The Chargé in Vietnam (Kidder) to the Department of State1
1830. Repeated information priority Paris 602. From Collins.
First general impressions and recommendations:
- Diem is a small, shy, diffident man with almost no personal magnetism. He evidently lacks confidence in himself and appears have an inherent distaste for decisive action. His handling of the Hinh case since I have been here tends to support this estimate.
- I have not seen enough of Diem personally to evaluate his more favorable attributes nor do I yet know what hold he has on Vietnamese people. While I am not now prepared to express a general judgment on Diem, I can say that I am by no means certain he has inherent capacity to manage country during this critical period. My clear impression, moreover, is that each passing day of indecisiveness is bound to lessen any confidence that people may have in his government.
- Information from various sources convinces me that Diem’s Cabinet must be materially strengthened and in fairly short order. Key positions at the moment are Ministries of Defense and Interior. Perhaps if these posts are filled along lines proposed to Diem by Alessandri (Embtel 1796),2 such a reshuffle may provide government with necessary reinforcement. However, I have not been here long enough to judge whether, if this proposal were adopted, it would do the trick.
- I have been impressed with pervasive influence of French in political, economic and military aspects of situation here. Certainly, if expeditionary corps were withdrawn prematurely, results could be disastrous. Similarly, it would be unwise for us to attempt to displace [Page 2251] French capital and French advisers in fields of banking, currency controls and allied business matters. Any such move could impose on us obligations which might be onerous and long drawn out as those we assumed in Philippines and Korea.
- In military field, most pressing problems are to determine size and structure of Vietnamese army and define its mission. I have been concentrating on these problems.
- General Ely has questioned validity of our assumption that we can rely on threat of action under Manila pact to dissuade Viet Minh from renewing military operations against free Vietnam. I agree with him that until after the period now scheduled for elections, it will be necessary maintain sufficient combat forces, both French and Vietnamese, to furnish reasonable assurance that country could not be quickly overrun pending action by Manila pact powers. I therefore believe we should continue furnish some support to FEC during this period.
- I am convinced as is General O’Daniel also that if we did not include within Vietnamese army some combat forces capable of taking to the field, morale effect on both Vietnamese people and army would be very bad, and this omission would be exploited to our disadvantage by Viet Minh. Vietnamese army, despite its failing, is the only organized, cohesive indigenous force in country. To propose to cut in half its present strength, and at same time make no provision for true combat forces, is accordingly not practicable solution in light of existing situation and would be unacceptable to Vietnamese. It will probably be very difficult to obtain Diem’s acceptance of sharp reduction in forces I will propose as outlined in part two this message.
- Fairly well balanced Vietnamese defense forces, designed primarily to establish and maintain internal security, and yet incorporating a small blocking force, can be created within ceiling of 90,000 men at an annual cost to United States of about 200 million dollars. Though inclusion of combat force within Vietnamese army is contrary to concept outlined in numbered paragraph 2 of my terms of reference,3 I feel this must nevertheless be done. Such force would be prepared not only to assist FEC in event of renewal of hostilities but might also be necessary in order to reinforce those units normally assigned to maintain internal security.
- It should be noted that in the force table outlined in part two no provision is made for a constabulary. The territorial divisions indicated are for the purpose of maintaining internal security moreover the present military forces of the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao and other groups would be incorporated into the territorial divisions and made a part of the national army. Thus the army would be the only military land force [Page 2252] in the country except for a small police force which would come under the control of the Minister of Interior.
It may be necessary to modify this concept after coordination with Vietnamese authorities.
- Part Two.
- Following is my recommended Vietnam force basis for FY 1956. Accompanying cost estimate
is based on assumption that initial equipment is on hand here.
- National HQ 2500
- Three territorial Div HQ at 800 each 2400
- 13 security Regt HQ at 200 each 2600
- 39 security Bns at 500 each 19500
Three field Divs at 8450 each 25350.
Each Div comprises HQ 200; 3 light Regts 2350 each; 105 Howitzer Bn 400; Sig Co 160; RCN Co 90; Pioneer Co 150; Trans Co 150; Maint Co 125; Med Co 125. Each Lt Regt consists of HQ 150; 3 Lt Bns at 700 each 2100; Hvy Co 100.
