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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Foreign Relations of the United States > Kennedy Administration > Volume III
Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Volume III, Vietnam, January-August 1963
Released by the Office of the Historian
Documents 19 through 30

19. Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hilsman) and Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President/1/

Washington, January 25, 1963./2/

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam. Secret. This report and the attached annex are summarized in Hilsman, To Move a Nation, pp. 463-466. The report, without the annex, is also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, Vol. 11, pp. 717-725.

/2/The memorandum, as prepared for submission to the President, was undated. The date given here was handwritten on the source text.

A REPORT ON SOUTH VIETNAM

The war in South Vietnam is clearly going better than it was a year ago. The government claims to have built more than 4,000 Strategic Hamlets, and although many of these are nothing more than a bamboo fence, a certain proportion have enough weapons to keep out at least small Viet Cong patrols and the rudiments of the kind of social and political program needed to enlist the villagers' support.

The program to arm and train the Montagnards, which should go far toward choking off the infiltration routes, has also made progress. There are 29 U.S. Special Forces teams training Montagnards (as well as certain minority groups in the Delta), with eleven more teams on the way. By mid-autumn training camps had been set up in all the provinces bordering Laos, and a system of regular patrolling started that hopefully will one day cover the entire network of trails in the mountain regions. Under this program over 35,000 Montagnards have been trained, armed, and assisted in setting up their village defenses, the eventual goal being one hundred thousand.

In both the mountain regions and the heavily populated lowlands, the areas through which one can travel without escort have been enlarged. In contested areas, the government is beginning to probe out, gradually repairing the roads and bridges cut by the Viet Cong as they go. In some of the moderately populated areas fringing the Delta and the coastal plain, as for example Binh Duong province, isolated villages have been bodily moved to positions along the roads where they can be more easily defended.

As of December 1, the Vietnamese government controlled 951 villages containing about 51% of the rural population--a gain of 92 villages and 500,000 people in six months. The Viet Cong control 445 villages with 8% of the rural population-a loss of 9 villages and 231,000 people in six months.

The impact of previously authorized U.S. aid programs is also beginning to be felt. On the military side, U.S. advisors, helicopters, air support, and arms have given the Vietnamese military new confidence which they are showing by increased aggressiveness. For the first time since the war began in 1959, for example, the government forces began in September to capture more weapons than they lost. From January to August, government forces captured 2,728 weapons but lost 3,661. But in September and October, they captured 908 weapons and lost only 765.

On the Strategic Hamlet and civilian programs. U.S. aid is just coming in. Strategic Hamlet "kits'' are now arriving, a U.S. military advisor has been stationed with each province chief, and twenty of the forty-one provinces will soon have a U.S. Rural Development advisor as well. Finally there is considerably more optimism among Vietnamese officials than there was a year ago, although it is probably based more on the visible flow of U.S. aid than on an objective analysis of actual progress.

The Viet Cong, in sum, are being hurt--they have somewhat less freedom of movement than they had a year ago, they apparently suffer acutely from lack of medicines, and in some very isolated areas they seem to be having trouble getting food.

Qualifications

Even so, the negative side of the ledger is still awesome. The Viet Cong continue to be aggressive and are extremely effective. In the last few weeks, for example, they fought stubbornly and with telling results at Ap Bac, near My Tho. They completely escaped an elaborate trap in Tay Ninh province. They fought their way inside the perimeter of a U.S. Special Forces training camp at Plei Mrong, killing 39 of the trainee defenders and capturing 114 weapons. And they completely overran a strategic hamlet in Phu Yen province that was defended by a civil guard company in addition to the village militia, killing 24 of the defenders and capturing 35 weapons.

Probably even more significant are the figures on Viet Cong strength. Intelligence estimates credit the Viet Cong with actually increasing their regular forces from 18,000 to 23,000 over this past year in spite of having suffered what the government claims were losses of 20,000 kil1ed in action and 4,000 wounded. Part of this increase may result from nothing more than better intelligence, but even so it is ominous that in the face of greatly increased government pressure and U.S. support the Viet Cong can still field 23,000 regular forces and 100,000 militia, supported by unknown thousands of sympathizers.

What these figures suggest is that the Viet Cong are still able to obtain an adequate supply of recruits and the large quantities of food and other supplies they need from the villagers of South Vietnam itself. Infiltration by sea has been effectively blocked since early in 1962. As for infiltration by land, captured documents, POW interrogation, evidence gathered by patrolling, and other intelligence indicates that 3,000 to 4,000 Viet Cong at the most have come over the so-called Ho Chi Minh trails since January, 1962. As to supplies, there seems to be no doubt that the trails have so far been used only for specialized equipment, such as radios; for medicines; and perhaps for a few automatic weapons, although no weapons have yet been captured which could be proved to have been brought in after 1954. Thus the conclusion seems inescapable that the Viet Cong could continue the war effort at the present level, or perhaps increase it, even if the infiltration routes were completely closed.

Villagers' Attitudes

The question that this conclusion raises--and the basic question of the whole war--is again the attitude of the villagers. It is difficult, if not impossible, to assess how the villagers really feel and the only straws in the wind point in different directions. The village defenders in many of the strategic hamlets that have been attacked have resisted bravely. But in an unknown, but probably large number of strategic hamlets, the villagers have merely let the Viet Cong in or supplied what they wanted without reporting the incident to the authorities. There is apparently some resentment against the Viet Cong about the "taxes'' they collect and suspicion based on the stories the villagers hear about what is going on in the North. But there may be just as much resentment and suspicion directed towards the government. No one really knows, for example, how many of the 20,000 "Viet Cong'' killed last year were only innocent, or at least persuadable villagers, whether the Strategic Hamlet program is providing enough government services to counteract the sacrifices it requires, or how the mute mass of villagers react to the charges against Diem of dictatorship and nepotism. At the very least, the figures on Viet Cong strength imply a continuing flow of recruits and supplies from these same villages and indicate that a substantial proportion of the population is still cooperating with the enemy, although it is impossible to tell how much of this cooperation stems from fear and how much from conviction. Thus on the vital question of villagers' attitudes, the net impression is one of some encouragement at the progress in building strategic hamlets and the number that resist when attacked, but encouragement overlaid by a shadow of uneasiness.

Conclusion

Our overall judgment, in sum, is that we are probably winning, but certainly more slowly than we had hoped. At the rate it is now going the war will last longer than we would like, cost more in terms of both lives and money than we anticipated, and prolong the period, in which a sudden and dramatic event would upset the gains already made.

The question is where improvements can be made-whether in our basic approach to fighting a guerrilla war, or in the implementation of that approach.

The Strategic Concept

We feel that the basic strategic concept developed last year is still valid. As mentioned above, the Viet Cong have gotten trained cadre and specialized equipment from the North, but the vast bulk of both recruits and supplies come from inside South Vietnam itself. Thus the strategic objectives of the war in South Vietnam, as in most guerrilla wars, are basically political--not simply to kill Viet Cong, but to win the people. Although the strategic concept has never been spelled out in any one document, the consensus seems to be that it consists of the following objectives: (1) to create the incentive for resistance in the basic population by providing for a flow upward of information on villagers' needs and a flow downward of government services, and by knitting them into the fabric of community decision-making; (2) to provide the basic population with the means and training for resistance; and (3) to cut the guerrillas' access to the villagers, their true line of communications, by essentially police-type measures for controlling the movement of goods and people. In this context, the military objectives are also threefold: (1) to protect installations vital to the economy and government; (2) to provide rapid reinforcement for villages under heavy attack; and (3) to keep the regular guerrilla units off balance and prevent them from concentrating by aggressive but highly discriminating and selective offensive military operations.

This combination of civilian and military measures is designed to reduce the guerrillas to their die-hard nucleus and isolate them in areas remote from the basic population. Only when this is done does the task finally become one of killing Viet Cong, of simple elimination.

As we say, this concept seems sound. For, even though it is difficult to assess the attitudes of the villager, two assumptions seem reasonable. The first is that the villagers will be prudently cooperative with the Viet Cong if they are not given physical security, both in the military sense of security from attacks on their village and in the police sense of security from the individual acts of terror and retaliation. The second is that if the villagers are in fact politically apathetic, as they seem to be, they are likely to remain so or even become pro-Communist if the government does not show concern for their welfare in the way it conducts the war and in the effort it makes to provide at least simple government services. It may be that these measures will not be enough to create popular support for the government and the incentive to resist, but it seems obvious that support could neither be created nor long maintained without them.

Implementing the Concept

Thus it is in the implementation of the strategic concept that there seems to be the greatest room for improvement. Success requires, first, full understanding of the strategy at all levels of the government and armed forces, and, second, the skills and organization for effective coordination of military activities with civilian activities. Some parts of the Vietnamese government do understand the strategy, but in other parts the understanding is imperfect at best. The same is true of the necessary skills and organization. Specific areas in particular need of improvement are listed in the paragraphs below, which discuss both programs and continuing issues and conclude with a proposal as to how the United States might increase its leverage on the Vietnamese government so as to bring the improvements about.

Lack of an Overall Plan

The most serious lack in South Vietnam is that of an overall plan, keyed to the strategic concept described above, through which priorities can be set and the coordination of military and civilian activities accomplished. In spite of U.S. urgings there is still no single countrywide plan worthy of the name but only a variety of regional and provincial plans, some good and some not so good. There are, for example, a number of special plans--the Delta Plan, Operation Sunrise, Operation Sea Swallow, Waves of Love--; several plans developed by the commanders of the Corps and Divisional areas; and an unknown number of plans developed by each of the forty-one province chiefs. Regional and provincial plans are, of course necessary, but they should be elements of a country-wide plan rather than a substitute for it. As it is, the impression is strong that many of these plans are both inconsistent and competitive.

Strategic Hamlets

One result of the lack of an overall plan is the proliferation of strategic hamlets that are inadequately equipped and defended, or that are built prematurely in exposed areas.

Gaps: The Police Program

The second result is that essential aspects of the strategy are neglected. The police program is an example. An effective police system is vital to guard against Communists remaining inside strategic hamlets, and to man the checkpoints and patrols that are essential in, controlling the movements of goods and people. The present police' system is clearly inadequate, and although the Public Safety Division of U.S. AID has put forward a proposal for expansion, no action has yet been taken.

Multiple Armies

A third result is what appears to be an extremely uneconomic use of manpower. There is in South Vietnam a confusing multiplicity of separate armies. In addition to the regular forces (the ARVN), there are under arms the Civil Guard, the Self Defense Corps, the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups (CIDG), the Hamlet Militia, the Montagnard Commandoes, the Force Populaire, the Republican Youth, the Catholic Youth, several independent groups under parish priests, such as Father Hoa's Sea Swallows, and even one small army trained, armed, and commanded by a private businessman to protect his properties in Cap St. Jacques. All these forces add up to almost half a million men under arms, a number which if so organized would come to the astounding total of 51 divisions.

This multiplicity of separate armies results not only in an uneconomic use of manpower, but also difficulties in coordination and confusion as to function. One also suspects that it is a misallocation of manpower as well, with too much emphasis on military activities and not enough on civilian such as government services to the villages and police work. So many armed men with different loyalties will also create problems in the transition to a peace-time economy if victory is in fact won, as well as the obvious danger that one or another chief will use the forces under his command for political purposes. South Vietnam does not need any more armed men, but it does need to reorganize what it has.

Coordination of Military and Civilian Activities

Still another result of the lack of an overall plan are the difficulties in coordinating military and civilian activities. One example is the proportion of "clear and hold'' as opposed to "hit and withdraw'' operations. There are no statistics available, but a number of American military advisors feel that the proportion of "clear and hold'' operations, in which troops clear an area and then remain to protect the civic action teams and villagers while they build strategic hamlets, is too low in proportion to the "hit and withdraw'' operations designed to destroy regular Viet Cong units. The latter type of operation is essential to keep the Viet Cong off balance and to prevent their concentrating for large-scale attacks, but it should be subordinate to the systematic expansion of secure areas.

Amnesty Program

A final result of the lack of an overall plan, or perhaps of imperfect understanding of an effective counter-guerrilla strategy, is the Vietnamese reluctance to embark on a meaningful amnesty program. After much U.S. urging, the Vietnamese have finally developed a plan, but it is far from satisfactory. The basic trouble is revealed by the Vietnamese insistence that what they want is not an "amnesty'' policy but a "surrender'' policy.

Civil Programs

The inadequacies in the police program, the tendency to build strategic hamlets in exposed places with inadequate arms and equipment, and the reluctance to develop a meaningful amnesty program have already been discussed. Other inadequacies in civilian programs are discussed below.

