Cable (Saigon 1129) from the Siagon Embassy to the Department of State on the Deteriorating Situation in South Vietnam, 14 October 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 583-584

Date: October 14, 1964



REF: Embtel 1046

My impressions this week are colored by the receipt of the monthly reports from the field for September. That month and October thus far have seen little or no progress in the overall situation (except possibly in the work of the High National Council) and some deterioration, particularly in the northern provinces. It has been a period characterized by government instability, civil disorders (now quieting down), indications of increased infiltration from the north, and a high level of military activity both on the part of the Viet Cong and the Government Forces.

During the past week, our attention and efforts have been focused primarily on the activities of the High National Council and its efforts to lay the foundation of a strong provisional government. We have been trying hard to influence it in the right direction and to bring about some understanding between the council and the military. I have been encouraged by the seriousness of purpose of the council and the evidence of having made considerable progress. We expect momentarily the announcement of a provisional charter which will provide for a Chief of State, a Prime Minister and eventually for a national assembly chosen at least in part by elections. It remains to be seen what kind of a reception the charter will receive from the public and interested minorities.

According to our contacts with members of the council, General Minh is the leading candidate for Chief of State, but there is no consensus as to the Prime Minister who, it is hoped, will be a strong civilian. The council members are worried about General Khanh's attitude toward their plans. They want him in the government but are afraid he will not take a reduction from Prime Minister to Minister of Defense or Commander-in-Chief as they would prefer. My talks with Khanh lead me to hope they are wrong in their misgivings and that both Minh and Khanh will undertake appropriate roles in the new government. There remains the unanswered questions of the selection of the civilian Prime Minister. Probably the principal obstacle now in the path of the new government.

On the military front, the Viet Cong appear to be holding down the number of attacks on military forces and concentrating on acts of sabotage and terrorism directed at impressing the civilian population. One reason for this emphasis is undoubtedly the heavy losses they have recently been taking in engagements with government forces. The cumulative effect of these losses must be creating manpower problems for them and probably explains the definite step-up in infiltration from North Vietnam, particularly in the northern provinces of South Vietnam. A recent analysis suggests that if the present rate of infiltration is maintained the annual figure for 1964 will be of the order of 10,000. Furthermore, as has probably been called to your attention, we are finding more and more "bona fide" North Vietnamese soldiers among the infiltrees. I feel sure that we must soon adopt new and drastic methods to reduce and eventually end such infiltration if we are ever to succeed in South Vietnam.

Pacification activities were sluggish during the week except in the Hop Tac area around Saigon where some progress is being made. In particular, the Hop Tac police are being somewhat more effective in controlling the movement of contraband intended for the use of the Viet Cong.

The psychological climate seems to be about the same, with some nervousness in Saigon over the outcome of the work of the High National Council. There are rumors Khanh may encourage demonstrations to maintain himself in office. I am inclined to doubt this but Khanh could be playing a deeper game than we presently think.

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