Talking Paper for the Chairman, JCS, for meeting with the President of the United States on Current US Military Actions in South Vietnam, 9 January 1962


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 654-659


Talking Paper for the Chairman, JCS, for meeting with the President of the United States 9 January 1962

Subject: Current US Military Actions in South Vietnam

Background--Today Communist China and North Vietnam are suffering from the effects of failure of their communes to produce adequate amounts of food to feed their peoples. Recently, large quantities of wheat were purchased by Red China from Canada and Australia to overcome this failure. Southeast Asia, primarily South Vietnam and Thailand, is a food surplus area in normal times. Because of this and the standard Marxist-Leninist concept of peripheral aggression and pressure, the main communist threat in the Western Pacific appears to be directed at Southeast Asia. Of principal concern for the purpose of this briefing is the situation in South Vietnam, the US national objectives there and the military actions that have been implemented since October in support of our objectives.

The Current Situation in South Vietnam

The Viet Cong have heavily infiltrated, organized and now effectively control the colored areas on this chart.

To achieve their purposes the Viet Cong have divided the country into two major geographical areas, Intersector V with headquarters in the high plateau region north and west of Kontum, and the Nambo sector in the south with headquarters northeast of Saigon. Each major area is subdivided into interprovincial commands-four in Intersector V and three in Nambo, with a special zone for Saigon. Each interprovincial area is further organized into provinces which are further subdivided into districts, villages, and hamlets.

Methods of VC Operation

The 16,500-man Viet Cong military establishment is divided into two operational groups--regular and regional-local forces. Regular battalions and companies, numbering about 8,500 personnel, constitute the offensive element of the "Liberation Army" and operate throughout their respective interprovincial zone.

The 8,000 regional and local forces, which correspond functionally to the Self Defense Forces of SVN, are essentially security troops recruited and organized on district levels for limited operations and to provide security for command headquarters, conferences, and political rallies. Regional units are also used to provide semi-trained personnel as replacements in regular battalions and as fillers for newly activated units. Under regional unit control guerrilla platoons made up of daytime farmers sabotage, terrorize, assassinate, kidnap, disseminate propaganda, and attempt to subvert their neighbors.

Availability of weapons appears to be a continuing problem for Viet Cong forces, particularly in regional units in which less than half of the men are armed. The primary source of arms for all VC forces appears to be those captured from South Vietnamese security forces.

Most officers and key NCOs, as well as political and propaganda specialists, are former South Vietnamese who went north with the Communists in 1955, or who have since been recruited and sent to North Vietnam. These southerners are given special training and are then infiltrated back into South Vietnam through Laos (or by junks) to cadre regular and regional forces.

Training of regional troops and the activation of new regular battalions have been stepped up since the first of the year. In recent anti-guerrilla operations South Vietnamese troops uncovered several major Viet Cong training areas, one of which had barracks space for more than a battalion, 200 dummy rifles and tons of food.

In Communist-controlled areas, the Viet Cong have ordered villagers to dig trenches and prepare combat villages. The Viet Cong are collecting money from the peasants and plantation owners to finance the war against the government, and have implemented a rice tax to build up supplies for future operations. Pitched battles are avoided wherever possible, unless they are essential to a given plan, or the military advantages are at least four to one. The campaign to assassinate all who try to implement the Government of Vietnam's policies in the countryside is being intensified.

All indications point to the Viet Cong maintaining the current high level of guerrilla action in the south, and increasing activity in the high plateau area in efforts to build the decreed semi-permanent bases.

Routes of Infiltration and Supply

Prisoner of war interrogation recently conducted by the South Vietnamese Intelligence Service has shed additional light on the means employed by Communist North Vietnam to assist the Viet Cong in the latter's military and psychological campaigns against the Government of South Vietnam.

North Vietnam maintains a training camp for Special Troops in the vicinity of Vinh, where pro-Viet Cong South Vietnamese receive an 18-month military course interspersed with intensive Communist political indoctrination. Two 600-man battalions already have completed training, and another two battalions began training in May 1961. Personnel are assigned to units within the battalion according to their respective regions of origin in South Vietnam.