One continuing problem is the failure of the Vietnamese government to organize its economy on an emergency basis. A resistance to deficit spending and stricter controls has permitted too large a part of the country's internal and external resources to go to nonessential purposes, especially in the Saigon area.

There should be more planning for what the Vietnamese economy will be like after the shooting has ended. There is almost none of this kind of planning now, and some of the things being done today might make sensible planning in the future very difficult. An obvious example is the rise of consumption levels, especially in non-essential imports which Vietnam could not buy without U.S. aid. At some point, and probably soon, the U.S. should undertake a long-range economic study of the country's future development.

Military Operations with Political Aspects

The opinion of some American military advisors that the proportion of "clear and hold'' offensive operations is too low in relation to "hit and withdraw'' operations designed to keep the Viet Cong off balance has already been mentioned. Another aspect of military operations that may have political consequences is the tactics used in the offensive operations needed to keep the Viet Cong off balance. Some American military advisors feel that the Vietnamese have a bias toward elaborate, set-piece operations. These large-scale operations provide insurance against defeat, but they are expensive, cumbersome, and difficult to keep secret. From the political point of view they have the additional disadvantages for the Vietnamese of maximizing the chances of killing civilians and from the American point of view of requiring a very heavy use of helicopters.

An alternative, and apparently effective way of keeping the regular Viet Cong off balance is long-range patrolling by small units, such as Ranger companies. In this tactic, the patrols, resupplied by air, stay out in the field for extended periods of time, never sleeping two nights in the same place, ambushing, and in general using guerrilla tactics to fight the guerrilla. The remaining forces are kept in reserve for rapid reinforcement and sealing off an area when the patrol encounters resistance. Although American military advisors in South Vietnam have worked hard to overcome Vietnamese reluctance to operate for extended periods in the field and at night, which would permit greater use of this tactic, they have had only partial success. (Paradoxically, President Diem spent a substantial part of his four and a half hour lecture to us praising a province chief who has used the long-range patrol tactic to very good effect recently in Zone D)./3/

/3/For a summary of this conversation, see Document 6.

Use of Air Power

On use of air power, and the danger of adverse political effects, our impression is that the controls over air strikes and the procedures for checking intelligence against all possible sources are excellent. In spite of this, however, it is difficult to be sure that air power is being used in a way that minimizes the adverse political effects. U.S. Air Force advisors tell us that the demand for air strikes from the South Vietnamese has gone up enormously. There are now 1,000 strikes per month, and there would be considerably more if the air power were available. During November, thirty-two per cent of these 1,000 strikes were so-called "interdiction''--that is, attacks on installations located in air photos and identified as Viet Cong by intelligence. Fifty-three per cent of the air strikes during November were in direct support that is, bombing and strafing in advance of an attack on a location intelligence indicated as being occupied by Viet Cong or in response to a request by a ground unit in contact with the enemy. Fifteen per cent were other kinds of mission, such as reconnaissance. There is no doubt that the Viet Cong fear air attacks and that some interdiction is necessary and useful. On the other hand, it is impossible to assess how much resentment among persuadable villagers is engendered by the inevitable accidents. In general, the final judgment probably lies in the answer to the questions raised above about the relative emphasis on "clear and hold'' and long-range patrolling versus "hit and withdraw'' of the more elaborate type. If the proportion is correct between extending control and the necessary offensive operations to keep the Viet Cong off balance, then the killing of civilians is probably at an unavoidable minimum. If the proportion of "hit and withdraw'' is too high in relation to "clear and hold'', on the other hand, then air power, too, is probably being overused in ways that have adverse political consequences.

Reinforcement of Strategic Hamlets

One final point on the political aspects of military operations concerns quicker reinforcement for strategic hamlets under attack. Some American military advisors feel that more attention should be paid to ways of providing quicker reinforcement for the hamlets, including air support, although in the case of air support there are formidable problems of communications and in providing airfields close enough to threatened villages.

Foreign Policy

In its complete concentration on the civil war and on the means and ideology for winning it, the government of South Vietnam has a naivete in foreign affairs which is dangerous for both Vietnam and for the U.S. There has been massive resistance to U.S. suggestions on policies for cooperation in other problems in the area, i.e. Laos and Cambodia. To some extent this is unavoidable in view of Diem's rather simple view of the Communist threat, but U.S. interests are so heavily involved in the country that our voice should carry more weight.

Vietnamese Domestic Politics

The Diem government is frequently criticized for being a dictatorship. This is true, but we doubt that the lack of parliamentary democracy bothers the villagers of Vietnam or much affects their attitudes toward the war. The real question is whether the concentration of power in the hands of Diem and his family, especially Brother Nhu and his wife, and Diem's reluctance to delegate is alienating the middle and higher level officials on whom the government must depend to carry out its policies. Our judgment is that the United States does not really have as much information on this subject as it should. All that can be said at the moment is that it is the feeling of Americans in contact with these officials that they are encouraged by U.S. aid and apparently getting on with the job. Both the American and British missions, for example, feel that Brother Nhu's energetic support for the Strategic Hamlet program has given it an important push. The only evidence to contradict these judgments that we found was in a conversation with Buu, the head of the Vietnamese labor movement and, paradoxically, one of the co-founders with Diem and Nhu of Diem's political party.

Diem's Press Relations

The American press in South Vietnam now has good relations with the Embassy and MACV and generally are grateful for the help that they have received. But their attitude toward Diem and the government of South Vietnam is the complete opposite, and with much justice. Diem wants only adulation and is completely insensitive to the desires of the foreign press for factual information. He is equally insensitive to his own image, the political consequences of the activities of Madame Nhu and the other members of his family, and his own tendencies of arbitrariness, failure to delegate, and general pettiness. After much effort, Ambassador Nolting persuaded Diem to let the Defense Ministry give regular military briefings. True to form, however, the content of the briefings is deplorable. One of these briefings, for example, the transcript of which we examined, contained little more than a saccharine eulogy of President Diem.

It would be nice if we could say that Diem's image in the foreign press was only his affair, but [it] seriously affects the U.S. and its ability to help South Vietnam. The American press representatives are bitter and will seize on anything that goes wrong and blow it up as much as possible. The My Tho operation, for example, contained some mistakes, but it was not nearly the botched up disaster that the press made it appear to be.

Action for the United States

By way of summary, then, we feel that the United States should push the Diem government harder on the need for an overall plan, on a reduction in the number of different military organizations, on foreign policy questions in which the United States has an interest, on an effective police program, for a greater emphasis on military operations in extending and securing government control as opposed to large-scale offensives and air interdiction, on a meaningful amnesty program, on planning for the post-war economy, and on a realistic effort to get a more favorable press.

On many of these issues, of course, the United States has already been pressing. Thus in one sense the question is how to increase our leverage in the face of Diem's biases and general resistance to advice.

Actually, the United States is in a much better position to see that its advice is taken than it was a year ago. At that time Diem and officials at the national level were practically the only point of contact the U.S. had with either civil or military programs. Today, however, the U.S. has military advisors not only at the lower levels of the Army but with each province chief and steps are being taken to put U.S. AID advisors in at least 20 of the 41 provinces. It therefore is becoming possible to accomplish much of what we want at the local level without going through the vastly inefficient national bureaucracy. An example is the work of the special forces teams. They work at the village level, and at a number of places have done wonders not only in training and supervising the erection of village defenses but also in medical aid, school construction, and even in agriculture and marketing.

In general, it is our judgment that an effort should be made to increase this influence at the local level even more by putting additional U.S. AID people with province chiefs and, where it is indicated, even at selected places further down in the civilian hierarchy.

In addition, having gotten past the first year of increased U.S. support and demonstrated our sincerity, the time has probably come when we can press our views on Diem more vigorously and occasionally even publicly.

One final recommendation for U.S. action concerns our dealings with the press here in Washington. In our judgment a systematic campaign to get more of the facts into the press and T.V. should be mounted. Although our report, for example, is not rosily optimistic, it certainly contains the factual basis (e.g., the first few paragraphs) for a much more hopeful view than the pessimistic (and factually inaccurate) picture conveyed in the press.

 

[Annex]

Eyes Only/4/ Annex: Performance of U.S. Mission

/4/According to Hilsman's memoirs, Eyes Only in this instance meant Eyes Only for the President. (Hilsman, To Move a Nation, p. 465)

Many of the individuals and agencies in the U.S. Mission- are doing an outstanding job. But some of the criticisms of the Vietnamese also apply to the Americans, the following in particular:

1. There is no overall planning effort that effectively ties together the civilian and military efforts.

2. There is little or no long-range thinking about the kind of country that should come out of victory and about what we do now to contribute to this longer-range goal.

3. Among both civilians and military there is still some confusion over the way to conduct a counter-guerrilla war. Many of the lower-ranking people out in the field in actual contact with the problems seem fully conscious of the importance of the civil and political aspects, but in the middle and higher levels understanding is far from perfect. The American military mission must share some of the blame for the excessive emphasis on large-scale operations and air interdiction which have the bad political and useless military effects described in our report.

4. In general, we don't use all the leverage we have to persuade Diem to adopt policies which we espouse. On foreign policy matters the U.S. mission has failed to press U.S. interests sufficiently hard, possibly because it is easier to concentrate on in-country operations. In domestic politics, we have virtually no contact with meaningful opposition elements and we have made no attempt to maintain a U.S. position independent of Diem. There should be a more outspoken U.S. attitude on public policies we disapprove of, more U.S. support of people like Buu, the head of the major labor organization, and less of Madame Nhu. We should push harder for a gradual liberalization of the authoritarian political structure and for the other programs discussed in the body of our report.

The real trouble, however, is that the rather large U.S. effort in South Vietnam is managed by a multitude of independent U.S. agencies and people with little or no overall direction. No one man is in charge. What coordination there is results mainly from the sort of treaty arrangements that are arrived at in the Country Team meetings and from an inter-agency committee chaired by the Deputy Chief of Mission, which limits itself to provincial rehabilitation. The result is that the U.S. effort, although massive, is fragmented and duplicative. An example is the chronic shortage of weapons for strategic hamlet defenders. There are more than enough weapons in the country, but they get lost in Vietnamese government depots. The full effort of the American community is rarely concentrated on breaking such bottlenecks.

What is needed, ideally, is to give authority to a single, strong executive, a man perhaps with a military background but who understands that this war is essentially a struggle to build a nation out of the chaos of revolution. One possibility would be to appoint the right kind of general as Ambassador. An alternative would be to appoint as Ambassador a civilian public figure whose character and reputation would permit him to dominate the representatives of all other departments and agencies.

There are, of course, some formidable political and bureaucratic problems in taking either of these steps. What is more, we cannot say that the matter is urgent or that disaster will inevitably or immediately follow if things remain as they are. Progress toward winning the war is being made under the present setup-although, as we have said, it will take longer than expected, cost more, and prolong the period in which a dramatic event could wipe out the gains already made. On balance, our recommendation would be not to make any sudden and dramatic change, but to keep the problem in mind when changes are made in the normal course.

Certain specific problems concerning the U.S. Mission are dealt with in the numbered paragraphs below.

(1) A continuing problem is air support of ground operations and of reinforcement for strategic hamlets and other static defense forces under attack. There is an inter-service argument over who should do this sort of thing, whether the Army controlled HU1B armed helicopters and Mohawks, or the Air Force controlled Farm Gate fighters and bombers. The result is an insufficient effort in certain circumstances.

(2) There are also insufficient liaison type aircraft for support of U.S. AID and Special Forces especially. Here again there is an inter-service argument over who should do this sort of thing, resulting in an insufficient effort.

(3) Concerning air support and the outstanding request for another increase in "Farm Gate'' (the U.S. flown bombers and fighters), we would suggest delaying approval until we could be sure that progress had been made on the problems of emphasis between "clear and hold'' operations on the one hand and "hit and withdraw'' and "interdiction'' operations on the other. Any such request should also be reviewed from the standpoint of whether adequate close support and liaison air capability is being provided.

(4) The U.S. military has still not solved the communications problem in South Vietnam, especially ground-to-air communications, but including ground-to-ground communications. When the Special Forces at Plei Mrong were attacked, it was several hours before air support could be brought to bear. Despite the program to equip strategic hamlets with radios, of which over 2,000 have already been distributed, the strategic hamlets still have trouble obtaining reinforcements, and especially air support. Partly this is a problem of peculiar electromagnetic conditions in South Vietnam, which should yield to research and development efforts. In the main, however, it results from inadequate procedures for calling in air power and directing it by local people who know the terrain and targets.

