26. Report by an Investigative Team Headed by the Chief of Staff, United States Army (Wheeler), to the Joint Chiefs of Staff1
JCS TEAM REPORT ON SOUTH VIETNAM JANUARY 1963
- At their meeting on 7 January 1963, the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that General Earle G. Wheeler, who had twice postponed a scheduled visit to Southeast Asia, should lead a team of senior Service and Joint Staff representatives to South Vietnam. The team was asked to provide the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense with an up-to-date assessment of the situation in South Vietnam. It was composed as follows:
|Joint Chiefs of Staff Representative:||General Earle G. Wheeler, USA Team Chief|
|Joint Staff Representative:||Major General Victor H. Krulak,USMC|
|U.S. Army Representatives:||Lieutenant General Theodore W. Parker
Lieutenant Colonel Bill G. Smith
|U.S. Navy Representative:||Rear Admiral Andrew McB. Jackson|
|U.S. Air Force Representatives:||Lieutenant General David A. Burchinal
Major General William W. Momyer
Colonel Robert M. Levy
Lieutenant Colonel Harry M. Chapman
|U.S. Marine Corps Representative:||Brigadier General Norman J. Anderson|
|Assistants to the Chief of Staff:||Colonel George I. Forsythe
Major Louie W. Odom
Sergeant Major George E. Loikow
- The team’s mission was to obtain information for use by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in making an assessment of the counter-insurgency program in South Vietnam. The team was asked to form a military judgment as to the prospects for a successful conclusion of the conflict in a reasonable period of time. Specific appraisals were requested on the effectiveness of the present military program to meet United States objectives in South Vietnam, to include: the command and control arrangements of the United States and indigenous military forces in Southeast Asia; effectiveness of employment of United States and indigenous aviation; the quality and validity of military intelligence; and the readiness of plans to meet contingencies in the area. The team was to submit recommendations for modifications to our program which appeared to be desirable. Because the current counterinsurgency program in South Vietnam is largely the result of an appraisal made by General Maxwell D. Taylor in November 1961, the team used his report3 as a point of reference in reaching its conclusions.
- Subsequent sections of this report cover the current situation in South Vietnam in terms of military, political, and economic factors, specific conclusions as to the current state of affairs, prospects for the future, and finally, recommended measures to improve the mutual efforts of the United States and the Government of Vietnam.
- The map and table4 at the frontispiece detail the localities and activities visited by the team during its eight-day stay in South Vietnam. The team visited CINCPAC headquarters on both its outbound and inbound trips and stopped briefly in Okinawa to inquire into the capabilities of the United States Army, Ryukyus, to support our operations in South Vietnam.
II. The Situation
1. General Factors
The team approached its visit with the knowledge that the Vietnam war has been in progress for fifteen years, during which the insurgents have not allowed the young country the opportunity to pursue its nation-building program. Despite this, the government has managed to survive. The team’s assessment of progress achieved, and programs required, was made in light of the strong nationalistic convictions of the Government of Vietnam. These convictions limit the role of the United States to one of advice and persuasion, supplemented only by the metering effect of our material assistance. Finally, the team was mindful of the fact that, in a counterinsurgency campaign, there are few major judgments that are wholly military. Decisions, particularly in the campaign in Vietnam, usually embrace political, economic, and ideological factors as well. The team’s study and conclusions were influenced by this fact.
2. Military Factors
- The Growth of U.S. Advisory Strength. In 1962, the number of U.S. advisors with the Vietnamese military was tripled, rising from 900 to over 3,000. At the beginning of the year, there were no advisors where the bulk of the fighting takes place, at the battalion level. At year’s end, there were over 400 serving with every battalion and comparable unit in the Vietnamese armed forces. Likewise, the number of U.S. advisors with province chiefs grew from two in January 1962, to over 100 in December 1962, while the system of intelligence advisors expanded nearly tenfold from 25, at the beginning of the year, to 220 in December. This across-the-board increase in numbers has begun to have a noticeable effect on the quality, uniformity, and coordination of military operations. Also, the high quality of U.S. advisory personnel was particularly noticeable. The “first team” is in the game in Vietnam.
- Filling the Gaps. Responsive to another deficiency portrayed in the Taylor report, in 1962 the U.S. has moved supporting military formations to Vietnam to provide capabilities which the Vietnamese, themselves, could not quickly develop. Nearly three hundred aircraft in United States military units have been deployed. They include 148 transport helicopters, 11 armed helicopters, 81 fixed-wing transport aircraft, 13 fighter bombers, 9 light bombers, 4 reconnaissance fighters, and 37 liaison aircraft. Additionally, we provided, and are now operating, an urgently needed backbone communications system which has drawn together the geographic extremes of the country. To assist the Vietnamese in doing something far beyond their own capabilities, we [Page 76]installed an effective electronic detection system that is now capable of locating and following the movements of a large number of the more active Viet Cong radio transmitters. We have created an effective but austere logistic base to support all of these United States gap-filling efforts and to avoid burdening the overloaded logistic system of the Vietnamese armed forces.
