285. Paper Prepared by the Chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Vietnam (Williams)1

There follow herewith certain remarks on the subject of “Guerrilla Operations”. I am sure you are familiar with these matters but some of your officers may not be.

Communist guerrillas can be destroyed if early, aggressive action is taken and relentless pressure if [is] vigorously applied. The political, psychological, economic and military actions should all be coordinated for successful results.
All should remember that Communist guerrillas have been destroyed in Greece, Korea, the Philippines and Iran. They can be destroyed in Vietnam.
A guerrilla force, to survive, must enjoy the support of at least part of the civil population in which it operates. Further, it must have access to supplies from friendly bases of the sponsoring power or powers.
Communist guerrilla strategy is simple. By using a small amount of arms, equipment and food and a few good military leaders a new government is forced to utilize relatively large military forces to a campaign that is costly in time, money and men. The population is terrorized into passive inaction. They give to the people as their reason for their operations, revolt against Colonialism, opposition to a corrupt government, resistance to oppression, or any other reason they think the local inhabitants will believe.
In Korea in 1950 the South Koreans were using three (3) Divisions to fight less than 7000 guerrillas in the South East. When the North Koreans attack [attacked] on 25 June of that year the South Korean Army suffered from this diversion as their Army was not strategically nor tactically deployed to meet the North Korean attack.
It is possible the Communist guerrillas are attempting the same tactics in Vietnam, i.e. pull large military forces into the South and West so that they will not be trained and be in proper position to fight against an invasion from the North. For this reason any regular Army troops sent into the area to combat guerrillas should complete their task with speed, then turn the area over to the Civil Guard and Village Defense Corps and move back into their tactical and strategic locations. Great speed in operations are [is] necessary.
Communist guerrillas follow the teachings of Mao Tse-tung which can be stated briefly as follows: [Page 607]
Guerrillas recognize the superior strength of the enemy. Therefore they must avoid large battles, seek for local superiority, select objectives for attack that will assure success.
Adjust their operations to suit political requirements.
Wage a war of extermination, seize arms and expand their forces.
Fight a war of movement. Positional warfare to be avoided except to defend permanent guerrilla bases.
Retain the initiative in both attack and retreat and maintain great flexibility in massing, dispersing and shifting forces.
Gain local superiority by concentrating small groups into large groups for a particular battle.
Maintain close control of the civilian population and close coordination with Communist Party Workers in the area in regard to propaganda, agitation and give help to needy local people.
In Korea quick action by small guerrilla forces was employed, followed by rapid withdrawal, dispersal and subsequent reassembly and redeployment as a unit. These tactics were also used by the Confederate guerrilla during the “War between the States” in the United States in 1860–65 and by the American Indians against U.S. troops in 1870–80. Such tactics enable the guerrilla to attract large bodies of troops to their area. Troops that are needed elsewhere against a hostile Army.
Tactical operations by guerrillas in all countries include ambushes, raids on Army and police out-posts, small villages, hit and run terror raids, agitation and propaganda. They also attempt infiltration into Government Forces. The bulk of guerrilla incidents will be raids and ambushes. Ambushes of vehicles are usually laid at road bends or bridges. Small size friendly patrols will frequently be ambushed from hiding at close range. Patrols in column are particularly vulnerable on their flanks when cover is dense.
Raids against towns or villages are to loot for food, clothing, and money, and to terrorize the local population. They will usually occur at night. Withdrawal from these raids may be by a different route from the route of attack. Police boxes erected on approaches to towns are of little value for they can be avoided or surprised and destroyed by attacking guerrillas.
In Korea the following guerrilla operations were necessary.
  • Operation Rat Killer—Dec 51 to Mar 52—two Divisions
  • Operation Ferret—Mar 52 to Jun 52—one Division
  • Operation Mongoose—Jul 52—two Divisions
  • Operation Bloodhound—Aug 52 to Nov 53—one Division
  • Operation Trample—Dec 53 to Jun 54—two Divisions
It is believed that extermination of guerrillas in Korea could have been done in 1951 if the campaign had been pressed hard and relentlessly at the very start. Time is always in favor of the guerrillas.
Military operations alone are not sufficient for success as there are really two objectives: the destruction of the guerrilla force and the elimination of the Communist influence on the civil population. An over-all plan at Government level embracing political, psychological, economic, administrative and military action is necessary for success.
Purely defensive measures will permit a guerrilla force to grow and become strong. Continuous, unrelenting pressure on the guerrilla must be maintained.
Government troops or police must not sit in camp waiting until they hear a guerrilla raid and then go to the attack. They must continue to sweep the area and screen the population and hunt down the guerrilla. In this way the Government forces maintain the offensive and do not allow the guerrilla to decide when and where the fight will be.
The major political and psychological mission is to win the active and willing support of the people and to deprive the guerrilla of that support. The old principle of reward and punishment is applicable. Reward those that help the Government, punish those that support the guerrillas. The attitude of Government officials, police and Army toward the people should be good. Harsh, unjust, arbitrary action or mass punishment of innocent people, for the misdeeds of a few, will drive more people into the guerrilla ranks.
The military campaign should be in harmony with the political, psychological and economic policies. Isolate the enemy from the people, break them into small groups. Cut them off from contact and supplies. In Vietnam it would be best to cut them away from the Cambodian border. This to prevent them from going into Cambodia to rest and recuperate and build up forces.
A good intelligence system is necessary so that information can come in with great speed. Money spent for this purpose will usually be well spent. Good personality files should be developed. Special effort should be made to kill the guerrilla leaders.
The guerrilla will have a good intelligence system also so great care must be taken to preserve secrecy of operational plans. If this is not done the guerrilla will escape before the trap is sprung. The Communist guerrilla will attempt to infiltrate Communist agents into the Government forces. All civilians that have access to the Military Headquarters should be checked by the military or the police or both. All operational plans should be closely guarded and never discussed in public.

