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

1502. CINCPAC for POLAD. Ref: Deptel 1065; Embtel 1490.2 As indicated in Embtel 1490, floods in central provinces constitute a serious disaster but, to the eye, are not comparable to the 1961 flood in the Mekong Delta. I saw latter at its height and recommended that US logistic units with combat support be brought into SVN for flood relief operations. This recommendation was not accepted and proved to be unnecessary as the flood waters drained rapidly and the area was restored within a few months by GVN with USOM assistance. This experience leads me to doubt necessity for additional US logistic or combat forces by reason of the present floods. Such units would make no direct contribution to alleviate conditions of human misery which can best be made by local relief organizations backed by US supplies and transport. They could, however, expedite the restoration of the many washed out highway bridges, particularly along Route 1, and could also be of assistance in reopening the railroad although the latter has suffered more from VC sabotage than from the flood.

The question is whether this accelerated repair of communications is worth the introduction of additional US logistic forces which in all probability would require US combat troops in some numbers to provide close protection. Apart from expediting the restoration of communications, our willingness to bring in a new form of military support would undoubtedly be a source of encouragement for the Government and people of SVN. On the other hand, it could also suggest that the US is prepared to take over more of the responsibilities of GVN, and hence temper local initiative. As US troops are certain to be the target of VC harassment, we can expect increased casualties resulting from this further increase of the US presence which in numbers already threatens to exceed the ceiling estimates of a few months ago.

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Weighing these pros and cons in the light of present knowledge, I would advise against these additional US forces. I would, however, recommend using this situation as a means of trying to obtain third country military engineer aid largely for bridge repair on the lines of communications damaged by the flood. An Asian third country contribution for this purpose has all of the advantages and none of the disadvantages cited above. Among the countries which might be approached are the Philippines, Korea, Australia and Taiwan, where the retired services engineering administration is reportedly a highly skilled servicemen’s organization capable of the technical work we have in mind. Given about two more days to survey the bridgebuilding requirement, we will be able to indicate the size and type of help which might be sought from third country sources.

We would appreciate knowing the Department’s reaction to this suggestion.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 10 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to CINCPAC. According to another copy, this telegram was drafted by Taylor. (Ibid., Saigon Embassy Files: Lot 68 F 8) Also published in Declassified Documents, 1983, 000533.
  2. Telegram 1065, November 12, asked for Taylor’s comments on the political implications of introducing U.S. military engineering and logistic forces to help alleviate conditions in the flooded central provinces. (Department of State, Saigon Embassy Files: Lot 68 F 8; published in Declassified Documents, 1983, 001257) Telegram 1490, November 13, reported that Taylor had taken Huong on an aerial reconnaissance of the flooded provinces and noted that relief organizations seemed to be coping well with the problem. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 10 VIET S)
  3. The Department of State responded later in the day that its reaction to the suggestion of third country assistance was favorable, and urged Taylor to encourage the South Vietnamese Government to issue a call to which third countries might respond. (Telegram 1085 to Saigon; ibid.; published in Declassified Documents, Z988, 001259)