(5) In U.S. AID, the effort seems to be divided between the Deputy in charge of Rural Development, Rufus Phillips, and the more conventional AID activities. Phillips is coming close to running a practical program, but so far is operating meaningfully in only half the provinces. This rural development program, which is essentially the civic side of the strategic hamlet program, is the cutting edge of the U.S. effort at the village level. It needs to be expanded and given more flexibility and quicker support than the AID agency normally can give under present circumstances. The remainder of the AID activities seem confined to administering the commodity import program and the vestiges of earlier projects. What is most lacking here is an economic program for Vietnam designed both to support the present war effort and lay the basis for future development of the country when peace is restored.

(6) A decision has been reached to transfer from CIA to the Army the training of certain paramilitary groups including the Montagnards. This is known as "Operation Switchback''. The Agency is making a sincere effort to carry out this decision, but serious difficulties are arising from the Army's rather inflexible budgetary and personnel procedures. These programs require unconventional disbursements of local currency, rapid air delivery of specialized equipment and rapid construction of storage facilities. The Army may eventually work these problems out; but in the meantime the program should not be allowed to slacken at this critical point. "Operation Switchback'' should be extended, if necessary.

Michael V. Forrestal
Roger Hilsman/5/

/5/Printed from a copy that bears these typed signatures.

 

20. National Security Action Memorandum No. 217/1/

Washington, January 25, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 72 D 316, NSAMs. Sent to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Administrator of AID.

SUBJECT
Official Visits to South Vietnam

The President has asked that official visits by high ranking military and civilian personnel to South Vietnam be coordinated with Governor Harriman. Accordingly, such proposed visits should be cleared with his office./2/

/2/According to Hilsman, this directive grew out of President Kennedy's frustration over press reports of unscheduled visits by senior U.S. officials to Vietnam. Hilsman recalls that the President telephoned him to express his concern over these visits, which, he felt, appeared to increase the U.S. commitment in Vietnam. Hilsman added that Kennedy said: "That is exactly what I don't want to do.'' (Ibid., Office of the Historian, Vietnam Interviews, Roger Hilsman, May 15, 1984)

McGeorge Bundy

 

21. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President /1/

Washington, January 28, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series. Secret.

SOUTH VIETNAM

You asked for a list of actions which you might take to follow up on Roger Hilsman's and my report on South Vietnam./2/

/2/Document 19.

General Wheeler is returning to Washington on Wednesday./3/ I suggest you meet with him, Secretary McNamara, Governor Harriman, Director McCone and General Taylor on Friday to hear his report./4/ At that meeting you might keep the following points in mind for discussion and action:

/3/January 30.

/4/General Wheeler's report is printed as Document 26. There is no record of the February 1 meeting, but see Documents 27 and 29.

1. Start looking for a successor to Fritz Nolting, whose tour comes to an end in April unless he is reappointed. More vigor is needed in getting Diem to do what we want.

2. Review of the command relationship between CinCPac and Harkins. Ideally Harkins should report to the JCS directly. If you don't want to go this far right away, you might ask General Taylor to discuss with CinCPac the strategy of the war in South Vietnam and perhaps suggest less interference in the tactical aspects of General Harkins' job.

3. The press problem needs attention. You might ask Governor Harriman and the press people to review our own policies. I think we have not been candid enough with them and consequently have generated suspicion and disbelief. The USIA chief in SVN, John Mecklin, has recommended that the U.S. begin giving our newsmen briefings, including a limited amount of classified information whether the GVN likes it or not. He further suggests that our people in the field be instructed to ignore any efforts by the GVN to prevent them from cooperating with U.S. newsmen.

4. You might also ask General Wheeler whether he is satisfied that enough emphasis is being placed upon clear and hold operations' as distinguished from large scale hit and run strikes involving a possible over-use of U.S. helicopters.

5. You might ask John McCone to see if his people think "Operation Switchback'' (the shift of responsibility for paramilitary training from CIA to the Army) should be delayed at least until the Army can assure its continuity.

Before your meeting on Friday I will supply you with a check list to remind you of these and other questions you may want to raise.

A National Security Action Memorandum/5/ has gone out to the Departments concerned directing them to clear all VIP trips to South Vietnam with Governor Harriman.

/5/Document 20.

MVForrestal/6/

/6/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.

 

22. Memorandum From the Deputy Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Heavner) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman)/1/

Washington, January 29, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, Pol 13 Non-Party Blocs. Secret.

SUBJECT
Contacts with Vietnamese Opposition Parties

During your discussions with Mr. Forrestal and Mr. Hilsman following their return from Viet-Nam, the question of adequate contact with Vietnamese oppositionists was raised. As I recall, Mr. Forrestal indicated his feeling that we are not sufficiently aware of opposition activities. I said that State Department personnel are not permitted to maintain contacts with known oppositionists, [2 lines not declassified].

[1 paragraph (4 lines) not declassified]

I am not sure that the policy of no contact with lower level State Department officers is necessarily the right policy. However, this has been the policy for the last five years to my knowledge. A change now would almost certainly be interpreted by Diem as an effort to undermine his regime.

 

23. Memorandum From the Deputy Director of the United States Information Agency (Wilson) to the Director (Murrow)/1/

Washington, January 30, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 306, USIA/TAP Files: FRC 68 A 1415, CI-Vietnam. Eyes Only.

At the January 17 CI meeting/2/ there was a long discussion about U.S. press coverage of Viet-Nam. The feeling of the group was that, although our policies were correct in Viet-Nam you would never know it from the press coverage of Viet-Nam in this country. I was charged by the CI group to ask Pierre to hold a meeting on the problem and see what solutions might be devised. A meeting was held on January 21 with Bob Manning, Secretary Sylvester, Ralph Dungan and myself in Salinger's office.

/2/See Document 14.

We agreed that there are two layers to the problem:

1. Past U.S. policy of laying back and letting the Vietnamese take the lead in dealing with the press must be reviewed. John Mecklin's memorandum/3/ was read and discussed at some length. It was the opinion of all of us that Mecklin's memorandum goes in the right direction. Salinger said that he would give the memorandum to the President and send it back to us with the President's reactions. Unfortunately, the President still has the memorandum and he has not reacted, although I have jogged Pierre a couple of times. Apparently there isn't much Pierre can do about it, since he knows the President has the memorandum and has asked him about it at least once since the meeting.

/3/For text of Mecklin's November 27,1962, memorandum, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. II, Document 322.

2. Devise means whereby favorable accounts of the situation in Viet-Nam can be given to the right press men under the right circumstances. Under this approach, two things have happened:

a. Admiral Felt will hold an on-the-record press conference this week.

b. General Wheeler will issue a statement next Tuesday, upon his return, and then hold an on-the-record press conference. It is also hoped that he can be teed up for a subsequent National Press Club luncheon but early optimism on this has faded somewhat.

Meanwhile, Governor Harriman reacted so favorably to the Mecklin memorandum that he sent a letter/4/ to Ambassador Nolting in which he suggested three areas of improvement which Nolting should explore:

/4/Document 24.

1) The handling of foreign journalists by the Vietnamese Government-leaving it to the Ambassador to decide whether we ourselves should simply take the initiative to increase our briefings and contacts or should try to explain the facts of life to the Vietnamese. However, the governor feels that the American public has a right to the best possible information even if this offends Vietnamese sensibilities.

2) Critical statements by the military advisers in the heat of battle--and here Governor Harriman notes that the new PIO will be able to help considerably. The Governor is also urging an indoctrination of U.S. personnel on the importance of not criticizing the Vietnamese publicly.

3) Finally, Ambassador Nolting, General Harkins and other responsible members of the Country Team are urged to increase their official and informal contacts with the American press, making sure that the press promptly gets the facts and the perspective involved. But the Country Team has also been cautioned against optimistic statements to the press and public officials.

Donald M. Wilson

 

24. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman) to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Nolting)/1/

Washington, January 30, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, PR-11 Press Relations. Secret. Drafted by Wood and Harriman.

Dear Fritz: I can imagine that the flood of unfavorable news stories about the helicopter operation of January 2-3/2/ has given you as much pain as me, particularly those stories alleging that American military spokesmen made such statements as, "It was a miserable damn performance.'' I know that press relations is one of your biggest headaches.

/2/See Document 1.

The purpose of this letter is to explore with you what further steps can be taken in Saigon & Washington to improve the situation. I realize that a great deal has been done by you and your able PAO, John Mecklin, but more objective reporting in the U.S. press is of great importance. I know I don't have to emphasize to you the need for support and understanding at home for the expensive, continuing and sometimes dangerous programs which we are carrying out in Viet-Nam.

I suggest we take a look at the problem under three heads: the handling of foreign journalists by the Vietnamese Government; critical statements made by American advisers in the heat of battle; and the amount of news that American officials themselves should make available to U.S. journalists in Viet-Nam.

As to Vietnamese briefings of the press and restrictions on the press, there does not seem to be much chance of an adequate improvement. You have done a great deal to encourage the Vietnamese to tell their story of their war and should continue to do so. However, since this is also a war which involves very important American policies, commitments and risk to American personnel, the American public has a right to the best possible American information even if this does offend Vietnamese sensitivities. It is for you to decide whether this should be explained to the Vietnamese or whether we should simply take the initiative to increase our briefings and contacts.

As to the U.S. military policy towards the press, I have noted the excellent guidance which General Harkins gave to American military advisers on press relations (Airgram 327, December 19/3/).1 think the ground rules which he set forth should certainly help the American advisers in their contacts with the press. In order to further clarify this situation I would suggest that all American correspondents while on operations with United States forces might well be clearly identified by a name tag or by other means. I think the most damaging aspect of our press problem is alleged quotes of American military advisers criticizing their Vietnamese comrades in arms. Nothing could be more destructive of the cooperation we must have with the Vietnamese or more helpful to the Communist propagandists. I know this is difficult to lick. However, I was glad to learn that the new PIO, Colonel Bazil L. Baker, who will be coming to Saigon as Colonel Smith's tour comes to an end, is highly regarded. I would recommend that more assistant PIO's be sent to Saigon so that journalists may be given better service and coverage in their contacts with our military personnel in the field. Also, I would like to know what is done to explain to U.S. personnel the importance of not insulting the Vietnamese publicly. We are guests in their house and we have come to help them. I believe this simple point might be reiterated frequently to our official personnel in Viet-Nam.

/3/Not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5/12-1962)

Finally, I want to encourage you, General Harkins, and such other responsible members of your staff as you think appropriate, to increase your official and informal contacts with the American press. I know that you do this kind of thing very well and even if there is no hard news to give, regular contacts with you will enable the correspondents to vent some of their frustrations, which in itself will be helpful. If the official Americans can take the initiative in providing the press promptly with the facts and with sufficient perspective, we are likely to get a good result in the long run. However, I would caution against over-optimistic statements to the press and to public officials. This will be a long struggle, with many frustrations. (Senator Mansfield's report/4/ will probably mention U.S. officials who believe we can win in a year or two, whereas it was originally announced as a long pull.)

/4/Senators Mike Mansfield, J. Caleb Boggs, Claiborne Pell, and Benjamin A. Smith visited Vietnam December 1-3, 1962, as part of a fact-finding trip undertaken at the request of President Kennedy. On December 18, Senator Mansfield submitted a report outlining his assessment of prospects for U.S. policy in Vietnam. For text of that report, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. II, Document 330. The term Mansfield report was popularly applied, however, to the composite report on Southeast Asia which was transmitted by the four Senators involved in the trip to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 25, 1963. Part 2 of that report dealt with Vietnam and differed somewhat in emphasis from the report submitted to the President in December. For text of the report to the Foreign Relations Committee, see Viet-Nam and Southeast Asia: Report of Senator Mike Mansfield, Senator J. Caleb Boggs, Senator Claiborne Pell, and Senator Benjamin A. Smith (Committee print, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 88th Cong., 1st sees.) For a summary of the report, see Document 42.

In Washington I understand that action is being taken to see that returning officials, such as General Wheeler, are given the opportunity to tell the press and public how things are going in Viet-Nam. Obviously, one problem is that, although this is a Vietnamese war, the stories the U.S. press are interested in are largely about Americans. The success stories of Vietnamese operations have little U.S. news value, whereas the setbacks involving planes shot down with U.S. casualties, are headline material. Attempts will be made here to encourage experienced reporters to go to Viet-Nam and write stories about their overall observations. Through these feature articles, perhaps a better and more accurate understanding of the war can be obtained.

