Roger Hilsman, Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Research Memorandum, RFE-27, June 18, 1962, "Progress Report on South Vietnam"


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 673-681




DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Research Memorandum
RFE-27, June 18, 1962

TO: FE-Governor Harriman

FROM: INR-Roger Hilsman

SUBJECT: Progress Report on South Vietnam

In this report, an expansion of an earlier informal paper, we summarize the major goals and accomplishments of the present counter-insurgency effort against Communist armed and subversive forces in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). A brief assessment of the general situation is also included. It should be emphasized, however, that this report is not a complete appraisal; it does not, for example, discuss Communist strength, capabilities, and achievement in recent months nor compare these with those of the Vietnamese Government. It should also be noted that this report does not follow the usual format of a Research Memorandum.

I. WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO DO?

A. Devise an integrated and systematic military-political-economic strategic counterinsurgency concept and plan to eliminate the Vietnamese Communist armed-subversive force, the Viet Cong.
B. Orient the Vietnamese Government's military and security forces increasingly toward counter-guerrilla or unconventional warfare tactics.
C. Broaden the effective participation of Vietnamese Government officials in the formulation and execution of government policy.
D. Identify the populace with the Vietnamese Government's struggle against the Viet Cong.

II. PROGRESS: WHERE ARE WE?

A. The importance of an integrated and systematic military-political-economic strategic counterinsurgency concept and plan has been recognized; the plan is being implemented.

1. Progress

a. Delta Pacification Plan

(1) president Ngo Dinh Diem approved a systematic counter-insurgency plan on March 19, 1962, which contains the bulk of the British Advisory Mission's (headed by Mr. R. G. K. Thompson) recommendations and those security concepts developed by the US. The counterinsurgency plan is to be implemented in 10 provinces around Saigon in the Mekong River delta region (the so-called "Delta Pacification Plan"). Col. Hoang Van Lac, a former province chief apparently regarded highly by Diem, is responsible for executing the plan, operating under the authority of Nguyen Dinh Thuan, Secretary of State for the Presidency, and Ngo Dinh Nhu, Diem's brother and principal political adviser.

(2) "Operation Sunrise" in Binh Duong province just north of Saigon, favored by Diem for special tactical purposes, constitutes the initial effort in a systematic, province-by-province pacification campaign. "Operation Sunrise" is headed by Brig. Gen. Van Thanh Cao, the administrator of the Southeastern Provincial Region. Three strategic hamlets have been constructed in Binh Duong province as a result of this operation and, as of mid-May 1962, more than 2,700 persons had been relocated in these hamlets. (Two additional hamlets are in the planning or early construction stage.) They are well defended and supported by Civic Action teams living with the peasantry and assisting them in a variety of ways. Reports tend to be optimistic as to the ultimate success of these hamlets.


b. Other Pacification Programs

On May 8, 1962, the second systematic operation to pacify a specific area was started in Phu Yen province in central Vietnam. It is known as "Operation Sea Swallow" and is similar to "Operation Sunrise" in methods and objectives.

(1) More than 80 strategic hamlets are to be constructed before the end of 1962; a large number are already in the process of final construction.

(2) As of May 18, 1962, there were more than 600 Civic Action personnel in Phu Yen province formed into more than 70 teams; another 11 teams were to be formed within two weeks. As in "Operation Sunrise" these [words missing]

c. Strategic Villages and Hamlets

(1) The strategic village-hamlet concept has taken hold within the Vietnamese Government and is now priority national policy.

(2) President Diem signed a decree on February 3, 1962, creating a special "Interministerial Committee for Strategic Hamlets" to coordinate the program on a countrywide basis. The committee is officially chaired by its Secretary General, Secretary of State for Interior Bui Van Luong, but actually operates under Ngo Dinh Nhu.

(3) Estimates on the number of strategic villages and hamlets vary. As of December 1961, the Vietnamese Department of Interior reportedly tabulated almost 800 such villages and hamlets although in February 1962 the US Embassy estimated that possibly there were only 150-200 such settlements scattered in more than half of Vietnam's 39 provinces, principally north of Saigon. In April 1962, the Secretary of State for Interior informed a US Mission inter-agency group, the Province Pacification Committee, that there were 1,300 strategic hamlets already in place.

