Cable from CINCPAC to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Proposal for "Next Courses of Action in Southeast Asia," 17 August 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 542-545

17 August 1964


Next Courses of Action in Southeast Asia

A. State 439 to Saigon, 14 August 8 PM

1. This message responds to Ref A with coments and views on military assets and specific sequence of next courses of action in Southeast Asia. Para 2 following is my general assessment of the situation and course to be pursued. Para 3 and those thereafter follow same sequence of subjects as Ref A.

2. Recent U.S. military actions in Laos and North Vietnam demonstrated our intent to move toward our objectives. Our operations and progress in Laos constitute one step along the route. Our directness and rapidity of reaction in bombing North Vietnamese installations and deploying U.S. combat forces to Southeast Asia were others. Each step played a part. (Their effect was to interrupt the continually improving Communist posture, catch the imagination of the Southeast Asian peoples, provide some lift to morale, however temporary, and force CHICOM/DRV assessment or reassessment of U.S. intentions.) But these were only steps along the way. What we have not done and must do is make plain to Hanoi and Peiping the cost of pursuing their current objectives and impeding ours. An essential element of our military action in this course is to proceed in the development of our physical readiness posture: deploying troops, ships, aircraft, and logistic resources in a manner which accords a maximum freedom of action. This is the thrust we should continue to pursue, one which is intended to provide more than one feasible course for consideration as the changed and changing Southeast Asian situation develops. Remarks in the paragraphs which follow are submitted in light of this assessment and with the view that pressures against the other side once instituted should not be relaxed by any actions or lack of them which would destroy the benefits of the rewarding steps previously taken in Laos and North Vietnam. These remarks are in same sequence as subjects and paragraphs in Ref A.

3. Para I

The proposed two weeks suspension of operations is not in consonance with desire to get the message to Hanoi and Peiping. Pierce arrow showed both force and restraint. Further demonstration of restraint alone could easily be interpreted as period of second thoughts about pierce arrow and events leading thereto as well as sign of weakness and lack of resolve. Continous and effective pressure should be implied to the Communists in both the PDJ and panhandle. Consequently, concur in continued RECCE of DRy, panhandle and PDJ. Concur in attempt to secure Phou Kout and continued T-28 and triangle operations. Resumption of 34A actions and Desoto Patrols is considered appropriate. Each can be carefully conducted to avoid interference with the other.

Desired changes in situation South Vietnam can only occur as result of long, hard process. Quick, dramatic changes not possible. While South Vietnam operation not going well, effects of alternatives we have taken have not been realized yet and sufficient time has not passed to achieve an improved situation.

4. [missing]

5. Para II B and C

Progress in Laos due almost entirely to T-28 operations and Thai artillery. Prime objective of Communists in any conference will be to arrange agreement to cease T-28 and other air operations. If operations cease as result of conference, Communists could then move back to their former positions, continue their nibbling process and we would have to live with agreement not to use T-28s. At that point, situation would be same as it formerly was. Related subject is stepup of air attacks in panhandle. Since we do not have ground capability to halt or severely interdict enemy surface movements in panhandle, air attacks in panhandle should be intensified, else we invite or insure uninterrupted flow of enemy units and material southward.

6. Para II D

Concur. Hanoi and Peiping are not persuaded they must abandon efforts in Vietnam and Laos. On the contrary, reduction of military actions for two weeks may encourage them to expand their efforts in S.E. Asia.

7. Para III A 1

Concur that South Vietnam is current hot spot and main concern in S.E. Asia. RVN cannot be reviewed apart from S.E. Asia. It is merely an area in a large theater occupied by the same enemy. Action to produce significant results in terms of pressure on DRV and improvements of morale in RVN must entail risk. Temptation toward zero action and zero risk must be avoided.

8. Para III A 2 Concur.

9. Para III A 3 Concur.

10. Para III B

Concur, but stabilization by negotiation has failed in Laos with only one side following agreements.