We have a mutual problem and I ask for your views and suggestions. We want to try to do all we can to help you from this end./5/

/5/Nolting responded with a letter to Harriman on February 4 in which he stated that he shared the concern over the problem of adverse press coverage in Vietnam, and he proposed that he should be called back to the United States for several weeks of consultation, which he would devote largely to public relations work concerning Vietnam. (Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, PR-11 Press Relations)

Sincerely,

W. Averell Harriman/6/

/6/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.

 

25. Memorandum From the Director of the Vietnam Working Group (Wood) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman)/1/

Washington, January 31, 1963.

/1/Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, LEG-Mansfield Report. Secret. Initialed by Wood.

SUBJECT
Comments on Senator Mansfield Report/2/

/2/Reference is to the December 18, 1962, report to the President; see footnote 4, Document 24.

The following comments are keyed to the pagination of the report:

Page 1: Our aid programs were "ill conceived and badly administered.''

Comment: Our old military aid program was ill-conceived since it was designed to repel overt invasion. This concept was changed in late 1959. Our old economic aid program was well-conceived but badly administered.

Page 2: American and Vietnamese officials speak of success in a year or two.

Comment: Only General Harkins says this and we have repeatedly suggested to the military that he be dissuaded from voicing such an estimate. The guerrilla wars in Greece, Malaya and the Philippines each lasted the better part of a decade. If we can win in five years we will be doing twice as well as was done in the others. The British knew they would win in Malaya in 1951 but did not achieve preponderant control for four years. We will be doing well if by the end of 1963 there are enough indications for us to say we can win.

Page 3: The growth of Viet Cong strength during 1962.

Comment: Our own strength also grew during 1962. The ratio of Vietnamese military and paramilitary to Viet Cong military and paramilitary (i.e., all forces of both sides) was 2-1/2 to 1 in our favor at the end of 1961. It has now grown to 3-1/2 to 1 in our favor, still a narrow margin in terms of the 10 to 1 or 20 to 1 cited as being necessary in the textbooks. However, our side has tremendous strength in men and equipment.

Page 3: Road travel and rice as indicators of improvement.

Comment: The change from a near panic shortage of rice to large exportable stocks during 1962 was more than an indicator. Perhaps the most important indicator was that the VC were unable to escalate the size and number of their attacks during 1962. If guerrilla forces are unable to steadily increase the size and number of their attacks they lose momentum. When a force which is inferior in size such as the VC once loses momentum it is extraordinarily difficult for it to regain momentum.

Page 4: The Viet Cong tactics can change.

Comment: Viet Cong tactics and our own change constantly. As guerrillas the Viet Cong strategy of living off the peasants while attempting to gain their support cannot change. They have no other major source of supply which is easily available and if their revolution is to succeed they must have peasant support. Strategic hamlets are designed to make the sea of Vietnamese peasants an inhospitable element for the VC fish.

Do the peasants support the Viet Cong merely out of fear or indifference?

Comment: No one really knows what the Vietnamese peasants think. However we believe it wise to assume that they will align themselves with whichever side appears stronger and more capable of benefiting them. This provides a reasonable basis for our programs.

Page 6: Can we win with Diem?

Comment: For a year we have increasingly shifted the emphasis of our programs to the province level.

There are really many wars in Viet-Nam, and we are fighting them at the local level as much as possible.

Comment: While Saigon does cause difficulties, Nhu's emphasis on the strategic hamlet program has on balance been useful.

Page 7: The problem can be licked provided there is plenty of Vietnamese and American vigor and self-dedication (particularly Vietnamese).

Comment: Agreed.

Page 8: If present remedies are inadequate it is not recommended that we go to war ourselves.

Comment: Agree, but we should keep the Communists guessing on this one.

Page 9: Change in the situation caused by increased infiltration.

Comment: We have asked DOD and Saigon repeatedly for a contingency program to meet increased infiltration. General Wheeler should have comments./3/

/3/See Document 26.

Page 9: A major increase in Chicom support.

Comment: This would be a major escalation which I doubt that the Chinese would risk. It would very seriously damage our prestige if we were to withdraw in the face of such an escalation

Is it in our interest to maintain a "quasi-permanent position of power on the Asian mainland?''

Comment: It is rather in our interest to prevent the Chicoms from achieving a quasi-permanent position of power in southeast Asia.

If a U.S. position of power in Asia is not essential, any improvement in Viet-Nam should be viewed as "strengthening our diplomatic hand.''

Comment: Success in the Malayan, Greek and Philippine wars was not achieved by diplomatic conferences. It was achieved rather when the Communist guerrillas decided that the power was against them, that they should lie low. Our objective in Viet-Nam should be similar, i.e., to help the Vietnamese Government to obtain a position where it is recognized as being predominantly sovereign over its own national territory (south of the 1 7th parallel).

Viet-Nam would be unlikely to survive another Geneva conference.

The same comment applies to the last paragraph on page 16. Our diplomacy cannot be "vigorous'' unless based on a real position of strength.

 

26. Report by an Investigative Team Headed by the Chief of Staff, United States Army (Wheeler), to the Joint Chiefs of Staff/1/

Washington, January 1963./2/

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-181-69. Top Secret.

/2/The source text does not provide a more specific date. According to telegram MACJ00 433 from General Wheeler at MAC/V headquarters to the Chairman of the JCS, January 21, the Wheeler team did not return from Southeast Asia to CINCPAC headquarters in Hawaii until the last week in January. Wheeler expected to work on the report in Hawaii and submit it to the JCS after the team's anticipated return to Washington on January 30. (Ibid., T-184-69) In 1964, Wheeler recalled that when he returned to Washington, he reported first to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense, and then to President Kennedy. He reported to the President that things were going well in Vietnam militarily, but that "Ho Chi Minh was 9ghting the war for peanuts and if we ever expected to win that affair out there, we had to make him bleed a little bit.'' The President, Wheeler recalled, "was quite interested in this.'' (Kennedy Library, Oral History Program, Earle G. Wheeler interview, July 11, 1964)

JCS TEAM REPORT ON
SOUTH VIETNAM

JANUARY 1963

I. General

1. At their meeting on 7 January 1963, the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that General Earle G. Wheeler, who had twice postponed a scheduled visit to Southeast Asia, should lead a team of senior Service and Joint Staff representatives to South Vietnam. The team was asked to provide the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense with an up-to-date assessment of the situation in South Vietnam. It was composed as follows:

Joint Chiefs of Staff Representative:
General Earle G. Wheeler, USA
Team Chief

Joint Staff Representative:
Major General Victor H. Krulak, USMC

U.S. Army Representatives:
Lieutenant General Theodore W. Parker
Lieutenant Colonel Bill G. Smith

U.S. Navy Representative:
Rear Admiral Andrew McB. Jackson

U.S. Air Force Representatives:
Lieutenant General David A. Burchinal
Major General William W. Momyer
Colonel Robert M. Levy
Lieutenant Colonel Harry M. Chapman

U.S. Marine Corps Representative:
Brigadier General Norman J. Anderson

Assistants to the Chief of Staff:
Colonel George I. Forsythe
Major Louie W. Odom
Sergeant Major George E. Loikow

2. The team's mission was to obtain information for use by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in making an assessment of the counter-insurgency program in South Vietnam. The team was asked to form a military judgment as to the prospects for a successful conclusion of the conflict in a reasonable period of time. Specific appraisals were requested on the effectiveness of the present military program to meet United States objectives in South Vietnam, to include: the command and control arrangements of the United States and indigenous military forces in Southeast Asia; effectiveness of employment of United States and indigenous aviation; the quality and validity of military intelligence; and the readiness of plans to meet contingencies in the area. The team was to submit recommendations for modifications to our program which appeared to be desirable. Because the current counterinsurgency program in South Vietnam is largely the result of an appraisal made by General Maxwell D. Taylor in November 1961, the team used his report/3/ as a point of reference in reaching its conclusions.

/3/For text, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. I, Document 210.

3. Subsequent sections of this report cover the current situation in South Vietnam in terms of military, political, and economic factors, specific conclusions as to the current state of affairs, prospects for the future, and finally, recommended measures to improve the mutual efforts of the United States and the Government of Vietnam.

4. The map and table/4/ at the frontispiece detail the localities and activities visited by the team during its eight-day stay in South Vietnam. The team visited CINCPAC headquarters on both its outbound and inbound trips and stopped briefly in Okinawa to inquire into the capabilities of the United States Army, Ryukyus, to support our operations in South Vietnam.

/4/Neither printed.

II. The Situation

1. General Factors

The team approached its visit with the knowledge that the Vietnam war has been in progress for fifteen years, during which the insurgents have not allowed the young country the opportunity to pursue its nation-building program. Despite this, the government has managed to survive. The team's assessment of progress achieved, and programs required, was made in light of the strong nationalistic convictions of the Government of Vietnam. These convictions limit the role of the United States to one of advice and persuasion, supplemented only by the metering effect of our material assistance. Finally, the team was mindful of the fact that, in a counterinsurgency campaign, there are few major judgments that are wholly military. Decisions, particularly in the campaign in Vietnam, usually embrace political, economic, and ideological factors as well. The team's study and conclusions were influenced by this fact.

2. Military Factors

a. The Growth of U.S. Advisory Strength. In 1962, the number of U.S. advisors with the Vietnamese military was tripled, rising from 900 to over 3,000. At the beginning of the year, there were no advisors where the bulk of the fighting takes place, at the battalion level. At year's end, there were over 400 serving with every battalion and comparable unit in the Vietnamese armed forces. Likewise, the number of U.S. advisors with province chiefs grew from two in January 1962, to over 100 in December 1962, while the system of intelligence advisors expanded nearly tenfold from 25, at the beginning of the year, to 220 in December. This across-the-board increase in numbers has begun to have a noticeable effect on the quality, uniformity, and coordination of military operations. Also, the high quality of U.S. advisory personnel was particularly noticeable. The "first team'' is in the game in Vietnam.

b. Filling the Gaps. Responsive to another deficiency portrayed in the Taylor report, in 1962 the U.S. has moved supporting military formations to Vietnam to provide capabilities which the Vietnamese, themselves, could not quickly develop. Nearly three hundred aircraft in United States military units have been deployed. They include 148 transport helicopters, 11 armed helicopters, 81 fixed-wing transport aircraft, 13 fighter bombers, 9 light bombers, 4 reconnaissance fighters, and 37 liaison aircraft. Additionally, we provided, and are now operating, an urgently needed backbone communications system which has drawn together the geographic extremes of the country. To assist the Vietnamese in doing something far beyond their own capabilities, we installed an effective electronic detection system that is now capable of locating and following the movements of a large number of the more active Viet Cong radio transmitters. We have created an effective but austere logistic base to support all of these United States gap-filling efforts and to avoid burdening the overloaded logistic system of the Vietnamese armed forces.

c. Growth of the Vietnamese Military Capability.

(1)A comparison of the current strength of the Vietnamese armed forces with that of a year ago is:

31 Dec 1961

Army: 167,971
Navy, 4,426
AF: 5,441
Marines: 3,123
Civil Guard: 67,163
Self Defense Corps: 56,426

15 Dec 1962

Army: 196,357
Navy: 6,595
AF: 5,817
Marines: 5,281
Civil Guard: 75,909
Self Defense Corps: 95,828

(2) More important than these strength increases is the improved state of training of the Government of Vietnam armed forces. Direct United States training efforts have been felt in all of the regular armed forces. Additionally, United States' operated training centers have given individual training to over 90,000 members of the Civil Guard and the Self Defense Corps. Training, much of it technical in nature, has had to take place concurrently with the absorption of large quantities of equipment, including, for example, 55 aircraft, 27 naval craft, 474 personnel carriers, 1,100 tactical radios, and 38,000 assorted infantry weapons. Additionally, the process of expansion and training was conducted in a combat environment, where the demands of war often took priority over training requirements. In assessing the over-all strength of the Vietnamese armed forces, it is the team's opinion that current personnel strengths, modified only by minor increases which have been recommended by the Assistance Command, are adequate to meet the current level of Viet Cong effort. Our aim for the future should be focused on improving the quality of existing forces.

(3) Very recently, a Joint Operations Center (JOC) was established under the Joint General Staff. The JOC consists of staff officers from the Vietnamese Army, Navy, and Air Force. In addition, U.S. Army and Air Force officer advisors are assigned to the JOC to provide advice and assistance on the planning and on the employment of air, ground, and naval forces. The JOC provided a composite display of military activities in progress throughout South Vietnam, and when completed, will provide a focal point for top level coordination of all military planning and operations at any given time.

