41. Telegram From the Chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Vietnam (McGarr) to the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Felt)1

MAGCH-LO 670. 1. While in Saigon 2 May General Lemnitzer held discussions with Country Team, MAAG, Ambassador Harriman, Ty, Thuan, and Diem in that order.2 Following are highlights with emphasis on Lemnitzer’s statements and questions without repetition of info previously transmitted or known to you.

2. Country Team meeting (Durbrow, McGarr, Mendenhall, Gardiner, and others present):

At Durbrow’s request I reviewed my trip to Washington3 noting that: Vice President Johnson plans visit Vietnam in May; President Kennedy indicated if Geneva accords limit capacity to save Vietnam we should work outside them; MAAG ceiling could be increased as necessary; MAP support for 68,000 Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps would be authorized; increase in MAP funding for GVN up to 209 million… had been proposed;MAP support for Junk Force had not yet been approved when I left Washington; the emphasis President Kennedy and administration are placing on Vietnam and possible willingness to place U.S. forces in Laos and SVN; and my impression that many in Washington were out of date on Vietnam situation and felt election had been rigged (which I tried to dispel).
Durbrow cited recent discussions with Diem stating Diem has not yet given three things most needed in Counterinsurgency Plan: A single chain of command, a central intelligence organization, and economic and political reforms. In reply to Lemnitzer, Durbrow stated single chain of command is first priority. Durbrow felt Diem must get more rapport with the people and more protection for the people or he could not defeat Viet Cong. Gardiner outlined Vietnam economic aid situation stating last year 22% economic aid funds spent in U.S; next year under Buy American Act about 65% will be U.S. spent. (In response to question, I had stated in Washington that Sec Thuan had said the Buy American policy will hurt Vietnam budgeteers did not agree.)
Lemnitzer stated when he left Washington President Kennedy was ready to do anything within reason to save Southeast Asia. We had worked on a shoe string in Laos under a MAP ceiling and had in effect lost time in Laos since last August. There is still time to act [Page 90] in SVN. Lemnitzer would like for once to have more strength and equipment than is needed rather than too little too late. Lemnitzer questioned delay in building up 20,000 force increase while striving for simultaneous political and economic reforms; why not get force increase soonest, save country, and then strive for other reforms. Mendenhall felt other reforms, at least those pertaining to reorganization of government and actions in the military and intelligence fields, equally necessary to defeat Viet Cong. Lemnitzer asked if more helicopters could be used. Affirmative reply given but problems of maintenance and pilot training time cited. Lemnitzer cited possibility of U.S. maintenance teams and pilots in a non-combat role. Durbrow had to depart early; Lemnitzer closed meeting repeating timely military action, training, and equipment (not held up while other things are done) may be only way of saving situation.

3. At MAAG, discussions were held in four principal areas: current military and intelligence situation in SVN, outline of and status of Counterinsurgency Plan, status of operations and training, summary of increasing logistic requirements with increased forces and support of the Civil Guard. Lemnitzer inquired on validity of election and seemed surprised that Diem received only 65% of vote in Saigon-Cholon as opposed to 95% in country as a whole which he considered as evidence of non-rigged elections. He again reiterated that U.S. must save SVN and with the present situation it could be saved primarily by military means. We must express our requirements clearly, immediately, not fettered by ICC, funds, or other limitations, in fact use an over-kill factor. He again referred to possible use of U.S. units in training, logistics, and combat support such as helicopter units. He inquired on intelligence at all levels,RVNAF and Viet Cong communications, source of VC supplies, and VC activity in Cambodia. He seemed impressed most RVNAF units are on operations against VC and not sitting inactive below 17th parallel as some in Washington seem to think.

4. In separate discussions with Ty and Thuan, Lemnitzer stressed time and the lesson to be learned from Laos was the loss of time. While U.S. support in Laos was limited to provision equipment and minimum non-tactical training Pathet Lao-Viet Minh forces were organizing, training, equipping, and moving. He urged required GVN decisions on command structure, intelligence, force increase, and other facets of Counterinsurgency Plan. Thuan cited GVN financial problems in paying increased forces. He also noted Diem had stated need 20,000 more in 1957. Both Ty and Thuan expressed grave concern on Tchepone situation with its threat to SVN. Lemnitzer inquired of Ty, Thuan, and later Diem of GVN counter operations in NVN. Ty said to defeat the VC it was necessary to go outside Vietnam.

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5. In almost two hour session with Diem (Harriman, Durbrow, and myself also present) Diem again covered weakness of French, having requested 20,000 increase in 1957, border infiltration, and necessity of protecting roads, agrovilles, and installations (see my cite 1579 of 150927Z Dec 604).

Lemnitzer asked what could the U.S. best do to aid GVN from a military standpoint. Diem said Laos must be saved at all costs, otherwise situation in SVN will become untenable. Loss of Laos will open all doors to mass infiltration or invasion of SVN. Diem attributed lack of FAL effectiveness to French who in effect sabotaged Laos and are plotting against GVN. Diem claims Asians should be used to fight Asians and advocates using ChiNats in SE Asia with U.S. Air Force and 7th Fleet bolstering depleted ChiNat forces remaining in Formosa. Diem cited captured documents which show 2,000 VC have infiltrated into SVN since December and stated need for more troops and Navy craft to protect long open frontiers and coast line.
Lemnitzer queried whether SVN was infiltrating guerrillas into NVN. Diem replied efforts had been made without much success because of tight VC and police controls. He cited one recent infiltration by sea of small group which is now in radio contact with SVN.
On Lemnitzer query of relative calm during election, Diem outlined VC efforts, counter RVNAF operations, and summed up large vote turnout and overwhelming majority for him as manifestation of will of people without force or coercion other than that of the VC which boomeranged.
Lemnitzer asked about the reservists being recalled as part of the 20,000 force increase. Diem said he had already recalled 6,000 but though reservists they still needed two or three months training. Diem raised the question of paying additional troops saying SVN economy does not permit paying additional troops.
In concluding, Lemnitzer stated he had been well briefed and he and Washington were fully aware of the seriousness of situation. He again emphasized time and decisions, assured Diem the U.S. was sending its most capable officers to advise and assist RVNAF, underlined the importance of training, and stated the U.S. would do everything in its power to assist SVN in its fight against the VC.

6. This message has been coordinated with the Embassy. However, rather than a Country Team document it represents my impressions of Lemnitzer’s discussions for use in your forthcoming discussions with him

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 84, Saigon Embassy Files: FRC 68 A 5159, SGN(61)12—Laos Consolidated. Top Secret; Priority.
  2. Lemnitzer visited Saigon as part of a tour of the Far East following the CENTO Council meeting at Ankara, April 27-28. Harriman visited Saigon on his way to New Delhi for a meeting with Nehru on May 5 about the situation in Laos. Harriman transmitted his account of these conversations in telegram 1473 from Bangkok, May 4. (Ibid.; printed in Declassified Documents, 1975, p. 318B)
  3. McGarr returned to Washington on April 24 for consultations.
  4. Not found.