- 1 ABN RCT 3700
- Army troops 11635
- Com troops 3000 military; 4000 civilian
- Schools and camps 3000
- Pipeline 4000
- Total army 77,685 military; 4000 civilian
- FY 1956 estimated cost army $172,580,000
- HQ, staffs, SVs 700 military, 250 civilian.
- Training school 400
- Ships crews 1900
- Total navy 3000 military; 250 civilian.
- FY 1956 estimated cost navy $10,039,000
- Air Force
- HQ, staffs, SVC 1000 military; 150 civilian
- Two Ln Sqns and one Trans Sqn 2000
- Total Air Force 3000 military; 150 civilian
- FY 1956 estimated cost Air Force $10,529,000
- Note: During second year add one Ftr Sqn, one Trans Sqn, 1,000 men.
- Total armed forces 83,685 military; 4,400 civilian.
- FY 56 estimated total cost armed forces $193,148,000
- FY 56 estimated cost MAAG operations including salaries 150 US civilians $8,500,000
- FY 56 estimated cost $201,648,000
- It will be recognized that Vietnam forces, primarily army, must be reduced from current strength of roughly 170,000 to accord with recommended structure. I visualize this reduction as a selective discharge process designed to retain cream of officers, NCOs, specialists [Page 2253] and units. Process will require roughly six months including necessary redeployment. Acceleration of reduction considered neither practicable nor desirable due to administrative complications and damaging effect on morale. Cost of US support during remainder fiscal 55 has not yet been computed but will probably run in neighborhood of $100 million. This will, of course, be an expense to be borne during second half of FY 55 and is over and above cost of recommended structure for FY 56.
- I would emphasize that while recommended armed forces for FY 56 reflects structure of six divisions, it is basically an internal security force. Territorial divisions are essentially existing regional commands so organized as to provide one or two security battalions for each province under security regiments now represented by various intermediate headquarters. Three field divisions provide mobile elements required to reinforce provincial units and provide shield in event of aggression. Latter role is essential to prevent rapid overrunning of country before outside assistance can be brought to bear. Both territorial and field forces will serve as basis for peacetime development of reserve units which in turn will enable expansion in time of national emergency. Six division formula also serves as means of overcoming at least in part Vietnamese and French concern and disappointment over our stand against their plans for 10 Vietnam divisions in addition to large territorial security force.
- Special attention is invited to fact that nearly 80 percent of estimated FY 56 cost is attributable to food, clothing, pay and allowances. $5.70 per man per day is currently expended on these items. Much as I should prefer to insist on important reduction these costs, which have applied for some two years, I consider that such action if carried out would produce irreparable harm in terms lowered morale during critical period now to 1 July 56. Solution in future years must lie in restoration of national military service. In this way hard corps of regulars can be retained on current high pay scales while conscript pay can be drastically reduced.
- No militia has been included in FY 56 structure. I consider that role these essentially home guard elements should be fulfilled by local volunteers and police.
- Part Three. Development and training of
autonomous Vietnam armed forces.
- Two requisites for effective development of the Vietnam force
structure outlined in part two are:
- Autonomy of command i.e. actual command of Vietnamese forces by Vietnamese, and;
- US responsibility for organization and training. French must cooperate fully in their independent action.
- To this end I have had prepared a minute of understanding
which I presented in draft to General Ely today (see part four for summary of
meeting). Minute provides that:
- Force structure outlined part two above would be attained by 1 July 1955;
- Full autonomy would be granted by France to Vietnam armed forces not later than 1 July 1955;
- US would assume responsibility for advising government of Vietnam in organization and training of its armed forces on 1 January 1955, exercise of responsibility to be entrusted to Chief, US MAAG;
- Utilization of French training personnel is desirable and necessary, and would be under MAAG direction;
- Since he has overall responsibility for military security of Vietnam, he will have to be assured that organization and training are in accord with an agreed operational concept approved by him;
- Some initial reliance would be placed on French training and adviser personnel, but they would be phased out as US MAAG capability increased;
- Above arrangements subject to consent of government of Vietnam.
- General Ely told me he agreed with the concept contained in the minute but wished to study it further. I am meeting with him again tomorrow morning. Later today an aide called to say General Ely had seen a translation of minute, wished to discuss it in detail, and asked that Washington not be advised he had approved it.
