33. Draft Notes on the First Meeting of the Presidential Task Force on Vietnam, the Pentagon1

I accompanied Deputy Under Secretary Johnson and Assistant Secretary McConaughy to this meeting which was under the Chairmanship of Deputy Secretary of Defense Gilpatric. Among those present were Mr. Nitze, RAdm. Heinz, General Lansdale, Col. Black and Col. Flesch from the Defense Department. Messrs. Fitzgerald [Page 78] and Colby, CIA; Ambassador Young and General McGarr, Chief MAAG, VietNam.2

Mr. Gilpatric said that General Lansdale would accompany the Vice President on his coming trip to VietNam and that this week he would be working on a major plan for VietNam to be ready by Friday for presentation to the President.3

General Lansdale said that he would be making side visit to VietNam and would do his best to support the Task Force efforts in the field. He emphasized the need for security to prevent leaks and speculation about this new activity. Mr. Gilpatric said that the President wanted one document similar to that which had been prepared on “Millpond.”4 He then called on General McGarr for a report.

General McGarr said that President Diem wanted to see General Lansdale and would like him to stay in VietNam as long as possible. The General then gave a briefing5 on the situation stressing that the war in VietNam was vicious and brutal and that casualties were high. The Communists were trying to establish secure areas in the countryside and during 1960 Viet Cong incidents averaged about 505 per month and were highest in September. This year they have been as high as 650 in March but the incidents themselves had not been on quite as large a scale and the GVN now has the initiative. In 1960 the GVN suffered 3000 casualties. The figures all came from VietNam sources but were considered fairly accurate. At present it was estimated that 42% of the country was under firm GVN control with the rest uncertain degree under Communist control. He felt that the military problem must first be solved before we can move ahead in the psychological, economic and other areas.

In describing pare-military operations in VietNam the General spoke of the country team headed by the Ambassador but stressed that all Americans there were merely advisers. He mentioned the Presidential order giving the Ambassador policy coordination control6 and pointed out that the Ambassador had insisted that MAAG might send its position to CINCPAC only after coordinated by the [Page 79] Ambassador. This procedure had delayed for as much as 13 days his getting his own views across to his superiors.

As for the CIP, we were now trying to get full agreement from the Vietnamese. There was no doubt for the need for 20,000 more troops. The Ambassador had finally withdrawn his objection for this increase because of the situation in Laos.

From the military point of view there was a need for a phased and planned operation under a firm chain of command. MAAG now had full control of the training of the civil guard 32,000 of whom were financed under MAP with the remaining 38,000 to get MAP equipment.

MAAG was developing a counterinsurgency doctrine which contained the seeds of an operational plan. As for the ARVN there were 125 battalion equivalents 90 of which were fully committed and some had been in operation continuously for one and one-half to two years without training. The additional 20,000 were needed for rotation and to permit training. 65 ranger units and s5 ranger cadres had been trained. By the end of 1965 six ranger groups would have been trained.

Mr. Gilpatric asked about pay and allowances for the additional 20,000. The General pointed out that the President was annoyed that defense support [which] had been at the rate of $155 million was to be reduced to $90 million based on a balance of payment justification. He pointed out that Diem and Thuan said that they can pay for the additional 20,000; in his opinion they could do so to a certain extent.

The General said that the situation although dangerous could be dealt with. If the VC substantially stepped up their activity and they have the capability, the situation could become highly critical. He mentioned the covert introduction at Kun Tum of some 1000 Viet Minh as well as the strikes that were launched across the Cambodian frontier. He referred to the Khmer problem and to the long standing friction between Diem and Sihanouk as well as the Ambassador’s efforts to get these two together. The best arrangement would be to a military seal along the Cambodian frontier but this could not be done because of vast jungles and swamps. He explained how the problem was more serious and how it differed from those in Malaya and in the Philippines. Obviously if the Communists should get control in southern Laos they could outflank VietNam and for this reason the coming conference will have dangerous possibilities. He did not see any solution with the partitioning of Laos so the southern part could be sealed off.

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Mr. Gilpatric said we must do what we can to preserve internal security but must assume that we cannot do too much about the Cambodian and Lao problems. The General said that it was difficult to get the team to work together and that we are unable to get coordinated action in Laos. There was much to do in the paramilitary areas, but nothing would take the place of military force.

Mr. Nitze said he hoped we could resolve the balance of payments issue as applied to the additional force level.

The General said that 170,000 would be enough troops and perhaps more than could be taken care of because of lack of officers for the additional 20,000. He said we could hold and mop up with what we have but that it would take 30,000 to keep the border area secure. As for the chain of command, the General pointed out that Big Minh was to be the top commander.

There was then a discussion of the MAAG ceiling during which the General pointed out that if MAAG is to take over other duties there would have to be some increase.

Ambassador Young was called on to comment which he did along the following general lines:7

Need to re-establish a working dialogue with Diem,
Concept of defending the entire area of Southeast Asia,
The need to eradicate the Viet Cong,
A new political program, and
Maximum ____ on the DRV.

Mr. Gilpatric said that what we had in mind would not supersede the CIP and Mr. Johnson observed that we need to concentrate on specifics and price out any additional actions in terms of dollars and Vietnamese personnel. Mr. Gilpatric said we need to come up with a program for action in concrete terms.

It was agreed that the Task Force would meet again on Wednesday to go over the draft plan on which Messrs. Lansdale and Hand would be working with various representatives of the Departments beginning this afternoon.

  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 66 D 193, 20. General Lansdale. V-N 1961. Secret. The drafter is not identified.
  2. Colby and McGarr were in Washington for consultations.
  3. Gilpatric spoke from a two-page set of remarks which reviewed the purpose and importance of the Task Force and summarized the Presidential Task Force Program, Document 32. A copy of the remarks is in Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 65 A 3078, Vietnam.
  4. Operation Millpond, approved by the President on March 9, was a 17-point program to prepare or improve the U.S. military posture with respect to Laos.
  5. For an outline of McGarr’s briefing, see Declassified Documents, 1978, p. 361B. Two days later, at 9 a.m. on April 26, McGarr also briefed General Taylor. For a summary of the briefing, see Maxwell D. Taylor, Swords and Plowshares, New York, 1972, p. 221. No other record of the briefing has been found.
  6. For text of Executive Order 10893, November 8, 1960, which, inter alia, defined the coordination and supervision of functions in diplomatic missions abroad, see Code of Federal Regulations, Title 3—The President—1959-1963 Compilation, Washington, pp. 420-424.
  7. A summary of Young’s remarks, attached to a note from him to Gilpatric, April 25, is in Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 71 A 6489, Viet-1. Young subsequently incorporated his views into a four-page paper which, at the suggestion of Bowles, he sent to McGeorge Bundy and Rostow. For text of this paper, see Declassified Documents, 1975, p. 317C.