139. Memorandum From William J. Jorden of the Policy Planning Council to the President’s Military Representative (Taylor)1
- Some Observations on Countermeasures against Viet Cong activities in Vietnam
At the suggestion of Lt. Cdr. Bagley, I am submitting the following thoughts concerning possible steps for countering the extensive and growing infiltration and subversion effort of the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. They are based on three weeks of observation and study of the subversion problem in Vietnam. I make no pretensions to expertise in this field. It should be noted that the focus of my work in Viet-Nam was on the problem-the nature and extent of the Viet Cong’s infiltration effort with particular emphasis on the evidence of North Vietnamese involvement-and not on existing or possible countermeasures. Nonetheless, I am happy to submit for your consideration some random observations on possible steps for meeting this obvious threat to security in South Vietnam. Included are a few suggestions on related matters that General Taylor may wish to consider.
The problem: We delude ourselves if we visualize the Viet Cong effort in the South as primarily a movement of large, organized units across the GVN borders. It is apparent that the VC rely on local recruitment, both by persuasion and by terror, for the bulk of their organization. However, movement by units occurs and appears to be on the increase. It is also clear that the infiltration routes are used [Page 311] for transfer from the North to the South of military supplies, medical equipment, and other materiel, as well as of agents, trained cadre and unit leaders.
The most important infiltration routes are: by sea; across the demilitarized zone, particularly the mountainous and heavily forested western portion; mountain trails through Laos, thence eastward across the border into South Vietnam; from “safe areas” in Cambodia across the Viet-Nam border.
1. Junk operations—GVN intelligence sources report that these are extensive and operate under the control of a special VC maritime unit operating out of Vinh and Dong Hoi. Some junks have been picked up with VC agents aboard. My impression, however, is that the interception effort is limited and largely ineffectual. I do not minimize the problems involved. Large numbers of South Vietnamese fishing junks operate in the coastal waters and it is not easy to separate them from one on a VC mission. A successful effort would involve new equipment, trained personnel, close liaison with shoreside intelligence operatives, and the like. But surely this is a problem not beyond the reach of the world’s greatest naval power.
2. River operations—This is closely related to 1 above. Large areas of South Vietnam, particularly the southern delta region and the provinces southwest of Saigon, are laced with rivers and internal waterways. The sea and other water routes are used by the VC for supply, transport and escape. Control over waterways permits the VC to extort tribute from the peasants who use them or to force the farmers to use the longer and more expensive overland routes to get their crops to markets.
GVN authorities do not have the kind of equipment they need to operate against the VC on the waterways. The province chief in Kien Hoa, for example, told me he had one slow and rickety wooden patrol boat for this purpose and that it was a “sitting duck” for small arms fire any time it came within range of a shoreside VC base. He asked for one or more armored patrol craft months ago. The result to date: Nothing. He knows of one fairly large VC base in his province, but he is convinced that it would be useless to attack it by land if the waterway escape route is open.
This too, would seem to be an area in which ingenuity and a modest investment in equipment might produce significant dividends.
3. Infiltration routes—These are fairly well established: from Thu Lu across the DMZ and southward into central South Vietnam; from the same area, southwest and thence along the Lao-Vietnam border and into South Vietnam; through Tchepone (a major VC base [Page 312] in Laos), thence southeastward across Laos and into SVN; a route farther west through Saravane and across the border northwest of Kontum; one from Attopeu, another major base area, across the border west of Kontum. There are others.
Small, special forces units should be able to carry out successful ambushes along these trails. Even more promising might be quick “hit and run” strikes at sub-stations along the secret trails. The stations are fixed areas where VC personnel are fed and rested after each leg of their journey into the south. Given the rough terrain and the quality of VC field intelligence, such strikes could only be carried out successfully by small, highly mobile, and rugged units capable of operating without base support and in the best guerrilla tradition. Hitting the sub-stations could damage the effectiveness of an infiltration trail for some time, considering the difficulties of resupply in that terrain.