(4) The Army. Built around nine light divisions and several separate battalions, the Army tended in the early months of 1962 to employ conventional tactics involving large area sweeps by division-size units. These operations were often inadequately planned, awkwardly executed and usually unproductive. 1962 showed progress in overcoming this basic weakness. Planning is now far better coordinated. Commanders now consult their United States advisors and give greater consideration to the influence of supporting air operations. The great proportion of operations now take place at the lower levels, some 26% of which were of company size and 58% of platoon size during the year. By the same token, progress has been made during the past year in freeing the regular units to take the field to attack and pursue the Viet Cong. Army units have been replaced with Self Defense Corps and Civil Guard personnel in many static tasks. In the average division, six or seven of the nine battalions are usually free to conduct some 400 platoon and company-size offensive operations monthly. United States advisors to Vietnamese Army units, at every level, encourage their counterparts to be relentless in this effort.

(5) The Air Force.

(a) The small Vietnamese Air Force is enthusiastic and is becoming increasingly competent, although still immature and limited by a pilot shortage. Comprising two fighter squadrons, one transport squadron, two helicopter and three liaison squadrons, it provides escort, visual reconnaissance, strike, and close air support of ground operations in a satisfactory manner. Bombing and strafing approach the accuracy and effect of highly-trained United States units. However, without the currently planned augmentation of United States tactical aviation units, it would not be possible for the Vietnamese Air Force to meet the daily sortie demands required by the current and contemplated tempo of operations. It will be October 1964 before the pilot training program will match the demands of operational requirements.

(b) To facilitate the control and employment of all Vietnamese Air Force and U.S. Air Force air operations in South Vietnam, a Joint Air Operations Center QAOC) has been established. The center provides the means by which the air commanders can allocate and control the available tactical air effort to maximum advantage. Subordinate facilities are established and planned to facilitate air and ground coordination at lower echelons.

(6) The Navy and Marines. Comprised of about 6,000 men, the Navy is divided into a Sea Force, a River Force, and a Junk Force. It has grown rapidly in efficiency in recent months. It is capable of limited amphibious operations, coastal and river patrols, and provision of some logistic support of ground forces. The Marine Corps, numbering 5,000 men, and organized as a brigade of four battalions, has now completed basic training in both helicopter and landing craft amphibious operations. In early January, a landing of two battalions of Marines in the Ca Mau Peninsula was skillfully executed, and shows a capability for greatly expanded amphibious activity in the Delta area.

(7) The Civil Guard and the Self Defense Corps. These two paramilitary forces, designed respectively to provide regional security at the province and district levels, matured greatly in 1962. The Civil Guard increased in size from 65,000 to 76,000 during the year, while the Self Defense Corps grew from 49,000 to 80,000 men. Far more important than their growth has been the magnitude and quality of their training by United States advisors. Over 30,000 Civil Guardsmen have undergone a three-month training course, while 43,000 members of the Self Defense Corps have had six weeks of United States supervised training. Their growing role in the security of the land testifies to the value of the program. However, the team noted with sympathy General Harkins' generally unsuccessful efforts to persuade the Vietnamese government to abandon their concept of holding many of the Self Defense Corps in small static posts. This inheritance from the French provides tempting, lucrative targets for the Viet Cong. When overrun, they represent a source of weapons, ammunition, and food.

(8) Leadership. One area in which training of the Vietnamese armed forces is particularly important is leadership. They have only about 60% of their required noncommissioned officers, and they are also short junior officers. There are some senior officers, serving at division and higher echelons, whose false pride and unwillingness to acknowledge ignorance have impaired their effectiveness. All of these factors manifest themselves on the battlefield, and their elimination is a prime objective of the United States military advisory and training effort.

(9) Intelligence.

(a) In all of the fields of endeavor in South Vietnam, development of an effective intelligence system stands near the top in terms of progress achieved during 1962. Starting from an initial zero, the United States intelligence advisory program has, in a single year, grown into a reasonably effective mechanism. Its counterpart Vietnamese military intelligence program has moved decisively, although not nearly so far, in the direction of an efficient, organized system. In 1962, United States intelligence advisors have been accepted at each level of Vietnamese military command, from the Joint General Staff down to the division. In addition, United States intelligence advisors are serving at regiment and battalion level. These personnel, provided with their own communication system, are developing the capability to procure information and transmit it rapidly. In addition to providing timely information, the United States effort has the ancillary effect of energizing the Vietnamese intelligence system to a higher level of performance. In the past year, the Vietnamese have also developed a basically sound military intelligence organization which suffers only from technical inexperience. A former problem preventing the easy flow of information up through the civil and military channels has been largely solved by making the sector (military) and province (civil) leaders one and the same man in all but three of the forty-one provinces.

(b) Deficiencies in the Vietnamese intelligence operation include slowness in transmission of information, weaknesses in interrogation of prisoners, and the lack of skill among personnel at the lowest levels. On the United States side, the weakness lies mainly in linguistic proficiency. These are defects which time should correct.

(c) There can be no more profound index to the progress of the battle in Vietnam than the measure of changes in the level and quality of information coming to the Vietnamese forces. On the basis of this very respectable measurement, the Government of Vietnam is making steady and favorable progress. Every Vietnamese corps commander, and many United States advisors, attest to a growth in confidence in the government which the common people are now demonstrating by providing useful intelligence. Successful operations in each corps tactical area have recently been accomplished. Many were based upon information supplied by the inhabitants, who probably did so only because of a conviction that the government is going to triumph.

This favorable trend is self-regenerative. The more good intelligence that is forthcoming, the greater the number of successful operations that can be undertaken. These successes, in turn, provide for more tranquillity and confidence in the countryside, with the result that there is still greater willingness on the part of the people to support the government cause with information. A case in point is Plei Mrong, a Montagnard training camp in the highlands near the Cambodian border. It is located in an area which has been dominated by the Viet Cong for fifteen years. Here, an unsuccessful effort on the part of the Viet Cong to destroy the training camp resulted immediately in a change in attitude on the part of the local residents, many of whom began to volunteer useful information on Viet Cong sanctuaries and personalities. This information, in turn, has resulted in the capture of more Viet Cong, and this has had a further impact on the people, who have responded with still more information.

This favorable note is being sounded with growing resonance across the country, by Vietnamese military commanders, provincial administrators, and, most objectively, by United States advisors at every high level. The intelligence tide has begun to run toward the government.

(d) As the volume of information has grown, there have developed several basic intelligence indications which are now serving to influence the strategic and tactical thinking of the Vietnamese and their United States advisors. By no means are all of these indications favorable. Among the adverse indications, the principal ones are the continuity of Viet Cong strength, the growth in quantity of Chinese Communist weapons appearing in enemy hands, and the increased size and sophistication of the Viet Cong communications system. Taking the indications in order, the first, and perhaps most disquieting, is the apparent ability of the Viet Cong to maintain their strength, or even increase it slightly, in the face of growing pressure by the government. It cannot be ignored that the Vietnamese intelligence system, having improved greatly, is doubtless uncovering Viet Cong elements which have been in the country all the time. Giving generous discount to this fact, there still is basis for concluding that the conscription base for Viet Cong rank and file is still substantial, particularly in the Delta, and that the infusion of cadres of leaders and technicians, from outside the country, continues at a significant rate.

The same factor of improved intelligence resources applies to the growth in quantities of Communist Chinese material in the battle area. This cannot be permitted to obscure the fact that heavy Chinese infantry weapons, such as 57 millimeter recoilless rifles and associated ammunition, have recently been captured as far south as the Delta area.

Our improved communication detection system now reveals the existence of some 224 active communist radios in South Vietnam, where a year ago only 60 had been located. While there may not be as many more radios as the improved detection facilities indicate, there is no question but that the communist systems have improved, and we know that their cryptographic arrangements have grown more sophisticated.

These indications show that the communists are engaged in a slow, though perceptible, increase in effort. This suggests that the headquarters in Hanoi is not yet persuaded that the Americans are any different from the French; and that if they will but respond to our efforts with a determined reaction from outside the official battle areas, we will ultimately lose our confidence and our resolution.

(e) There are intelligence indicators which fall on the favorable side. The most significant relate to deteriorations in the physical and moral condition of the Viet Cong. Reports, in growing numbers, reflect shortages of food, and an increased repugnance of the Vietnamese people to Viet Cong depredations upon their food stocks, and extortion of their property and money. These are accounted as one of the causes for the migration of some 145,000 Montagnards away from the Viet Cong into safer areas. Likewise, reports emphasize the shortage of medical supplies, and Viet Cong attacks on Vietnamese outposts are frequently launched for the express purpose of acquiring medicines. Hunger, sickness, and lack of munitions have had a visible effect in terms of Viet Cong defections, which have grown steadily during the year from about 75 per month in January to a peak of 215 in December. The level of Viet Cong offensive activity has diminished in a degree consistent with the foregoing impediments. From a peak of almost 1,900 incidents in March 1962, the intensity of the insurgent effort has dropped to 1,340 incidents in December 1962. In spite of this, Viet Cong personnel losses grew steadily through 1962, from an initial level of 1,900 per month to 2,750 in the month of December.

(f) On balance, the team concluded that the intelligence picture is much better than it was a year ago. A stronger intelligence organization; more, better and more timely information; a growth in the popular intelligence base; and a series of interlocking intelligence indicators portray an upward trend in the conduct of the war. A sobering counterpoise is the strong evidence of effective external support for the insurgency, with its consequent implications in terms of protraction of the conflict.

(10) The Military-Economic-Political Relationship. Although President Diem is fully aware of the interlocking nature of these elements, many of his subordinates are not. Therefore, all programs often do not advance abreast. Here, too, United States military and civilian advice has shown results during the past year. In clear-and-hold operations, efforts are now made to have seed and fertilizer readily at hand to permit the farmers to exploit their liberated fields. Strategic hamlets are encouraged to elect their own hamlet chief, thus to remove a common Viet Cong propaganda target. Schools are now being run for civil administrators, to help raise the standards of province, district, village, and hamlet government. A village and hamlet radio system has been installed for intelligence, administrative and emergency warning purposes. These developments mark a small beginning in weaving the military solution into the nap of the politico-economic situation. The team sees this as the longest-term task of all. It is a task which gives rise to the greatest apprehension, since the liberated farmer is still encumbered with countless restrictions. Until he is freed from these, the Viet Cong will continue to have volunteers from a disgruntled fringe of the society.

3. Political and Economic Factors

a. Political Factors.

(1) The team was impressed with the United States Country Team in South Vietnam. Under the leadership of Ambassador Nolting, the work of the member agencies of the country team has been carefully integrated to optimize the United States effort. The JCS team believes that the military measures being taken in South Vietnam must continue to be considered as necessary, principally to establish conditions favorable for political and economic growth. The basic problem now is to restore law and order, particularly in the rural areas, so that measures for the development of political and economic strength can take hold. Historically, the central government in Vietnam has not reached down and made itself felt to the peasant. Likewise, the peasant has not truly identified himself, his activities, or his future with his government, nor has he thought in terms of national political issues, as we know them. The team found that this situation is slowly beginning to change. Now the government is beginning to reach the people, and the people are beginning to reach for the government.

(2) The strategic hamlet program is perhaps the greatest single case for this encouraging development. It is a program aimed directly at the people that not only provides them with an elementary system of defense against, and isolation from, the Viet Cong, but also is the vehicle by which the Government of Vietnam can carry forward a political, economic, and social revolution. More than 4,000 strategic hamlets have been completed and another 2,000 of the 8,000 programmed will soon be completed. In 1962, this program was instrumental in bringing an additional 500,000 people under the control of the government.

(3) To date, elections have been held in more than a thousand hamlets. While the government attempts to insure that candidates for office are not Viet Cong members or sympathizers, the elections appear to be conducted in a democratic manner. Following the election of a hamlet chief and a hamlet council, the new officials, themselves, decide on projects for the improvement of the well-being and living conditions of the people. It is through this "rice roots'' program that the framework for a democratic political process is being developed. It is the intention of the government to extend this process from the hamlets and villages up through the districts and provinces, whose officials are now appointed by the central government. The United States advisory effort, both military and civilian, is being extended to the province level to assist in the development of civic action and economic development programs. Although this is a slow process, the team believes that democracy cannot be legislated in South Vietnam, and that the current political development program will move forward in direct ratio to the results achieved in improving the living conditions and satisfying the basic aspirations of the people.

