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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES
1961-1963, Volume I
Vietnam, 1961

Department of State
Washington, DC

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VII. United States and Vietnamese Government Response to Increased Viet Cong Activity
September-October 1961

 

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

Saigon, September 5, 1961.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/9-561. Official Use Only; Priority. Repeated to Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, CINCPAC for PolAd, London, Paris, and Geneva for FECON. The Department of State was also asked to pass a copy to ACSI.

322. Task Force VN. More than 1,000 Viet Cong (two battalions) regular troops attacked and occupied two GVN posts at Poko and Dakha approximately 50 kilometers north of Kontum on September 1, announced Minister for Civic Action Ngo Trong Hieu at biweekly press conference September 4. According Vietnam press, Hieu stated one post retaken by GVN forces. Fighting still going on for second. Also reported 100 VC, 19 ARVN personnel killed in action so far.

Hieu said VC armed with modern weapons and, for first time, wore khaki uniforms into battle.

Comment: If number of VC as high as reported, this represents largest VC attack to date and possibly result of significant build-up VC forces this area recent months. Report of VC force being well-armed and uniformed also another possible indication VC efforts mold guerrilla units into more regular-type forces this region for use against larger GVN targets.

ARMA will report military details this operation./2/

/2/The Army Attaché's report has not been found.

Cunningham

 

128. Memorandum From Robert H. Johnson of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow)/1/

Washington, September 5, 1961.

/1/Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, R. Johnson Chron. Secret.

SUBJECT
The President's UN Speech/2/ and the Situation in Southeast Asia

/2/See Document 137.

As the discussion with the President last week/3/ made very clear, it would be very disadvantageous to us to have a crisis in Laos or South Viet Nam at the height of the Berlin crisis. Khrushchev may also consider this a dangerous maneuver and seek to avoid it. He must be concerned with the convulsive reaction a double crisis could produce in the United States and also with its impact on the respective Chinese and Soviet roles in Asia.

/3/Apparently a reference to a meeting at the White House on August 29 regarding Laos. A memorandum of this meeting is in Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Southeast Asia Region.

Nonetheless, Khrushchev could see certain short range advantages in stepping up the level of Communist military activity in Southeast Asia. It seems to me that we can utilize the concern of the neutrals about the Berlin situation to help deter Khrushchev from taking military action in Southeast Asia. We can do this by making explicit ties between the two situations. I believe this might be usefully done in the President's speech to the UN.

Thus the President might in his speech say that it is in the interest of world peace-in the interests of the Bloc, the Western Powers and the neutrals-that the already very serious crisis over Berlin should not be complicated by a reopening of the war in Laos or by enlarging the scale of warfare in South Viet Nam. In order to show that this is a matter within the control of the USSR, the President would need to make clear that the struggles in these two countries are not simple indigenous struggles, but are wars supported by the Soviets and the North Vietnamese (with Soviet help) from outside. This would require the surfacing of evidence that we have been collecting.

Such a statement at the UN might be accompanied by a démarche to Khrushchev which would also point out our mutual interest in avoiding a war in Southeast Asia, call his attention to his understanding with the President at Vienna/4/ that it was in our mutual interest that Laos be neutralized and make clear that. while we wish to avoid a fight, we are not prepared to stand by while he gobbles up either Laos or South Viet Nam. The pros and cons of these proposed courses of action may be stated as follows.

/4/See footnote 2. Document 61.

Pros

1. By tying Berlin and Southeast Asia together in this fashion we could make use of some of the pressure that the neutrals are going to be exercising on both sides to come to a solution on Berlin to create some pressure on the Soviet Union not to complicate the problem further by undertaking a war in Southeast Asia. Khrushchev would have something additional to lose if he did step up the war in Southeast Asia.

2. We would be communicating to Khrushchev in an explicit way our recognition of our mutual interest in avoiding resumption of the military struggle in Laos in the midst of the Berlin crisis.

3. We would focus world attention on the crisis in Southeast Asia and thus: (a) suggest that it is potentially of as great significance as the crisis over Berlin; and (b) help avoid a situation in which the Communists manage to sneak away with Laos or South Viet Nam while world attention is focused on the Berlin crisis.

4. We would counter the argument that the Communists are beginning to make that we want to open a second front in Asia.

Cons

1. Khrushchev showed by his action on nuclear testing that he is not going to be deterred by neutral opinion. Having made that plunge he is even less likely to be so deterred in the future. (On the other hand, if the test decision was made for purely technical military reasons and overrode considerations of preserving a "peaceful" world political posture, he may be more sensitive than ever to political considerations of this kind.)

2. The USSR may lack the power of decision with respect to Laos and Viet Nam. Communist China and North Viet Nam can force the Soviet hand. (With the Chinese and the North Vietnamese in difficult economic straits, however, the hand of the USSR should be strengthened.)

3. The situation in Southeast Asia is so muddled that it is going to be very difficult to place responsibility upon the USSR for any resumption of hostilities in Laos or step-up of activities in South Viet Nam.

