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259. Memorandum From the Director of Intelligence and Research (Hilsman) to the Secretary of State 1



  • General Taylor’s Recommendations on South Vietnam

In the next week or ten days INR will complete a four-month study of the political and foreign policy implications of the new Communist tactics of guerilla warfare and subversion.3 Done with the help of an outside consultant4 who spent three months working [Page 620]full time with people in INR, this study is a comprehensive one and it has produced some significant findings.

Unfortunately the completed INR study will not be available in time for these findings to be considered in the decision on General Taylor’s recommendations, which I understand will be made this coming week. In this memorandum, however, I have tried to select from the study those considerations that seem most immediately relevant to the Viet-Nam decision.

In general, the INR study indicates that the most effective way of meeting a guerilla threat like that of the Viet Cong is not with regular troops, but rather by a sophisticated combination of civic action, intelligence, police work, and constabulary-like counter-guerilla forces that use a tactical doctrine quite different from the traditional doctrine of regular forces.

The findings of the INR study would support the recommendations you have just made to the President in your memorandum of November 11th.5 These findings would, however, indicate the desirability of certain additional measures as well. A hasty and incomplete catalogue of these additional measures follows.


Police. There is a great need for, and potential use of, police forces in South Vietnam. A rapid buildup of these security forces would supplement, not duplicate, the work of MAAG and ARVN. In certain situations such a buildup would facilitate the military preparedness program.

Police training can immediately be augmented in two vital categories-communications and specialized constabulary-enforcement efforts. The communications field has already benefited from efforts to establish village alarm systems and joint security communication systems. This channel of training and operations should be preserved and broadened.

Vietnam sorely needs a rural police service-with local personnel stationed in their own provinces, a highway patrol, stronger urban and prefectural police networks than presently exist, and additional river and harbor companies. At present surete municipal, and prefectural police total 22,000. These forces need further training in police intelligence work and in matters related to detection of subversion. Their numbers must be augmented by at least 10,000 if they are to perform all the necessary functions noted above. This increment can come from the Civil Guard which numbers 64,000, but only 32,000 are to be trained by MAAG within the next year or so.

In certain matters MAAG is moving ahead-as in the 17 Boat Platoon program. But it is likely that the required ICA estimate of [Page 621]ten river and harbor companies is not only essential but can still be considered a valid program in light of the difficulties in patrol encountered by the VNN. In any event if AID personnel are available, for training purposes at the very least, they could be added to the MAAG group to expedite and broaden the program.

Police can play a vital role in rural and highway work. By remaining in their own provinces, they can keep up good contacts with the local inhabitants, build confidence, and so serve as a vital source of intelligence regarding guerilla LOC and locations. This type of approach has proved particularly effective in Burma and Indonesia.

Moreover such an effort could also have useful effects on the South Viet-Nam political scene. It would give a rational and valid base to Diem’s policy of bolstering his Provincial Chiefs. Since this policy is based in part on a fear of the military and the concentration of power in its hands, the development of a separate security force with a legitimate purpose, spread over the countryside and under the control of his political allies, might diminish Diem’s hostility to the military and make him more amenable to accepting our reform recommendations in that sphere of activity. The fact that the Provincial Chiefs will not now permit the Civil Guard to be transferred out of their provinces illustrates the current tension between the government and the army. So does the Chiefs’ reluctance to permit ARVN inspection of the Civil Guard. An expansion of essential police functions, including the transfer of untrained Civil Guard personnel to the police field, might improve the training program as well as facilitate the integration of the rest of the force into the major military effort.


Parallel U.S. Organization. The Taylor Report6 places great stress on U.S. participation at the working levels of the Vietnamese armed forces, not only in plans, operations, intelligence, and communications, but also in the areas of logistics, supply, and morale. An effort to increase morale and effectiveness through an immediate improvement in the general welfare of the enlisted man (diet, pay, promotion, leaves, awards) requires close and continual attention. For this effort to succeed, the entire apparatus of the Vietnamese forces, and not simply the combat arm, must have American participation that will be both acceptable and effective.

A possible solution which should be considered is the creation of a parallel U.S. chain of command running alongside the indigenous forces and ranging from corps level down to the smallest administrative units. Their purview could include supervision of training exercises as well as the items noted above.

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Such supervision would be of particular importance in the rapid enlargement of company grade and non-commissioned officer cadres. It is essential that the U.S. officers not exercise command in these activities, but that they and their Vietnamese counterparts do have the authority to make reports and appeal matters through their own chains of command to the next highest echelon in both national organizations. In this way, an American official could report to his own and to Vietnamese superiors any failure to follow what he considers to be reasonable and sound advice. At the minimum, such a liaison system would serve as an instrument of intelligence and surveillance on the quality of work done by the armed forces in effecting reform programs, the level of morale of the enlisted personnel, and the degree of efficiency obtained as a consequence of the training program.