Upon completion of training, Viet Cong volunteers reenter South Vietnam by taking a circuitous route through territory in neighboring Laos controlled by Communist Pathet Lao forces.

In addition to land infiltration, some Viet Cong guerrillas and cadres are infiltrated by sea using junks and small craft to land at various points on the long South Vietnam coastline. It is estimated that no more than 20% of the total infiltrees use the sea route.

Relative Strengths

The current strength of the Viet Cong is 16,500 with the possible infiltration of 1,000 per month. The increase in strength by infiltration is offset by the estimated Viet Cong casualties which average over 1,000 a month according to South Vietnam official figures. A recent refinement in intelligence reporting indicates that the official estimate of Viet Cong strength may be raised to about 20,000 in the near future.

The current actual strength of the South Vietnamese forces are as follows:

Army: 163,696
Navy: 4,207
Air Force: 5,314
Marines: 3,135

In addition paramilitary forces total 65,000 in the Civil Guard and 45,000 Self Defense Corps.

The regular Army forces are organized and assigned to three corps areas with major command headquarters and units located as shown on the chart.

Current US Military Actions

The President on 22 November 1961 authorized the Secretary of State to instruct the US Ambassador to Vietnam to inform President Diem that the US Government was prepared to join the GVN in a sharply increased effort to avoid a further deterioration of the situation in SVN. On its part the US would immediately

a. Provide increased airlift to the GVN in the form of helicopters, light aviation and transport aircraft.
b. Provide required equipment and US personnel for aerial reconnaissance, instruction in and execution of air-ground support and special intelligence.
c. Augment the Vietnamese Navy operationally with small craft.
d. Provide expedited training and equipping of the Civil Guard and Self-Defense Corps.
e. Provide necessary equipment and personnel to improve the military-political intelligence system.
f. Provide such new terms of reference, reorganization, and additional personnel for US military forces as are required for increased US military assistance.

Discussion--As a result of the decision to accelerate US support of the GVN, the following US military units are in place or enroute as shown on this chart:
(Overlay No. 1)

a. Two Army Light Helicopter Companies are operating in support of the RVNAF from Tan Son Nhut and Qui Nhon. The third company is enroute to Da Nang with an ETA of 15 January and an operational readiness date of 1 February. This will provide one company of 20 H-21 and two H-13 in support of each of three RVNAF Corps areas.
b. The US Army has alerted the 18th Fixed Wing Aircraft Company equipped with 16 U1A (Otter) aircraft to be ready for deployment by 15 January.
c. The 346th USAF Troop Carrier Squadron with 16 C-123 aircraft has four aircraft at Clark and four operating from Tan Son Nhut. The remaining eight aircraft are in the Pacific Theatre enroute to Clark with an ETA of 10 January. This unit will rotate aircraft into SVN from Clark to support RVNAF operations as required.
d. Four RP-l01 aircraft and a small photo processing element operated by the USAF are in place at Den Muang Airfield, Thailand, fulfilling aerial photo requirements in SVN.
e. The USAF JUNGLE JIM unit at Bien Hoa with eight T-23, four RB-26 and four SC-47 aircraft, is instructing the Vietnamese Air Force in combat air support tactics and techniques. The Pacific Air Force is deploying personnel and equipment to SVN to establish a joint US/GVN Tactical Air Control System (TACS). This system will permit positive control of all air operations and rapid response to requests for air-ground support.
f. The 3rd Radio Reconnaissance Unit at Tan Son Nhut is being augmented. The additional 279 personnel will be on board by 14 January.
g. Six C-i 23 spray equipped aircraft for support of defoliant operations have received diplomatic clearance to enter SVN.
h. US Navy Mine Division 73 with a tender and five mine sweepers is operating from Tourane Harbor in conjunction with the Vietnamese Navy conducting maritime surveillance patrols south of the 17th parallel.
i. Air surveillance flights 30 miles seaward from the SVN coast (17th parallel) to 50 miles beyond the Paracel Islands are conducted every other day by Seventh Fleet patrol aircraft.