4. The proposed actions will suggest to the Russians that we are terribly anxious to avoid a fight in Southeast Asia in the midst of the Berlin crisis and will simply encourage them to step up the military struggle there in the hope that we will not respond. (But the USSR must estimate already that we would like to avoid such a fight if we can. If, as proposed, we at the same time make clear that we will not stand by while they take over, the dangers suggested should be minimized.)

It should be noted that, with the exception of the last argument, these are arguments that the proposed action would be ineffective rather than disadvantageous./5/

/5/In a memorandum of September 15 to Rostow, Johnson wrote that even though Rostow had indicated he did not fully agree with the suggestion made in the September 5 memorandum, he was submitting some specific language for inclusion in the draft of the President's speech prepared by Schlesinger. Johnson's draft paragraph reads: "While we keep our eyes focused upon the efforts of the USSR to deprive West Berlin of its freedom we must not forget that the Communist countries are also engaged in an effort to impose their will from outside on the countries of Laos and Viet Nam. I say to the leaders of the USSR and I say to you all that the cause of peace will not be well served if an attempt is made to use the crisis over Berlin as a cover to divert attention from a major effort by the Communist countries to gain control of these countries by either creeping or direct aggression. Just as we shall improve the possibilities for peace in these countries by standing fast over Berlin, so the Communist countries will greatly complicate the problems of finding a peaceful solution to the Berlin problem if they choose this moment to attempt to take over all of Viet Nam and Laos." (Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, R. Johnson Chron. Sept. 1-Dec. 31, 1961) No reply by Rostow has been found.

Robert H. Johnson/6/

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

 

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

Saigon, September 6, 1961, 11 a.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5-MSP/9-661. Confidential.

323. From William Jorden. Task Force VN. Subject: Progress Report.

GVN authorities including Thuan have promised fullest cooperation our project. Small working group established through Dr. Tuyen with Dang Duc Khoi and Tran Tam assigned as joint counterparts to work with me in gathering assessing material. Have sorted thru cases previously submitted ICC and see need for fresher harder evidence. . . . friends on ICC doubtful of chances ever winning condemnation of DRV short of massive aggression by them but commission remains useful forum for initial presentation of such evidence as available.

Have asked get to scene of current fighting to see what is produced on spot in way evidence of subversion before it is sifted and scattered.

GVN officials feel they have missed boat in this whole area in past and are grateful our interest and help. They now talking in terms of setting up permanent group to gather evidence of subversion and to arrange for its dissemination through available channels. Question of possible US-GVN group to do job been raised but I have emphasized that I could not comment and that it would be matter for consultation through embassy. Have given personal opinion that it is primarily matter for GVN but that we prepared to help informally with advice, suggestions, etc.

Hopeful this week will produce something worthwhile. As you know time has different meaning this part of globe but think we are moving.

Cunningham

 

130. Telegram From the Chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Vietnam (McGarr) to the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Felt)/1/

Saigon, September 10, 1961, 5:09 p.m.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Secret; Priority. Repeated to JCS, JACE AJCC, CINCUSARPAC, and ASCI DA.

MAGAG-CH 1473. 1. This dispatch reports mounting indications of significant increase in Viet Cong capabilities as evidenced by recent Viet Cong actions predominately in but not limited to Second Corps area and along Laos/Cambodian border and Central Plateau area. Indications strengthened by knowledge enemy now possesses virtual unrestricted access routes from North Vietnam through Southern Laos into highlands of South Vietnam where due to rugged terrain present RVNAF military posture limited in capability to effectively prevent or even detect infiltration of troops, arms and supplies in apparently increasing amounts.

2. Recent reports, though not confirmed and reliability undetermined cannot be completely discounted, indicate sizeable concentrations of Viet Minh (Viet Cong) forces Southern Laos Vic SVN border. These include six Viet Cong battalions Attopeu area reported by RVNAF source, three to five Viet Minh (Viet Cong) battalions estimated at three thousand reported by MAAG Laos and CAS, Saigon through FAL sources as proceeding south from Tchepone area late July to Vic (YC 3218), RVNAF J2 order battle locates two Viet Cong battalions in Salient Vic (YC 4070), recent ARVN air recon reported new Viet Cong battalion in SVN Vic (YC 4924) in addition to many houses, guard towers, personnel activity in large area north and south Vic (YC 2580), and very recent RVNAF J2 report of C 4 evaluation described recent movement of ten thousand man force from northwest to Vic (YC 4317). RVNAF discounts size this force as does MAAG. Realized buildup taking place along Laos border but no indication force of that size at present.

3. Concurrent with indicated buildup Viet Minh (Viet Cong) forces South Laos, Viet Cong activity Second Corps area has recently increased in force size and frequency, and actions are more aggressive, better organized and directed against stronger civil guard installations and larger ARVN forces. Viet Cong units in recent actions this area are much better equipped than previously reported, armed with large percentage of submachine guns in addition to machine guns, automatic rifles, and mortars. Reliable RVNAF source states recent ARVN operation northwest of Ban Me Thuot clashed with regular Vietnamese Viet Cong company moving south from North Vietnam (credibility this report strengthened by fact that no reported Montagnards accompanied VC Company. Previous reports invariably describe large percentage of Montagnards accompanying company size force or larger). Same source reported that elements of a PAVN Division have already infiltrated war zone "D" northwest of Saigon, however unable to confirm at present.

