Memorandum for General Taylor from L.L. Lemnitzer, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, "Coutnerinsurgency Operations in South Vietnam, 12 October 1961

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 650-651

12 October 1961

SUBJECT: Counterinsurgency Operations in South Vietnam

1. You will recall that I recently had occasion to look into allegations that the United States is overtraining the Vietnamese Army for a Korea-type war with little or nothing being done to meet the terrorist problem in Vietnam. My inquiries have highlighted the following main points:

a. The success of the counter-terrorist police organization in Malaya has had considerable impact.
b. The concept of using local police force to combat local insurgency is politically and diplomatically attractive.

2. I fully agree that we should make maximum use of those aspects of the British counterinsurgency experience in Malaya which are pertinent to the situation in Vietnam. You will recognize, however, that there are major differences between the situations in Malaya and South Vietnam:

a. Malayan borders were far more controllable in that Thailand cooperated in refusing the Communists an operational safe haven.
b. The racial characteristics of the Chinese insurgents in Malaya made identification and segregation a relatively simple matter as compared to the situation in Vietnam where the Viet Cong cannot be distinguished from the loyal citizen.
c. The scarcity of food in Malaya versus the relative plenty in South Vietnam made the denial of food to the Communist guerrillas a far more important and readily usable weapon in Malaya.
d. Most importantly, in Malaya the British were in actual command, with all of the obvious advantages this entails, and used highly trained Commonwealth troops.
e. Finally, it took the British nearly 12 years to defeat an insurgency which was less strong than the one in South Vietnam.

3. Furthermore, as you well know, the success of the counterinsurgency operations in Malaya is not unique. Major terrorist activities have been defeated in both the Philippines and Burma, and in neither place was the police organization used as the framework for coordination and control. In the Philippines, for example, the military framework used was highly successful.

4. Closely associated with the allegation that the MAAG is "overtraining" the Vietnamese Army is the concern frequently expressed over the length of time required to train military officers and NCO's. No one knows better than you do that well-trained officers and NCO's are not produced in brief training programs. I am sure you will want to discuss this in detail with General McGarr when you visit Saigon. It is most important to note that the heaviest casualties in the Vietnam insurgency have been suffered by the Civil Guard previously trained as police. Almost without exception, the Viet Cong have attacked the untrained Civil Guard rather than the better trained Army units. This has resulted in a heavy loss of weapons and equipment to the Viet Cong. Untrained Civil Guard units have, in fact, been an important source of weapons and supplies for the Viet Cong, and their known vulnerability has been an invitation for the Viet Cong to attack. General McGarr believes that reversion of the Civil Guard to police control would set back the counterinsurgency operation in South Vietnam by at least a year.

5. With respect to training the Vietnamese Army for the "wrong war," it seems clear that in recent months the insurgency in South Vietnam has developed far beyond the capacity of police control. All of the Vietnamese Army successes this past summer have met Viet Cong opposition in organized battalion strength. Even larger Communist units were involved in the recent Viet Cong successes north of Kontum. This change in the situation has not been fully understood by many U.S. officials.

6. In this regard, there is some concern that the Thompson Mission may try to sell the Malayan concept of police control without making a sufficiently careful evaluation of conditions in South Vietnam. Additionally, there are some indications that the British, for political reasons, wish to increase their influence in this area and are using the Thompson Mission as a vehicle. Consequently, your forthcoming trip to South Vietnam is most timely. Despite repeated urging, the Government of South Vietnam has not yet written an overall national plan for counter-insurgency. The question of police or military organization for combatting Viet Cong insurgency should be laid to rest in that plan. Your evaluation of this matter could have an important effect on the Governments of both South Vietnam and the United States.

L. L. Lemnitzer
Joing Chiefs of Staff

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