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

115. CINCPAC for POLAD. This is a Mission message.

A.
The countrywide rate of Viet Cong activity while not as high as that experienced in the peak weeks of the February–April period, has increased over the June weekly average. The period 5–13 July has seen several major actions which have produced fairly heavy losses on both sides.
B.
Following is furnished in effort to place major military events of the past several days in perspective, point up certain strengths and weaknesses on the part of the RVNAF, and provide some indication of probable course of the war in weeks to come.
1.
The spate of press reports regarding PAVN units in battalion size operating in the I Corps area cannot be confirmed. The introduction of regular PAVN forces into the area is regarded as unlikely. Report of initial interrogation of prisoners recently captured indicates that infiltration of drafted native-born North Vietnamese trained in various PAVN divisions has probably increased in the past few months. The extent of this infiltration is not yet clear but there is no evidence that PAVN battalions are moving into this area.
2.
Referring to the major specific VC-initiated actions during the past two weeks, the following operational comments supplement the various spot reports, wirenotes, and sitreps which cover these actions. They are intended to provide an insight into current activities and to assist in the assessment of the significance of these activities.
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A. Actions against Special Forces (Pled Krong and Narn Dong):

(1)
Attacks took place at camps which for a considerable period previously had been relatively free from VC harassment. VC controls in area had been of a transitory nature. Friendly patrols normally ranged to 10km or more before any contact was made. Camps had been established to recruit indigenous personnel away from VC.
(2)
Because of lack of previous activity, security apparently was somewhat lax. However, Nam Dong was successful in repelling an attack of over BN size.
(3)
Local intelligence sources were apparently poor since large VC forces were able to assemble undetected in vicinity.
(4)
At least one camp appears to have been infiltrated by VC.
(5)
Reaction forces were not effective since arrival was after VC withdrawal.
(6)
Apparently VC planning, coordination, and execution were based on detailed knowledge of camps’ activities and reaction capability of available reinforcements.

B. Vinh Cheo outpost (11–12 July):

(1)
VC apparently used attack on outpost as bait for reaction. A large VC force, estimated at two battalions, was employed in the entire operation which was obviously well-planned.
(2)
The VC were disposed in a strong defensive position blocking each column advancing toward the outpost.
(3)
Sector reacted quickly but had difficulty in maintaining control in part because reaction forces were dispatched at night.
(4)
The reaction forces initially were five Hoa Hao companies. Two of the units were organized in April, the other three in June. None had unit training. They had very little experience. Leadership was weak. The deputy province chief was the strongest leader. However, he was seriously wounded early in the operation.
(5)
March security apparently was poor on the moves.
(6)
Terrain was difficult. For the most part area consisted of rice paddies under three feet of water. This handicapped reaction forces and was advantageous to VC ambush.

C. Binh Long ambush (13 July):

(1)
VC again used two separate forces. At this time, it is difficult to determine whether one was used to lure a reaction force into an ambush or whether the initial encounter was accidental.
(2)
The convoy ambush appeared to have been well-planned and executed. Some VC were reported to have been disguised as Rangers. lO9mm shells were electrically detonated in the road. The ambush was well-timed and coordinated.
(3)
Security and march discipline was lax. Vehicles were bunched and the command element was in the first three vehicles.
(4)
Reaction to the ambush was poor. Two Ranger companies in the immediate vicinity did not react. This may have been due to fact that battalion commander was lost in ambush. Coordination was lacking. Two other companies were helilifted to Chon Thanh but were not committed.
(5)
Binh Long has significance for the VC as a “corridor” province through which some of their lines of communication are known to run between their national headquarters (COSVN) and the northern provinces and between war zones C and D. While recent VC activity in the province confined itself mainly to interference with traffic on the few highways in that area, ARVN forces have been ambushed there before, and the most recent VC reaction signals their determination to keep ARVN forces out of that area.