4. July, August increase in size and aggressiveness of Viet Cong actions Second Corps culminated in three battalion (estimated one thousand) Viet Cong force attack against defense posts and reinforcing ARVN units north of Kontum on one and two September. RVNAF J2 after action reports states one Viet Cong battalion new to area and apparently came from across border. Subsequent to this action a rash of attacks have taken place in the plateau area to include overrunning of civil guard post at (YB 8040) on five September, attack against self defense corps post on hwy 19 near An Khe on six September, three separate platoon size attacks against ARVN forces in border area west of Hue on seven September, and overrunning of platoon at ARVN outpost northeast of Kontum (AS 9601) on nine September. Concurrent with these actions RVNAF J2 reports increased Viet Cong interdiction (road sabotage and harassing fire) of hwys 7, 14 and 19 in area with obvious objective of hindering timely ARVN reinforcement against Viet Cong actions in plateau region.

5. MAAG Vietnam concludes that: An enemy controlled Southern Laos and porous GVN border in the North is permitting an accelerated infiltration of Viet Minh (Viet Cong) units, arms and other supplies and equipment of significantly greater proportions into South Vietnam; this infiltration is directly contributing to an apparent strengthening and expansion of Viet Cong secure areas in support of increased political subversive activity throughout the country under the North Vietnam controlled and directed national front for the liberation of South Vietnam. Given the present rate of Viet Cong military, economic and political growth, greatly assisted by infiltration support capability, out of country and in country indications exist pointing to a possible widespread increase in all forms of subversive activity this fall as the Viet Cong attempt to move into their final phase program of overthrowing the present government. While we not unduly apprehensive at present felt you should be advised this degree increased activity plateau area over short period time as this activity could be accompanied by possible larger scale Viet Cong military operations end rainy season.

 

131. Memorandum From the President's Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to the President/1/

Washington, September 15, 1961.

/1/Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Regional Security Series, Southeast Asia-General. Secret.

SUBJECT
Southeast Asia

General Taylor and I were briefed this morning by General Craig who toured Southeast Asia at the instruction of General Lemnitzer to make an evaluation on the ground./2/ They did a thorough job. There was nothing new in their presentation of the facts except, perhaps, their emphasis on the build-up of Pathet Lao-Viet-minh forces in Southern Laos and the beginnings of additional pressure on Central Vietnam from that area. They concluded by recommending the implementation of SEATO Plan 5 now-or if that is not possible, the execution of preparatory measures such as laying the command and logistic base and moving closer to Laos the foreign troops who would take part.

/2/A 16-page briefing paper prepared by General Craig and dated September 15 described the visit of his 5-man team to Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. (Ibid.)

Diem believes that Hanoi takes the view that the end of Stage 2--in Mao's theory of warfare--has arrived; that is, the end of guerrilla warfare and the beginning of open warfare.

Their recommendations are now being studied by the JCS and we should receive them, as modified, next week. They underline our own anxiety by emphasizing that the rainy season will be over by 30 September.

One operational thought arises from this briefing; namely, that you use the occasion of the UN speech/3/ to talk about Southeast Asia in some such terms as these:

/3/See Document 137.

"At this time we confront not merely a major crisis over Berlin but a situation equally dangerous to the peace in Southeast Asia. It has been my objective since assuming Presidential responsibility to seek by diplomatic means the negotiation of a truly independent and neutral Laos. This is clearly desirable in the interests of the Lao people, the peoples of Southeast Asia and of world peace itself. The situation as it now stands is dangerous not merely because we have only a precarious cease-fire in Laos; it is also dangerous because the territory of Laos is being used systematically to introduce external forces into South Vietnam. Only recently, moreover, the government of Cambodia announced a substantial engagement with Viet-minh forces operating from within its territory against the government of South Vietnam.
 
The United States is committed in Laos and in Southeast Asia generally to assist the governments of this region to maintain their independence. It intends to honor those commitments.
 
I was heartened when I spoke with Chairman Khrushchev in Vienna/4/ at our agreement that Laos should become an independent neutral nation on the model of Burma and Cambodia. This would be a step forward. But the whole world community should understand that there is a danger to the peace in Southeast Asia to which it must devote constructive attention in coming days and months despite the more dramatic danger surrounding the Berlin question."

/4/See footnote 2. Document 61.

Note: It is important to nail Khrushchev on his Burma and Cambodia analogy. At one point a Soviet ambassador slid over to using Poland as a model. In the latest Harriman talk with Pushkin,/5/ Finland was referred to, which would be O.K.

/5/Apparently a reference to Harriman's informal talk with Pushkin on September 12, in which Harriman asked what kind of neutrality the Soviets had in mind for Laos and Pushkin replied "your kind" and pointed to Finland. (Telegram 882 from Rome, September 13; Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-1361) See also footnote 2, Document 133.

WR/6/

/6/Rostow added the following handwritten postscript: "Gen. Taylor and I will meet on Saturday [September 16] with Alexis J. and Lemnitzer on Southeast Asia." Taylor's appointment book indicates that the three men met at noon on September 16 to discuss Southeast Asia. (National Defense University, Taylor Papers) No record of the substance of the conversation has been found.

