3 April 1969: Policy of “Vietnamisation” Announced by Melvin Laird

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announced the US government’s new policy of Vietnamisation on 3 April 1969. At its core, this new policy proposed America’s involvement in Vietnam begin to recede, training the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) to sustainably continue to conduct military operations against North Vietnam while American troop numbers were gradually reduced.

After making his announcement, Laird said the administration would not discuss specific troop withdrawals as long as North Vietnam continued to wage offensive operations in South Vietnam. Nevertheless, on 14 May, President Nixon showcased his Vietnamization policy by announcing a series of scheduled US troop withdrawals, the first of the war. Although hostile to demands for an immediate American withdrawal, Laird saw the need to disengage US combat forces.

On the same day, the US military headquarters in Saigon reported that combat deaths for the last week of March had pushed the total number of Americans killed during Second Indochina War to more than 58,000 – far surpassing the number of US military fatalities that occurred during the Korean War.

During 1969, the US administration cut authorised troop strength in Vietnam from 549,500 to 484,000. From January 1969 to May 1972, US combat deaths declined 95 per cent from the 1968 peak, and the US outlays for the war fell by about two-thirds. Meanwhile, Congress voted to replace US draftees with an all-volunteer force.

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