- Growth of the Vietnamese Military
- A comparison of the current strength of the Vietnamese armed forces with that of a year ago is:
|Army||Navy||AF||Marines||Civil Guard||Self Defense Corps|
|31 Dec 1961||167,971||4,426||5,441||3,123||67,163||56,426|
|15 Dec 1962||196,357||6,595||5,817||5,281||75,909||95,828|
- More important than these strength increases is the improved state of training of the Government of Vietnam armed forces. Direct United States training efforts have been felt in all of the regular armed forces. Additionally, United States’ operated training centers have given individual training to over 90,000 members of the Civil Guard and the Self Defense Corps. Training, much of it technical in nature, has had to take place concurrently with the absorption of large quantities of equipment, including, for example, 55 aircraft, 27 naval craft, 474 personnel carriers, 1,100 tactical radios, and 38,000 assorted infantry weapons. Additionally, the process of expansion and training was conducted in a combat environment, where the demands of war often took priority over training requirements. In assessing the over-all strength of the Vietnamese armed forces, it is the team’s opinion that current personnel strengths, modified only by minor increases which have been recommended by the Assistance Command, are adequate to meet the current level of Viet Cong effort. Our aim for the future should be focused on improving the quality of existing forces.
- Very recently, a Joint Operations Center (JOC) was established under the Joint General Staff. The JOC consists of staff officers from the Vietnamese Army, Navy, and Air Force. In addition, U.S. Army and Air Force officer advisors are assigned to the JOC to provide advice and assistance on the planning and on the employment of air, ground, and naval forces. The JOC provided a composite display of military activities in progress throughout South Vietnam, and when completed, will provide a focal point for top level coordination of all military planning and operations at any given time.
- The Army. Built around nine light divisions and several separate battalions, the Army tended in the early months of 1962 to employ conventional tactics involving large area sweeps by division-size units. These operations were often inadequately planned, awkwardly executed and usually unproductive. 1962 showed progress in overcoming this basic weakness. Planning is now far better coordinated. Commanders now consult their United States advisors and give greater consideration to the influence of supporting air operations. The great proportion of operations now take place at the lower levels, some 26% of which were of company size and 58% of platoon size during the year. By the same token, progress has been made during the past year in freeing the regular units to take the field to attack and pursue the Viet Cong. Army units have been replaced with Self Defense Corps and Civil Guard personnel in many static tasks. In the average division, six or seven of the nine battalions are usually free to conduct some 400 platoon and company-size offensive operations monthly. United States advisors to Vietnamese Army units, at every level, encourage their counterparts to be relentless in this effort.
- The Air Force.
- The small Vietnamese Air Force is enthusiastic and is becoming increasingly competent, although still immature and limited by a pilot shortage. Comprising two fighter squadrons, one transport squadron, two helicopter and three liaison squadrons, it provides escort, visual reconnaissance, strike, and close air support of ground operations in a satisfactory manner. Bombing and strafing approach the accuracy and effect of highly-trained United States units. However, without the currently planned augmentation of United States tactical aviation units, it would not be possible for the Vietnamese Air Force to meet the daily sortie demands required by the current and contemplated tempo of operations. It will be October 1964 before the pilot training program will match the demands of operational requirements.
- To facilitate the control and employment of all Vietnamese Air Force and U.S. Air Force air operations in South Vietnam, a Joint Air Operations Center QAOC) has been established. The center provides the means by which the air commanders can allocate and control the available tactical air effort to maximum advantage. Subordinate facilities are established and planned to facilitate air and ground coordination at lower echelons.
- The Navy and Marines. Comprised of about 6,000 men, the Navy is divided into a Sea Force, a River Force, and a Junk Force. It has grown rapidly in efficiency in recent months. It is capable of limited amphibious operations, coastal and river patrols, and provision of some logistic support of ground forces. The Marine Corps, numbering 5,000 men, and organized as a brigade of four battalions, has now completed basic training in both helicopter and landing craft amphibious [Page 78]operations. In early January, a landing of two battalions of Marines in the Ca Mau Peninsula was skillfully executed, and shows a capability for greatly expanded amphibious activity in the Delta area.
- The Civil Guard and the Self Defense Corps. These two paramilitary forces, designed respectively to provide regional security at the province and district levels, matured greatly in 1962. The Civil Guard increased in size from 65,000 to 76,000 during the year, while the Self Defense Corps grew from 49,000 to 80,000 men. Far more important than their growth has been the magnitude and quality of their training by United States advisors. Over 30,000 Civil Guardsmen have undergone a three-month training course, while 43,000 members of the Self Defense Corps have had six weeks of United States supervised training. Their growing role in the security of the land testifies to the value of the program. However, the team noted with sympathy General Harkins’ generally unsuccessful efforts to persuade the Vietnamese government to abandon their concept of holding many of the Self Defense Corps in small static posts. This inheritance from the French provides tempting, lucrative targets for the Viet Cong. When overrun, they represent a source of weapons, ammunition, and food.
- Leadership. One area in which training of the Vietnamese armed forces is particularly important is leadership. They have only about 60% of their required noncommissioned officers, and they are also short junior officers. There are some senior officers, serving at division and higher echelons, whose false pride and unwillingness to acknowledge ignorance have impaired their effectiveness. All of these factors manifest themselves on the battlefield, and their elimination is a prime objective of the United States military advisory and training effort.
- In all of the fields of endeavor in South Vietnam, development of an effective intelligence system stands near the top in terms of progress achieved during 1962. Starting from an initial zero, the United States intelligence advisory program has, in a single year, grown into a reasonably effective mechanism. Its counterpart Vietnamese military intelligence program has moved decisively, although not nearly so far, in the direction of an efficient, organized system. In 1962, United States intelligence advisors have been accepted at each level of Vietnamese military command, from the Joint General Staff down to the division. In addition, United States intelligence advisors are serving at regiment and battalion level. These personnel, provided with their own communication system, are developing the capability to procure information and transmit it rapidly. In addition to providing timely information, the United States effort has the ancillary effect of energizing the Vietnamese intelligence system to a higher level of performance. In the past year, the Vietnamese have [Page 79]also developed a basically sound military intelligence organization which suffers only from technical inexperience. A former problem preventing the easy flow of information up through the civil and military channels has been largely solved by making the sector (military) and province (civil) leaders one and the same man in all but three of the forty-one provinces.