 

132. Editorial Note

On September 17, 1961, the British Foreign Office announced the establishment in Saigon of an Advisory Mission to be headed by Robert G.K. Thompson, former Permanent Secretary of Defense in the Malayan Federation. According to the announcement, the Mission's function was to assist the Government of Vietnam in administrative and police matters. The United States Embassy in Saigon reported that the British announcement was "given little play here," but that it was encouraging that government officials at various levels, including President Diem himself, seemed more interested in the Malayan experiences than they had been in the past. (Telegram 414 from Saigon, September 28; Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5-MSP/9-2861)

The Embassy in Saigon had been furnished by the British Embassy texts of the draft announcement, unattributable background notes, and off-the-record replies to anticipated questions about the Mission. Among other things, this information indicated that the Mission was to be under the general direction of the British Ambassador, was to consist of four or five officers, and was to be purely civilian in its composition and activities. (Telegram 333 from Saigon, September 7; ibid., 751K.5-MSP/9-761)

On August 24, Field Marshal Sir General Gerald Templer, who was British High Commissioner for the Federation of Malaya from 1952 to 1954, wrote to Maxwell Taylor a letter of introduction for Robert Thompson, who, he said, would be visiting Washington, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore on his way to Saigon, where he was expected to join the other members of the British Advisory Mission toward the end of September. Templer asked Taylor whether he would meet with Thompson during the Washington visit "so that you might give him your personal guidance and advice." (Ibid., Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 66 D 193, VN 1961 Presidential Program-Political) Thompson met with Taylor at 11 a.m. on September 19. (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Appointment Book-T-609-69A) He also met with Lemnitzer at 3 p.m. that day. (Ibid., Lemnitzer Papers, Journal-L-419-71) No record of the discussion at either of these meetings has been found.

In telegram 351 to Saigon, September 28, the Department reported that during his consultations in Washington, Thompson put forward several ideas that were used in Malaya to control the Communist insurgency. The "most immediately promising," according to the Department, were an amnesty resettlement plan to encourage Viet Cong defections and the possibility of denying food supplies to the Viet Cong, especially in the high plateau area where food was scarce and denial could be effective. (Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/9-2861)

 

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

Saigon, September 18, 1961, 1 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/9-1861. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution-Noforn. Repeated to USUN for the Secretary, Rangoon, Paris, London, Bangkok, New Delhi, Vientiane, Geneva for FECON, Phnom Penh, Ottawa, and Moscow.

373. Rome's 882 to Department from Harriman, repeated Saigon 2./2/ Ambassador Harriman's report of his discussion with Pushkin extraordinarily interesting. May I comment from angle of problem in South Vietnam?

/2/Telegram 882, September 13, reported on Harriman's informal discussion with the Soviet representative to the Far East Conference, Pushkin, the previous evening in which Pushkin said, among other things, that the Soviet Union "could and would control North Viet-Nam" and that the North was ready to abide by the terms of a peace agreement reached in Southeast Asia. (Ibid., 751J.00/9-1361) See also footnote 5, Document 131.

1. The determining factor between preservation of independence of South Vietnam and eventual seizure of power here by communists is very likely to be degree of communist infiltration across frontiers of Laos and Cambodia.

2. US already has very large investment in SVN in resources and prestige, and we have recently taken additional initiatives which add to our commitments to support this country. As result of these and through their own determination, effort, and sacrifice, SVN's prospects of survival and recovery have begun to look brighter.

3. These prospects are now being threatened by what may be approaching settlement in Laos. As frequently pointed out, factor in Laotian problem most intimately affecting SVN's chances is physical one of border control, of preventing amount of infiltration which will swamp this country. It is also, in part, problem of political morale and faith in US long-term intentions, but physical defense problem is the greater and more immediate concern.

4. Facts are that Viet Cong are at present increasing their infiltrations into SVN through Laos, and indications are that they plan to step this up substantially. North Vietnam's announced intention is to take power here within short period of time, and this objective has received full public backing of Russia and Communist China.

5. GVN potential is sufficient to handle certain amount of infiltration, which is to be expected under set of circumstances, but insufficient to handle substantial increase. Substantial increase infiltration would, I think, eventually result in communist victory here, perhaps in stages, perhaps by direct seizure of power.

6. If situation substantially worsens here, US will be faced with alternatives of sending US forces into SVN or backing down.

7. What happens in Laos will be, I think, determinant of whether we will be faced with these hard alternatives.

8. It was joint view of Brown, Young and myself (Bangkok's 345 to Department)/3/ that a neutral Government of Laos, composed and equipped as presently envisaged, with a "strong" ICC, probably could not, even if it wanted to, do much to prohibit or control VC infiltration through its territory, at least during its "settling down" period and its forces would be too few and its focus of attention would be elsewhere.

/3/Telegram 345, September 7, reported on the conference in Bangkok of Ambassadors Nolting, Brown. and Young. (Department of State, Central Files. 7511.00/9-761)

9. I am thus forced to conclusion that a neutral Government in Laos as apparently now envisaged would, in all probability and within a relatively short period, cause us to face the alternatives of pare six above in regard to SVN. (Young has already predicted consequences in Thailand.)