(4) On June 6, 1962, about 500 officials from all provinces completed a special training course on strategic villages and hamlets. Training reportedly emphasized the Civic Action aspects of the strategic village-hamlet program as well as the responsibilities of the officials involved.

d. Civic Action

(1) The Vietnamese Department of Civic Action was reorganized in January 1962, creating (i) a central Civic Action Service in Saigon by combining related and heretofore separate services within the Department and (ii) an integrated Civic Action office in each province and district.

(2) As of January 1962 a Civic Action chief and deputy chief reportedly had been assigned to every province in Vietnam.

(3) The Civic Action teams working in strategic villages and hamlets, particularly in support of "Operation Sunrise" and "Operation Sea Swallow," are excellently oriented and are doing a good job.

(4) USOM has established a committee to provide on a priority basis direct US assistance (and to coordinate such assistance) to Civic Action operations through the relevant Vietnamese Government agencies.

(5) The Vietnamese Department of Defense is also organizing its own Civic Action program.

e. Internal Security and Police Services

(1) The importance of the counterinsurgency role of the rural internal security services is reflected in the US Mission's recommendation that the Civil Guard be increased to 90,000 by FY 1962 and the Self Defense Corps to 80,000 by FY 1963.

(2) As of the end of April 1962, 89 Civil Guard companies or almost 12,000 personnel and 276 Self Defense Corps platoons or about 10,500 per;onnel had been trained. The goal is reportedly to train a total of some 49,000 Civil Guard and 60,000 Self Defense Corps personnel by the end of 1962.

(3) The Vietnamese Government, with the help of USOM, has taken eps to extend the police system to rural areas in view of the gap created by the amilitarization of the security services. AID is seeking to hire 20 additional lice advisers for rural areas. (The present USOM advisory police complement Vietnam is just over 20 personnel most of whom operate principally in urban ~as.) US aid for the police program for FY 1962 is US$3.5 million (of which $2.3 million is for commodities), in addition to about US$4 million in unused

(4) As of the end of May 1962, almost 2.8 million of the estimated 7 million persons of the age of 18 years or over have been issued identity cards. As a result of this effort, over 2,000 military deserters and 52 Viet Cong agents have been apprehended and about 4,000 irregularities in the previous identity card program have been uncovered.

f. Village Radio System

(1) As of the end of May 1962, more than 530 USOM-distributed comrnunication radios had been installed in villages and other places in the provinces of Gia Dinh, An Xuyan, Binh Duong, Dinh Thuong, Kien Giang, Kien Phong, Tay Ninh, and Phuoc Tuy. Since the rate of installation is now about 300 radios per month, USOM expects to have more than 1,000 village radios installed by the end of July 1962. Another 1,000 sets scheduled to be installed soon thereafter, thus equipping more than 2,000 villages with radio communication facilities.

(2) The public safety role of village radios was demonstrated on March 20, 1962, when a joint USOM-Vietnamese radio installation team was attacked by Viet Cong guerrillas. The security escort engaged the Viet Cong while the team proceeded to install the village radio and then notified district headquarters and nearby villages. Assistance was despatched and resulted in an ambush of the Viet Cong as they were fleeing toward another village which had been alerted.

g. Utilization of US Assistance

(1) Effective utilization and integration of US non-military assistance to Vietnam was strengthened by AID action in March 1962 establishing first, second, and third priorities on the basis of the immediate impact of aid projects on the counterinsurgency effort: first priority projects are those with impact during the next 12 months, including, for example, Rural Development, Public Safety (especially radio sets), and Health Services; second priority projects are those with impact during the next 1 to 3 years, including, for example, Agricultural Credit and Cooperatives and Highway and Bridge Construction; and third priority projects are those with long-term economic and social significance.

(2) The US Mission has established a number of inter-agency groups, such as the Province Pacification Committee, for the purpose of coordinating and expediting assistance to Vietnamese Government projects in rural areas.