- Deficiencies in the Vietnamese intelligence operation include slowness in transmission of information, weaknesses in interrogation of prisoners, and the lack of skill among personnel at the lowest levels. On the United States side, the weakness lies mainly in linguistic proficiency. These are defects which time should correct.
There can be no more profound index to the progress of the battle in Vietnam than the measure of changes in the level and quality of information coming to the Vietnamese forces. On the basis of this very respectable measurement, the Government of Vietnam is making steady and favorable progress. Every Vietnamese corps commander, and many United States advisors, attest to a growth in confidence in the government which the common people are now demonstrating by providing useful intelligence. Successful operations in each corps tactical area have recently been accomplished. Many were based upon information supplied by the inhabitants, who probably did so only because of a conviction that the government is going to triumph.
This favorable trend is self-regenerative. The more good intelligence that is forthcoming, the greater the number of successful operations that can be undertaken. These successes, in turn, provide for more tranquillity and confidence in the countryside, with the result that there is still greater willingness on the part of the people to support the government cause with information. A case in point is Plei Mrong, a Montagnard training camp in the highlands near the Cambodian border. It is located in an area which has been dominated by the Viet Cong for fifteen years. Here, an unsuccessful effort on the part of the Viet Cong to destroy the training camp resulted immediately in a change in attitude on the part of the local residents, many of whom began to volunteer useful information on Viet Cong sanctuaries and personalities. This information, in turn, has resulted in the capture of more Viet Cong, and this has had a further impact on the people, who have responded with still more information.
This favorable note is being sounded with growing resonance across the country, by Vietnamese military commanders, provincial administrators, and, most objectively, by United States advisors at every high level. The intelligence tide has begun to run toward the government.
As the volume of information has grown, there have developed several basic intelligence indications which are now serving to influence the strategic and tactical thinking of the Vietnamese and [Page 80]their United States advisors. By no means are all of these indications favorable. Among the adverse indications, the principal ones are the continuity of Viet Cong strength, the growth in quantity of Chinese Communist weapons appearing in enemy hands, and the increased size and sophistication of the Viet Cong communications system. Taking the indications in order, the first, and perhaps most disquieting, is the apparent ability of the Viet Cong to maintain their strength, or even increase it slightly, in the face of growing pressure by the government. It cannot be ignored that the Vietnamese intelligence system, having improved greatly, is doubtless uncovering Viet Cong elements which have been in the country all the time. Giving generous discount to this fact, there still is basis for concluding that the conscription base for Viet Cong rank and file is still substantial, particularly in the Delta, and that the infusion of cadres of leaders and technicians, from outside the country, continues at a significant rate.
The same factor of improved intelligence resources applies to the growth in quantities of Communist Chinese material in the battle area. This cannot be permitted to obscure the fact that heavy Chinese infantry weapons, such as 57 millimeter recoilless rifles and associated ammunition, have recently been captured as far south as the Delta area.
Our improved communication detection system now reveals the existence of some 224 active communist radios in South Vietnam, where a year ago only 60 had been located. While there may not be as many more radios as the improved detection facilities indicate, there is no question but that the communist systems have improved, and we know that their cryptographic arrangements have grown more sophisticated.
These indications show that the communists are engaged in a slow, though perceptible, increase in effort. This suggests that the headquarters in Hanoi is not yet persuaded that the Americans are any different from the French; and that if they will but respond to our efforts with a determined reaction from outside the official battle areas, we will ultimately lose our confidence and our resolution.
- There are intelligence indicators which fall on the favorable side. The most significant relate to deteriorations in the physical and moral condition of the Viet Cong. Reports, in growing numbers, reflect shortages of food, and an increased repugnance of the Vietnamese people to Viet Cong depredations upon their food stocks, and extortion of their property and money. These are accounted as one of the causes for the migration of some 145,000 Montagnards away from the Viet Cong into safer areas. Likewise, reports emphasize the shortage of medical supplies, and Viet Cong attacks on Vietnamese outposts are frequently launched for the express purpose of acquiring medicines. Hunger, sickness, and lack of munitions have had a visible effect in [Page 81]terms of Viet Cong defections, which have grown steadily during the year from about 75 per month in January to a peak of 215 in December. The level of Viet Cong offensive activity has diminished in a degree consistent with the foregoing impediments. From a peak of almost 1,900 incidents in March 1962, the intensity of the insurgent effort has dropped to 1,340 incidents in December 1962. In spite of this, Viet Cong personnel losses grew steadily through 1962, from an initial level of 1,900 per month to 2,750 in the month of December.
- On balance, the team concluded that the intelligence picture is much better than it was a year ago. A stronger intelligence organization; more, better and more timely information; a growth in the popular intelligence base; and a series of interlocking intelligence indicators portray an upward trend in the conduct of the war. A sobering counterpoise is the strong evidence of effective external support for the insurgency, with its consequent implications in terms of protraction of the conflict.
