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Vietnam war: History

Introduction

US withdrawal (1969 - 73)

President Richard Nixon, elected in November 1968, sought an exit strategy that would leave US credibility intact.

In June 1969 he announced a policy of "Vietnamization" training and equipping the South Vietnamese military to enable the US to reduce troop numbers.

Over the following three years, more than 500,000 soldiers were withdrawn. This reduced already-low morale among troops, feeding high levels of desertion and drug abuse.

US public hostility continued, fuelled by several events. Two offensives against communist bases and supply routes in Cambodia, in 1970 and 1972, sparked waves of protest.

The June 1969 battle of "Hamburger Hill" raised fresh concerns about wasted US lives - 46 soldiers died fighting a successful but bloody battle for a site from which their comrades were withdrawn soon afterwards.

And evidence came to light of a 1968 massacre at My Lai, where US forces slaughtered more than 300 Vietnamese villagers during an assault on suspected Vietcong camps.

Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, but his successor Le Duan continued to fight. The communists launched another major offensive in 1972, but were turned back by massive US airpower.

Slow and convoluted talks were held in Paris from 1969. Punctuated in 1972 by an intense eight-day US bombing campaign targeting Hanoi, the negotiations eventually produced a peace deal in January 1973.

Under the agreement, US forces would leave and South Vietnam would have the right to determine its own future.

A US soldier injured in the Hamburger Hill battle awaits evacuation, 19 May  1969
The casualty count from Hamburger Hill increased US domestic anger

Graph: US troops in Vietnam

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