The possibility of providing sanctions through such a system might also be investigated. That is, Vietnamese officers who failed to carry out their tasks could lose their posts or promotions, and if necessary, U.S. supplies could be made conditional on the maintenance of proper personnel policy.


Counter-guerilla Operations and Leadership. The Taylor Report notes that each additional guerilla requires fifteen more government soldiers to engage in this kind of warfare. Hence as the Viet Cong force reaches a critical size, it outstrips the GVN’s ability to match forces at the 15:1 ratio. With the regulars at 170,000, the Civil Guard at 64,000 and the self defense force at 53,000, the total reaches 282,000 (or 317,000 if the regulars are augmented.) But the Viet Cong is growing rapidly, and is now estimated at 16,000. Should it continue to increase at the present rate, it will easily rise above the accepted ratio, especially if we take into account the number of ineffectives in the military forces that already swell the government-force totals.

As a consequence, the burden on the quality of the government’s combat forces is enormous. An all-out effort in training, tactical conception, leadership and morale are vital if the situation is to be kept under control. In numerical terms, it is essential to bring the effective combat ratio down as close to 10:1 as possible.

Radical innovation in the organization, doctrine, equipment and tactical deployment of counter-guerilla forces is a primary requirement in Vietnam. The Taylor Report notes this major issue and is quick to analyze the political difficulties involved in the proper deployment even of those troops that have had special training.

These difficulties must be overcome or the entire project will remain out of control. Therefore we need to stress the separation of the Vietnamese equivalent of Special Forces from the regular army. Since Diem is bound to resist the overall military reorganization which the Taylor Report advocates, it may be wise to start with this [Page 623]category and try to wring from him this specific concession. In this way, the vital issue of losing control over his whole army will not be at stake, and the comfort he draws from this might make him more amenable.

In such circumstances, it is essential that we determine what percentage of the armed forces of GVN we wish to treat in this category. Under present conditions, we should be influenced by considerations of Diem’s position, the size of such forces trained and immediately trainable, and the short and medium range military requirements. The nature and structure of this command, and its relationship to the rest of the regular army and to the chain of command, must also be worked out carefully.

Though experts differ in several important details, there is a considerable body of agreement on what constitutes a proper counter-guerilla effort. The basic unit is a small formation roughly around 507 men in size. This force must be able to fan out into the countryside, be self-reliant, and be able to operate autonomously. It must live in the jungle and be prepared to employ guerilla techniques against guerillas. In the interest of mobility, its arms must be light, its transport facilities rudimentary yet efficient, and its communications equipment both simple and open. Though it must operate apart from other units and at times deploy itself in decentralized patrols, it must be able to regroup into large formations when needed. The ability to disperse and regroup rapidly, much as guerillas themselves do, is absolutely essential.

Leadership is a vital component for these units require brave determined professionals. The leader must be able to study the terrain, maintain good relations with the indigenous farming population, keep up the morale of his men while behind enemy lines or in a no-man’s jungle, and at the same time be able to plan ahead and extemporize as a situation develops.

Vietnam may be unable to supply leaders of this type immediately, in the number and quality required. Consequently, the use of U.S. or SEATO personnel for the critical jobs of forming and leading such groups and training indigenous leaders in Viet-Nam or abroad may afford results beyond the proportion first apparent from the numbers and costs involved. American experts, Philippine veterans of the Huk campaign, and successful field officers from Malaya are all specially qualified for such a role.


Military Tactics and Political Support. In conjunction with any investigation at the “provincial grass roots” of the social, political and other factors bearing on the counter-insurgency problem, we [Page 624]must repeatedly stress to the GVN the importance of minimizing damage to the civilian community in the course of military operations. Indeed a prime objective of special-force operations should be to recognize that the struggle goes on within friendly, or potentially friendly, territory, even though the enemy is at hand and may have voluntary or involuntary assistance from the inhabitants of a particular region.

A primary requirement is a force disciplined to respect civilian rights and property. Soldiers must not seize food. They must take as little as possible and pay for all requisitions. They must avoid undue damage to property (especially crops and livestock). They must treat the local inhabitants with respect. Often how common courtesies are extended is as significant as the intent. A friendly attitude establishes proper rapport with the citizenry, maintains the government’s prestige, and often induces the people to talk to the soldiers and give them valuable information. Discipline and proper behavior are especially important when units engage in autonomous operations free from central control, such as wide-ranging patrols. A combination of an ineffective sweep and harsh behavior during its operation ruins a regime’s prestige and diminishes its intelligence contacts with the people, without which the patrols themselves are of no value.