(3) In anticipation of future needs, the US Mission is also taking measures to stockpile commodities (for example, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, barb wire, fence posts, fertilizer, etc.) which would be released on short notice for immediate despatch to the countryside.

2. Critique

a. Although the bulk of the British Advisory Mission's recommendations have been incorporated into the "Delta Pacification Plan," the enabling presidential decree omits the Mission's proposals on "prompt payment of compensation for damage to property or loss of life," on "complete coordination of all civil and military action," on a "clear chain of command," and on "direction and coordination of the information services and psy-war units."

b. US and British officials in Vietnam have voiced serious concern over (i) President Diem's delay in approving the organizational and implementing machinery for the "Delta" plan and (ii) a possible subordination of the "Delta" plan to the strategic village-hamlet program. It has been very recently reported, however, that President Diem has approved a merger of the "Delta" and the strategic village-hamlet organizational machinery and has agreed to give the 10 provinces specified in the "Delta" plan first priority, subject to modification as required by developments in the security situation.

c. Although the Vietnamese Government is giving the strategic village-hamlet program high priority, there is reliable evidence that the program suffers seriously from inadequate direction, coordination, and material assistance by the central government and from misunderstanding among officials at the provincial and local levels. Province chiefs have tended to draw up unrealistically high quotas (generally in order to please the authorities in Saigon), and the lack of sufficient resources provided by the government at the local level has in certain instances resulted in poorly constructed and poorly defended settlements and in financial levies on the peasant. Moreover, the construction of these settlements has not followed any particular pattern or plan based on priorities. In his reported recent merger of the "Delta" plan and the strategic village-hamlet program, however, President Diem has indicated that priorities would be established.

d. Although the mission of the Vietnamese Department of Civic Action is being oriented increasingly toward supporting strategic villages and hamlets, it appears that there is still considerable emphasis on informational and intelligence activities. This has reduced the effectiveness of Civic Action operations and has been somewhat detrimental to the favorable reputation built up in the past by Civic Action personnel. The Civic Action Department also suffers from weak leadership and internal power rivalries.

e. The principal problems of the Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps pertain to tactical utilization which is discussed below, under B. However, there is also some question as to whether these services are being trained and equipped adequately and as rapidly as necessary.

f. Village radios will substantially improve the defense of the countryside and the reaction capability of the Vietnamese military and security forces. However, no effort has yet been made to improve radio communications at the hamlet level where the battle with the Viet Cong is actually joined.

g. Two of the principal weaknesses in the effective utilization of US aid are insufficient awareness on the part of central authorities in the Vietnamese Government of the need to establish project priorities and the general inability of these authorities to act quickly to despatch aid in support of projects in the countryside. The distribution of US aid must be approved in most cases by President Diem personally, frequently resulting in delays and in administrative bottle-necks. Moreover, Diem continues to exhibit considerable sensitivity to attempts by US officials to distribute aid directly to the countryside without clearance from the central government. Recently, for example, the Vietnamese Government turned down a USOM proposal aimed at increasing the impact of US aid at the local level by establishing a special fund for direct financing of provincial projects.

B. The Vietnamese armed and security forces are being oriented toward counter-guerrilla or unconventional warfare tactics.

1. Progress

a. Air Support

(1) Helicopter operations have decreased the reaction time and increased the mobility of army and security units.

(2) During May 16-23, 1962, Vietnamese Air Force and US helicopter units flew at least 347 sorties: 46 were offensive sorties; 216 sorties lifted 1,511 troops and 24,000 pounds of cargo of which 12,000 pounds were air-dropped; and 85 sorties were for air evacuation, observation, training, and other missions.

b. Tactical Utilization of Army and Security Forces

(1) The Vietnamese Army is getting out and fighting more than ever before. During March 20-28, 1962, the armed forces launched more than 23
operations of at least company size throughout the country. During April 12- May 3, 1962, more than 11 operations were launched, each operation involving more than a battalion; some of these operations continued beyond May 3.

(2) Army units are becoming more conscious of the necessity of following through during attacks in order to prevent the Viet Cong from disengaging.