11. Para III C

Concur with the thesis set forth that we make clear to all that military pressure will continue until we achieve our objectives. Our actions must keep the Communists apprehensive of what further steps we will take if they continue their aggression. In this regard, we have already taken the large initial step of putting U.S. combat forces into Southeast Asia. We must maintain this posture; to reduce it would have a dangerous impact on the morale and will of all people in Southeast Asia. And we must face up to the fact that these forces will be deployed for some time and to their need for protection from ground or air attack. RVN cannot provide necessary ground security without degraduation of the counterinsurgency effort and has little air defense capability. A conference to include Vietnam, before we have overcome the insurgency, would lose U.S. our allies in Southeast Asia and represent a defeat for the United States.

12. Para IV A 1

Knowledge of success of 34A operations would have a highly beneficial effect morale in the RVN. Suggest that these operations might be leaked to the press rather than overtly acknowledging them. 34A operations should be resumed to keep up external pressure on the DRV

13. Para IV A 2

While joint U.S./GVN planning is necessary, it cannot in itself maintain morale or control and inhibit unilateral GVN moves. Leaking this sort of peripheral activity is of little value and in the absence of action is unlikely to have quote desirable effects on Hanoi and elsewhere unquote.

14. Para IV A 3

Training of RVN pilots in jet aircraft would work against the development of the kind of Air Force the RVN is able to support and maintain by diverting scarce pilots and maintenance resources to the training program.

The job of the Vietnamese Air Force is counterinsurgency. We are presently engaged in a program of converting the VNAF to A1HS. It is straining the resources of Vietnam to accomplish this program. The United States should reserve as its own task the operation of modern military jets against the Communists.

15. Para IV A 4

Cross border air operations should commence as soon as possible, utilizing not only RVN but also U.S. aircraft. Shortly thereafter, RVN ground operations can commence as indicated in COMUSMACV 160943Z.

16. Para IV A 5

We should have another Desoto Patrol in the Gulf of Tonkinsson.

17. Para IV A 6

Concur that Tit-for-Tat operations should be undertaken. CINCPAC has not received Saigon 377 and thus cannot comment on the implications thereof.

18. Para IV A 7

Withdrawal of dependents should be resisted as long as possible since it would be a psychological blow to the Vietnamese. While it might have some indication of a determination to act, it also indicates that Saigon is not secure.

19. Para IV A 8

Concur that sequence and mix of U.S. and GVN actions need careful thought, and believe this being done. Our plans for graduated military pressures against NVN (OPlan 37-64 as example) have been submitted and are considered valid.

20. In considering more serious pressure, we must recognize that immediate action is required to protect our present heavy military investment in RVN. We have introduced large amounts of expensive equipment into RVN and a successful attack against Bien Hoa, Tan Ssn Nhut, Danang, or an installation such as a radar or communication site would be a serious psychological defeat for U.S. MACV reports that inability of GVN to provide requisite degree of security and therefore we must rely on U.S. troops. MACV has requested troops for defense of the three locations mentioned above. My comments on this request are being transmitted by separate message. In addition to the above, consideration should be given to creating a U.S. base in RVN. A U.S. base in RVN would provide one more indication of our intent to remain in S.E. Asia until our objectives are achieved. It could also serve as a U.S. command point or control center in event of the Caos which might follow another Coup. By an acknowledged concrete U.S. (as received) commitment, beyond the advisory effort, it informs the Communists that an overt attack on the RVN would be regarded as a threat to U.S. forces. Such a base should be accessible by air and sea, possessed of well developed facilities and installations, and located in an area from which U.S. operations could be launched effectively. Danang meets these criteria.

In summary, following actions should be taken in order to further the accomplishment of U.S. objectives in S.E. Asia. While maintaining current U.S. commitments in S.E. Asia and continuing present RECCE operations we should:

A. Resume 34A operations and Desoto Patrol.
B. Introduce sufficient U.S. units into South Vietnam to provide for adequate air and ground defense of deployed units.
C. Obtain rights to establish and occupy U.S. base in the Danang area.
D. Commence cross-border operations in accordance with combined U.S./ GVN plans.

These actions will help to maintain the strength of our present position and emphasize to Hanoi and Peiping the cost of pursuing their objectives and impeding ours.

22. In conclusion, our actions of August 5 have created a momentum which can lead to the attainment of our objectives in S.E. Asia. We have declared ourselves forcefully both by overt acts and by the clear readiness to do more. It is most important that we not lose this momentum.

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