174. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

508. General Taylor, Rostow and Cottrell called on Diem together with local American officials for initial discussion October 18. Taylor opened by explaining reasons for his mission, its interest in all fields activity and its authority to make recommendations to President Kennedy, who will make decisions.

In response Taylor’s request for description situation in VietNam, Diem gave long historic account developments here. Main point which emerged concerned lack sufficient number of GVN troops. In addition insufficient armed forces he stressed need for large number well equipped and trained Civil Guard and self defense corps for protection of hamlets to prevent Viet Cong from feeding on countryside. Taylor asked whether increase armed forces could not be stepped up. Diem and Thuan replied that shortage of cadres is main bottleneck since additional officers and NCOs needed for all branches of security forces. Pointed to recent action doubling officer trainee class at Thu Duc school.

Since Diem’s description underlined need for large security forces for various defensive purposes, Taylor noted that offensive warfare against guerrillas is less costly than defensive, and asked whether greater offensive action, striking at Viet Cong bases and ambushing them on infiltration trails could not be undertaken. Diem replied this being done in part but many trails not known and Viet Cong find it easy to deviate past GVN units on known trails.

Taylor asked for Diem’s view on recent step-up in Viet Cong campaign. Diem said that Viet Cong aim is to induce GVN to withdraw troops from southern area (where they have been more successful in recent months) to meet greater activity in central VietNam, thus again giving Viet Cong opportunity for greater initiative in southern area. Diem noted Viet Cong now often regroup into bigger units to attack more important targets but added that Viet Cong are not yet trying to engage in conventional warfare by holding on to places taken.

Taylor said he understood there had been recent discussions of introduction of American or SEATO forces into Viet-Nam and asked why change had occurred in earlier GVN attitude. Diem succinctly replied because of Laos situation. Noting it will take time to build up GVN forces he pointed to enemy’s reinforcements through infiltration [Page 392] and increased activities in central Viet-Nam and expressed belief that enemy is trying to escalate proportionately to increase in GVN forces so that CVN will not gain advantage. He asked specifically for tactical aviation, helicopter companies, coastal patrol forces and logistic support (ground transport).

Diem indicated he thought there would be no particular adverse psychological effect internally from introducing American forces since in his view Vietnamese people regard Communist attack on Viet-Nam as international problem. Rostow inquired whether internal and external political aspects such move could be helped if it were shown clearly to world that this is international problem. Diem gave no direct comment on this suggestion. He indicated two main aspects of this problem: (1) Vietnamese people are worried about absence formal commitment by US to VietNam. They fear that if situation deteriorates Viet-Nam might be abandoned by US. If troops are introduced without a formal commitment they can be withdrawn at any time and thus formal commitment is even more important in psychological sense. (2) Contingency plan should be prepared re use American forces in Viet-Nam at any time this may become necessary. In this connection Diem seemed to be talking about combat forces. While it was not completely clear what Diem has in mind at present time he seemed to be saying that he wants bilateral defense treaty and preparation of plans for use American forces (whatever is appropriate) but under questioning he did not repeat his earlier idea relayed to me by Thuan that he wanted combat forces.

Taylor several times stressed importance of overall plan-military, political, economic, psychological, etc.-for dealing with guerrillas. Diem tended avoid clear response this suggestion but finally indicated that he has new strategic plan of his own. Since it was not very clear in spite efforts to draw him out what this plan is, Taylor asked him to let us have a copy in writing.

I asked Diem about significance state of emergency decree just issued (our 5042). He said he took this action under conditions of Constitution and has sent it to National Assembly for approval in 30 days as required by Constitution. If Assembly approves establishment of state of emergency he said that executive decrees could then be issued. I asked whether this measure was taken because of security or flood conditions. He said both but it was evident that security considerations were uppermost since he referred to his mention of this proposed action in his October 2 National Assembly speech.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 120.1551K/10-1861. Secret; Priority. ReDeated to CINCPAC for PolAd, Bangkok. Vientiane. and Phnom Penh.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid., 751K.00/10-1861)