Governments spend vast sums of money on the defense forces of the nation. The United States maintains an intelligence ability that would enable it to fulfill its military needs. The intelligence units gather facts on the size, location, disposition, abilities, and strategies of the military forces of foreign countries. In addition, the intelligence units gather information on foreign countries and proceedings in the foreign countries that may be necessary in carrying out military operations. The military intelligence units offer threat projections that aid the military on the efficient methods of organizing, training, and equipping their forces and caution of potential crises. In addition, the military intelligence units support the deployment of the military on various operations from peacekeeping to combat operations (Brown & Rudman 105).
However, there are instances where the military intelligence units have provided poor intelligence, leading to massive casualties in war. A clear example is in the Tet offensive, an attack on the American and allied forces during Tet, an important festival in Vietnam. Intelligence reports indicated that the enemy troops were planning an attack on American and allied forces. However, the military officials underestimated the strength of the enemy troops. In addition, the enemy troops used strategies that hid their main targets from the American and allied troops. The American and allied forces were there caught by surprise when the enemy troops attacked various towns during Tet. In so doing, they broke an agreement that ensured that there was no combat during Tet.
The Tet Offensive
In 1968, the US was involved in a war with Vietnam. The enemy forces that the US and allied forces were involved in combat with were the Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces. To celebrate Tet, – the most famous celebration in Vietnam – the North and South Vietnam had agreed on a three-day ceasefire. However, on January 30, 1968 about 84,000 National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces launched instantaneous attacks on more than 100 cities and military installations across South Vietnam. The attacks caught the US military by surprise. The magnitude and coordination of the attack was unexpected by the US military who had foreseen victory. Since this was a cease-fire period, a half of the troops in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), the chief US military ally in the war, were on leave. The attack changed the course of the war. The attack inflicted massive casualties on the US military and led to the capture of several cities. It took several weeks before the American military and its allies could recapture the cities (Schmitz 83).
The Tet offensive had a significant impact on the attitudes of Americans towards the involvement of the military in South Asia. The offensive was a clear indication that the intervention of the US in the war had yielded no fruits. It had not increased the will of the Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces in uniting Vietnam. In addition, the Tet offensive indicated that the three years of American involvement in the war had only led to casualties on both sides of the war. The Tet offensive played a significant role in the US withdrawal from the war. The offensive also had immense political implications. It disgraced the administration of President Johnson, further underlining his decision not to run for president for the second term (Wirtz 2). Many people view the Vietnam War as the war that America could not win due to various factors.
The Tet offensive was the greatest military intelligence failure in the war. However, it should not have caught the military by surprise. This is because the North Vietnamese officials usually implied in their public statements that a crucial offensive was near. In addition, several seized documents and prisoner interrogations hinted that there was a crucial winter-spring military offensive being planned by the enemy forces. Furthermore, intelligence reports noted that there were new buildings of these forces in South Vietnam. During this period, there was an increase in the frequency of coordinated attacks on the US military bases. This was a clear indication of a change in strategy of the enemy forces from guerilla tactics that it was using (Schmitz 84). Intelligence reports prepared in December 1967 concluded that the increase in the enemy military activities was a change in strategy. In addition, the reports indicated that the National Liberation Front (NFL) and the NVA viewed the approaching winter-spring campaign as the “decisive” part of the war. The strategy of the enemy forces was to launch an all-out offensive to achieve decisive victory. The attack would lead to the retreat of the of the US forces facilitating the creation of a coalition government by the enemy forces. The intelligence reports did not indicate any definite date for the attacks. However, there were strong implications that the attack would occur sometime in 1968. Using this information, the US embassy issued a press statement and noted that there were plans to attack main cities and towns including Saigon (Schmitz 85). Some officials in the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department contested the predictions of their seniors with regard to the progress made by the military in Vietnam. Analysis of the enemy troops by the official depicted an enemy that was more robust than Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). Therefore, the enemy had the capability of undertaking a major offensive that would result in great casualties to the US and allied forces (Schmitz 86).
The enemy forces were able to use efficiently passive and active deception to dupe the allied intelligence units. Through operations security, they were able to achieve secrecy, making them mask the preparations that they were undertaking on the offensive. In addition, the enemy forces undertook their offensive actions in the border areas. This drew the attention of the allied forces from the urban areas that they were targeting (Willbanks 93). US officials foresaw an imminent attack by the enemy forces. However, the officials thought the attack would not be against the cities but on an American military base in Khe Sanh (Schmitz 88). In January, 1968, there were reports that more than 20,000 enemy troops were moving south. This was the clearest indication that a crucial offensive was near (Willbanks 95).
It is, therefore, unclear why the US and allied forces were caught by surprise even after all the intelligence reports indicated that an attack was imminent. However, an analysis of the occurrences show that MACV had intentionally downgraded the intelligence estimates of the strength of the enemy forces. In fact, MACV had downgraded the strength of the enemy troops from 300,000 to 235,000 in December, 1967. Therefore, the allied forces dismissed the intelligence indicators since they profoundly contradicted the fundamental assumptions on the strength and capability of the enemy troops. Therefore, it was preposterous that the enemy troops had the strength to undertake a nationwide campaign (Willbanks 97).
The Tet offensive clearly illustrates the importance of military intelligence in combat operations. Therefore, military officials should ignore the intelligence reports at their own peril. Ignorance of the intelligence reports led to massive casualties of the American and allied forces. Intelligence reports indicated that an attack by the enemy troops on the American and allied forces was imminent. The movement of thousands of troops south should have put the American and allied forces on the alert. Underestimating the strength of the enemy troops was the greatest mistake of the American officials. Ultimately, the American and allied forces were victorious. However, they paid an enormous price for their ignorance.