10. While I realize it is late, disagreeable, and difficult vis-a-vis our European Allies to contemplate a change of course, it is my understanding that we have always held open the possibility of such a change. From viewpoint our interests in SVN (and, I believe, on balance in SEA generally), I urgently recommend consideration of a change in policy, directed towards partition.

11. Following up on Pushkin's statement to Harriman that USSR "could and would control northern Vietnam" re Laotian settlement, and his faint indication of possible Soviet interest in settling hostilities between two parts Vietnam, could we not put ourselves in position to put to Soviet Government something along following lines? Realize UK and France would find it hard to accept, but their Ambassadors here have separately expressed their concern to me re VC infiltration into SVN through a neutral Laos. Suggested line of approach to USSR:

(A) US has essential interests and commitments in maintaining independence of SVN and Thailand and we intend to defend them.

(B) Prevention of use of Laotian territory as corridor of infiltration into SVN and Thailand is necessary to carry out our policy and commitments.

(C) Exploration and negotiation at Geneva and with potential Laotian leaders, coupled with Communist actions vis-à-vis SVN, has convinced us that a neutral Lao Government as presently envisaged will not provide necessary protection to SVN and Thailand against Communist infiltration and guerrilla action.

(D) In face of long record and current evidence Communist action against GVN, we are not prepared to accept Soviet assurance that they will control Viet Minh, particularly with respect to preventing use of Laotian territory by North Vietnamese and other Communist elements against SVN and Thailand. (The relationship of USSR to Geneva accords of 1954 is essentially the same as that envisaged in negotiated accords re Laos. Soviet "praising" of Communist side re 1954 accords has consisted, with respect to Vietnam, in supplying, financing, training, and giving public support to attempt by North Vietnamese take over SVN, by force disguised as political revolution.)

(E) We have concluded that we will not agree to a settlement which, in our opinion, will leave our allies exposed to Communist infiltration, subversion, and armed attack, through manipulation or abuse of a neutral Laotian Government.

(F) We have decided to assure that territory adjacent to SVN and Thailand be kept in friendly hands, and we will do this if necessary in use of US forces, because of our interests and commitments in those countries.

(G) We would prefer to reach such a solution, amounting to partition, without use of force. If Soviet Union wishes to do so, and can control its allies as claimed, this result can be achieved at conference table.

(H) If USSR wants to broaden discussions and talk seriously about composing hostilities in Vietnam, we will put ourselves promptly in position to do so, as part of over-all effort to reach satisfactory modus vivendi in SEA.

12. I realize that such a course of action would reverse our policy aimed at composing hostilities in Laos, unifying it and taking it out of arena of cold war. In light of history of Laotian negotiations, culminating in Pushkin's cynical remark that Laos could be "next to last" to be devoured, I cannot believe that a settlement along presently conceived lines will benefit our over-all position in this part of world. Even if communist bloc is not interested in taking over Laos at this time, are they not intent on taking over SVN and Thailand; and would not a neutral and necessarily weak Laos be a convenient tool for this purpose?

The above was gestated and written before receipt Ambassador Harriman's reports his recent conversations with Souvanna Phouma./4/ From what we have of those conversations, I see nothing which changes views expressed above.

/4/Harriman held five formal meetings with Souvanna Phouma in Rangoon, September 15-17. Telegraphic reports on these meetings are ibid. 751J.00. For text of Harriman's statement on the talks, issued at Rangoon on September 18, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, p. 1022.

Nolting

 

134. Memorandum From the President's Military Representative (Taylor) to the President/1/

Washington, September 18, 1961.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-625-71. Confidential. A handwritten notation in the margin reads: "Read by HA [Higher Authority?] 19 Sept 61. MDT."

1. You asked about the use of the guerrilla infiltration routes through Laos into South Vietnam. These routes have been in use intensively since the end of 1958 when the government of North Vietnam in effect declared guerrilla war on South Vietnam.

2. The Viet Cong (Communist guerrilla) strength in South Vietnam rose from about 2500 in September 1959 to 5000 in January 1960, and to an estimated 15,000 at the present time.

3. The percentage of these Viet Cong forces which have infiltrated from outside of the country, as compared with those who were recruited locally, is impossible to determine. However, it is known that substantial numbers have been entering South Vietnam from the north by way of Laos for a long time. General Craig, who has just returned from a visit to Southeast Asia with a Joint Staff team,/2/ considers that, since the cease-fire last May, there has been a very large movement of guerrilla forces into the panhandle of Laos in anticipation of an over-the-border offensive against South Vietnam.

/2/See Document 131.

4. Although we hear most about the infiltration by land, there is a lively business in transporting guerrillas by junk along the seacoast from the north into South Vietnam. Although they are occasionally intercepted, this traffic in guerrillas goes on without too much difficulty.

Maxwell D. Taylor

 

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

Saigon, September 20, 1961, 7 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K 00/9-2061. Confidential. Repeated to CINCPAC for PolAd, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Vientiane, London, and Paris. The Department was asked to pass a copy to ACSI.

