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

1440. CINCPAC for POLAD. This is a U.S. Mission cable. Ref. A–337, October 30, 1964.2 It is apparent that the next few months will be critical to the success of the new government and to our efforts to bring about some degree of stabilization in the internal political situation of SVN. The members of this government are generally inexperienced in public life and have never worked together as a team. It is the consensus of the Mission Council that under favorable circumstances it will require three to four months to get this government to function with any degree of effectiveness. By that time an assembly may have been formed and unless its performance has been acceptable in SVN eyes the government will face the hazard of removal.

To avoid waste of effort in uncoordinated activity, it is essential for the government to establish a series of short-term objectives which are reasonably attainable and which, if attained, will provide a point of departure from which we can later undertake more ambitious projects, military and civilian, inside and outside SVN. Such subsequent projects would include combined and increased military political-economic pressure on DRV, intensification of the in-country anti-VC effort, expansion of force goals for military and police forces, and the initiation of medium-term economic, social and psychological programs.

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For planning purposes, we are taking February 1, 1965 as the target date for the short-term objectives (Annex 1). However, we are in doubt as to the feasibility of even approaching these objectives without finding some means in the immediate future for sustaining morale and encouraging a despondent country grown tired of the strains of the counterinsurgency struggle. We have only one reasonably certain way to provide this stimulant—by military actions (we are thinking primarily of air strikes) against the DRV which will do damage to the sources of VC strength along the infiltration routes and to a limited degree in NVN itself. For maximum morale effect, the existence and results of these actions need to be known, at least in part, in SVN. Furthermore, some U.S. participation is required to impart sense of U.S. willingness in future to share in necessary action to stop DRV support and direction of VC. (This also important as corresponding signal to Hanoi.) It is a delicate matter, however, to execute such operations because of the danger of premature escalation at a time when the new government is inadequate to provide leadership to the country and to use its resources to contain the probable VC-DRV reaction which might result from any significant air campaign against DRV.

Our partial solution to this dilemma is to introduce into the short term military program an expansion of 34–A operations to include limited air strikes against North, an intensification of the actions against infiltration targets in the Laotian corridor, and reprisal strikes for major VC depredations as required. There are presently only 10 qualified VNAF pilots available for such covert air strikes so that their scope would necessarily be limited. Our thought is that the Laotian Air Force should continue to play the leading part in air attacks in the corridor but we would get agreement for increased U.S. participation from Souvanna in order to indicate the U.S. commitment needed to encourage the GVN, as well as perhaps the RLG. (Some thoughts on this were contained in Embtel 14153 reporting on last SEACORD meeting.)

Since the new Cabinet is already at work on short-term objectives, I propose to make suggestions at once to Huong and Vien, along the lines of Annex 1, for inclusion in their programs. I would like authority as soon as possible to discuss the short-term military program (expanded 34–A, attacks in corridor, reprisal air strikes) with Huong, Vien and Khanh to obtain their reaction. Depending on their response, it may be desirable to indicate the broadened pressure program against the North which we are willing to consider after the government has made adequate progress. Throughout this scenario, it must be recognized that the GVN may well not make what could be considered [Page 898] even reasonable progress, and that we may be forced even between now and February 1 to make the hard choice as to whether we should undertake the broadened pressure program against the DRV in the face of a deteriorating situation in SVN

Annex 1

Program Objectives To Be Reached by February 1, 1965

Establish effective articulation of GVN/US agencies for optimum cooperation; action in this field to include establishment of a war cabinet to meet weekly with the U.S. Mission Council; the organization of a Ministerial Council of Economic and Financial Affairs to mesh with USOM organization; joint programming at ministerial levels in the military, economic, social, administrative and information fields.
Review governmental organization with a view to streamlining. Consideration to be given to a reduction or regrouping of Ministries and to the establishment of a Bureau of the Budget reporting to the Prime Minister.
Develop and initiate a national information plan as a means of improving communication between the GVN and its people.
Bring the armed forces to authorized strength.
Review performances of key commanders, replacing the incompetent and stabilizing the remainder.
Bring all units to full combat effectiveness.
Fill up the police to targeted strength.
Clarify the police mission and elevate its prestige.
Give the police a strong commander.
Clarify police powers of arrest, detention, and interrogation.
Complete the first phase of Hop Tac and be ready to pass into the second phase.
Review performance of province chiefs, replacing the incompetent and stabilizing the remainder.
Review the vital functions of corps commanders.
Carry out a sanitary clean-up of Saigon.
Initiate a program for the improvement of the port of Saigon and the Saizon River channel.
Institute measures to effect population and resources control with emphasis on Hop Tac area.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1–1 VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Limdis. Also sent to CIA, Department of Defense, and the White House and repeated to CINCPAC. According to another copy, this telegram was drafted by Taylor. (Ibid., Saigon Embassy Files: Lot 68 F 8)
  2. This airgram transmitted a paper entitled “Action Program for Vietnam,” which proposed political, economic and social, military, and psychological programs which the United States might undertake with the new South Vietnamese Government. (Ibid., Central Files, POL 1–1 VIET S)
  3. Document 406.