- Part Four. Reaction of Ely.
- I met with Ely 15
November and had a thorough discussion of concepts outlined in
part 1 above and of details of programs outlined in parts 2 and
3. Ely’s reaction as
- He stated he was prepared to agree to our force structure plan. In fact he believed the 200,000 man force proposed by the Vietnamese was too high. Our plan, he said, would be difficult to sell to the Vietnamese.
- It has always been French intention to reduce FEC as Vietnam forces are built up. However, reduced levels of Vietnam forces in our plan will require restudy of phase out FEC.
- He agreed with concept that Vietnam forces should be capable of withstanding initial shock of external attack while Manila pact powers prepared to act. However, actual defense arrangements under this concept would have to be discussed further.
- He approved of the concept of light divisions as included in our proposal.
- In reply to my question whether he would agree on increase of the 342 US military forces to which the MAAG would be limited under an overly strict interpretation of Geneva agreement, he agreed that this could be done but cautioned against Viet Minh reaction. Said such increase should be done gradually and quietly.
- He specifically agreed that the US should take over full responsibility for organization and training of Vietnam forces and that French trainers and advisers would be under MAAG direction, but emphasized need for close liaison between chief, MAAG and himself with which I concurred.
- I expect further to develop Ely’s position during our meeting 16 November.
- Late today I discussed with Diem the broad concepts and programs outlined in parts 1, 2, and 3 above. His initial reaction was in general favorable, but I am not sure he grasped all the implications of the presentation.
- Part Five. US support for FEC.
- Reference Deptel 1875.4 As indicated in part 1 this message, I am in general agreement with views expressed by Heath in Embtel 17615 to effect that US should continue some financial support to FEC during 1955. We believe French are under impression they will receive such support and that failure on our part to provide it would make it difficult for us to obtain full French cooperation which we consider essential to success of our military and economic aid programs.
- I am not prepared at present, however, to recommend exact force level to which FEC should be reduced by January 1, 1956 nor precise dollar contribution which should be made toward support of FEC during calendar 1955. I recommend that this figure, however, be not less than 100 million.
- I told Ely this morning that I believed at least some part of the FEC should be maintained here until date scheduled for Vietnamese elections and that I was ready to recommend to my government that US continue contribute to its financial support during that period, but mentioned no figures. However, I felt sure funds for the purpose would be smaller than hitherto.
- Part Six. Subjects for discussion with
- Deptel 1939.6 I believe parts two
through five of this message might profitably be discussed with
there is time and if he is accompanied by appropriate experts.
Their order of importance for such discussion seems to me to be:
- US support for FEC;
- French concept of mission of FEC during present period;
- Our proposals for organization and training of autonomous Vietnamese forces;
- Our recommendations re Vietnamese armed force levels, together with strategic concept back of reduced national army and FEC (i.e., Manila pact);
- Recovery by US of excess MDAP material (Embtel 1793 November 10).7
- While I believe point (a) should be resolved in such manner as to permit retention in Vietnam of some portion of FEC, as discussed in parts one and five this message not all the elements entering into problem are available here.
- With respect to French attitude toward Diem Government, I think that nothing should be said to imply any faltering in our support for Prime Minister, but we should leave initiative with Mendes to bring up question if he wishes do so.
- Ambassador Donald R. Heath left Vietnam on Nov. 14. Randolph A. Kidder, Counselor of Embassy, served as Chargé d’Affaires pending the appointment of a new Ambassador. This telegram was transmitted in six parts.↩
- See footnote 3, p. 2240.↩
- See letter from the President to General Collins, Nov. 3, p. 2205.↩
- Sent also to Paris as telegram 1692, Nov. 5, p. 2215.↩
- Dated Nov. 8, p. 2224.↩
- Telegram 1939 to Saigon, Nov. 11, requesting the views of General Collins on the Vietnam situation in preparation for the talks with Premier Mendès-France, is not printed. (120.251G/11–1154)↩
- Telegram 1793 from Saigon, Nov. 10, not printed, contained a draft minute of understanding proposed by General Collins regarding the recovery by the United States of MDAP material no longer needed by the French for the prosecution of the war. Under the terms of the draft note, General O’Daniel and General Ely would consult as soon as possible regarding the disposition of this equipment. (751G.5 MSP/11–1054)↩