89. Paper Prepared by the Chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Viet-Nam (McGarr)1

Question: Are reforms in military command really taking hold or are they mere paper devices to cover Diem’s continued personal detailed management?

Answer: A review of the recent accomplishments by the GVN in the military field as the result of MAAG continued and intensive urging over a period of many months convinces me that real progress is being made in this vital field. These reforms, starting with the Transfer of the Civil Guard to the DOD in the fall of 1960, and in particular, the recent command and territorial reorganization of military and pare-military forces, as recommended by the CIP,2 have resulted in significant changes in the basic structure of the VN military establishment. These important and far reaching command reforms so long recommended are designed and, under MAAG guidance and supervision in the implementation phase, are progressing towards the desired goal of a clear, sound chain of military command which encourages initiative and the assumption of responsibility at all levels. As a result of representations by MAAG during the recent Vinh Binh operations, the President has reversed the [Page 208] previous assignment to Province Chiefs, of certain ARVN units in this area.

Specifically, the military reorganization of the RVNAF includes the operational activation of the Field Command as the responsible military tactical operations agency for all of VN, the territorial redivision of the country and assignment of responsibility to the three Corps, and the establishment of Logistic Commands to replace Military Regions. These are all major accomplishments, carried out during a period of increased Viet Cong activity, with a high degree of urgency and efficiency. Troop units have been physically moved with the minimum of disruption of daily operations. And two large control headquarters, Headquarters Field Command and III Corps, which until the reorganization were largely “paper organizations,” have assumed actual operational control while still organizing and receiving their communications equipment. The vital logistics reorganization is taking shape as recommended and the Log Commands daily assume more of their full responsibility.

This logical command and territorial organization continues down from Corps to Division Sectors with the clear assignment of responsibility and the troops to do the job. For large scale operations the division commander will exercise command and use his own chain of command. For small operations the Province Chief (subsector commander) will exercise control under the supervision of the Division Commander. It should, of course, be recognized that fully effective implementation of all the military command recommendations will take considerable time and that it is complicated by the continuing heavy commitment of military and pare-military units to counter-insurgency missions. A time lag in accomplishing a reorganization of this magnitude can be expected even in more advanced armies than that of Vietnam-over which we have advisory control only.

Military reorganization and realignment of functions has not been restricted to the field units. Plans for major decentralization from DOD to the Joint Staff continue to be refined. The Joint Staff is devoting increased attention to policy matters of a broader nature since it relinquished operational control of combat units to Field Command. These actions also take time, but I am impressed by the progress already made.

Question: How successful was the recent delta sweep?

Answer: From a purely military point of view the operation was considered a success. There were four primary objectives:

To test the command relationships between the reorganized military and the civil chain of command, particularly at the Province Chief level.
To offset the psywar propaganda of the Viet Cong which states that Vinh Binh Province is a “denied area” to RVNAF.
To clear out as many Viet Cong as possible in the area and restrict further Viet Cong activity.
To search out and destroy Viet Cong weapons depots, training camps, and bases of operation.

Although this operation disclosed certain deficiencies in coordination and detailed planning, as was to be expected in the initial operation under a new command arrangement, it did represent a major step forward in carrying out the military command and operational principles recommended in the CIP. The chain of command was clear cut from Field Command through the III Corps Commander and the 21st Division Commander to the Combat Units. The joint preplanning, although held closely for security reasons, was very good. Although because of this, implementation of the plan needed improvement. The Province Chief did not interfere with the military aspects of the operation and, in fact, assisted in every way possible. All elements of the RVNAF involved in this operation, and particularly the JGS, Field Command and III Corps, will benefit greatly from the lessons learned.

The objective of “showing the flag” to offset VC propaganda was clearly accomplished. The PsyWar Companies’ actions were closely coordinated with the operation throughout and were quite effective. ARVN forces were seen in force throughout the area. Now that major operational forces have been withdrawn it will depend on the civil administration, supported as necessary by local military and/or pare-military forces, to maintain security. Currently, one ARVN battalion and two ranger companies remain in the area to ensure take-over and orderly control by security forces under the civil administration authorities.

A large quantity of equipment and supplies was captured and/ or destroyed to include weapons, boats, kerosene, food caches, and other miscellaneous VC equipment. In addition, a dispensary, a training center, a crude small arms factory, and a supply center were overrun and captured. 26 VC were killed, 37 captured, and another 37 suspects taken into custody. While these figures may not seem impressive at first glance, and undoubtedly some VC as individuals eluded military forces by water, it is the nature of counter-guerrilla warfare that identification and elimination of guerrillas is a long, gruelling and costly process. It is not one that lends itself to sudden and spectacular success. In view of the very large area covered by one division of five battalion equivalents, these results are good.

Question: Will it be followed up by further sweeps of the same area as means of establishing real sterilization?

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Answer: This operation was not the traditional French type “sweep”. It was a joint operation by Air-Navy-Ground Forces which was coordinated with Provinces on either side of Vinh Binh. There are no known plans at this time for further operations of this nature in same area. However, General Khanh, Chief of Staff, has assured me they intend to ensure take-over and control by the civil and security forces before complete ARVN pull out. The MAAG concept for sterilization of an area as contained in the Proposed Counter-Insurgency Plan for Viet-Nam visualizes military operations being phased out of an area by the gradual but integrated take-over by security forces and civilian control. Permanent pacification or sterilization can never be accomplished by military sweeps or even more valid military action alone. In this operation, there was insufficient civil-military preplanning for application at the outset of the concomitant political, social, economic and psychological measures required to assure permanent pacification. Even when present operations in Vinh Binh are accomplished, large scale military operations by regular forces will again be required if other measures prove inadequate in the face of renewed, determined VC activities. This remains to be seen.