C. In summary the following observations are offered as possible explanation of VC activity during last two weeks:

1.
Possibly in response to publicity during last few months on hardening US attitude toward war, some reports indicate VC issued instructions during the latter part of June 64 to step up the tempo and intensity of their activities during following three months to include the conduct of a series of attacks on forward RVN military bases. Several reports referred to VC instructions for increased activities during July to commemorate the signing of the Geneva Accords on 20 July 1954. There were other reports associating increased activity with arrival of Ambassador Taylor. The Viet Cong clandestine broadcasting station last week announced an increase in VC activity, while exhorting their followers to intensify their efforts.
2.
Another possible explanation for increased VC activity is that the VC are putting on the pressure in I, II and IV Corps to prevent or discourage GVN reinforcement in the provinces around Saigon. They are no doubt aware of plans to intensify pacification in the Binh Duong, Hau Nghia, Long An, Gia Dinh area.
3.
The VC seem to make announcements of increased activity only when their reserve strength is ready to accomplish or at least attempt what their propaganda predicts. The VC have sufficient reserves to raise the tempo and intensity of their effort. This is particularly true of VC Military Region 5, comprising the provinces of I Corps and most of the provinces of II Corps, where main force units are known to exist, but are rarely committed. In I Corps tactical zone, recent infiltration of North Vietnamese mentioned above, have added new but relatively inexperienced reinforcements. We have low-level reports of recent infiltration further South via Attopeu province of Laos but these have not been substantiated thus far.
4.
Significant recent VC attacks do not depart from patterns established over the past year. The attacks on the CIDG campaign Kontum and Thua Thien were undoubtedly the result of long preparation. CIDG camps because of their very nature are high priority targets for the VC. This was demonstrated by the repeated VC efforts against the Chau Lang camp and the devastating attack on the Kiep Hoa camp in November 63.
5.
The attack on Vinh Cheo outpost apparently was a continuation of the same tactics which the VC had attempted to use earlier in Phuoc Thanh province when they inflicted heavy casualties on a 2company Ranger relief force attempting to intervene after a 5-pronged VC action against minor targets.
6.
The upsurge of VC activity in the two northern provinces of I Corps during the past several days has not fallen into a discernible pattern but it seems reasonable to credit it in part to a carefully designed VC plan to counter First Division offensive operations into territory that VC consider their base area, negate successful GVN pacification efforts in the coastal regions of the two provinces, and cause the withdrawal of GVN elements working on road projects in the piedmont areas of the two provinces. If these were in fact their goals, they have succeeded to a considerable degree. Some of the increased activity may have been designed to delay or prevent strong ARVN reaction to the attack on the Nam Dong post on 6 July. Finally, stepped up activity in the North probably had a strategic objective, discouragement of GVN intentions to concentrate more troops in the South. In past few days VC activity in I Corps seems to have returned to pattern of weeks prior to 5 July with emphasis continuing to be on the harassment, terroristic and sabotage type of activity. Route 1 is open for traffic. However, Route 9 remains closed west of Ca Lu due to a destroyed bridge.

D. However, in general, high level of activity must be anticipated in response to apparent policy decisions on conducting a special campaign during July. Priority targets are likely to be: district towns, isolated posts, and ARVN units entering VC base areas. However, main thrust of VC campaign is expected to emphasize terrorism, harassment and efforts against routes and lines of communications with particular effort in those areas where pacification operations show evidence of progress.

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E. Deptel 1302 just received. We share concerns expressed reftel and agree there are many unknowns in situation. Are making urgent review and will submit Mission views and recommendations in few days.

Taylor
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Limdis. Repeated to CINCPAC, the Department of Defense, and CIA.
  2. In this joint State-Defense-CIA message, July 14, the three agencies expressed concern about the military situation in the northern provinces and suggested that the Mission in Saigon consider the feasibility of additional air and ground reconnaissance and intelligence collection to obtain hard evidence on the Viet Cong situation there. (Ibid.)