280. Telegram From the Ambassador in Vietnam (Reinhardt) to the Department of State1

2369. Reference: Embtel 2254.2 Country team message.

Following is summary of Vietnamese Government proposal for Self-Defense Corps for which United States financial assistance was recently asked (see reference telegram).
It is essential for government to engage in decisive action against infiltration and subversive tactics of Communists particularly in rural and outlying areas. To have best effects, such action must be carried out at village level and must be both military (armed police) and political.
In addition to mobile security organizations (army, Garde Civile), it is necessary to create a fixed organization in each village to serve as base for anti-Communist activities. Self-Defense Corps (Dan-Ve-Doan) meets this need. It has advantage of being composed of local inhabitants, thoroughly familiar with village conditions, who will be on call to police and defend village 24 hours a day. In addition to serving as police force defending against bandit attacks or subversive activities, Self-Defense Corps will serve as political cadre to give needed assistance to villagers and to organize anti-Communist activities among population.
Each village to have Corps composed of 10 militiamen, plus chief and assistant chief. Militiamen to receive from National Government 300 piastres a month, assistant chief 500, chief 600, plus certain allowances from village. Total monthly expenditure per village 4100 piastres. Self-Defense Corps for estimated 6000 villages and 1000 village groups would cost 344,400,000 piastres annually for salaries, plus 50 million piastres for weapons and equipment, for total of 400 million piastres. Weapons to be provided include firearms, swords, daggers and hand grenades. (End summary)
Country team has approved temporary financial support for Self-Defense Corps with mission to protect local communities from intimidation and indoctrination by Vietminh, rebels and bandits threatening local security. Mission of Self-Defense Corps does not necessarily include pacification, as Corps will be established only in villages already cleared of dissident elements. Corps will conduct guard and police patrol duties, promote organized anti-Communist activities in villages, take direct action against perpetrators of civil disturbances, and report regularly through established channel of command on all activities in and around villages.
Corps to be activated in each village by military commander of region. All corpsmen to be carefully screened for loyalty, reliability [Page 597] and aptitude, fingerprinted and photographed before being issued weapons or placed on payroll. Training programs to be instituted in each province.
We envisage support of Self-Defense Corps as emergency measure only, and plan to make clear to Vietnamese Government that we do not intend to give long-range support to this type of program. It is our belief that until pacification of country is completed and Vietminh influence in villages substantially eliminated, government supported village defense units are necessary. As government authority is strengthened and country becomes more viable economically, we anticipate Garde Civile will become increasingly more able to fulfill its intended function of maintaining law and order through Vietnam and that villages themselves will be able to provide whatever additional protection needed.
With country team approval, MAAG has included in Vietnamese military budget for CY 1956 appropriation of $6,170,400 for payment of 300 piastres monthly to 60,000 members of Self-Defense Corps, averaging 10 men each for 6,000 villages. (This was size of organization originally proposed by Diem. Current Vietnam proposal for 12 men each for 7,000 villages represents very recent afterthought.) United States financial support runs from January 1, 1956–December 31, 1956. Arms and ammunition to be supplied from non-United States weapons now on hand in Vietnam.
Costing team headed by Major General Lawton, USA, which just left Saigon for United States has accepted above amount (paragraph 5) for inclusion in MAAG budget estimate they will discuss in Washington. We would appreciate earliest possible approval this project.3
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/12–555. Secret. Passed to the Department of Defense and CINCPAC.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 276.
  3. In telegram 2420 from Saigon, December 8, the Embassy submitted as an additional reason for early approval of U.S. financial support for village defense corps recent intelligence reports of increased capabilities for Viet Minh infiltration, sabotage, and terrorism at the village level. (Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/12–855)