Question: Is this an example of improved military coordination, planning, and strategy, or does it represent a flashy operation without real permanent improvement in these areas?

Answer: MAAG does not agree with the implication that RVNAF puts on “flashy” operations. This force is too heavily committed to allow for such tactics. We are strongly of the opinion that a genuine improvement in coordination, planning and strategy is in the making as indicated by this and other recent operations. The recent reorganization of the chain of command and subsequent clarification of implementing directives has every chance of significantly improving military operations. Valuable lessons were learned from this operation which have already been pointed out by Chief MAAG to senior military authorities who are now working on improvements. However, the worth of the entire military operation in Viet-Nam cannot and should not properly be evaluated on one single operation. If properly applied, they will materially improve subsequent operations. Particularly encouraging is the evidence of renewed offensive spirit and motivation on the part of the military who took part in the planning and execution of this operation. From personal observations, I can assure you that enthusiasm, determination and seriousness of purpose on the part of military personnel at all levels was clearly evident.

Question: Is there any effective central planning done by any agency other than Diem himself?

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Answer: In the military field: Yes. For example, as previously reported, planning and execution by DOD, JGS and lower levels in implementation of CIP recommendations for reorganization, and repositioning of forces and as indicated in the recent Vinh Binh operation. Of course, there will continue to be room for improvement. For example, the Military Assistant to the Director of the Cabinet is developing a policy paper on National Objectives in hopes of obtaining its approval as a basis for further national military planning. At his request, MAAG is currently reviewing the study. Also, the J-1 of the JGS has recently completed a study on further increases in RVNAF, copies of which have been provided MAAG. It is generally in consonance with the MAAG Requisite Force Structure Study, except that it contemplates a slower rate of build up. As you know, Field Command conceived the recent military operation in Vinh Binh Province and planned it in conjunction with III Corps Headquarters. III Corps and 21st Division Headquarters carried it out with little or no interference from above. Again, a combined Vietnamese-US military committee is preparing field manuals on counter-insurgency operations using the MAAG Tactics and Techniques Study as one of their sources.

Question: Is real progress discernible as result of recent U.S. moves or is progress expected or is it business as usual?

Answer: In the military field, real progress has been made and there is every reason to hope that progress will continue. There is no doubt that military leaders at the national level are working long hours in a sincere effort to improve Vietnam’s security situation. Their attitude is definitely not one of “business as usual,” in the connotation of this question.

Command reorganization and the resultant establishment of a proper chain of command discussed earlier are, of course, only the long needed basis from which real operational changes begin. MAAG feels it unfortunate that this basis for improvement was deferred until the agreements on the overall CIP were reached. I feel that GVN has made considerable progress in training and in the operational field. A concept of employment for Civil Guard units has been developed which serves as the basis for all CG training. This program includes special leadership as well as individual and unit training, all oriented toward anti-guerrilla combat. Ranger training has continued to receive high priority and emphasis as has ranger type training for all combat units of ARVN.

In the field of operations, progress has been made in the cooperation between Air and Ground units. This cooperation involving quick reaction times for air support is of extreme importance and in pertinent operations this year has had good success. Concepts have been developed for use of specially training forces using [Page 212] helicopters and necessary training implementation is under way. Permission for MAAG advisors to assist RVNAF units in operations down to battalion and separate company size units has begun to produce some tangible results. Chief MAAG has requested that the President give his support to ensuring further implementation by Commanders in this area. We are, of course, pushing for much needed improvement in both the training and operations areas. Although MAAG holds the RVNAF to U.S. standards, it should be realistically recognized that these will not be attained immediately.

After considerable delay due to circumstances beyond GVN and MAAG control, ARVN is now moving ahead with its increase to a strength of 170,000. Current plans contemplate all units to be activated by December. Although activation of certain elements of the 20,000 increase has taken place, unfortunately, it has not progressed to the point for which the increase was justified, of permitting rotation of major units for badly needed rest, rehabilitation, and unit training.

In summary, I feel the time for changes of this magnitude, especially under the pressures of a daily hot war, must be recognized. While I am far from satisfied or complacent, and fully recognize the urgency and need for continued improvement, I am not pessimistic but rather I am impressed by the concrete accomplishments made by the GVN in the military command and operations fields. GVN and RVNAF have not implemented all of our military recommendations, nor have they fully completed certain of the projects initiated; however, I feel they are making progress as fast as could reasonably be expected.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Viet-Nam Country Series. Secret. Attached to a memorandum of July 13 from McGarr to Nolting, in which McGarr said he was commenting on specific military questions raised in telegram 38 to Saigon, July 10. (Document 87) Both the source text and the covering memorandum are apparently copies furnished Rostow who then passed them on to Taylor. In the margin of the covering memorandum is written the following note: “General Taylor. You will wish to read this. Walt.”
  2. See Document 1.