Combat operations should follow this sequence:

The commander establishes his headquarters in or near the guerrilla area, moves his troops in, establishes bases of operation, takes proper security measures, obtains essential intelligence, prepares [Page 609] operational plans and then launches his combat operations. Continuous pressure is maintained to seek out, gain contact with and utterly destroy the enemy.

At no time should be [the] guerrillas be given opportunity to rest, reorganize, rehabilitate, recruit or prepare for future operations.
The operation is over when there are no guerrillas remaining—not when the guerrillas have merely been disorganized and dispersed.
Deception, speed, ruses, ingenuity, and aggressive leadership are needed for success.
If Government forces can’t surround the guerrilla area another maneuver is to drive across the area. This takes fewer troops. The guerrillas should be driven toward a blocking force which will destroy them as they seek to escape. The objective must always be the same—kill or capture the entire guerrilla force. Never allow any to escape.
“Special anti-guerrilla forces” can often have more success than “conventional” forces many times their size. The mobility of anti-guerrilla forces should be given priority over heavy fire support. Light mortars should be able to provide all the fire support needed for the riflemen and the automatic riflemen. Sometimes recoilless rifles or rockets are needed but they are heavy and slow down the troops.
Leadership, tactical ingenuity, perseverance in the face of repeated frustrations, professional skill, physical endurance and high morale under conditions of great hardship are needed in fighting guerrillas. The longer the guerrilla bands are allowed to exist, the more difficult the tasks become.
The unskilled, lazy commander will be ambushed, defeated and fail. Enough failures can place the Government in danger.
One may expect the guerrilla to attempt to cause friction between the police and the Army and between the police and Army on one side and the Government on the other. They will promote jealousy wherever they can. Whenever they see American Advisors with Vietnamese Units they will tell the population and the Vietnamese soldier that they are pawns of the Americans. Probably they have already done this.
In conclusion:
Communist guerrillas can be destroyed if fast, aggressive action is taken.
The plan should coordinate political, economic, psychological and military action.
Government forces should seize the initiative and apply relentless pressure. Never letting up.
Active cooperation of the civilian population is necessary if the Government is to succeed.
The guerrillas will not be defeated and destroyed until cut off from supply from their sponsoring power.
Adequate incentives to support the Government and oppose the guerrillas should be provided.
A good Government intelligence net is necessary.
Tactics should emphasize surprise, deception, speed of movement, thorough reconnaissance, aggressive fighting when contact is gained, vigorous pursuit. All this maintained until the enemy is utterly destroyed.
All commanders should know that to combat guerrillas and merely disperse them is like an operation for cancer that only takes out a small part of the growth.
The Communist guerrilla leader in Vietnam will consider himself successful as long as he can keep large numbers of Army troops away from their strategic and tactical locations and untrained for fighting against an invading army. In doing this the enemy is using a very few inexpensive troops to neutralize a large percent of the Vietnamese Armed Forces. In addition he is providing the thought to weak minded citizens throughout the entire land that the existing Government is weak and without strength.
  1. Source: Center of Military History, Williams Papers, Advisory Notes to VN High Command (110). This paper was given to President Diem during the conversation described supra.