(4) Another noteworthy development is the government's progress toward winning over the Montagnards. Long ignored, and often exploited by the central government, a campaign has been undertaken to protect these primitive hill people from Viet Cong exploitation. Over 145,000 of these people have willingly left their natural habitat to seek training by, and support of, the government. They represent an important plus for the Government of Vietnam, both politically and militarily. They are tough and cunning fighters who are completely at home in the rugged mountain terrain through which the principal Viet Cong infiltration routes pass.

b. Economic Factors.

(1) The increased economic activity throughout the country, particularly on the lower levels, provides an indicator of growing confidence in the government and in the eventual outcome of the struggle with the Viet Cong. The number of applications for licenses to start new businesses is increasing; goods and food are moving-although with some difficulty-by road and water; and trade with the Montagnards is increasing. Six hundred million piasters were loaned to farmers and fishermen for fertilizer and for purchasing fishing boats and equipment. These loans are to be repaid on the installment plan and the capital is to be reinvested.

(2) Education in rural areas has been expanded greatly. Several new United States-financed technical and teacher training schools have been opened. Training sessions were completed for 120 provincial education chiefs, school inspectors and school principals. During 1963, nearly 8,000 new teachers will be trained, and classrooms, textbooks, and supplies for 150,000 primary school students will be provided. This will add to the nearly threefold growth in primary school population already experienced since 1955. Expansion of intermediate and university student population has been fivefold since 1955 and is programmed to continue in 1963. In addition, over 7,000 students are being taught the English language by the military members of the Military Assistance Advisory Group.

(3) The team believes that the current educational and economic aid efforts will have a far-reaching impact on the economic development of South Vietnam. However, the team believes the achievement of a viable economy is still remote.

III. The National Campaign Plan

1. As a result of the extensive United States and South Vietnam effort of the past year, described in preceding paragraphs, the South Vietnam armed forces are now attaining a position of strength, capability, and disposition which should enable them to assume a greater initiative than they have in the past.

2. The broad outline of this action is known as the "National Campaign Plan,'' sometimes erroneously referred to as "Operation Explosion.'' The National Campaign Plan is a concept of coordinated political, economic, and military operations to be undertaken at an accelerated pace by each corps, division, and sector commander in his own area. In fact, the operations have already begun.

3. There are four basic strategies involved in the National Campaign Plan: /5/

/5/On February 2, Lieutenant Commander Worth H. Bagley, Naval Aide to General Taylor, sent a memorandum to Taylor assessing the Wheeler Report, in which he discussed the evolution of the four strategies outlined in the report:

''The Wheeler Report discusses the National Campaign Plan in detail (pages 14-15). The four basic strategies stated as involved in that plan are in essence an incorporation of the original Thompson concept of Province Rehabilitation (Clear and Hold); the Nhu concept which splintered off from Thompson of establishing Strategic Hamlets separately from, as well as with, Province Rehabilitation operations; [2 lines not declassified]; and the Thompson concept that as Province Rehabilitation progressed the regular RVNAF forces would seek out and destroy the Viet Cong at their bases. It is a restatement of original strategy. The discussion of this complete strategy in the Three Year Plan, also under the heading of the National Campaign Plan, says the same thing in more general terms, but confuses the situation by listing the Strategic Hamlet program as a separate entity as Nhu has made it. General Wheeler's expression of the National Campaign Plan brings the Strategic Hamlet program back into the orderly and sound concept of Province Rehabilitation. This is the appropriate strategy and the one we should follow. Forrestal and Hilsman noted this difference in approach in their Report and recommended we get back on track with Province Rehabilitation (Clear and Hold).'' (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-240-69)

a. To seek out and destroy Viet Cong strongholds.

b. To clear and hold areas heretofore dominated by the Viet Cong.

c. To build strategic hamlets in these areas and protect them from Viet Cong attack.

d. to gain and hold the plateau and mountain areas and effect a degree of border control with the tribesmen (chiefly Montagnards).

4. Operations under the National Campaign Plan are expected to result in an ever-increasing measure of control by the Government of Vietnam over its people and its territory. Since the basic concept is one of many small operations, with decentralized control, activity has been increasing in those areas where trained units have been available and where the initiative of local commanders has been most pronounced. The tempo of small scale operations has now reached 450 per month. This tempo should increase substantially in the months ahead, as the strength of South Vietnam, developed over the past year, makes itself felt. However, the successful completion of the strategies listed will take considerable time and will demand much in resolution and perseverance. There appears to be no quick or easy solution.

4. [sic] Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, has developed a comprehensive plan/6/ designed to prepare the armed forces of South Vietnam to exercise control of their territory, without our help, by the end of calendar year 1965. It involves a concurrent phase-out of United States support personnel, leaving a Military Assistance Advisory Group of a strength of about 1,600 personnel. This comprehensive plan has been reviewed by the Commander in Chief, Pacific, and was submitted on 25 January 1963 to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their consideration. As it finally evolves, this plan will provide general guidance for United States force requirements, Military Assistance Program support (which has been developed in coordination with the five-year Military Assistance Program), and Military Assistance Advisory Group personnel requirements over the next three years.

/6/See the enclosure to Document 18.

IV. Areas Where Improvement Can Be Made

1. Command Control of the United States Effort in South Vietnam

a. A difficult problem, at Saigon level, for over-all control and correlation of the United States military effort stems from the separate organization and operation of the Military Assistance Advisory Group, which uses many of the same military personnel in the field as are used in combat planning and operations monitored by the Military Assistance Command Vietnam staff. The team considers that improvement may be realized by more closely interrelating the military assistance functions with the appropriate Military Advisory Command Vietnam staff functions. This could be achieved without prejudice to the planned phase-out of Military Assistance Command Vietnam and the planned retention of the Military Assistance Advisory Group.

b. It may be both possible and desirable, within available resources, to establish Army and Navy components of Military Assistance Command Vietnam, deriving benefit from the clear channels of command such an organization would afford. The Commander, 2d United States Air Division, functions as the air component commander of Military Assistance Command Vietnam. As such, the Air Force is the only Service with an organization and commander under Military Assistance Command Vietnam that actually functions as a component command. In this context, Military Assistance Command Vietnam would become in actuality a subordinate unified command of Commander in Chief Pacific rather than a specially tailored organization with a number of subordinate service activities reporting directly to the headquarters. In any event, composition of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam staff should be reviewed in the light of increasing air and naval activity and in recognition of the growing importance of and requirement for air and sea logistics lift.

c. The potential of the Joint Air Operations Center (JAOC) should be more fully exploited. It is important that the JAOC be cognizant of all air activities planned or in progress in South Vietnam. Significant United States air elements of the Army, Marines and the Air Force are making up for a current deficit in the Vietnamese Air Force capability. In the interests of efficient use of these air resources, they should be responsive to shifting between and among the corps areas to meet peak combat and other air support requirements, and to take maximum advantage of good weather areas. The JAOC is an excellent means for Commander United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam, through his Air Component Commander, to exert maximum influence on tactical air planning and in the appropriate allocation of tactical air assets to the growing air combat and tactical air support tasks. Similarly, the JAOC has the potential to assist in the task of bringing logistic airlift resources in South Vietnam to bear on the air logistics problem, which is assuming increasing proportions and importance. The team agrees that the use of the JAOC for these purposes does not imply centralized control of all aviation assets in South Vietnam, certain of which will continue to be more appropriately controlled at lower organizational levels of the army and air structures.

d. The transfer of responsibility for the numerous civilian irregular groups [less than 1 line not declassified] to the U.S. military is proceeding. The team noted, however, that considerable numbers of irregulars are now being exempted from this transfer, in terms which appear to contravene the basic concept of establishing the entire project under the military, except for elements wholly involved in secret intelligence.

2. Command and Control Problems within the Vietnamese Armed Forces

Though generally recognized, these problems persist:

a. A tendency to hold planning very closely within the armed forces, ostensibly for security purposes, inhibits adequate and concurrent air support planning. This practice also precludes realizing such pre-operations advantages from the air elements as photo, weather and visual reconnaissance and observation.

b. Some Vietnamese Army battalions are still immobilized by allocation to local security tasks rather than to mobile employment against the enemy. This is a constantly improving situation, but requires continuing emphasis.

c. The Joint Operations Center and the Joint Air Operations Center are in their early formative states. Constant emphasis and daily work with the Vietnamese armed forces, particularly the Army and the Air force, are required in order that these agencies develop and mature as quickly and soundly as possible.

d. The rank and grade structures of the Vietnam Air Force and Vietnam Navy are significantly lower than in the Vietnam Army. Although much smaller, these services have an important role to play and they must be accorded a greater part in military planning and decisions.

3. Nature of the Relationship between United States and Government of Vietnam Authorities

a. An important and interesting aspect of relationships between the American military and the leadership of the Vietnamese Government became apparent in the course of calls made by General Wheeler. Accompanied by General Harkins, he called on Minister of Defense Thuan and President Diem. The attitude of Minister Thuan toward General Harkins is completely open, frank and friendly. The two confer on matters of organization, operations and assignment of personnel in the most free and easy fashion. General Harkins has no hesitancy in pointing out mistakes in military operations to Minister Thuan, and he in turn receives these comments with equanimity and assurances that he will look into, and correct, mistakes. General Harkins told General Wheeler privately that Minister Thuan had proved that he keeps his promises. General Harkins has a great influence upon the assignments of senior Vietnamese officers. While this influence is not advertised (and General Harkins would prefer that it not be known), nevertheless, it is known, and adds to the prestige and influence of American officers in their advisory role.

b. The conference with President Diem made it apparent that he, also, likes and trusts General Harkins. Moreover, General Harkins, as with Minister Thuan, has no hesitancy in pressing the President to carry out programs which he considers to be important to the military effort. All-in-all, this attitude at the very top of the government represents a vast change from the aloofness and suspicion with which American advisors were received by senior Vietnam officials a year ago.

c. United States officials, military and civilian, are not in a position to command, control or direct Government of Vietnam military, economic or political activities, nor do they desire such added responsibility. They must, therefore, be in a strong position to influence Government of Vietnam activity along the desired lines and thus achieve the desired objectives. Fortunately, excellent relations exist between United States and Government of Vietnam authorities in all major fields of joint endeavor and United States advice is generally, though not always, accepted. The team feels these relationships will continue to strengthen and United States advice will be increasingly followed as Government of Vietnam confidence in themselves and their advisors continues to grow.

4. Airlift and Air Logistics

a. There is a significant airlift currently available in South Vietnam. Thus far it has readily met all requirements levied against it. Expanded operations visualized in the National Campaign Plan and the number and extent of "special situations'' requiring air logistic support will generate a wide variety of additional airlift requirements. Until road and rail nets can be secured and improved, major reliance for logistic support and transport of personnel will continue to be placed in the airlift forces. The number and types of fixed and rotary wing aircraft available, and the magnitude of the air logistic effort currently forecast, merit special attention.

b. The team has asked General Harkins for his views on the desirability of augmenting his headquarters with a small group of officer's,-experts in air logistics and air transportation, to assist him in coping with the anticipated air movement problem.

5. Rules of Engagement

a. An Army aviation unit was deployed to South Vietnam by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to test the applicability and effectiveness of the armed helicopter, in an escort role, under combat conditions as they exist in South Vietnam. The principal armament of this unit consists of two fixed, forward-firing, machine guns and two 2.75 rocket pods. The Joint Chiefs of Staff-established rules of engagement state that the aircraft carry United States markings; be flown by United States crews; have a Government of Vietnam observer or crew member aboard on all flights; and that fire delivered be considered defensive in nature.

b. The team learned that Commander in Chief Pacific and Commander United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam have placed additional restrictions upon rules of engagement for the armed helicopters. They require that the aircraft must be fired upon before they may engage a target, even when an enemy target is clearly identified.

c. Under these rules, helicopter pilots are placed in the position of being unable to attack clearly identified Viet Cong targets of opportunity, in a combat situation, unless first fired upon. To some degree, this places United States lives and equipment at risk unnecessarily and gives the enemy an advantageous option. The United States Air Force "Farmgate'' units in South Vietnam are not faced with these specific restrictions. They can attack identified Viet Cong targets provided that: a Vietnam Air Force observer is aboard; the Vietnam Air Force does not have the capability to engage the target, the aircraft carry Vietnam Air Force markings and the targets are designated by the Vietnamese.

d. The team believes that Commander in Chief Pacific should reconsider the present restrictions on the rules of engagement pertaining to armed helicopters in South Vietnam to allow these aircraft to engage clearly identified Viet Cong targets which may emerge as targets of opportunity during combat operations.