- The Military-Economic-Political Relationship. Although President Diem is fully aware of the interlocking nature of these elements, many of his subordinates are not. Therefore, all programs often do not advance abreast. Here, too, United States military and civilian advice has shown results during the past year. In clear-and-hold operations, efforts are now made to have seed and fertilizer readily at hand to permit the farmers to exploit their liberated fields. Strategic hamlets are encouraged to elect their own hamlet chief, thus to remove a common Viet Cong propaganda target. Schools are now being run for civil administrators, to help raise the standards of province, district, village, and hamlet government. A village and hamlet radio system has been installed for intelligence, administrative and emergency warning purposes. These developments mark a small beginning in weaving the military solution into the nap of the politico-economic situation. The team sees this as the longest-term task of all. It is a task which gives rise to the greatest apprehension, since the liberated farmer is still encumbered with countless restrictions. Until he is freed from these, the Viet Cong will continue to have volunteers from a disgruntled fringe of the society.
3. Political and Economic Factors
- Political Factors.
- The team was impressed with the United States Country Team in South Vietnam. Under the leadership of Ambassador Nolting, the work of the member agencies of the country team has been carefully integrated to optimize the United States effort. The JCS team believes that the military measures being taken in South Vietnam must continue to be considered as necessary, principally to establish conditions favorable for political and economic growth. The basic problem now is [Page 82]to restore law and order, particularly in the rural areas, so that measures for the development of political and economic strength can take hold. Historically, the central government in Vietnam has not reached down and made itself felt to the peasant. Likewise, the peasant has not truly identified himself, his activities, or his future with his government, nor has he thought in terms of national political issues, as we know them. The team found that this situation is slowly beginning to change. Now the government is beginning to reach the people, and the people are beginning to reach for the government.
- The strategic hamlet program is perhaps the greatest single case for this encouraging development. It is a program aimed directly at the people that not only provides them with an elementary system of defense against, and isolation from, the Viet Cong, but also is the vehicle by which the Government of Vietnam can carry forward a political, economic, and social revolution. More than 4,000 strategic hamlets have been completed and another 2,000 of the 8,000 programmed will soon be completed. In 1962, this program was instrumental in bringing an additional 500,000 people under the control of the government.
- To date, elections have been held in more than a thousand hamlets. While the government attempts to insure that candidates for office are not Viet Cong members or sympathizers, the elections appear to be conducted in a democratic manner. Following the election of a hamlet chief and a hamlet council, the new officials, themselves, decide on projects for the improvement of the well-being and living conditions of the people. It is through this “rice roots” program that the framework for a democratic political process is being developed. It is the intention of the government to extend this process from the hamlets and villages up through the districts and provinces, whose officials are now appointed by the central government. The United States advisory effort, both military and civilian, is being extended to the province level to assist in the development of civic action and economic development programs. Although this is a slow process, the team believes that democracy cannot be legislated in South Vietnam, and that the current political development program will move forward in direct ratio to the results achieved in improving the living conditions and satisfying the basic aspirations of the people.
- Another noteworthy development is the government’s progress toward winning over the Montagnards. Long ignored, and often exploited by the central government, a campaign has been undertaken to protect these primitive hill people from Viet Cong exploitation. Over 145,000 of these people have willingly left their natural habitat to seek training by, and support of, the government. They represent an important plus for the Government of Vietnam, both politically and [Page 83]militarily. They are tough and cunning fighters who are completely at home in the rugged mountain terrain through which the principal Viet Cong infiltration routes pass.
- Economic Factors.
- The increased economic activity throughout the country, particularly on the lower levels, provides an indicator of growing confidence in the government and in the eventual outcome of the struggle with the Viet Cong. The number of applications for licenses to start new businesses is increasing; goods and food are moving-although with some difficulty-by road and water; and trade with the Montagnards is increasing. Six hundred million piasters were loaned to farmers and fishermen for fertilizer and for purchasing fishing boats and equipment. These loans are to be repaid on the installment plan and the capital is to be reinvested.
- Education in rural areas has been expanded greatly. Several new United States-financed technical and teacher training schools have been opened. Training sessions were completed for 120 provincial education chiefs, school inspectors and school principals. During 1963, nearly 8,000 new teachers will be trained, and classrooms, textbooks, and supplies for 150,000 primary school students will be provided. This will add to the nearly threefold growth in primary school population already experienced since 1955. Expansion of intermediate and university student population has been fivefold since 1955 and is programmed to continue in 1963. In addition, over 7,000 students are being taught the English language by the military members of the Military Assistance Advisory Group.
- The team believes that the current educational and economic aid efforts will have a far-reaching impact on the economic development of South Vietnam. However, the team believes the achievement of a viable economy is still remote.
III. The National Campaign Plan
- 1. As a result of the extensive United States and South Vietnam effort of the past year, described in preceding paragraphs, the South Vietnam armed forces are now attaining a position of strength, capability, and disposition which should enable them to assume a greater initiative than they have in the past.
- 2. The broad outline of this action is known as the “National Campaign Plan,” sometimes erroneously referred to as “Operation Explosion.” The National Campaign Plan is a concept of coordinated political, economic, and military operations to be undertaken at an accelerated pace by each corps, division, and sector commander in his own area. In fact, the operations have already begun.
There are four basic strategies involved in the National Campaign Plan:5
- To seek out and destroy Viet Cong strongholds.
- To clear and hold areas heretofore dominated by the Viet Cong.
- To build strategic hamlets in these areas and protect them from Viet Cong attack.
- to gain and hold the plateau and mountain areas and effect a degree of border control with the tribesmen (chiefly Montagnards).
- 4. Operations under the National Campaign Plan are expected to result in an ever-increasing measure of control by the Government of Vietnam over its people and its territory. Since the basic concept is one of many small operations, with decentralized control, activity has been increasing in those areas where trained units have been available and where the initiative of local commanders has been most pronounced. The tempo of small scale operations has now reached 450 per month. This tempo should increase substantially in the months ahead, as the strength of South Vietnam, developed over the past year, makes itself felt. However, the successful completion of the strategies listed will take considerable time and will demand much in resolution and perseverance. There appears to be no quick or easy solution.
- 4. [sic] Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, has developed a comprehensive plan6 designed to prepare the armed forces of South Vietnam to exercise control of their territory, without our help, by the end of calendar year 1965. It involves a concurrent phase-out of United States support personnel, leaving a Military Assistance Advisory Group of a strength of about 1,600 personnel. This comprehensive plan has been reviewed by the Commander in Chief, Pacific, and was submitted on 25 January 1963 to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their consideration. As it finally evolves, this [Page 85]plan will provide general guidance for United States force requirements, Military Assistance Program support (which has been developed in coordination with the five-year Military Assistance Program), and Military Assistance Advisory Group personnel requirements over the next three years.
IV. Areas Where Improvement Can Be Made
1. Command Control of the United States Effort in South Vietnam
- A difficult problem, at Saigon level, for over-all control and correlation of the United States military effort stems from the separate organization and operation of the Military Assistance Advisory Group, which uses many of the same military personnel in the field as are used in combat planning and operations monitored by the Military Assistance Command Vietnam staff. The team considers that improvement may be realized by more closely interrelating the military assistance functions with the appropriate Military Advisory Command Vietnam staff functions. This could be achieved without prejudice to the planned phase-out of Military Assistance Command Vietnam and the planned retention of the Military Assistance Advisory Group.
- It may be both possible and desirable, within available resources, to establish Army and Navy components of Military Assistance Command Vietnam, deriving benefit from the clear channels of command such an organization would afford. The Commander, 2d United States Air Division, functions as the air component commander of Military Assistance Command Vietnam. As such, the Air Force is the only Service with an organization and commander under Military Assistance Command Vietnam that actually functions as a component command. In this context, Military Assistance Command Vietnam would become in actuality a subordinate unified command of Commander in Chief Pacific rather than a specially tailored organization with a number of subordinate service activities reporting directly to the headquarters. In any event, composition of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam staff should be reviewed in the light of increasing air and naval activity and in recognition of the growing importance of and requirement for air and sea logistics lift.
- The potential of the Joint Air Operations Center (JAOC) should be more fully exploited. It is important that the JAOC be cognizant of all air activities planned or in progress in South Vietnam. Significant United States air elements of the Army, Marines and the Air Force are making up for a current deficit in the Vietnamese Air Force capability. In the interests of efficient use of these air resources, they should be responsive to shifting between and among the corps areas to meet peak combat and other air support requirements, and to take maximum advantage of good weather areas. The JAOC is an excellent [Page 86]means for Commander United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam, through his Air Component Commander, to exert maximum influence on tactical air planning and in the appropriate allocation of tactical air assets to the growing air combat and tactical air support tasks. Similarly, the JAOC has the potential to assist in the task of bringing logistic airlift resources in South Vietnam to bear on the air logistics problem, which is assuming increasing proportions and importance. The team agrees that the use of the JAOC for these purposes does not imply centralized control of all aviation assets in South Vietnam, certain of which will continue to be more appropriately controlled at lower organizational levels of the army and air structures.
- The transfer of responsibility for the numerous civilian irregular groups [less than 1 line not declassified] to the U.S. military is proceeding. The team noted, however, that considerable numbers of irregulars are now being exempted from this transfer, in terms which appear to contravene the basic concept of establishing the entire project under the military, except for elements wholly involved in secret intelligence.
2. Command and Control Problems within the Vietnamese Armed Forces
Though generally recognized, these problems persist:
- A tendency to hold planning very closely within the armed forces, ostensibly for security purposes, inhibits adequate and concurrent air support planning. This practice also precludes realizing such pre-operations advantages from the air elements as photo, weather and visual reconnaissance and observation.
- Some Vietnamese Army battalions are still immobilized by allocation to local security tasks rather than to mobile employment against the enemy. This is a constantly improving situation, but requires continuing emphasis.
- The Joint Operations Center and the Joint Air Operations Center are in their early formative states. Constant emphasis and daily work with the Vietnamese armed forces, particularly the Army and the Air force, are required in order that these agencies develop and mature as quickly and soundly as possible.
- The rank and grade structures of the Vietnam Air Force and Vietnam Navy are significantly lower than in the Vietnam Army. Although much smaller, these services have an important role to play and they must be accorded a greater part in military planning and decisions.
3. Nature of the Relationship between United States and Government of Vietnam Authorities
- An important and interesting aspect of relationships between the American military and the leadership of the Vietnamese Government became apparent in the course of calls made by General Wheeler. Accompanied by General Harkins, he called on Minister of Defense Thuan and President Diem. The attitude of Minister Thuan toward General Harkins is completely open, frank and friendly. The two confer on matters of organization, operations and assignment of personnel in the most free and easy fashion. General Harkins has no hesitancy in pointing out mistakes in military operations to Minister Thuan, and he in turn receives these comments with equanimity and assurances that he will look into, and correct, mistakes. General Harkins told General Wheeler privately that Minister Thuan had proved that he keeps his promises. General Harkins has a great influence upon the assignments of senior Vietnamese officers. While this influence is not advertised (and General Harkins would prefer that it not be known), nevertheless, it is known, and adds to the prestige and influence of American officers in their advisory role.
