Operation Linebacker quickly matured into a near country-wide, medium intensity campaign. Some regions of Vietnam were avoided where there were highest concentrations of SAMs and fighters, lest a B-52 be shot down. The pressure of Linebacker was enough to force the Vietnamese into negotiations with the Americans to end the war.
As 1972 and Operation Linebacker rolled on, these peace negotiations between the North and South, with America at the table, were at a high tempo in Paris. Henry Kissinger was face to face with North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho. The ultimate goal was to eliminate the US presence in the region and establishing a peace between the North and South -- the so-called "Peace with Honor."
The North Vietnamese, however, had other plans. Negotiations were instead designed to allow the North to gain advantages and time to prepare for the next round of the war. On the face of it, discussions were increasingly positive and by late October the United States halted its bombing campaign above the 20th parallel as a sign of good faith. What was being said at the table in Paris, however, was not being carried out on the ground. With much of the North again off-limits to the bombers, the North started an unprecedented buildup.
During this period, the B-52 also saw its first loss in combat. A B-52D model, flying out of U Tapao in Thailand, was hit by a surface to air missile (SAM). The crew flew the damaged plane all the way back across the border but couldn't save the plane and was forced to eject. It was the first loss in over seven years of combat missions.
Finally, as reconnaissance overflights revealed that the Paris talks were clearly little more than a cover for North Vietnam's next planned offensive, President Nixon ordered the commencement of a new, massive bombing campaign. It would be a no-holds barred effort targeting supply sites, oil storage, air bases, missile sites, ammunition dumps, railroad yards, and communications centers across the North. His orders were brilliantly simple: he let the military do the job it did best, without political limitation. Even Hanoi and Haiphong were placed on the target list. The watchword was to do whatever it took to win the war.