149. Memorandum of a Meeting1


  • Conference with COMUSMACV and Staff Prior to Arrival of SecDef (11 May)
Saigon to State 2108.2 At a recent Embassy meeting which General Westmoreland reported on,3 it was the consensus that subject conversation reflects Khanh’s basic dissatisfaction with the present level of the war effort (i.e., the Pacification Program in RVN). He was unhappy with the humdrum, nasty nature of the affair and would prefer to have some glamorous, dramatic victory.
The nation-wide Pacification Program will not be in full gear before 1 September 1964. The preparations to expand capabilities against North Vietnam will all be ready by 1 September except the round-out of the Second A1E squadron for the Air Commandos. The capabilities created will include those for air strikes by VNAF and Farmgate aircraft against North Vietnamese targets, aerial mining (ready by 1 June), and parachute saboteur drops [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. Also, the Nasty boats will be capable of [Page 309] interfering with fishing activities and can engage small craft of the North Vietnamese Navy. The C–123 will be capable of various forms of air activities outlined in the 34A program.
General Taylor stated it was his impression that the 34A program in relation to CINCPAC 37–644 should be reviewed. Many of the 34A actions such as air attack on POL facilities are not plausibly deniable by the South Vietnamese government and should be taken out of the 34A program if it is to remain covert in the sense of being plausibly deniable.
General Taylor then asked the opinion of the assembled group as to the time required to establish sufficient control in the South to warrant a consideration of operations against the North beyond the scope of covert sabotage operations. General Harkins expressed the view that by 1 January 1965, acceptable control will have been established everywhere except in the Delta which will require the entire calendar year of 1965. General Westmoreland is far more conservative. He says that it will take a year from now to establish acceptable control north of Saigon and two to three additional years to clear up the Delta.
No one in the conference showed enthusiasm for taking action under OPLAN 37–64. The most they were willing to consider was an escalating application of 34A. The thought seemed to be to get things going favorably in the Pacification Program and then add blows against the North to accelerate the trend against the enemy. General Harkins feels that it would be dangerously easy to divert the South Vietnamese from the main job of internal pacification by the attractiveness of a venture directed against the North. According to General Westmoreland, when ARVN Generals use the expression “march North”, nine out of ten of them mean full scale attack.
J–2 MACV made the points that the VC are growing in sophistication, better weapons (including antiaircraft), and that battalions in the Delta are tied up by the Number One problem, to ferret out the covert VC (Fifth Column) in the villages, etc., in RVN.
Need for a third squadron of A1Es. General Taylor expressed the view that it was premature to expect approval for the third squadron of A1Es. He stated that we should proceed with the organization of the two approved squadrons and meanwhile, develop data for the need for the third squadron.
Progress in setting up a reporting system on combat effectiveness and morale of RVNAF based on use of US advisers. It was established that MACV had not understood the requirement to develop a US adviser [Page 310] reporting system on the effectiveness of the RVNAF. General Harkins expressed some concern lest it involve critical reporting by advisers upon their opposite numbers and that the substance of such reports might get back to the Vietnamese. General Taylor reiterated the purpose of the report and told General Harkins it was the responsibility of his headquarters to work out a system to accomplish it. He stated further that it was his feeling that every person in uniform should be an eye for MACV to report on such matters through military channels. 9. Causes of the Vietnamese manpower shortages. Explanation of working of the conscription system. Desertion problem.
The GVN policy is to have at least 80 per cent volunteers and not more than 20 per cent conscriptees in combat divisions. The stated military reason for failing to recruit and induct sufficient numbers during 1964 was budgetary. Additionally, the various military and paramilitary organizations and the VC compete for recruits. The paramilitary is more popular now because recruits can remain at home. General Harkins has repeatedly pressed to bring units up to strength. Some drain-off of manpower is caused by excessive overhead at headquarters and maintenance of security at excessive [levels at?] rear area bases. Advisers are constantly pressing for elimination of these excesses. During the visit, remedial action was in process by virtue of an order issued by General Khiem, CINCVAF as follows:
Retains conscripts due for discharge in June, July, and August. Releases them in October and November.
All conscript training can be done at Quang Trung and National Training Centers.