- The conference with President Diem made it apparent that he, also, likes and trusts General Harkins. Moreover, General Harkins, as with Minister Thuan, has no hesitancy in pressing the President to carry out programs which he considers to be important to the military effort. All-in-all, this attitude at the very top of the government represents a vast change from the aloofness and suspicion with which American advisors were received by senior Vietnam officials a year ago.
- United States officials, military and civilian, are not in a position to command, control or direct Government of Vietnam military, economic or political activities, nor do they desire such added responsibility. They must, therefore, be in a strong position to influence Government of Vietnam activity along the desired lines and thus achieve the desired objectives. Fortunately, excellent relations exist between United States and Government of Vietnam authorities in all major fields of joint endeavor and United States advice is generally, though not always, accepted. The team feels these relationships will continue to strengthen and United States advice will be increasingly followed as Government of Vietnam confidence in themselves and their advisors continues to grow.
4. Airlift and Air Logistics
- There is a significant airlift currently available in South Vietnam. Thus far it has readily met all requirements levied against it. Expanded operations visualized in the National Campaign Plan and [Page 88]the number and extent of “special situations” requiring air logistic support will generate a wide variety of additional airlift requirements. Until road and rail nets can be secured and improved, major reliance for logistic support and transport of personnel will continue to be placed in the airlift forces. The number and types of fixed and rotary wing aircraft available, and the magnitude of the air logistic effort currently forecast, merit special attention.
- The team has asked General Harkins for his views on the desirability of augmenting his headquarters with a small group of officer’s,-experts in air logistics and air transportation, to assist him in coping with the anticipated air movement problem.
5. Rules of Engagement
- An Army aviation unit was deployed to South Vietnam by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to test the applicability and effectiveness of the armed helicopter, in an escort role, under combat conditions as they exist in South Vietnam. The principal armament of this unit consists of two fixed, forward-firing, machine guns and two 2.75 rocket pods. The Joint Chiefs of Staff-established rules of engagement state that the aircraft carry United States markings; be flown by United States crews; have a Government of Vietnam observer or crew member aboard on all flights; and that fire delivered be considered defensive in nature.
- The team learned that Commander in Chief Pacific and Commander United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam have placed additional restrictions upon rules of engagement for the armed helicopters. They require that the aircraft must be fired upon before they may engage a target, even when an enemy target is clearly identified.
- Under these rules, helicopter pilots are placed in the position of being unable to attack clearly identified Viet Cong targets of opportunity, in a combat situation, unless first fired upon. To some degree, this places United States lives and equipment at risk unnecessarily and gives the enemy an advantageous option. The United States Air Force “Farmgate” units in South Vietnam are not faced with these specific restrictions. They can attack identified Viet Cong targets provided that: a Vietnam Air Force observer is aboard; the Vietnam Air Force does not have the capability to engage the target, the aircraft carry Vietnam Air Force markings and the targets are designated by the Vietnamese.
- The team believes that Commander in Chief Pacific should reconsider the present restrictions on the rules of engagement pertaining to armed helicopters in South Vietnam to allow these aircraft to engage clearly identified Viet Cong targets which may emerge as targets of opportunity during combat operations.
7. Press Relations
- The mutual distrust and dislike between the Diem government and the foreign press, particularly United States press representatives, has created serious public relations problems which impact directly on the war effort both in the United States and in Vietnam. Press representatives charge the Government of Vietnam with repressing the freedom of the press (two American newsmen were expelled from Vietnam), being unduly secretive, issuing deliberately erroneous news bulletins, and attempting to use the press as involuntary propaganda tools. The press attitude is summed up this way: “The Western press refuses to submit to such treatment.”
- The Government of Vietnam regards the foreign press as untrustworthy, prone to publish secret and false information derived from private sources and biased to the extent that the press writes up only the bad and not the good aspects of events in South Vietnam. A revealing nuance of the Government of Vietnam press feud was communicated to General Wheeler by a first-hand source. Madame Nhu, wife of the brother and principal advisor to President Diem, and an important figure in her own right, deeply resents the press stories of the bombing of the President’s palace during which she and her children were in grave danger of death. She states that the stories revealed an “ill-concealed regret” that the bombing failed in its objective.
- While the truth of these countercharges probably lies, as usual, somewhere between the extremes of the allegations of the two parties, the fact remains that the situation is serious, because the continuing bad press has colored public attitudes both in the United States and Vietnam. The unfortunate aftermath of reports of the fight at Ap Bac on 2 January 19637 is a prime instance of the harm being done to the war effort. Press members admit that they were appalled at the flood of editorial punditry and cries of doom elicited by the first incomplete accounts of the clash. They insist defensively, and contrary to the facts, that the battle was a defeat and that the stories were derived from United States sources. The latter is true, but only to the extent that the stories were based on ill-considered statements made at a time of high excitement and frustration by a few American officers.
- Nevertheless, great harm has been done. Public and Congressional opinion in the United States has been influenced toward thinking that the war effort in Vietnam is misguided, lacking in drive, and flouts the counsel of United States advisors. Doubts have been raised as to the courage, the training, the determination and dedication of the Vietnamese armed forces. In Vietnam the backlash of these reports, both in governmental and military circles, is apparent. The Vietnamese [Page 90]resent statements in the American press of such a derogatory nature to their personal characteristics and military habits and objectives. Moreover, relations between the United States diplomatic and military representatives, on the one hand, and the press representatives on the other, is somewhat strained.
- Officials at the United States Embassy and within the United States Advisory Group have long been aware of this unfortunate atmosphere and have attempted to overcome it by press briefings given by the Public Information Officer of United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam. General Harkins himself is readily available to the press at almost any time. However, it is considered that further efforts must be made, both in Vietnam and the United States, if the current course of events is to be reversed.
