245. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
84. For Viet Nam Working Group. Deptel 61.2 Although Task Force Saigon fully appreciates importance establishment geographical priorities for Strategic Hamlet Program, we favor somewhat different approach from that suggested reftel. As Dept aware, Task Force some time ago agreed on geographically phased counterinsurgency program including priorities (Emb despatch 429).3 This program has served as basis US advice to GVN on Strategic Hamlet Program and in deciding allocation of US resources to specific clear and hold operations. Believe we now have more effective means of applying these priorities de facto to ongoing Strategic Hamlet Program. With establishment US owned piaster fund and PA/PR for dollar procurement, we should have carrot with which to induce GVN to come up with coordinated clear and hold operations in those areas which we regard as having highest priority. If this approach works, effect will be to apply bulk of resources and effort in highest priority areas. Through experience we should also be able to develop more accurate programming justifications.
This approach will not result in slowing down or stopping Strategic Hamlet Program in non-priority areas. GVN is firmly and publicly committed to pushing program on nation-wide basis. While this is bound to result in some failures, we do not think that there is any substantial risk that these will be “fatal to GVN”. Our impression is that even where program appears to be spread quite “thin”, it is [Page 540]causing VC trouble. Moreover, GVN, specifically Nhu and MinInterior, are aware of risks and are now insisting that hamlets be established in most secure areas first.
In sum, Task Force Saigon believes should welcome undeniable momentum behind Strategic Hamlet Program, seek to impose priorities on it by device of concentrating resources under US control on areas considered most important, and accept as divided any benefits which flow from operations of program in other areas.
We are in regular touch with Thompson and believe above is in accord with his own thinking. Will discuss further with him prior Honolulu meeting if possible.
Re earth moving equipment, there are indications President Diem is prepared to cut back on Presidential Road Program and this may release some equipment for hamlet construction. We are also studying other possibilities.
Comment: In discussion with Pres Diem July 19, he raised question priorities in Strategic Hamlet Program, saying he understood our desire to gear our aid programs to the Strategic Hamlet Program, and need for priorities. He said that general priorities are: (a) in white areas extending into blue and eventually red; (b) in the richest and most heavily populated parts of the Delta, roughly the ten provinces of the Delta Plan; (c) in areas, especially coastal plains of central provinces, where Viet Cong pressure greatest and danger of cutting the country greatest. He said that the establishment of fixed priorities in building strategic hamlets is not simple. In some areas, the districts, villages and hamlets themselves are sufficiently rich and enthusiastic to carry out program largely under their own steam. In poorer areas, or in areas where the people are less ready to take sides, govt resources would be concentrated. Thus there would continue to develop Strategic Hamlets beyond the first priority areas indicated above, but govt help would be applied on a priority basis as indicated in (a), (b), and (c) above. In short the substance of this conversation, I believe, reinforces the rationale of this telegram.