385. Task Force VN. Separate unclassified telegram/2/ gives text GVN communiqué re Sept 17/18 VC attack Phuoc Thanh. Aside from supplement information reported through MAAG channels, Thuan told me Sept 19 estimated three battalions had participated in attack. He said initial estimates of GVN casualties were about 20, but subsequent information indicates they considerably higher than this.

/2/Telegram 384 from Saigon, September 20. (Ibid.)

Contrary to impression given in official communiqué, VC succeeded in capturing Phuoc Thanh and holding it several hours, during which they reportedly staged "people's trial" and executed province chief and chief assistant in market place./3/ While ARVN forces are pursuing contact with VC broken off.

/3/Nolting recalled that he visited the province chief and his family the week before and was impressed by him as a vigorous and well-motivated official. Nolting had often wondered whether there was any connection between his visit and the Viet Cong overrunning of that village. (Department of State, Office of the Historian, Vietnam Interviews, Frederick E. Nolting, Jr., May 25, 1984)

Phuoc Thanh is first provincial capital temporarily captured by VC. Earlier attempt take over capital of Kien Hoa in April was frustrated by local authorities. However, province chief, said by Diem to be one of best, is second killed past 18 months, other being in Vinh Long last year.

Phuoc Thanh, which I recently visited with President, is new province. Provincial capital is small town on edge thickly forested Zone D (which has long been VC base). It was garrisoned primarily by CG with some ARVN support. Attack followed pattern recent incident North Kontum, and thick jungle around Phuoc Thanh provided VC with excellent cover for assault, although two Ranger companies in area at time.

This most recent incident, a considerable VC success, is most regrettable, but should be balanced against recent ARVN victories. It demonstrates that tide has not yet turned. Additional VC attacks in strength, perhaps even closer to Saigon, to be expected as infiltration through Laos continues and local recruitment maintained at high level. Civil Guard will probably remain preferred target until its capabilities improve.

Nolting

 

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

Washington, September 22, 1961.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/9-2261. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Wood, cleared with Haydn Williams, Cottrell, McConaughy, U. Alexis Johnson, and G/PM, initialed by Cottrell for the Acting Secretary, and repeated to CINCPAC for PolAd.

337. Joint State-Defense message. Task Force VN 14, 15 and 19-Emergency Assistance./2/ It is estimated here that deterioration Laos, end rainy season, scale September VC attacks which took such heavy toll of CG and SDC and probable effect on GVN morale require US take certain emergency actions within 30 days. Purpose to assist your current efforts to prevent establishment VC political/logistic base on VN territory near Lao border, to handle increased VC border crossing, and to maintain an offensive momentum against VC.

/2/Reference is to the numbered paragraphs in Document 56.

Those responsible conduct military program are urged request additional materiel and personnel assistance above currently approved programs if required in light considerations set forth above. Favorable consideration can be anticipated.

Request CINCPAC and Saigon Task Force give particular but not sole attention to additional measures to be taken within 30 days receipt your comments and GVN concurrence.

Request your suggestions as to acceleration deliveries selected items already in program plus additional items, for example those on following suggested list on which your comments requested:

Suggested Equipment and Personnel

A. For ARVN, Civil Guard, Self Defense Corps

1. Accelerate training for Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps.

2. Night illumination devices for use by patrols.

3. Additional dogs and handlers (possible sources: Lackland AFB, Malaya, UK and Germany).

4. Portable communication devices enabling patrols to maintain voice contact.

5. Self-sterilizing mines to seal off strategic trails.

6. Mines to protect outposts.

7. Barbed wire.

8. Delivery improved small arms for selected ARVN units. Small arms which would then be released from these units to be turned over to Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps. In addition, a substantial increase in delivery of firearms to Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps. If delivery presently scheduled firearms cannot be substantially increased within 30 days, suggests supplement by others such as armalites. carbines and/or riot guns.

Purpose items 2, 3, 4 to give ARVN patrols further confidence and aggressiveness to move out at any time and under any conditions-including, if agreed, probes into Laos.

B. For VN Air Force (VNAF)

1. Delivery additional Caribou and/or other type STOL aircraft for re-supply plus defoliant, manioc (tapioca) killer and bulldozers for clearing in frontier area. US crews to train RVNAF crews.

2. Tetrahedron for use against VC in open areas on Lao, DMZ frontiers.

3. Delayed Napalm for use in sparsely settled jungle areas on Lao, DMZ frontiers.

4. Supplement present H-34 pilot and maintenance capability through Eastern Construction Company contract.

C. Use Available Resources

We are also anxious accelerate GVN progress toward increased and better use of existing resources such as AD-6's for close-in support, targets of opportunity and helicopters for vertical envelopment.

(Deptel 330 of September 21/3/ is to be read in conjunction with this message.)

