271. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)1



  • South Vietnam
Reference is made to the memorandum by the Secretary of Defense, dated 13 November 1961, subject as above.2
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered the problem of establishing a new command structure for South Viet-Nam and believe that certain criteria should be established before initiating [Page 653]major changes in the present command organization. Such changes should be preceded by:
A firm agreement with President Diem on the program of joint effort that the United States is proposing.
Clearly defined United States objectives that will be pursued in South Vietnam
The Joint Chiefs of Staff examined three possible command structures for South Vietnam; i.e., a unified command under the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a joint task force under the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a subordinate unified command under CINCPAC. Subject to establishment of the agreement and objectives cited in paragraph 2, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend a subordinate unified command under CINCPAC at this time for the following reasons: Current guidance as to the nature of the mission and the magnitude of US forces to be assigned to the new command does not warrant the establishment of a theater of operations type command directly under the Joint Chiefs of Staff. South Viet-Nam cannot be isolated militarily from the rest of Southeast Asia which is in CINCPAC’s area of responsibility. All US and SEATO contingency plans for South Viet-Nam are inextricably tied, both operationally and geographically, to CINCPAC strategic plans. All resources in the Pacific Area are allocated to CINCPAC.
If it is decided to change the command structure in Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs of Staff favor utilizing the existing unified command structure by requiring CINCPAC to organize a subordinate unified command for South Viet-Nam similar to those already established in Korea, Taiwan and Japan. This command would have Service component commanders and would be over the existing MAAG.
As and when the actions in paragraph 2 are complete, and subject to your approval of the proposals contained herein, CINCPAC should be directed to establish without delay a subordinate unified command for South Viet-Nam in accordance with guidance contained in the Appendix hereto.
The monitoring of the activities of the command in Viet-Nam should be carried out in the normal manner by the Joint Chiefs of Staff utilizing the Director for Operations Joint Staff.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

L. L. Lemnitzer3
Joint Chiefs of Staff
[Page 654]




1. Subject to agreement with the Government of Viet-Nam (GVN), as represented by letters which will be exchanged by President Kennedy and President Diem (copies of which will be made available), the United States will establish a subordinate unified command with Headquarters in Saigon.

2. The objective of this establishment will be to increase US military and economic assistance to the GVN, short of introduction of combat forces, and to increase US participation in the direction and control of Armed Forces of Viet-Nam (RVNAF) counter-insurgency operations, in order to assist the GVN to contain and eventually to eliminate the Viet Cong. To this end the command will draw together, under single command and control, all those US activities in Vietnam, including intelligence operations, MAAG South Vietnam, and economic aid, which are related to the counter-insurgency effort.

3. The command title will be “United States Forces, Vietnam” (USFV); the commander’s short title will be “COMUS Vietnam.”

Mission and Functional Responsibilities

4. The mission of COMUS Viet-Nam will be to assist and support the Government of Viet-Nam in its efforts to prevent the fall of Viet-Nam to communism, to defeat communist insurgency, and to destroy the Viet Cong.

5. The commander’s responsibilities, in discharging the above mission under CINCPAC, will include but not be limited to the following:

Exercise operational command over all US military forces in Vietnam, including MAAG South Vietnam.
Plan and conduct all US ground, sea and air operations in Vietnam, including US efforts undertaken in support of RVNAF combat operations against the Viet Cong.
Exercise full control of all US joint intelligence efforts in Vietnam.
Participate with the RVNAF at all appropriate levels in intelligence activities, the development of plans, and the conduct of operations, to the extent necessary to insure the effective employment of RVNAF forces.
Supervise and direct, through the Chief of US Operations Mission, and other appropriate members of the US Diplomatic Mission, all US economic aid related to the counter-insurgency effort in Vietnam.
Function, on a direct and personal basis, as principal US military advisor to the Commander in Chief of the RVNAF.
Conduct planning, in coordination with PACOM agencies and other appropriate agencies, for the effective application and employment of US and GVN resources in execution of his mission. Such plans will be subject to approval by CINCPAC.

Command Arrangements and Relationships

5. USFV will be a subordinate unified command with a joint staff; COMUS Viet-Nam will report directly to CINCPAC; USFV will be comprised of US forces organized into Army, Naval, and Air Force Service components and assigned for the accomplishment of the mission.

6. Relationship with CINCPAC:

COMUS Viet-Nam will coordinate all relevant activities with CINCPAC, who has over-all responsibility for the Pacific area, including Southeast Asia. As directed by CINCPAC, COMUS Viet-Nam will communicate and coordinate directly with subordinate agencies of PACOM in areas adjacent to Vietnam.
CINCPAC will be responsible to provide, from within PACOM resources, logistic and communications support to meet USFV approved requirements. In addition, and when directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CINCPAC will make available necessary staff and forces, including air and naval forces operating in direct support, for the execution of the COMUS Viet-Nam mission

7. Relationship with the US Ambassador, Vietnam:

The status of COMUS Viet-Nam will be co-equal with that of the US Ambassador. In this connection reference is made to a letter from the President to all Ambassadors, dated 29 May 1961, which is pertinent to this relationship (copy attached as Annex hereto).5

“Now one word about your relations to the military. As you know, the United States Diplomatic Mission includes Service Attaches, Military Assistance Advisory Groups and other Military components attached to the Mission. It does not, however, include United States military forces operating in the field where such forces are under the command of a United States area military commander. The line of authority to these forces runs from me to the Secretary of Defense; to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington and to the area commander in the field.”

  1. Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-185-69. Top Secret. Attached to a brief covering memorandum of November 28 from Lemnitzer’s staff assistant, Richard R. Day, to Taylor, indicating that Lemnitzer had asked that the memorandum be sent to Taylor for his information. For William Bundy’s comments, in a memorandum to McNamara, November 25, see United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 11, p. 449.
  2. Document 245.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  4. Top Secret.
  5. Not printed. On the copy of this letter attached to the source text, the following paragraph has a line drawn next to it in the margin: