7. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hilsman) and General Roland H. Anthis 1
The Farmgate now has eight B-26s, eight T-28s, four C-47s, and four U-10As. The complement is 43 officers and 104 airmen. The augmentation requested is for eleven B-26s, five T-28s, two C-47s, and 130 additional people. The Vietnamese Air Force on the other hand has two fighter squadrons; one squadron of T-28s consisting of 25 airplanes and one squadron of AD-6s consisting of 25 airplanes. We had a long discussion of the procedures by which targets are selected and fired. In brief, there are two ways in which targets are selected. The first is through the photographic interpretation route. If the American PIC sees a suspected area, it reports it to the Vietnamese PIC who on confirming this gives it to corps and corps to division. The other route is if it is requested by a division which then goes straight to the joint operations center and a strike is laid on.
Thus the key is the division. It is the division that really decides whether they will bomb a village or not. There is a US air liaison officer at the division level but he does not usually participate in target selection, but only in laying on a strike.
There are roughly two kinds of strikes. One is the close support, that is when a unit is actually in contact with the enemy and is fired upon. No, wait, there is a fallacy here. Close support is when the planes actually accompany the troops. One circumstance, of course, would be when the troops were fired upon and the planes were then bombed but under the rubric of close support would also fall air strikes done in preparation in softening up of a ground attack. (I will check on this today.)
The other kind of strike is the so-called interdiction. An interdiction strike is a bombing and/or strafing run on a suspected VC installation indicated by intelligence.
There are roughly 1,000 strikes a month. In November, 32 per cent of these were interdiction, 53 per cent were in direct support and 15 percent were other, i.e., reconnaissance and so on. Thus over 300 strikes per month are pure interdiction and it is unknown how many of the 15-53 percent are strikes based on intelligence rather than strikes on people who are actually shooting at the ground forces.
There are 63 so-called free areas which change constantly.
The request for augmentation is based really on three things. First, the ARVN is “learning more how to use air power and calling for it more.” The second is that there are nine active divisions and if you total up all the odd SCSDC and civil guard companies and so on, a [Page 16] total of 51 divisions equivalent all of whom are calling for air support. The third justification is in anticipation of General Harkins’ “national intensification” which he is planning to begin immediately following Tet. (This is what we understood as explosion in the states.)
The American Air Force here is, of course, terribly sensitive on this issue of “indiscriminate bombing” and really quite defensive in their conversations with us. The key to the issue is, of course, intelligence and this is something we will look into today.
- Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Country Series-Vietnam.↩