(3) Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps units apparently are being employed increasingly with army units. During April 12-May 3, 1962, for example, Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps units were combined with army units in at least 3 operations. There have also been reports of Civil Guard units receiving helicopter support.

(4) There are reports of effective utilization of artillery bombardment. In early March 1962, for example, a combined Army ranger, Civil Guard, and Self Defense Corps force engaged the Viet Cong in Kien Hoa province. Artillery was introduced only after the Viet Cong attempted to withdraw, harassing their escape routes and inflicting substantial casualties.

(5) Army ranger units are being deployed in the highlands area, recognizing the equal priority of this area with the Mekong River delta region where the pacification program has been initiated. As of February 1962, there was a total of 18 ranger companies in the I and II Army Corps Areas.

(6) It is estimated that some 3,000-5,000 Montagnard tribesmen have been recruited and are being trained and armed by the Vietnamese Army against the Viet Cong in the highlands area. In addition, there are some irregular Montagnard units.

2. Critique

a. Despite the increasing utilization of Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps units jointly with army forces, the former continue to be employed excessively on independent offensive missions. The principal stumbling block to the rectification of this problem is the province chief under whose authority the security services operate.

b. Despite the increasing deployment of ranger units in the highlands area, there is no evidence that these units are being used to any appreciable degree for patrolling the Vietnamese-Lao frontier.

c. The principal deficiency in the utilization of air support is not tactical but rather is related to the availability and reliability of intelligence on the Viet Cong.

C. The participation of Vietnamese Government civilian and military officials in the formulation and execution of government policy has been broadened somewhat.

1. Progress

a. Military commanders in the field are playing a greater role than in the past in the actual formulation and execution of operational plans. For example, much of the planning of "Operation Sunrise" and "Operation Sea Swallow" has been carried out by Vietnamese Army division commanders and their staffs.

b. Col. Lac has been delegated limited but real authority for executing the "Delta Pacification Plan" and for his recent and concurrent responsibilities in the strategic village-hamlet program.

c. There has been limited use of the National Internal Security Council established in December 1961.

d. The Director of the Central Intelligence Organization, Colonel Nguyen Van Y, has been delegated real though limited authority both with regard to his intelligence responsibilities and his concurrent role as head of the regular police services, the National Surete and the Municipal Police.

e. There is evidence that the authority of certain cabinet members has been increased, notably Secretary of State for the Presidency Thuan and Secretary of State for Interior Luong.

f. The Vietnamese Government has also taken various measures to improve morale among rank-and-file military and security personnel. In January
1962, the family allowance rates for Army and Civil Guard privates, privates first class, and corporals (as well as the combat pay rates for Army personnel in
these ranks) were increased, and Army conscripts became eligible to receive a private's pay after completing four months rather than one year in service.

2. Critique

Ineffectiveness in administration at the national level, in carrying out the control functions of the government, and in extending services to the country-large measure, this is due to the limited authority President Diem delegates to side continues to represent the Vietnamese Government's main weakness. In his subordinates. Diem continues to make virtually all major decisions and even many minor ones, to rely largely on his inner circle of official and unofficia advisors rather than on his cabinet officers and the formal channels of military and civil command in formulating and executing policy, and to interfere personally in purely and often minor operational matters. Discontent within the government bureaucracy and the military establishment with these tactics by Diem and his lieutenants does not appear to have decreased substantially during the past year. The prospects that Diem may change his method of operation are not favorable.

D. Popular identification of the Vietnamese people with the struggle against the Viet Cong appears to have increased somewhat.

1. Progress

a. President Diem's frequent travels to the countryside may have improved somewhat the popular image of the central government. During July-December 1961, for example, Diem made 18 known trips outside Saigon and visited 19 different provinces (9 in the central and northern provinces and 10 in the Mekong delta provinces).

b. There is evidence that villagers are passing an increasing amount of information on the Viet Cong to government officials. One striking example is the Viet Cong attack on an Army post in An Hoa in Quang Ngai province on April 6, 1962. (The Viet Cong used about 300 men, well armed with recoilless rifles
and machine guns.) As a result of an earlier warning by villagers of a possible attack, the Army unit was on alert and, when the attack came, repulsed the Viet Cong with serious losses.

