24. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to the President1


  • Counter-Guerrilla Programs

Herewith Bob McNamara’s replies to the questions which arose from my visit to Bragg. I am sending a copy to Bissell who is in charge of our general review of counter-guerrilla operations. He will consider with his team the substantive problems involved, and they will form a part of his final submission. Secretary McNamara could not have been more helpful in all this.



Question 1. “Why are the capabilities of the helicopter not being fully exploited in the counter-guerrilla program of the Vietnamese? The helicopter is uniquely effective in tracking down guerrillas.”

General McGarr, Chief of the MAAG in Vietnam, is intensely interested in the counter-guerrilla problem there and is well aware of the importance of helicopters in a counter-guerrilla role. Instruction [Page 62] of the Vietnamese Army, under supervision of the MAAG, currently includes training in the use of helicopters in counter-guerrilla operations. The Vietnamese armed forces now have 14 H19 helicopters. The current military aid program includes an additional 11 H34’s, which were asked for for the specific purpose of use in counterguerrilla warfare. Ten of these H34’s have actually been delivered and the remaining one will be delivered in the near future. During General Trapnell’s visit to Southeast Asia3 he discussed the counterguerrilla problem with General McGarr, who told him that the total of 25 helicopters appeared to be about all that the Vietnamese could effectively use and maintain. However, General McGarr is being further queried by cable with reference to full exploitation of helicopters in Vietnam and his reply will be forwarded.

Question 2. “Why were the Special Warfare units withdrawn from Vietnam in November 1960? Why are they not being sent back to work with our MAAG there? General Decker, when asked, indicated that CINCPAC had opposed. Why?”

There have been two basic problems in properly training the South Vietnamese in counter-guerrilla activities. The first of these involved both U.S. organization and the manner by which President Diem of Vietnam had organized his own forces. Until quite recently the MAAG was responsible for counter-guerrilla training of only the regular armed forces of Vietnam. The USOM (ICA) was responsible for training the Vietnamese Civil Guard and police. Further, CIA was responsible for training in guerrilla warfare. President Diem, on his part, has in the past been trying to conduct counter-guerrilla operations almost personally and with a complicated fragmentation of responsibilities in the lower levels. The conduct of operations in any particular area which involved primarily local resources, including the Civil Guard and police, were supposedly coordinated by the political head of the area. If regular armed forces were involved, the operations were supposedly coordinated by the military region commander. During the past year, however, great progress has been made both in the simplification of U.S. responsibilities and in the Vietnamese organization. The MAAG, Vietnam developed a comprehensive Counter-insurgency Plan4 which was finally approved by [Page 63] the Country Team and later in Washington. At the same time, President Diem-despite the fact that he has not yet agreed to all aspects of the Counter-insurgency Plan-has moved forward considerably and has assigned primary responsibility for counter-guerrilla action to the Ministry of Defense and has also put training of the Civil Guard under the same Ministry. This has greatly facilitated MAAG training in this field.

The second complicating problem has been the limitation in numbers on the size of MAAG, Vietnam, deriving from the “legal” requirements of the Geneva settlement of Indochina in 1954. The settlement permits no increase in foreign military in Vietnam above the number there at the time the settlement was made. It has been the U.S. position for the past years that the MAAG should not exceed 685. Conceivably the figure could be recomputed now because of reduction in the French military there

In March 1960 the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, noting the deteriorating situation in Vietnam, offered MAAG, Vietnam through the JCS and CINCPAC a “Cold War Task Force,” consisting of 156 Special Forces personnel and 19 Civil Affairs, psychological and intelligence specialists. However, because of the personnel ceilings on the MAAG, mentioned above, only 30 U.S. Army Special Forces personnel could be accepted of the overall proposed Task Force. Teams of these Special Forces personnel were used to instruct elements of the Vietnamese armed forces in counter-guerrilla warfare during the period May through November 1960. As Vietnamese instructors were trained, they assisted each Special Forces team and gradually assumed a larger share of instruction as they became qualified. Since becoming fully qualified these Vietnamese instructors have been working under MAAG, Vietnam supervision to continue training of others in their specialties. As we understand it, this training is moving ahead quite effectively and the training load is being adequately carried.

Because of the current limitation on the size of the MAAG, Vietnam, General McGarr must carefully balance the makeup of his personnel against his over-all training requirements. However, he is now in the process of reassessing the situation and will report if he believes more Special Forces type personnel are needed and can be accommodated within the ceiling. Presuming that the current ceiling is not changed, it is possible that it could be evaded by various subterfuges, but it has so far been the policy of the Country Team to require the MAAG to remain within its ceiling.

The Cold War Task Force of the size originally offered by the Army in 1960 is still available for employment in South Vietnam if desired.

[Here follow questions 3-7 which deal with other subjects.]

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, President’s Office File, Counterinsurgency. Secret. Initialed by Rostow.
  2. On the source text McNamara wrote: “3/30 To Mr. Walt Rostow. Walt, here is information relating to the questions you raised.”
  3. Lieutenant General Thomas J.H. Trapnell, USA, visited Vietnam, March 1617, on McNamara’s orders to review the insurgent threat. A copy of his report to the JCS on the visit, JCSM 20261, March 28, is in Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 64 A 2382, VN 1961, 370.5384. A record of the discussion of the report at a meeting of the Secretary of Defense and the JCS on March 27 (I-18283/61) is in Department of State, Bundy Files, 1961 Chron. In a similar mission, Colonel Flesch visited Vietnam, March 31April 7, to review the Viet Cong threat. A copy of his 13-page report is in Washington National Records Center, RG 330,OASD/ISA Files: FRC 64 A 2382, VN 1961, 310.1333.
  4. Document 1.