/3/In telegram 330, the Department of State requested that the Embassy submit as soon as possible its requirements for photographic and visual reconnaissance of the Vietnamese-Laotian border and the demilitarized zone and its recommendations regarding the type aircraft to be used, including RF-101's based outside Vietnam. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9-2161)

Bowles

 

137. Editorial Note

In his address before the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 1961, President Kennedy warned about the serious threats posed in Laos, South Vietnam, and elsewhere by Communist aggression. He asked the nations of the world to unite to preserve the peace and "save the planet, or together we shall perish in its flames." (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pages 618-626)

 

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

Saigon, September 26, 1961, 7 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/9-2661. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to CINCPAC for PolAd, Bangkok, Vientiane, and Phnom Penh. The Department of State was also asked to pass a copy to ACSI.

406. Task Force VN. Deptel 334./2/ VC attack near Banmethuot not yet mentioned in local press. ARVN commander in area told me following Sept 25 when I was visiting Banmethuot: 3 land development centers attacked Sept 18 and held for several days. Took supplies, burned schoolhouses and administration buildings, and terrorized people. GVN armed forces column sent in by foot, supporting air drop prevented by weather. VC withdrew into mountain redoubt before GVN troops arrived. Only GVN action against VC was bombing of line of retreat.

/2/Telegram 334, September 22, noted that the Department of State was receiving press queries about a recent Viet Cong attack 20 miles south of Banmethuot and asked the Embassy for comments and press guidance (Ibid., 751K.00/9-2261)

Additional details furnished by International Voluntary Service employee stationed Banmethuot as follows: Purpose of VC action, reportedly involving up to two regular VC battalions accompanied by several hundred additional local guerrillas, said to be capture of rice and supplies from Vietnamese settlements 20 miles southeast Banmethuot at Ban Ti Srenh, Ban Yang Bong, and Ban Kron Kmar (BP 18). VC overwhelmed Civil Guard post at Ban Mgha [sic] (BP 3481) Sept 18 on way to settlement villages. Villagers said to be forewarned and managed to hide most of rice from VC; badly outnumbered local SDC members also hid guns and uniforms upon approach of VC.

Full details results and casualty figures not yet known.

Comment: Failure local press to mention this operation probably indicates some GVN reluctance admit such large VC concentrations able operate this area without effective countermeasures by GVN, particularly after well-publicized Sept 17/18 setback at Phuoc Thanh (Embtel 385)./3/ Also, information this action still sketchy possibly because rough terrain makes communications particularly difficult.

/3/Document 135.

Significant that VC not only able operate regular units this size but also reportedly can assemble local guerrilla forces in sizeable numbers when needed for local operations. While former contain many Vietnamese, latter said to be predominantly Montagnards, another indication continued VC success in influencing mountain peoples.

Nolting

 

139. Memorandum From William J. Jorden of the Policy Planning Council to the President's Military Representative (Taylor)/1/

Washington, September 27, 1961.

/1/Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-016-69. Confidential. Also transmitted to the White House under cover of a memorandum from Battle to M. Bundy dated October 4, in which Battle wrote that copies of the memorandum were being sent to U. Alexis Johnson, McGhee, McConaughy, and the Operations Center for the Vietnam Task Force. Battle also stated that the "information and opinions in this memorandum have been cleared in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs but are personal observations and do not necessarily represent Departmental policy."

SUBJECT
Some Observations on Countermeasures against Viet Cong activities in Vietnam

At the suggestion of Lt. Cdr. Bagley, I am submitting the following thoughts concerning possible steps for countering the extensive and growing infiltration and subversion effort of the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. They are based on three weeks of observation and study of the subversion problem in Vietnam. I make no pretensions to expertise in this field. It should be noted that the focus of my work in Vietnam was on the problem-the nature and extent of the Viet Cong's infiltration effort with particular emphasis on the evidence of North Vietnamese involvement-and not on existing or possible countermeasures. Nonetheless, I am happy to submit for your consideration some random observations on possible steps for meeting this obvious threat to security in South Vietnam. Included are a few suggestions on related matters that General Taylor may wish to consider.

The problem: We delude ourselves if we visualize the Viet Cong effort in the South as primarily a movement of large, organized units across the GVN borders. It is apparent that the VC rely on local recruitment, both by persuasion and by terror, for the bulk of their organization. However, movement by units occurs and appears to be on the increase. It is also clear that the infiltration routes are used for transfer from the North to the South of military supplies, medical equipment, and other materiel, as well as of agents, trained cadre and unit leaders.

The most important infiltration routes are: by sea; across the demilitarized zone, particularly the mountainous and heavily forested western portion; mountain trails through Laos, thence eastward across the border into South Vietnam; from "safe areas" in Cambodia across the Vietnam border.

Countermeasures:

1. Junk operations--GVN intelligence sources report that these are extensive and operate under the control of a special VC maritime unit operating out of Vinh and Dong Hoi. Some junks have been picked up with VC agents aboard. My impression, however, is that the interception effort is limited and largely ineffectual. I do not minimize the problems involved. Large numbers of South Vietnamese fishing junks operate in the coastal waters and it is not easy to separate them from one on a VC mission. A successful effort would involve new equipment, trained personnel, close liaison with shoreside intelligence operatives, and the like. But surely this is a problem not beyond the reach of the world's greatest naval power.