To be most effective, ambushes and strikes along the trails should not be confined to South Viet-Nam itself but should push over into Laos and possibly into Cambodia though the political problems in the latter case are significant.
4. Base areas—The VC operate from a number of bases in Laos between the 17th parallel and the Cambodian border. A few hard-hitting strikes at these bases by tough, special forces outfits could disrupt or at least harass VC operations in that area. The effect such moves would have on the cease-fire and the situation within Laos itself would have to be considered.
5. Field intelligence—This continues to be one of the glaring weaknesses of GVN operations. Reports on VC operations and movements come in from the villages erratically and often do not reach the officials or military units that could use them. I gather that the three major VC operations this month, north of Saigon and in the highlands, came as complete surprises to the GVN. Authorities in the field are acutely aware of this problem but I doubt that we can urge improvement in intelligence operations at the village level too often or too emphatically.
Related to this, there is room for vast improvement in the system by which a village or hamlet under VC attack can inform quickly the district, provincial or military zone authorities. I gather there has been an extended delay in working out and supplying some form of simple alarm system.
6. Radio locators—The VC use radio extensively for their contacts with regional headquarters and with the North. Successful strikes at their transmitters and receivers could deal a crippling blow to their communications net. I was told by several Vietnamese that the locator equipment now in use defined an area far too large for a successful strike. Without knowing what has been done or what [Page 313] may be contemplated in this field, it would seem to be an area where effective counteraction against the VC could be improved.
7. Air operations—This is the one field in which the GVN enjoys total superiority over the VC. There is some question whether this superiority is being exploited fully. I visited the Kontum area immediately after the VC attacks on Dakha and Poko at the beginning of September. I was told that the VC had been able to withdraw in good order to the north to a safe area in the mountains taking with them all their own wounded, a number of prisoners and stocks of captured equipment. This movement sounded to me like a prime target for aerial interdiction. I am not aware that there was any effective use of air strikes against the VC during the battle, which lasted several days, or during their organized withdrawal.
Are we making maximum use of our potential for aerial reconnaissance in Viet-Nam and along the border areas? Is the GVN using its limited air potential to full effectiveness? How good is the system of ground-air liaison? These are some of the questions that occurred to me.
8. Uniforms and equipment—Several Vietnamese officers told me that the equipment they were receiving from the U.S. was not well-suited to the kind of fighting that ARVN and the Civil Guard were engaged in in much of the country. This refers particularly to the lowlands and delta regions. Our fatigue uniforms are heavy enough in themselves; after five minutes in a paddy field or canal they absorb water like a sponge and weigh the wearer down. Combat boots are heavy, too, for people used to light or no footwear; in the paddies, they become anchors that sink into the mud. What is needed is some kind of light uniform, preferably of synthetic material that does not absorb water, that dries quickly and can be kept clean with ease. Light sneakers are preferred to heavy boots and some Vietnamese think no shoes at all would be the best for getting through the paddies quickly. That is the way the VC operate, and they do pretty well!
In any case, this is a matter that could be worked out in consultation with the Vietnamese. In the highlands, the requirements probably would be different from those in the delta. I gather the Vietnamese would still like one neat uniform and shiny boots for garrison and parade-but not for fighting. The easy way is to give them equipment from our surplus stocks; it probably is not the best way, considering the job they have to do.
I said at the outset I have no claim to expertise in the above matters. This is but a collection of observations and ideas that come [Page 314] to mind as I review my recent visit to Vietnam. I hope they are of some use.
- Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-016-69. Confidential. Also transmitted to the White House under cover of a memorandum from Battle to M. Bundy dated October 4, in which Battle wrote that copies of the memorandum were being sent to U. Alexis Johnson, McGhee, McConaughy, and the Operations Center for the Viet-Nam Task Force. Battle also stated that the “information and opinions in this memorandum have been cleared in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs but are personal observations and do not necessarily represent Departmental policy.”↩
- Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.↩