7. Press Relations

a. The mutual distrust and dislike between the Diem government and the foreign press, particularly United States press representatives, has created serious public relations problems which impact directly on the war effort both in the United States and in Vietnam. Press representatives charge the Government of Vietnam with repressing the freedom of the press (two American newsmen were expelled from Vietnam), being unduly secretive, issuing deliberately erroneous news bulletins, and attempting to use the press as involuntary propaganda tools. The press attitude is summed up this way: "The Western press refuses to submit to such treatment.''

b. The Government of Vietnam regards the foreign press as untrustworthy, prone to publish secret and false information derived from private sources and biased to the extent that the press writes up only the bad and not the good aspects of events in South Vietnam. A revealing nuance of the Government of Vietnam press feud was communicated to General Wheeler by a first-hand source. Madame Nhu, wife of the brother and principal advisor to President Diem, and an important figure in her own right, deeply resents the press stories of the bombing of the President's palace during which she and her children were in grave danger of death. She states that the stories revealed an "ill-concealed regret'' that the bombing failed in its objective.

c. While the truth of these countercharges probably lies, as usual, somewhere between the extremes of the allegations of the two parties, the fact remains that the situation is serious, because the continuing bad press has colored public attitudes both in the United States and Vietnam. The unfortunate aftermath of reports of the fight at Ap Bac on 2 January 1963/7/ is a prime instance of the harm being done to the war effort. Press members admit that they were appalled at the flood of editorial punditry and cries of doom elicited by the first incomplete accounts of the clash. They insist defensively, and contrary to the facts, that the battle was a defeat and that the stories were derived from United States sources. The latter is true, but only to the extent that the stories were based on ill-considered statements made at a time of high excitement and frustration by a few American officers.

/7/See Document 1.

d. Nevertheless, great harm has been done. Public and Congressional opinion in the United States has been influenced toward thinking that the war effort in Vietnam is misguided, lacking in drive, and flouts the counsel of United States advisors. Doubts have been raised as to the courage, the training, the determination and dedication of the Vietnamese armed forces. In Vietnam the backlash of these reports, both in governmental and military circles, is apparent. The Vietnamese resent statements in the American press of such a derogatory nature to their personal characteristics and military habits and objectives. Moreover, relations between the United States diplomatic and military representatives, on the one hand, and the press representatives on the other, is somewhat strained.

e. Officials at the United States Embassy and within the United States Advisory Group have long been aware of this unfortunate atmosphere and have attempted to overcome it by press briefings given by the Public Information Officer of United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam. General Harkins himself is readily available to the press at almost any time. However, it is considered that further efforts must be made, both in Vietnam and the United States, if the current course of events is to be reversed.

8.Infiltration

a. Almost every judgement reached by the team had to be accompanied by the reservation that it had validity only under the current level of Viet Cong effort. The enemy, however, has both resources and a latitude of choice, and could materially increase the level of his effort if he chose.

b. External influence on the situation is considerable. Facts in the hands of the Advisory Command characterize this infiltration as substantial, at least in terms of quality. Entrance is gained through four general routes. Cadre personnel (estimated as an average of 500 per month for the past few months) enter from North Vietnam or Laos near the 17th parallel, and move southward in stages through the Annamite Chain of mountains, utilizing a well developed underground railway. Alternatively, some personnel, as well as equipment, move down the Ho Chi Minh trail through Laos, some entering South Vietnam at the waist of the country, and some moving farther south to enter via Cambodia. Some supplies enter by sea, either across the Gulf of Siam from Cambodia, or by coastwise junk from North Vietnam. In terms of magnitude it is noted that some 3000 junks were inspected by the Vietnamese Navy during the past year, of which number 160 were proved to harbor Viet Cong. Finally, it is accepted by the Advisory Command that there is a movement across the border of selected commercial items, in undetermined quantity, purchased on the open market in Cambodia.

c. Without the sophisticated infusions of weapons, code books, medicines, fuzes, leaders and technicians, it is certain that the lot of the Viet Cong would be much harder. But to cauterize the 900 miles of border and 1500 miles of coastline presents a problem which even the most dynamic of efforts on the part of the Vietnamese will not greatly diminish. It is plain that, apart from the task of gaining the respect of the people, this matter of external assistance for the Viet Cong is the greatest problem facing the Vietnamese, and it must be solved by methods more practicable than surveillance of the country's borders.

V. Conclusions

1. a. The situation in South Vietnam has been reoriented, in the space of a year and a half, from a circumstance of near desperation to a condition where victory is now a hopeful prospect. There are numerous options of support and involvement available to the United States. They range from complete disengagement to overt commitment of United States forces with a concomitant demand on our part for full command authority over the Vietnamese. The first extreme is unacceptable. It sacrifices all that has been gained, and is tantamount to relinquishment of our position in Asia. The second is impracticable in terms of what the Vietnamese would accept, and it is undesirable from our viewpoint in that it would tend to make us responsible for every misadventure in the conflict. Intermediate to these extremes is the course of augmenting, greatly, our aid and advice to the Vietnamese; a program which could only be justified if there were major benefits clearly promised. This is not the case; there are no areas of assistance which are deficient in a quantum degree. This leads to the conclusion that the current support program in Vietnam is adequate, and should be retained with only minor alterations as may be recommended by the Advisory Command. This view derives from the conviction that we are winning slowly in the present thrust, and that there is no compelling reason to change.

b. At the same time, it is not realistic to ignore the fact that we have not given Ho Chi Minh any evidence that we are prepared to call him to account for helping to keep the insurgency in South Vietnam alive, and that we should do something to make the North Vietnamese bleed. Here again, the opportunities cover the full spectrum, from overt, pre-emptive attack by United States forces of targets in North Vietnam, to being content with the minor intelligence and sabotage forays [1 line not declassified]. The former is a grave step, embodying a far-reaching national decision which might have serious implications elsewhere. The latter offers essentially no promise of influencing the progress of the war. This leaves the more reasonable course of authorizing the Assistance Command to build up a much stronger unconventional warfare capability in the Vietnamese military, and then directing it in a coordinated program of sabotage, destruction, propaganda, and subversive missions against North Vietnam. To do this has the virtue of putting organized pressure on the North Vietnamese on a basis which keeps the United States wholly in the background while at the same time conducting the anti-North Vietnam campaign as a powerful military endeavor rather than as an ancillary [1 line not declassified].

2. Turning to the specific areas which the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed be addressed, the team reached the following conclusions:

a. The National Campaign Plan is a logical outgrowth of the marshalling process which has taken place in response to the Taylor report. It should not create requirements for great increases in United States support and offers reasonable prospects for improving greatly the military situation. As such, it deserves to be supported.

b. Command and control, within the United States structure, embodies few problems, none of which is fundamental and all of which can be solved locally. The team would prefer to see the Military Assistance Advisory Group absorbed into the Assistance Command and sees some virtue in the formal designation of the Assistance Command as a formalized subordinate Unified Command. The team learned, however, that General Harkins and Admiral Felt are opposed to one or the other of these moves. The team considers that their views in both areas should prevail.

c. The employment of air assets absorbed much of the team's time. Its conclusion, and that of Generals Harkins and Anthis is that the basic relationships are satisfactory, but that there are weaknesses in the joint planning for supporting air operations, reporting on helicopter movements, and in logistic airlift operations. A team of four experts has been offered to General Harkins to assist in solving the problem of logistic airlift operations. The problems of planning and reporting are being solved locally.

d. Intelligence. A continuous improvement in the areas of intelligence reporting, communications, interrogation, and basic reliability of contacts with the civilian society was noted. The team concluded that no change is indicated in the thrust of intelligence operations.

e. Contingency planning, conducted both by CINCPAC and the Assistance Command, gave evidence of adequacy and responsiveness to the contingencies which might arise.

3. The team reached other conclusions, in areas not specifically delineated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as follows:

a. Political restrictions add to the complexity of achieving the desired military objectives in South Vietnam. The privileged sanctuary in Laos and Cambodia for Viet Cong concentration and infiltration, and restrictions on overflights of Laos and North Vietnam, tend to restrict the freedom of military action of the Government of Vietnam and ourselves. These restrictions make victory more remote.

b. South Vietnam is, in large measure, a special situation. Generalizations affecting United States doctrine, concepts, equipage and training must be viewed conservatively and without predisposition or preconception. There needs to be a full awareness that the special environment may respond better to new techniques and different applications, or to old techniques and applications carefully and consciously adapted to the problem rather than to the textbook solution.

c. Vietnam is at the end of a long logistics pipeline. The United States military structure there should be held to its operational essentials and not become encumbered with marginally productive special interest activities. With respect specifically to research, development, test and evaluation, the team concludes that there may be too many organizations, equipment, and projects in Vietnam now. All of these activities require overhead and supporting structures and are competing for resources that should be directed to producing combat power. All such activities should be brought completely under the authority of the Assistance Command, who should appraise them under the objective criterion of whether or not they contribute directly and significantly to the conflict. This appraisal should not be prejudiced by the origin of the project or function.

d. The schism between the United States press and the Government of Vietnam is more than a simple lack of communications. To span the gap requires great effort and, on our side, much patience. An objective, on the-spot appraisal of the war by mature, responsible newsmen is gravely needed as a counter to the sometimes frustrated reporting of the resident correspondents.

e. Finally, the performance of United States military personnel in South Vietnam, whatever their task, is of a uniformly high quality. The United States image is being steadily enhanced by their actions, and the experience they are receiving is of great value.

VI. Recommendations

1. The team recommends that we:

a. Maintain the current general level of military support for the Government of south Vietnam.

b. Accept the Advisory Command's Comprehensive Three Year Plan for South Vietnam (19 January 1963) as a generally sound basis for planning the phase-out of United States support. In this connection, the Advisory Command's requests for additional support should be considered in a favorable light, on a case-by-case basis.

c. Re-evaluate the situation in South Vietnam semi-annually and make alterations in the Comprehensive Plan as indicated by the reassessment.

d. Request the Advisory Command to present its view on an optimum command arrangement, designed to bring under most effective control all of the United States military elements functioning in South Vietnam.

e. Direct that all research, development, test, and evaluation be brought directly under the Advisory Command and that it review every United States endeavor in South Vietnam in terms of its usefulness to the prosecution of the war, recommending the termination of projects or the return to the United States of personnel where they do not meet this criterion.

f. Procure authority for air and ground reconnaissance missions in Laos.

g. Undertake a press orientation program embodying a series of sponsored visits to Vietnam by mature and responsible news correspondents and executives.

h. Intensify the unconventional warfare training of the Vietnamese military forces and encourage their execution of raids and sabotage missions in North Vietnam, coordinated with other military operations. The purpose of this effort is to consume communist resources and prevent the North Vietnamese from giving unimpeded attention and support to the insurgency in South Vietnam. [1 sentence (2-1/2 lines) not declassified]

2. Finally, the team wishes particularly to emphasize that, in sum, the preparations of 1962 have led to the development of the human and material infrastructure necessary for the successful prosecution of the war within South Vietnam. The team believes that unless the Viet Cong chooses to escalate the conflict, the principal ingredients for eventual success have been assembled in South Vietnam. Now, perseverance in the field, and at home, will be required in great measure to achieve that success.

 

27. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President/1/

Washington, February 1, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, President's Office Files, Vietnam Country Series, Security 1963. Secret.

SOUTH VIETNAM

You are meeting this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. with Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, Mr. Gilpatric, General Taylor, General Wheeler, Governor Harriman, Director McCone, Mr. David Bell and Mr. William Bundy. The announced purpose of the meeting is to give you an opportunity to hear General Wheeler's report/2/ on his trip to South Vietnam.

/2/Document 26.

As a means of stimulating action, you may wish to put some of the following questions:

1. Should General Harkins report directly to the JCS instead of CinCPac?

2. In view of Ambassador Nolting's completion of his two-year extension in South Vietnam in mid-April, should we consider a new appointment?

3. Have we been as firm as we should with the GVN in putting our views across on our military, domestic and foreign policy?

4. Is U.S. air power ("Farm Gate'') being used effectively to support our guerrilla war strategy, i.e.:

(a) Is enough emphasis being: placed on close air support and liaison capabilities as against air strikes and interdiction?

(b) Has it been resolved whether the Army or the Air Force will provide liaison and quick response to calls for help from our Special Forces people in exposed and isolated training camps?

(c) Are we paying enough attention to the problem of quick reinforcement of strategic hamlets by ground and air when they are attacked?

5. Why do we have such a bad press from South Vietnam? Should we be more forthcoming with the U.S. press in Saigon despite GVN objections?

6. Does Director McCone feel that "Operation Switchback'' (the transfer of paramilitary training [less then 1 1ine not declassified] to Army Special Forces) is progressing smoothly, or should it be stretched out to allow the Army more time to work out its funding procedures?