c. It appears that defections from the Viet Cong may be increasing. It has been estimated that only around 400 Viet Cong surrendered to government forces during all of 1961. Since the first of 1962, however, US military sources have been reporting statistics on Viet Cong surrenders on a weekly basis, and it is estimated that during February 13-April 30, more than 207 Viet Cong surrendered. (These and other statistics on the Viet Cong are derived from various official Vietnamese sources and must be treated with caution since the Vietnam Government is prone to exaggerate them.)

d. President Diem signed a decree on December 18, 1961, providing for the establishment of provincial councils, ultimately to be elected by popular ballot but for the time being to be appointed by the central government. (Youth representatives on village councils have been elected since early 1961.)

e. According to the chiefs of Kontum and Pleiku provinces some 35,000 Montagnards have been resettled from Viet Cong-infested to relatively secure areas in these two provinces since January 1962 as a result of coordinated measures by Vietnamese military and civilian officials. These measures have been aimed at reducing the Viet Cong's access to tribal elements for recruits, labor, intelligence, and supplies.

2. Critique

a. Despite favorable developments, there has been no major break-through in improving the popular image of the government, particularly in the countryside. In the short run, the success of this effort will depend largely on the degree of physical security provided the peasantry, but in the long run the key to success will be the ability of the government to walk the thin line of meaningful and sustained assistance to the villagers without obvious efforts to direct, regiment, or control them.

b. There is growing concern among Vietnamese field personnel in Kontum, Pleiku, and other provinces that the Vietnamese Government is not moving fast enough to provide adequate assistance to the Montagnard resettlement program and, as a result, that the Viet Cong may succeed in subverting resettlement efforts. According to one report almost 70,000 of an estimated 105,000 Montagnard refugees have not yet been resettled.

III. SUMMARY ASSESSMENT

A. It is about three months since the current phase of a major systematic counterinsurgency effort began in Vietnam, and too short a time to expect any substantial weakening of the Communist position. Moreover, final victory is likely to take some years and to be brought about more by a steady erosion of Communist strength than by dramatic military successes.

B. In the military-security sector, US materiel, training, and advice, supplemented by tactical support by US units, have produced an improvement in armed operations against the Viet Cong. US military operational reports reflect improved tactics, shortened reaction times, and more effective use of communications and intelligence. It is too early to say that the Viet Cong guerrilla-terrorist onslaught is being checked, but it can be said that it is now meeting more effective resistance and having to cope with increased aggressiveness by the Vietnamese military and security forces. Nonetheless, the Viet Cong continue to increase their armed strength and capability and, on balance, to erode government authority in the countryside.

C. There has not been a corresponding improvement in other sectors of the total counterinsurgency effort. Serious problems remain in the civil and military command structures and in the exercise of command responsibility. Diem continues to prefer personalized rule through a very small group of trusted official and unofficial advisers and traditional methods in matters affecting domestic political opposition. Civil government effectiveness is also impeded by shortages in experienced personnel, particularly at lower levels, and aggravated by confusion and suspicion at most levels of the bureaucracy. More effective direction and coordination and realistic implementation are needed, for example, for such crucially important programs as the "Delta" plan, strategic villages and hamlets, and Civic Action, and greater authority must be delegated to upper echelon civil and military officials in order to make better use of Vietnamese Government resources. Similarly, while there are encouraging signs of popular support for the government, there has been no major break-through in identifying the people with the struggle against the Viet Cong.

D. We conclude that:

1. there is no evidence to support certain allegations of substantial deterioration in the political and military situations in Vietnam;
2. on the contrary, there is evidence of heartening progress in bolstering the fighting effectiveness of the military and security forces;
3. however, there is still to be done in strengthening the overall capacity of the Vietnamese Government to pursue its total counter-insurgency effort, not only in the military-security sector but particularly in the political-administrative sector;
4. a judgment on ultimate success in the campaign against the Communist "war of national liberation" in Vietnam is premature; but
5. we do think that the chances are good, provided there is continuing progress by the Vietnamese Government along the lines of its present strategy.


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