2. River operations--This is closely related to 1 above. Large areas of South Vietnam, particularly the southern delta region and the provinces southwest of Saigon, are laced with rivers and internal waterways. The sea and other water routes are used by the VC for supply, transport and escape. Control over waterways permits the VC to extort tribute from the peasants who use them or to force the farmers to use the longer and more expensive overland routes to get their crops to markets.

GVN authorities do not have the kind of equipment they need to operate against the VC on the waterways. The province chief in Kien Hoa, for example, told me he had one slow and rickety wooden patrol boat for this purpose and that it was a "sitting duck" for small arms fire any time it came within range of a shoreside VC base. He asked for one or more armored patrol craft months ago. The result to date: Nothing. He knows of one fairly large VC base in his province, but he is convinced that it would be useless to attack it by land if the waterway escape route is open.

This too, would seem to be an area in which ingenuity and a modest investment in equipment might produce significant dividends.

3. Infiltration routes--These are fairly well established: from Thu Lu across the DMZ and southward into central South Vietnam; from the same area, southwest and thence along the Lao-Vietnam border and into South Vietnam; through Tchepone (a major VC base in Laos), thence southeastward across Laos and into SVN; a route farther west through Saravane and across the border northwest of Kontum; one from Attopeu, another major base area, across the border west of Kontum. There are others.

Small, special forces units should be able to carry out successful ambushes along these trails. Even more promising might be quick "hit and run" strikes at sub-stations along the secret trails. The stations are fixed areas where VC personnel are fed and rested after each leg of their journey into the south. Given the rough terrain and the quality of VC field intelligence, such strikes could only be carried out successfully by small, highly mobile, and rugged units capable of operating without base support and in the best guerrilla tradition. Hitting the sub-stations could damage the effectiveness of an infiltration trail for some time, considering the difficulties of resupply in that terrain.

To be most effective, ambushes and strikes along the trails should not be confined to South Vietnam itself but should push over into Laos and possibly into Cambodia though the political problems in the latter case are significant.

4. Base areas--The VC operate from a number of bases in Laos between the 17th parallel and the Cambodian border. A few hard-hitting strikes at these bases by tough, special forces outfits could disrupt or at least harass VC operations in that area. The effect such moves would have on the cease-fire and the situation within Laos itself would have to be considered.

5. Field intelligence--This continues to be one of the glaring weaknesses of GVN operations. Reports on VC operations and movements come in from the villages erratically and often do not reach the officials or military units that could use them. I gather that the three major VC operations this month, north of Saigon and in the highlands, came as complete surprises to the GVN. Authorities in the field are acutely aware of this problem but I doubt that we can urge improvement in intelligence operations at the village level too often or too emphatically.

Related to this, there is room for vast improvement in the system by which a village or hamlet under VC attack can inform quickly the district, provincial or military zone authorities. I gather there has been an extended delay in working out and supplying some form of simple alarm system.

6. Radio locators--The VC use radio extensively for their contacts with regional headquarters and with the North. Successful strikes at their transmitters and receivers could deal a crippling blow to their communications net. I was told by several Vietnamese that the locator equipment now in use defined an area far too large for a successful strike. Without knowing what has been done or what may be contemplated in this field, it would seem to be an area where effective counteraction against the VC could be improved.

7. Air operations--This is the one field in which the GVN enjoys total superiority over the VC. There is some question whether this superiority is being exploited fully. I visited the Kontum area immediately after the VC attacks on Dakha and Poko at the beginning of September. I was told that the VC had been able to withdraw in good order to the north to a safe area in the mountains taking with them all their own wounded, a number of prisoners and stocks of captured equipment. This movement sounded to me like a prime target for aerial interdiction. I am not aware that there was any effective use of air strikes against the VC during the battle, which lasted several days, or during their organized withdrawal.

Are we making maximum use of our potential for aerial reconnaissance in Vietnam and along the border areas? Is the GVN using its limited air potential to full effectiveness? How good is the system of ground-air liaison? These are some of the questions that occurred to me.

8. Uniforms and equipment--Several Vietnamese officers told me that the equipment they were receiving from the U.S. was not well-suited to the kind of fighting that ARVN and the Civil Guard were engaged in in much of the country. This refers particularly to the lowlands and delta regions. Our fatigue uniforms are heavy enough in themselves; after five minutes in a paddy field or canal they absorb water like a sponge and weigh the wearer down. Combat boots are heavy, too, for people used to light or no footwear; in the paddies, they become anchors that sink into the mud. What is needed is some kind of light uniform, preferably of synthetic material that does not absorb water, that dries quickly and can be kept clean with ease. Light sneakers are preferred to heavy boots and some Vietnamese think no shoes at all would be the best for getting through the paddies quickly. That is the way the VC operate, and they do pretty well!

In any case, this is a matter that could be worked out in consultation with the Vietnamese. In the highlands, the requirements probably would be different from those in the delta. I gather the Vietnamese would still like one neat uniform and shiny boots for garrison and parade-but not for fighting. The easy way is to give them equipment from our surplus stocks; it probably is not the best way, considering the job they have to do.

I said at the outset I have no claim to expertise in the above matters. This is but a collection of observations and ideas that come to mind as I review my recent visit to Vietnam. I hope they are of some use.

William J. Jorden/2/

/2/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.

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