces retreating into the countryside to consolidate their gains in newly liberated areas. Instead, Politburo members decided to mount the second and third phases of the offensive. As a result, the revolutionary units were left too long in forward positions around the urban