7. Have we thought about the danger of creating too many separate and disorganized paramilitary organizations? Is this an efficient use of manpower? Has any thought been given to providing a police force to control the movement of peoples and goods in areas which have been cleared by government forces?

MF

 

28. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Director, Pacific and Far East Division, United States Information Agency (Moore) to the Deputy Director (Wilson)/1/

Washington, February 1, 1963.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 306, USIA/IOPIR Files: FRC 68 A 1415, Vietnam-General & Personnel. Confidential.

SUBJECT
Press Relations in Viet-Nam

Governor Harriman said in his staff meeting this morning that General Wheeler would make a very strong report on the sad condition of GVN relations with the press. Governor Harriman has urged the Secretary to make a public statement deploring GVN treatment of press. (At his press conference this morning the Secretary said: "But let me say quite frankly that we have not been satisfied with the opportunities given to the press in Viet-Nam for full and candid coverage of this situation there, and we are discussing this matter from time to time and most urgently with the Government of Viet-Nam.''/2/ The Governor continued in substance that we must start calling some of the tunes and Diem must take our advice. This issue good one for test of wills.

/2/For text of the Secretary's statement concerning the situation in Vietnam, see Department of State Bulletin, February 18, 1963, p. 238.

Comment:

Although a public statement here could make John Mecklin's idea of unattributed U.S. press briefings a matter of direct confrontation with GVN; depending on how it played in Saigon, such a statement could serve only to strengthen Embassy's hand and put GVN on notice to acquiesce quietly to our projected press program.

The Governor stressed that statement necessary for U.S. consumption.

 

29. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President/1/

Washington, February 4, 1963.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 2/ 63-3/63. Secret.

SOUTH VIETNAM

The meeting with General Wheeler on Friday/2/ was a complete waste of your time for which I apologize. It was intended to provide you an opportunity to initiate action on some of the problems in South Vietnam described in the Eyes Only Annex to Hilsman's and my report./3/ The rosy euphoria generated by General Wheeler's report/4/ made this device unworkable.

/2/An apparent reference to the meeting discussed in Document 27.

/3/Document 19.

/4/Document 26.

The problems remain, however, and I would suggest another technique to solve them. If you approve, Governor Harriman and I will start a quiet campaign in the appropriate departments for the following objectives:

1. to get General Harkins a direct line of communication to the JCS, or, alternatively and less desirably, to persuade CinCPac to delegate more responsibility to Saigon;

2. to look for a replacement for Fritz Nolting when his 2-year term is up in April;

3. to encourage our civilian and military people in Saigon to put across more forcefully to the GVN U.S. views on fighting the war and on foreign policy;

4. to develop gradually a more independent posture for the U.S. in South Vietnam and very carefully to dissociate ourselves from those policies and practices of the GVN of which we disapprove with good reason;

5. to stimulate Defense to examine more carefully whether our Special Forces camps and the strategic hamlets are getting effective close air support when they are attacked;

6. to make a rapid and vigorous effort to improve press relations in Saigon, even at some cost to our relationship with the Diem Government;

7. to determine, before any slack occurs, whether the transfer of paramilitary training [less than 1 1ine not declassified] to the Army should be stretched out:

8. to get the field to consider whether we are supporting too many paramilitary organizations and overlooking some of the specific needs, such as a police force for movement control.

I don't think we should start on such a campaign of persuasion without your knowledge and approval. You may prefer simply to tell me to go ahead, or perhaps you would prefer to speak with Averell on these subjects.

MV Forrestal/5/

/5/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.

 

30. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, February 5,1963, 1 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, PPV 7 S VIET-US. Confidential. Repeated to CINCPAC. This document and all subsequent documents cited in the PPV file should be cited as PPB. A copy of this telegram was placed in the President's weekend reading file, February 9-10. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, 2/63-3/63)

726. CINCPAC for POLAD. Task Force message. Deptels 729,/2/ 731./3/ Quality of reporting by US newsmen here is probably as good as average reporting of stateside story like earthquake or Hollywood divorce. Difference between Vietnam and that kind of story is not only that accurate information more difficult to come by (and accuracy far more important), but also that balanced judgment on extraordinarily complex and mixed situation in this country is inherently difficult to reach. Latter is in fact perhaps too much to hope for from young reporters with limited facilities for coverage and research.

/2/Document 17.

/3/In telegram 731 to Saigon, January 24, the Department of State and USIA inquired if U.S. officials in Vietnam were giving daily military press briefings. (Department of State, Central Files, 951K.6211/1-2163)

We do not think, either, that newsmen here now are deliberately trying to undermine US effort (though their work can certainly have that result).

There was no malice for example in early Agency report that Captain Good was killed at Ap Bac while trying futilely to get Vietnamese to fight. Newsmen got this version from American advisors who believed it true themselves at time and were understandably bitter. Impact on US public opinion apparently was incendiary, with damage irrevocably done when correct version was available next day. Withholding an angle like this to major highly competitive story to take time for difficult double-checking requires very high degree reportorial restraint and judgment-which it not realistic to expect from average Agency reporter-rests in fact that major US news organizations like UPI, AP and NY Times use men (average age 27) with approximately same experience to cover Vietnam as they do routine stateside police beat. These three, furthermore, are only US organizations that consider story important enough to station full-time staff correspondent in Saigon. Other outfits use part-time stringers and sporadic visits by staffers stationed elsewhere, usually Hong Kong or Tokyo.

Explanation contains implicit comment on state of American press as institution and perhaps goes even deeper. Older, more experienced correspondents are not stationed here because editors apparently cannot persuade such men to live in Saigon, and in fact often have difficulty finding anyone at all who will agree to come, for essentially same reasons that US agencies in Saigon have chronic recruiting problems. Legendary American dream of frontier, seeing world, adventures in far off lands seems no longer to have pull it once did among newspapermen.

Perhaps equally significant, there are only three staff correspondents stationed Saigon because this has never been consistently what editors (and/or readers) rate as big story. Despite dramatic increase in American involvement, visiting editors and reporters repeatedly advise us that stateside public simply hasn't been stirred by Vietnam, perhaps because remoteness, perhaps obscured by more pressing understandable crises like Cuba, perhaps, as they claim, by routine optimistic statements from American visitors here. This has meant that so called "positive'' stories got relatively little play, if they make papers at all, while bad news often hits page one. Same time correspondents deliberately searched for "angles'' to dress up story and one of best of these inevitably was peculiarities of Ngo Dinh family.

On top of all this, reporting from Saigon has been immeasurably complicated--as Mission has reported frequently in past--by built-in incompatibility in personalities of GVN and American newsmen. Like most new, inexperienced regimes in less-developed countries, GVN has poor press facilities, often tries to conceal shortcomings by deceit, tends to confuse US press with US Government, and pridefully resents hostile criticism. Same time, GVN also has rather recklessly adopted policy of harassment of foreign press and reprisals against specific newsmen whom it considered insulting and/or unacceptably hostile to GVN cause.

This is not unparalleled in other new countries. Older, more experienced correspondents who come here usually accept harassments with all other characteristics of this war and are able to take the larger view of what's at stake here and logic of US policy under circumstances. Younger men, experiencing situation like this for first time and often finding news sources among equally young American advisors-tend to be shocked, angry, indignant because they think US is being "suckered'', though most of them also accept basic US policy intellectually when considered in calmer moments.

Such young reporters, and young advisors, have yet to learn that the mark of a great nation is tolerance and understanding of such tortured people as Vietnamese and their petty, often rather pathetic, maneuvers to save face. And they forget that the face of the government has vital bearing on support of its people in conduct of war./4/

/4/A marginal notation in Wood's hand at this point reads: "Not alone in forgetting this.''

This is further complicated by reality that these particular American newsmen and this particular regime dislike each other to degree that verges on neurotic. Besides their public dispatches, newsmen have reported at length by mail and private cable to editors back home on indignities of working Vietnam. Chances are when Ap Bac story broke, GVN had hardly friend in any editorial room in United States. What happened looks from here like savagely emotional delayed reaction to ousters of Sully and Robinson, Mme. Nhu's charge that whole American press is "communist'' and every other harassment over past six months./5/ Ap Bac was reported as major GVN failure at cost of American lives, and it appears from here that American editorial writers, commentators, columnists licked chops with delight and reached for simplest adjectives they could muster.

/5/See Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. II, Documents 133, 310, and 322.

About reftel comment war going better than reported to US public, this is collective judgment of US Country Team, and of most senior American and foreign officials here. But this judgment is still not unanimous among informed observers in Saigon. There is still debate about outcome this struggle, newsmen report this, always at risk of over-emphasizing minority viewpoint. Mission has been reporting for some time that GVN performance, decisively proving its capacity to win, will be ultimate and in fact only solution to foreign press problem. To date performance is not yet that convincing, at least to man who must give his major effort to reporting front-page material.

On what to do, Mission sees no panacea. GVN daily press briefings continue, but Americans seldom bother to attend because news is so old. Freshest information available is passed privately to GVN by MACV/PIO but is sometimes cut by GVN despite US advice. US Mission continues operate on principle it can release news only on military events involving American personnel-or risk GVN irritation and possibly even cutoff of reports to MACV. There are no formal MACV briefings for same reason,/6/ but in practice, MACV is able provide news on almost all events except some VC-initiated actions like attacks on strategic hamlets, and Mission has found that adequate news even of these can usually be passed discreetly to newsmen. Senior members of Mission, including Nolting and Harkins, are regularly available to US and other journalists, and spend much time on this.

/6/On February 10, Admiral Felt, after consultations on the press problem in Washington, cabled General Harkins that the Departments of Defense and State and the White House Press Secretary had agreed that Harkins should conduct briefings for the American press on the military situation in Vietnam. Felt added: "It is recognized that the GVN might not be happy about this at first, but we believe they will get used to it. The important thing is that we must improve press relations despite possible GVN sensitivities.'' (CINCPAC telegram 01014Z to COMUSMACV, February 10; Washington National Records Center, RG 84, Saigon Embassy Files: FRC 67 A 677, 350 GVN)

Plentiful US air transportation is available to correspondents to go anywhere they want in country pretty much at will./7/ Newsmen are generally satisfied with facilities available. Their main complaints are GVN news blackouts on specific military actions or deceit and absence of reliable GVN news sources.

/7/In telegram 749 from Saigon, February 13, the Embassy reported that recent press accounts emphasizing U.S. combat air activities in Vietnam grew out of the practice of allowing journalists to accompany interdiction missions. Ambassador Nolting indicated that he and General Harkins would continue to respond to questions from the press relating to the Farmgate operation by referring to its operational training role, but he added: "With GVN and US joint air effort now reaching over 1,000 sorties per month, and with U.S. casualties from Farmgate operations coming into print, there is more and more chance that reporters will feature Farmgate role.'' (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 19 US-S VIET)

Mission has been trying to pass word discreetly to GVN that Ap Bac press eruption was result its ill-considered policy toward newsmen. This apparently has had some success. Except for relatively mild attacks in Saigon press, there have been no new harassments in wake of Ap Bac, and Nhu assures us none is planned. It's even conceivable eruption will have healthy long-term effect.

Reftel's invitation for Mission's ideas on ways to alleviate situation at Washington end is much appreciated. Again we can see little that will really change situation other than long held GVN performance. [sic] As one-shot move, however, it might be useful to consider sending planeload of relatively senior newsmen to Vietnam for tour of country which Mission would be happy to arrange. Generally our feeling is that Ap Bac explosion was as much fault of US editors and pundits as that of reporting from Saigon. If not already being done, perhaps Department would consider series of off-record briefings for top editors to clarify true considerations in US policy here vis-a-vis undeniable problems of application. Conceivably, this could lead to sending of more seasoned correspondents for full-time duty Vietnam.

Mission is attempting to generate more news about GVN social and economic progress. USIS-Saigon plans soon to assign officer full-time to USOM to act in effect as press attache to encourage such stories in foreign press (where possible with minimum emphasis on American role), and to generate news on such subjects for dissemination through USIS facilities.

While this should help shift press attention toward real progress being made socially and economically, it must be recognized that this sort of thing is secondary news compared to death of single American serviceman from enemy action. Unhappily it must also be noted that if correspondent is set on spotting GVN shortcomings, he can find them just as easily in civil activities as military operations. To repeat, there are occasional one-shot opportunities to counter unfavorable reporting (e.g., making available captured VC document showing internal difficulties), but in general there can be no lasting solution until it is clear to even relatively casual observer that GVN is winning.

Nolting

 


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