A study should be made to reduce manning levels of Central Agencies (High Command Headquarters), Corps area logistic centers and combat support units. It is expected that people from the above will begin shifting to combat units by 1 June. As a part of the MACV proposed augmentation, RVNAF rifle companies will now have a 25-man replacement company.
The training establishment has been used at about 30 per cent of capacity for the past three months. The efforts of the GVN to bring the RVNAF up to strength should be reflected by an influx of conscriptees into training centers. A general conclusion reached is that there is no short term correction of the Vietnamese manpower problem because of the ineffectiveness of the conscription machinery. Also there is some hesitation to use conscripts generally for fear of introducing VC sympathizers into the Vietnamese Armed Forces.
Factors affecting the desertion rate are:
Statistics reflect AWOLs which occurred 30–60 days before the date of the statistics. (Therefore, rates now are in part reflection of the Tet Holiday.)
Lack of ordinary leave.
Heavy casualties coupled with understrength in the units.
Although there is little effort to round up deserters, some are found when looking for VC.
Very little punishment is meted out to deserters.
Cross Border Operations. With regard to cross border operations into Laos, General Harkins and his people are satisfied with the limited approval which they have just received for two areas of patrolling. They stated that even though the operations are limited, their approval justified the establishment of a joint mechanism for planning and preparation. An estimated two to four weeks will be required before implementation. (General Taylor cautioned that sufficient time should be taken for preparation to ensure success.) They are generally against harassment and sabotage measures using Hard Nose, fearing that the main contribution of intelligence from these patrols would be jeopardized.
Westmoreland-Moore5 Committee on air support. No Ad Hoc committee has been set up. However, General Harkins stated he would be glad to have them restudy the air support situation. Concerning recent improvements, General Moore described the progress made on the quick response net to be established in the 7th Division, III Corps:
Eight (8) VNAF ALOs trained.
Seven (7) VNAF ALOs started training.
Hardware (i.e., communications) for net is on hand.
US ALOs are in position.
Hardware for all Corps is on order.
Introduction of B–57s into RVN. In discussing the possible use of B–57s in RVN, General Taylor expressed the opinion that they would never be admitted unless required for use under OPLAN 37–64. General Moore pointed out the awkwardness of requiring Vietnamese in all planes involved in Farmgate operations. General Taylor replied that this presence has been a prerequisite for conduct of Farmgate operations and probably would remain so.
Low-level reconnaissance over Laos and Cambodia. Although all parties present favor low-level reconnaissance into Laos just as soon as possible, General Taylor stated that it was not permitted for the present in deference to Ambassador Unger’s wishes to withhold it until the situation jells in Laos. It was revealed that reaction would be almost immediate if authorized. Possible areas are Route 9, Kontum, and along the DMZ. Results are used to improve target folders for future plans. Readout on U–2 photography is about 48 hours and pictures are produced the following day. Reaction time is such that missions could react to Hard Nose intelligence.
Length of tour of US advisers. General Harkins feels that length of tours of US advisers is about right. Normally, advisers are with battalions roughly six months, then go to training centers. Some sector advisers represent the only continuity because of the great number of changes which have been made in province and district chiefs.
Austere naval base at Cam Ranh Bay. There is limited enthusiasm over the concept of an austere naval base in Cam Ranh Bay. It was agreed that a survey should be made to determine the nature of the problem. The Cam Ranh Bay locale is presently a secure area.
Policy on foreign military observers visiting RVN. There was a discussion of visits of foreign military observers to RVN arising out of the Argentine request. Several patterns were considered for permitting such visits. MACV was requested to recommend a policy.
There was a brief discussion of Secretary Rusk’s proposals made following his visit to RVN. There was general agreement with his ideas except with regard to anti-junk operations north of the 17th parallel. It was felt that little would be gained by hit and run actions whereas a considerable increase in GVN naval strength would be required to permit sustained naval operations.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 69 A 926, Vietnam 333. Top Secret; Sensitive. The source text is Enclosure B to an undated memorandum from McNamara to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of DIA.
  2. Document 134.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 143.
  4. CINCPAC OPLAN 37–64, “Military Action To Stabilize the Situation in the Republic of Vietnam,” March 30. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, ICS Files)
  5. Major General Joseph H. Moore, Commander, 2d Air Division and component U.S. Air Force Commander in Vietnam.