- Almost every judgement reached by the team had to be accompanied by the reservation that it had validity only under the current level of Viet Cong effort. The enemy, however, has both resources and a latitude of choice, and could materially increase the level of his effort if he chose.
- External influence on the situation is considerable. Facts in the hands of the Advisory Command characterize this infiltration as substantial, at least in terms of quality. Entrance is gained through four general routes. Cadre personnel (estimated as an average of 500 per month for the past few months) enter from North Vietnam or Laos near the 17th parallel, and move southward in stages through the Annamite Chain of mountains, utilizing a well developed underground railway. Alternatively, some personnel, as well as equipment, move down the Ho Chi Minh trail through Laos, some entering South Vietnam at the waist of the country, and some moving farther south to enter via Cambodia. Some supplies enter by sea, either across the Gulf of Siam from Cambodia, or by coastwise junk from North Vietnam. In terms of magnitude it is noted that some 3000 junks were inspected by the Vietnamese Navy during the past year, of which number 160 were proved to harbor Viet Cong. Finally, it is accepted by the Advisory Command that there is a movement across the border of selected commercial items, in undetermined quantity, purchased on the open market in Cambodia.
- Without the sophisticated infusions of weapons, code books, medicines, fuzes, leaders and technicians, it is certain that the lot of the Viet Cong would be much harder. But to cauterize the 900 miles of border and 1500 miles of coastline presents a problem which even the most dynamic of efforts on the part of the Vietnamese will not greatly diminish. It is plain that, apart from the task of gaining the respect of [Page 91]the people, this matter of external assistance for the Viet Cong is the greatest problem facing the Vietnamese, and it must be solved by methods more practicable than surveillance of the country’s borders.
a. The situation in South Vietnam has been reoriented, in the space of a year and a half, from a circumstance of near desperation to a condition where victory is now a hopeful prospect. There are numerous options of support and involvement available to the United States. They range from complete disengagement to overt commitment of United States forces with a concomitant demand on our part for full command authority over the Vietnamese. The first extreme is unacceptable. It sacrifices all that has been gained, and is tantamount to relinquishment of our position in Asia. The second is impracticable in terms of what the Vietnamese would accept, and it is undesirable from our viewpoint in that it would tend to make us responsible for every misadventure in the conflict. Intermediate to these extremes is the course of augmenting, greatly, our aid and advice to the Vietnamese; a program which could only be justified if there were major benefits clearly promised. This is not the case; there are no areas of assistance which are deficient in a quantum degree. This leads to the conclusion that the current support program in Vietnam is adequate, and should be retained with only minor alterations as may be recommended by the Advisory Command. This view derives from the conviction that we are winning slowly in the present thrust, and that there is no compelling reason to change.
b. At the same time, it is not realistic to ignore the fact that we have not given Ho Chi Minh any evidence that we are prepared to call him to account for helping to keep the insurgency in South Vietnam alive, and that we should do something to make the North Vietnamese bleed. Here again, the opportunities cover the full spectrum, from overt, pre-emptive attack by United States forces of targets in North Vietnam, to being content with the minor intelligence and sabotage forays [1 line not declassified]. The former is a grave step, embodying a far-reaching national decision which might have serious implications elsewhere. The latter offers essentially no promise of influencing the progress of the war. This leaves the more reasonable course of authorizing the Assistance Command to build up a much stronger unconventional warfare capability in the Vietnamese military, and then directing it in a coordinated program of sabotage, destruction, propaganda, and subversive missions against North Vietnam. To do this has the virtue of putting organized pressure on the North Vietnamese on a basis which keeps the United States wholly in the [Page 92]background while at the same time conducting the anti-North Vietnam campaign as a powerful military endeavor rather than as an ancillary [1 line not declassified].
- Turning to the specific areas which the Joint Chiefs of Staff
directed be addressed, the team reached the following conclusions:
- The National Campaign Plan is a logical outgrowth of the marshalling process which has taken place in response to the Taylor report. It should not create requirements for great increases in United States support and offers reasonable prospects for improving greatly the military situation. As such, it deserves to be supported.
- Command and control, within the United States structure, embodies few problems, none of which is fundamental and all of which can be solved locally. The team would prefer to see the Military Assistance Advisory Group absorbed into the Assistance Command and sees some virtue in the formal designation of the Assistance Command as a formalized subordinate Unified Command. The team learned, however, that General Harkins and Admiral Felt are opposed to one or the other of these moves. The team considers that their views in both areas should prevail.
- The employment of air assets absorbed much of the team’s time. Its conclusion, and that of Generals Harkins and Anthis is that the basic relationships are satisfactory, but that there are weaknesses in the joint planning for supporting air operations, reporting on helicopter movements, and in logistic airlift operations. A team of four experts has been offered to General Harkins to assist in solving the problem of logistic airlift operations. The problems of planning and reporting are being solved locally.
- Intelligence. A continuous improvement in the areas of intelligence reporting, communications, interrogation, and basic reliability of contacts with the civilian society was noted. The team concluded that no change is indicated in the thrust of intelligence operations.
- Contingency planning, conducted both by CINCPAC and the Assistance Command, gave evidence of adequacy and responsiveness to the contingencies which might arise.
- The team reached other conclusions, in areas not specifically
delineated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as follows:
- Political restrictions add to the complexity of achieving the desired military objectives in South Vietnam. The privileged sanctuary in Laos and Cambodia for Viet Cong concentration and infiltration, and restrictions on overflights of Laos and North Vietnam, tend to restrict the freedom of military action of the Government of Vietnam and ourselves. These restrictions make victory more remote.
