63. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

824. Reference: Deptel 872.2 Emb A-480 and A-5 193 gave evaluations respectively of Phuoc Long crop destruction and Ca Mau defoliation [Page 163] operations. Evaluation of defoliation operation Rt 1, Phu Yen and Binh Dinh provinces being pouched. Interim evaluation Thua Thien crop destruction operation will follow shortly. In brief, latter operation, carried out with hand-sprayers on ground, proved difficult from point of view logistics and security. Terrain, isolation of area, and VC response made it difficult for chemicals to be transported to target sites and to be applied to crops. Out of 120 hectares planned to be sprayed, only 12 were attacked with herbicides, additional 20 destroyed by hand. Also, psywar effort reportedly not wholly satisfactory. TF/Saigon currently attempting obtain further details on which base evaluation this operation.

As will be seen from airgrams referred to above, it extremely difficult obtain precise, statistical results defoliation and crop destruction operations, particularly in terms specific military impact and reactions local people. We must rely on judgments and to some extent our conclusions have had to be based more on absence adverse evidence rather than on positive evidence. Similarly, we have drawn conclusion about military effects which are general but which, on basis available evidence, we consider valid.

Regarding plans for future operations, General Harkins and I recently approved GVN request, supported by USOM recommendation, for applying herbicides to railroad right-of-way primarily for proper railway maintenance and only secondarily for security purpose. Project will be carried out on ground by railroad maintenance employees and herbicides will be provided by USOM from U.S. commercial sources. Same criteria as for military defoliation projects being applied: avoidance of crops, proper stage of growth, psywar effort. We also anticipate that GVN will in near future submit rather extensive proposals for defoliation and crop destruction in anticipation next growing season. In fact, it has recently submitted several targets which now being studied. We consider it important to determine future basis for herbicide operations and to inform GVN soon so that its planning may be developed accordingly.

On basis evaluation results so far, General Harkins and I recommend that chemical defoliation and crop destruction be continued (latter as integral part of more general GVN food denial program) but on new footing: instead of considering chemical defoliation and crop destruction as separate program under which appropriate targets can be selected, herbicides should be considered as an effective tool to be employed in specific situations and areas where we can determine that their employment will hurt VC military or supply operations. This shift in emphasis would still mean limiting crop destruction operations to crops definitely identified as being grown by or for VC, such as [Page 164] those near or in definitely established VC secret bases (e.g., Zone D or Duong-Minh-Chau Zone) and where denial those crops would magnify VC supply problems greatly and directly. Similarly, for defoliation new basis would still mean limiting operations to targets where we see definite and justifiable military utility. In both defoliation and crop destruction, however, new emphasis should mean greater dependence on views and recommendations local commanders and advisers rather than on those of GVN/JGS in Saigon. This should permit operations to be more directly related to local military situation, thereby ensuring greater military impact.

Procedurally, General Harkins and I recommend that we be given authority approve crop destruction targets now, as well as authority approve other defoliation targets in addition to lines of communication and related areas. We would continue report operations fully to Washington with our evaluations as information becomes available. Regarding selection targets, we would envisage continuing same careful selection process used to date, judging selections on basis existing criteria.

Regarding propaganda and political effects, implications and effects present bloc campaign against “poison gas” and “noxious chemicals” difficult foresee at present. However, we have no information suggesting that operations carried out to date have had any measurably adverse effects on local population vis-à-vis GVN or U.S. Moreover, from our vantage point, we can see no signs that bloc propaganda has tended undermine international support for U.S. effort in SVN or for Diem government, or that it has raised questions regarding U.S. moral standing or adherence to international agreements. Accordingly, we recommend that use of herbicides be continued on basis described above, recognizing that bloc propaganda efforts will continue and likely increase as VC are hurt. We also recommend that, in order help combat bloc propaganda with truth, results of herbicide operations be included in daily GVN and U.S. military press briefings and that reporters be given opportunity observe defoliation or crop destruction missions.

Regarding Department’s paper, our records indicate trial defoliation operations began August 1961 (Rt 13, Chon Thanh), and that thirteen specific areas have been hit. Regarding crop destruction, as noted above only about 12 hectares sprayed with herbicides in Thua Thien, bringing total chemical crop destruction efforts to 312 hectares. As for military effectiveness defoliation, would prefer see it described as appearing have general impact on security situation although no statistical results can be isolated. Again, with crop destruction, evidence of military effectiveness may never be conclusive in wholly [Page 165] measurable terms but believe Phuoc Long operation validates general conclusion that VC in Zone D hurting for food and that whatever done to deny them food will add to their problems.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27-10 S VIET. Secret; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 58.
  3. Neither found.