In addition to deployment of organized US military units to SVN and increased personnel strength for the MAAG, accelerated delivery of MAP equipment has already begun. Nine additional L-20 light observation aircraft are en-route to SVN for use by the Vietnamese Air Force. Also, 15 T-28C aircraft have been delivered to augment the Vietnamese air-ground support capability. These were provided on an interim, loan basis until 30 T-28B (NOMAD) with a greater ordnance delivery capability could complete modification and be delivered to SVN, early in March. Department of the Army is also providing an additional 12 H-34 helicopters from active Army units to the USAF on a reimbursable basis for accelerated MAP delivery to the RVNAF early in March.

[words missing]

Advisory Group in Vietnam was 841, present strength is 1204 and projected strength as of 30 June 1962 is 2394. The total personnel strength of US units and elements, other than the MAAG, was 1442 as of 2 January 1962 and projected strength as of 30 June 1962 is 3182. The total US personnel in South Vietnam is now 2646 and projected strength as of 30 June 1962 is 5576.

The MAAG is extending its advisory teams to battalion level within the RVNAF MA Military establishment and beginning to participate more directly in advising Vietnamese unit commanders in the planning and execution of military operations plans. Since delivery of MAP equipment has been accelerated and RVNAF military operations are increasing, the MAAG training activities have been expanded. This training includes operations, planning, logistics, intelligence, communications and electronics as they apply to each service within the RVNAF. They are also accelerating the training of the Vietnamese Civil Guard and Self-Defense Corps.

Shown on the chart are the approved and funded construction projects in South Vietnam. These include:

a. Improvement of the Pleiku Airfield.
b. Improvements at Tan Son Nhut Airfield which included installations of:

(1) Pierced steel planking parking apron.
(2) POL hydrant system.
(3) POL pipeline to Nha Be.
(4) Ammunition storange facility
(5) Concrete parking apron

[line missing]

d. Improvement of the Bien Hoa Airfield.
--Communications and electronics improvements include the following:

a. An improved intelligence communications network. Net control station to be located in Saigon and to extend down to battalion and provincial level.
b. An improved Gate Way Station communications facilities at Saigon.
c. Three mobile navigational aid packages in the Pacific Theatre are approved for deployment to SVN as directed by CINCPAC.

The Future Outlook

The foremost national objective today of the Diem government in South Vietnam is survival against the incursions of Communist forces; cadred, supplied, and directed from North Vietnam. Secondary, but nonetheless extremely important objectives include: (1) improvement of the national economy with emphasis on agrarian reform; (2) enhancement of South Vietnam's economic, cultural, and prestige position among Southeast Asian nations; (3) the creation of an armed force capable of defending the country from potential invaders; (4) and the preservation of a pro-Western orientation.

Policies directed toward the achievement of these objectives suffer from the concentration of power in the hands of the President, Ngo Dinh Diem, and a small clique headed by his extremely influential and powerful brother. Ngo Dinh Nhu. Continued receipt of US military, economic and technical aid, application of Catholic philosophies, and the repulsion of the Viet Cong guerrillas are additional major policy considerations.

Planned courses of action include: (1) the building up of the armed forces with US aid and assistance; (2) defeat of the Viet Cong forces; and (3) the implementation of a series of reforms and measures to correct imbalances in the power hier- [words illegible]

Certainly some of the projects we are implementing are outright R&D efforts such as the defoliation project and bear all the earmarks of gimmicks that cannot and will not win the war in South Vietnam. However, the commitment of US units to support the RVNAF and additional personnel to train, equip and advise them in conjunction with increased economic and administrative aid, should make it obvious to the Vietnamese and the rest of the world that the United States is committed to preventing Communist domination of South Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

All of the recent actions we have taken may still not be sufficient to stiffen the will of the government and the people of SVN sufficiently to resist Communist pressure and win the war without the US committing combat forces. Whether we will have to take this decision within the coming year depends to a great [conclusion missing].


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