- South Vietnam is, in large measure, a special situation. Generalizations affecting United States doctrine, concepts, equipage and training must be viewed conservatively and without predisposition or preconception. [Page 93]There needs to be a full awareness that the special environment may respond better to new techniques and different applications, or to old techniques and applications carefully and consciously adapted to the problem rather than to the textbook solution.
- Vietnam is at the end of a long logistics pipeline. The United States military structure there should be held to its operational essentials and not become encumbered with marginally productive special interest activities. With respect specifically to research, development, test and evaluation, the team concludes that there may be too many organizations, equipment, and projects in Vietnam now. All of these activities require overhead and supporting structures and are competing for resources that should be directed to producing combat power. All such activities should be brought completely under the authority of the Assistance Command, who should appraise them under the objective criterion of whether or not they contribute directly and significantly to the conflict. This appraisal should not be prejudiced by the origin of the project or function.
- The schism between the United States press and the Government of Vietnam is more than a simple lack of communications. To span the gap requires great effort and, on our side, much patience. An objective, on the-spot appraisal of the war by mature, responsible newsmen is gravely needed as a counter to the sometimes frustrated reporting of the resident correspondents.
- Finally, the performance of United States military personnel in South Vietnam, whatever their task, is of a uniformly high quality. The United States image is being steadily enhanced by their actions, and the experience they are receiving is of great value.
- The team recommends that we:
- Maintain the current general level of military support for the Government of south Vietnam.
- Accept the Advisory Command’s Comprehensive Three Year Plan for South Vietnam (19 January 1963) as a generally sound basis for planning the phase-out of United States support. In this connection, the Advisory Command’s requests for additional support should be considered in a favorable light, on a case-by-case basis.
- Re-evaluate the situation in South Vietnam semi-annually and make alterations in the Comprehensive Plan as indicated by the reassessment.
- Request the Advisory Command to present its view on an optimum command arrangement, designed to bring under most effective control all of the United States military elements functioning in South Vietnam.
- Direct that all research, development, test, and evaluation be brought directly under the Advisory Command and that it review every United States endeavor in South Vietnam in terms of its usefulness to the prosecution of the war, recommending the termination of projects or the return to the United States of personnel where they do not meet this criterion.
- Procure authority for air and ground reconnaissance missions in Laos.
- Undertake a press orientation program embodying a series of sponsored visits to Vietnam by mature and responsible news correspondents and executives.
- Intensify the unconventional warfare training of the Vietnamese military forces and encourage their execution of raids and sabotage missions in North Vietnam, coordinated with other military operations. The purpose of this effort is to consume communist resources and prevent the North Vietnamese from giving unimpeded attention and support to the insurgency in South Vietnam. [1 sentence (2-1/2 lines) not declassified]
- Finally, the team wishes particularly to emphasize that, in sum, the preparations of 1962 have led to the development of the human and material infrastructure necessary for the successful prosecution of the war within South Vietnam. The team believes that unless the Viet Cong chooses to escalate the conflict, the principal ingredients for eventual success have been assembled in South Vietnam. Now, perseverance in the field, and at home, will be required in great measure to achieve that success.
- Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-181-69. Top Secret.↩
- The source text does not provide a more specific date. According to telegram MACJ00 433 from General Wheeler at MAC/V headquarters to the Chairman of the JCS, January 21, the Wheeler team did not return from Southeast Asia to CINCPAC headquarters in Hawaii until the last week in January. Wheeler expected to work on the report in Hawaii and submit it to the JCS after the team’s anticipated return to Washington on January 30. (Ibid., T-184-69) In 1964, Wheeler recalled that when he returned to Washington, he reported first to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense, and then to President Kennedy. He reported to the President that things were going well in Vietnam militarily, but that “Ho Chi Minh was fighting the war for peanuts and if we ever expected to win that affair out there, we had to make him bleed a little bit.” The President, Wheeler recalled, “was quite interested in this.” (Kennedy Library, Oral History Program, Earle G. Wheeler interview, July 11, 1964)↩
- For text, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. I, Document 210.↩
- Neither printed.↩
- On February 2,
Lieutenant Commander Worth H.
Bagley, Naval Aide to General Taylor, sent a memorandum
to Taylor assessing
the Wheeler Report,
in which he discussed the evolution of the four strategies
outlined in the report:
”The Wheeler Report discusses the National Campaign Plan in detail (pages 14-15). The four basic strategies stated as involved in that plan are in essence an incorporation of the original Thompson concept of Province Rehabilitation (Clear and Hold); the Nhu concept which splintered off from Thompson of establishing Strategic Hamlets separately from, as well as with, Province Rehabilitation operations; [2 lines not declassified]; and the Thompson concept that as Province Rehabilitation progressed the regular RVNAF forces would seek out and destroy the Viet Cong at their bases. It is a restatement of original strategy. The discussion of this complete strategy in the Three Year Plan, also under the heading of the National Campaign Plan, says the same thing in more general terms, but confuses the situation by listing the Strategic Hamlet program as a separate entity as Nhu has made it. General Wheeler’s expression of the National Campaign Plan brings the Strategic Hamlet program back into the orderly and sound concept of Province Rehabilitation. This is the appropriate strategy and the one we should follow. Forrestal and Hilsman noted this difference in approach in their Report and recommended we get back on track with Province Rehabilitation (Clear and Hold).” (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T-240-69)↩
- See the enclosure to Document 18.↩
- See Document 1.↩