The GVN is all too prone to take repressive measures. Tactically, the operating units on patrol tend to gain the impression that they are in enemy territory and they act accordingly. Or, on occasion, the government has bombed inhabited areas in the central mountains because the ethnic minorities there have helped sustain Viet Cong forces. Yet this does not stop those who volunteer such help and seriously antagonizes others. Saturation of Viet Cong areas with anti-personnel chemicals is also politically hazardous, since few entire areas are actually pro Viet Cong.

The techniques of operating in guerilla saturated territory, of establishing contacts with friendly inhabitants, and of gradually building up a clandestine espionage and political network, require great skill and training on the part of experienced counter-guerilla special forces. Experiences in Vietnam’s Northwest Frontier Region is a good illustration of the application of unconventional efforts to this problem, although it would be overly hopeful to expect the Frontier Force to clear and pacify so difficult a region. The location of the area close to zones of Viet Cong concentrations and additional forces from without signify that a much stronger effort will be needed.


SEATO . In certain carefully delimited spheres, a combined effort by as many SEATO members as are willing to participate might enhance the overall result sought in the Taylor Report. If the commitment remained at approximately the same level as under the [Page 625]anticipated American involvement, the organization, its Asian members and South Viet-Nam might all draw benefits.

We have already noted that SEATO members can contribute specialist training forces and perhaps unit leaders for specific types of combat. In addition, Thailand and the Philippines might be able to set up training centers, so that our long-projected concept of a SEATO counter-guerilla school might finally be realized as a byproduct of this endeavor. SEATO naval patrols could aid the hard-pressed VNN in both operations and training. Experts from SEATO countries could participate in the multiple intelligence efforts (training and operations) stressed in the Report.

It might also be possible to send special SEATO detachments, of very small size, to frontier regions as observers, or perhaps to establish intricate communications and surveillance networks again for operational and training assistance to the ARVN. SEATO officers might man the parallel control organization noted in No. 2 above if an American presence of such intensity appears inadvisable. Thai Border Guards, trained by our own Special Forces, might in turn be able to assist in the training and operations problems of the GVN Frontier Force.

A primary objection to the employment of the SEATO label stems from the intense Vietnamese distrust of the French, whom they blame for Kong Le’s defection and a good deal of the trouble in Laos. On the other hand, France and, to a lesser extent, Britain are the two powers most likely to oppose any SEATO action. To the extent that it is possible, the rest of the SEATO allies could decide on a joint ad hoc program, along the level of intensity suggested in the Report, and proceed without their European allies. In a sense, this would be a cautious de facto follow-up of the trial balloon floated by the Thais last summer when they proposed that SEATO’s European members quietly dissociate themselves from SEATO actions if they so desired.

A partial SEATO participation, however moderate at first, could set the stage for the implementation of its more ambitious efforts, plans 5 or 78 as noted in the Report. It would set a precedent for the participation of regional organizations in a defense against indirect aggression. It would help demonstrate that a besieged land has more of a choice than capitulation or dependence solely and publicly on the United States. Since we must bear the brunt of the burden in any event, the successful invocation of SEATO participation even on a partial basis, would enhance our diplomatic and moral position as well as hopefully relieve some of our direct military responsibilities.


U.S. Non-Combat Forces as an Entering Wedge. The Taylor Report made considerable use of the current flood disaster, as an occasion for the introduction of American military personnel into Vietnam. The circumstances are admittedly favorable, for the humanitarian aspects and evident need for sizeable aid point to a rare juncture of strategic and social welfare considerations.

This proposal could in effect become the first stage application of the U.S. Army’s recently developed concept of Foreign Liaison Assistance Group (FLAG). Under this concept, we would introduce American forces into a troubled zone in three waves-humanitarian and civic action, followed by Special Forces as needed, and regular troops in force should the situation get out of hand. Thus the first group is literally an entering wedge, available to facilitate the arrival of the other two, in case of need. The Report itself notes with approval CINCPAC’s estimate of that in the event of any of three contingencies (the seizure of the Kontum area, an assault on Saigon, a major Vietminh overt assault) we would have to respond quickly with force already earmarked and deployed for action. This recommendation fits into the FLAG concept which requires that the second and third waves and their logistical support be in position in advance.

This leads to the crux of the issue. A force of 8,000 engineers is of limited value unless it augurs more to come-unless it is a token of a US commitment that will be honored as needed. The entering move will evoke protests from disaffected groups in Saigon as well as from neighboring neutrals. The legality of an intervention based on the appeal of a sovereign state does not end our political difficulties, as the Lebanon episode demonstrated.

