Losing Vietnam: How America Abandoned Southeast Asia

Losing Vietnam: How America Abandoned Southeast Asia

Losing Vietnam: How America Abandoned Southeast Asia

Losing Vietnam: How America Abandoned Southeast Asia


In the early 1970s, as U.S. combat forces began to withdraw from Southeast Asia, South Vietnamese and Cambodian forces continued the fight against the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF), more commonly known as the Viet Cong. Despite the evacuation of its ground troops, the United States promised to materially support its allies' struggle against communist aggression. Over time, however, the American government drastically reduced its funding of the conflict, placing immense strain on the Cambodian and South Vietnamese armed forces, which were fighting well-supplied enemies.

In Losing Vietnam, Major General Ira A. Hunt Jr. chronicles the efforts of U.S. military and State Department officials who argued that severe congressional budget reductions ultimately would lead to the defeat of both Cambodia and South Vietnam. Hunt details the catastrophic effects of reduced funding and of conducting "wars by budget." As deputy commander of the United States Support Activities Group Headquarters (USAAG) in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, Hunt received all Southeast Asia operational reports, reconnaissance information, and electronic intercepts, placing him at the forefront of military intelligence and analysis in the area. He also met frequently with senior military leaders of Cambodia and South Vietnam, contacts who shared their insights and gave him personal accounts of the ground wars raging in the region.

This detailed and fascinating work highlights how analytical studies provided to commanders and staff agencies improved decision making in military operations. By assessing allied capabilities and the strength of enemy operations, Hunt effectively demonstrates that America's lack of financial support and resolve doomed Cambodia and South Vietnam to defeat.


As a prelude to the signing of the Vietnamese cease-fire agreement the United States agreed to build up the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) and to continue to supply them with essential military supplies and equipment. To supervise that effort and to maintain liaison with the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff (JGS), the U.S. Support Activities Group (USSAG), a major headquarters, was established in northeast Thailand. Most people thought that the cease-fire would herald a stable and lasting peace, but the war continued unabated, much to the consternation of Washington as to which side was violating the agreement.

At a meeting with the JGS in Saigon in October 1973, after inquiring about the initiation of hostilities, I was pleased to learn that RVNAF field reports could provide information as to the origin of combat activities as well as a myriad of other useful data concerning hostilities. Earlier in Vietnam my unit had great success utilizing operational analysis to sharpen our combat edge. I felt that an analytical study of this data could be helpful to the RVNAF to improve its military operations. USSAG offered to analyze the data on a continuing basis. Our initial analysis indicated that 90 percent of the cease-fire violations were initiated by the North Vietnamese in land-grabbing operations. More importantly, it showed that on the few occasions when the RVNAF attacked they were much more efficient than when they were fending off the enemy. It was essential for the South Vietnamese to go on the offensive to prevent the enemy from taking over their country. So, on 3 December 1973 a JGS order went out to the RVNAF to seize the initiative, and during the next ten months or so the RVNAF was very successful in defeating the communists and blunting their attacks. However in July 1974 the U.S. Congress drastically reduced the funding for South Vietnam. The RVNAF was forced to seriously ration . . .

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