205. Memorandum of Conversation Between the Vietnamese Secretary of State at the Presidency (Thuan) and the Charge in Vietnam (Trueheart), Gia Long Palace, Saigon, May 24, 19621


  • Delta Plan

I opened the conversation by asking Thuan whether he could bring me up to date on the status of the Delta Plan. We had heard, I said, that the Plan had been “shelved”.

Thuan said he would give me a “complete explanation”. He began by recalling that the Delta Plan had been worked out by the British Advisory Mission in coordination with the U.S. Mission. President Diem had approved the Plan and issued a decree appointing Colonel Hoang Van Lac as Commissioner for the Plan.2 At about the same time, the Interministerial Committee on Strategic Hamlets was formed.3 It thus became necessary to ascertain the relationship between the two programs (Strategic Hamlets and Delta Plan) and those administering them. Therefore, Thuan said, after the appointment of Lac, he asked the President, at a meeting (of the NISC?) at which Nhu was present, (a) to define precisely Colonel Lacʼs authority and (b) to make clear whether the Delta Plan would have first priority (presumably within the Strategic Hamlets scheme). In the discussion of these points with the President, it developed that, on the military side, Lac would not be able to give orders to Division Commanders or to General officers. (The implication was that this was because of his rank.) Moreover, he would not be able to give orders to Province Chiefs.

As to whether the Delta Plan would have first priority, Thuan said that the Presidentʼs decision was in effect that it would not. The Strategic Hamlet Program would go forward throughout the country. Thuan remarked wryly that the Program was to be completed in six months.

In this situation, Thuan said, it was decided that Lac should be made a member of the Strategic Hamlets Committee and given responsibility for the construction of strategic hamlets and defended hamlets in the Delta area. Thuan said that this was logical because the Delta Plan was a plan to establish such hamlets in the Delta area. In fact, he could see nothing inconsistent between the Delta Plan and the [Page 429] Strategic Hamlets Program. I remarked that strategic hamlets were a key feature of the Delta Plan but an equally or more important feature of the Plan was the closest coordination between civil and military authorities at every echelon. The latter did not appear to me to be spelled out in the Strategic Hamlets Program. Thuan did not dispute this. In this connection, I asked whether Lac was likely to get his organizational scheme (which provides for civil-military coordination) approved. Thuan was vague on this. He said that Lac had shown the President his chart but had not given him a “full briefing” on it. I asked whether the Strategic Hamlets Committee might be considering Lacʼs organizational plan. Thuan was vague on this also, but I gathered that this might be the case.

Turning next to Lacʼs “plan” for constructing defended hamlets in Long An, Binh Duong, and Vinh Long Provinces, roughly along the edge of the Plaine des Joncs, Thuan said that Ambassador Hohler had complained that this was a Maginot Line concept tying down the regular forces. Thuan said he had put this to Colonel Lac, whose reply was that it was proposed to defend the defended hamlets with Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps, not regulars. Regular forces would operate into the Plaine des Joncs.

I remarked that this scheme for a defense line along the Plaine des Joncs had been described to the U.S. Committee on Province Rehabilitation, but not as a plan of operation, rather as the views of individual Province Chiefs. I pressed Thuan as to whether the idea had been coordinated with the military authorities. Thuan said eventually that Lac had “discussed” it with the Commander of the 21st Division (who liked it) and the Commander of the 7th Division (who did not like it). In response to my question as to the views of III Corps, Thuan said that this was “just a headquarters.”

I thanked Thuan for the information he had given me, but said it disturbed me. In the first place, the absence of geographical priorities made it almost impossible for the U.S. to plan its support for counterinsurgency operations. Secondly, I was perhaps even more concerned at the apparent absence of close coordination between civil and military. To leave the military out of planning meant effectively to lose their support in execution. This, I said, was to fight with one hand tied behind your back. Thuan said that the military were represented on the Strategic Hamlets Committee, but made no attempt seriously to refute what I had said. (The Strategic Hamlets Committee, according to Minister Luong, does not review the plans of the Province Chief unless he makes a request for help from Saigon.)

After some further discussion of Operation Sunrise and Hai Yen II, Thuan asked if I did not think “things were going well.” I said I did, that there was real momentum behind the Strategic Hamlet Program which seemed to me a sound concept. I thought, however, that planning [Page 430] and coordination had to be imposed on the program for constructing strategic hamlets. Otherwise, I feared that many hamlets in exposed areas were going to be overrun. I was afraid that if this happened the Program might be discredited in Viet-Nam and in the U.S.A. Thuan did not comment. When I left, however, after discussing several other matters, Thuan reverted to the earlier discussion and said that he recognized the importance of priorities and coordination. He asked me not to despair. I said that I never despaired.

  1. Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 66 D 193, 6.1-C GVN 1962, Agrovilles. Secret. Drafted by Trueheart. Attached as COPROR/DOC/25 to the minutes of a meeting of the Committee on Province Rehabilitation of May 25, COPROR/SR/10. The meeting was held at Gia Long Palace.
  2. March 16 and 23, respectively.
  3. February 3.