An engineering force is of little value once its immediate job is done. Its continued presence after the original task is completed will bring more political costs. There would be new political consequences from its withdrawal. Yet of itself, it has not assured or facilitated, except in a marginal way, the possible further commitment of US combat troops. We must, at the outset contemplate the possible need to follow through with this further effort, should the need arise. Otherwise we might finish in a worse diplomatic and strategic posture than if we had not sent any units in to begin with.

There is a further danger that our initial move may be considered out of context, as one of a series of possible measures we could take, graded in intensity and separate from one another. Some recent American contingency studies have already placed the engineer commitment in that category. The idea that such a move of itself will automatically boost GVN morale-although admittedly the move is of little use against the Viet Cong-is difficult to support. It will be even more difficult to support should the situation worsen. [Page 627]We should recognize that a major indication of this sort makes it very difficult for us to withdraw. It should be undertaken only as part of a more fundamental decision to follow through with a Korean-scale action if need be, and to begin recruiting and deploying troops accordingly.

Since the flood repair operation is essential in its own right, we could devise alternate methods of approach. A mixed U.S. army-civilian force could perform the basic tasks, with the military aspects played down. A SEATO operation along the “economic help” line devised in recent years could be mounted, while still pointing up the diplomatic-military overtones to the Communist Bloc. Finally, we could call upon various interested agencies for technical and expert help-ECAFE for broad-based UN-oriented economic surveys, WHO for health control, as well as FAO for food stocks.


Stress on Provinces for Political Effort Since Diem has fostered the influence of the Provincial Chiefs in order to reduce the centralized authority of the military-at great cost in military efficiency (in planning, command, field communications, and coordination)-he is not likely to suffer loss of direct political influence “at the bottom” lightly. Under such circumstances, the establishment of the provinces as sources of power apart from Diem will be a most difficult undertaking. Such a loss would not only deprive Diem of direct authority, but would lead him to feel that his main bulwark against the military in Saigon was disintegrating.

Since the provincial approach has the advantage of reform at the source as well as possibilities for immediate impact, it must be preserved. However to the fullest extent possible, it must be couched in terms that eliminate the possibility that Diem is conspicuously losing his authority-an outcome which few rulers have proved willing to countenance even in the national interest. Hence the approach can succeed only if it is couched in terms of building up the channel of power Diem himself favored originally and of strengthening it as a counterweight to the military. The establishment of a more adequate provincial administration, the development of a police force, and the emergence of a provincial government sympathetic and responsive to peasant needs will indeed strengthen the civilian branch of the government. (The military status of the Provincial Chiefs is, as noted in the report, a device to control the armed forces and prevent the evolution of their autonomous power.)

This touches on a fundamental problem we face in all underdeveloped lands, especially those with high military threats or advanced military posture. The military area of the government, thanks to outside help, is usually educated, trained and equipped for [far?] beyond the state’s ability to sustain such an effort. The military [Page 628]leaders, especially if indoctrinated in the civic action concept, possess some technical competence in the area of civilian action. They soon arrogate to themselves the moral and political right to judge the honesty, adequacy and modernity of a government. From here to a coup, as was tried in Vietnam, is a small, logical step.

We have an obligation in Viet-Nam and elsewhere to bolster the civilian components of the government. An enhancement of civilian power and prestige in Saigon and in the provinces will do much to offset the fear of the military so prevalent in Diem’s thinking. If our efforts improve provincial rule (especially in keeping the government on good terms with peasants who have to be resettled for strategic reasons like the Meo, or because of the flood) and loosen Diem’s control over the provinces at the same time, the results will be a three-fold bonus. In light of the dangerous situation in Saigon, the move to broaden the base of political power should be coupled with a strengthening of the civilian bureaucracy. These are vital preconditions for the struggle ahead, and they would probably insure the loyalty and subordination of the military leadership. The latter could then be given the coordinating and command authority so desperately needed.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Viet-Nam Country Series, Presidential Status Reports. Top Secret. No drafting or clearance information is given on the source text, which is attached to a brief covering memorandum from Hilsman to McGeorge Bundy, dated November 16, which reads:

    “Alex has passed the attached to Max Taylor and Walt Rostow. The main study and a summary of lessons and findings should be ready by Monday [November 20].”

  2. This is the date of transmittal to McGeorge Bundy. Although there is no date on the source text, statements in the second paragraph suggest that the paper was drafted before November 15 when a decision was reached on Taylor’s recommendations.
  3. The completed study has not been found.
  4. Not identified.
  5. Reference is to the memorandum discussed in Document 234.
  6. Document 210.
  7. The number “15” is crossed out in the source text and “50” is written in the margin.
  8. Neither found.