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

2058. For the President—Section V of V Sections.2 Ref para 7(4) CAP 64375.3 Following is an analysis by Gen Westmoreland and his staff in which I concur, regarding the feasibility of stiffening the armed forces of Vietnam by introducing U.S. and possibly third country ground combat forces (Special Forces, Rangers, Marines, etc.).

With regard to an increase in U.S. advisory effort, we have gone about as far down the advisory route as it is practical to go without passing the point of clearly diminishing returns. At the present, there are a total of 5,100 military advisors within RVN, extending thru all echelons from the high command down to battalion and to district (country) level. During the past year the advisory effort measured in terms of manpower has increased by 42 per cent. In addition, there are at present approximately 18,000 U.S. military personnel involved in operational support of various types. Although certain increases and adjustments will be periodically required, the air, helicopter, logistic and communication support provided or planned by the U.S. services is generally consistent with the size of the total force. However, there are some areas, treated later, in which increased U.S. participation and support are desirable.
The only significant area where it appears that an addition to advisor effort might be warranted would be at the district level. Advisors are just now arriving for the last of 113 districts. Initial evaluation clearly indicates that the district advisory program is sound and is paying off. If momentum can be maintained another 25 of the regular five-man teams could be used by early summer and will be requested.
Our current thinking is that Special Forces teams might be utilized as advisors in remote and least secure districts—perhaps up to 25 more in all.
With regard to the use of U.S. or Allied combat ground forces beyond the deployments programmed under SEATO plans and other existing war plans, several alternative concepts have been considered:

First Alternative:

Concept: U.S. (or Allied) airborne, Marine and infantry battalions under U.S. command and control to provide reserve striking forces capable [Page 26] of quick reaction to VC attacks and offensive operations against known VC forces and bases.

Forces: We considered both a high and low option and the details have been developed for each. In summary, the high option with 25 bns would provide U.S. quick reaction forces at each of the 9 divisions and certain general reserves. The low option with 8 bns would provide reserves in each of the 4 corps zones. In either case, U.S. air forces and logistical troops are included. The high option would total 60,000 troops—the low option 20,000.

Advantages: Reaction to VC attacks would be under de facto U.S. control, thus increasing the likelihood of rapidity and aggressiveness. VC casualties would increase.

Disadvantages: U.S. would be directly involved in ground combat. It is inevitable that casualties would occur among Vietnamese noncombatants, thus creating adverse reaction by Vietnamese against U.S. which VC would strongly exploit. Command relationships would be difficult. The Vietnamese Army (ARVN) might tend to leave the tougher problems to U.S. troops and thus gradually abdicate its responsibilities. U.S. casualties would be high.


Second Alternative:

Concept: Integration of ground combat battalions into ARVN infantry regiments.

Forces: In summary, 31 infantry battalions plus combat and service support troops as well as U.S. fighter and transport squadrons would be required. Total force would approximate 66,000 personnel.

Advantages: Each ARVN regiment would have a trained hardcore U.S. combat unit to lead the way and set the standards.

Disadvantages: U.S. troops would be under the command of Vietnamese officers. As in the first alternative U.S. troops would be engaged in populated areas with many political problems stemming from noncombatant casualties and the appearances of a white man’s war against the brown. Again ARVN could develop a tendency to hold back, leaving the U.S. battalions to do the bulk of the fighting. U.S. casualties would be high.


Third Alternative:

Concept: Establish three coastal enclaves at locations such as Da Nang, Tuy Hoa and Phan Rang defended by U.S./GVN/multinational forces. These enclaves would be large enough for security of ports, airfields and local population centers. GVN force thus relieved could be available for counterinsurgency operations throughout the country. As a last resort these bridgeheads could be held by free world forces as spring boards for pacification or reconquest and, after massive economic, social [Page 27] and public works, would demonstrate advantages associated with free world and GVN.

Forces: The equivalent of one division would be required in each enclave. Air support, logistical support and Navy requirements for coastal patrol would generate a total Allied strength of approximately 75,000.

Advantages: Provide basis for free-world presence in RVN and Southeast Asia; demonstrate visible contrast between free world and Communist economic systems; facilitate application of full range of free world military capabilities should such become necessary; provide future connecting link between free world and people of Southeast Asia.

Disadvantages: Commits U.S. and free world to indefinite direct confrontation with Asiatic Communists; cost in U.S. resources and forces is unpredictable; provides pretext for Communist propaganda charges of U.S. colonialism; multinational support might be difficult to obtain or sustain. It may also be difficult to confine the force to such an enclave in the face of guerrilla attacks which would require ever extending defensive actions beyond the perimeter defense.


Fourth Alternative:

Concept: Increase U.S. operations support to the maximum in areas which involve the least political liability. This would include:

Air forces—in-country use of U.S. jet aircraft (including USN) in close support of GVN forces, including the use of CBU-2 munitions.

Naval surface forces—commitment of U.S. naval forces in coordination with the Vietnamese Navy to coastal patrol and blockade as a means of denying supplies to the Viet Cong.


Air forces: One squadron equivalent of U.S. jet aircraft is now available. Base loading could accommodate one more squadron on random basis with remainder of support as required from carriers of 7th Fleet.

Naval surface forces: Subject to review by CINCPAC, one destroyer squadron and small carrier from Cambodian border to Vung Tau; one destroyer division south of demilitarized zone; and one destroyer division and sea plane tender from Da Nang to Vung Tau.

Advantages: Minimum adverse political impact. Increased operational effectiveness.

Disadvantages: An extension of U.S. commitment and involvement in combat operations. No assurance that these steps will have any significant effect on the overall situation.

In weighing the advantages and disadvantages, only the last alternative appears to be acceptable but none is recommended at this time. [Page 28]
It may seem as though we have weighted too heavily the political problems associated with the introduction of U.S. ground forces. However, after much soul searching we have reluctantly concluded that their military value would be more than offset by their political liability. The Vietnamese have the manpower and the basic skills to win this war. What they lack is motivation. The entire advisory effort has been devoted to giving them both skill and motivation. If that effort has not succeeded there is less reason to think that U.S. combat forces would have the desired effect. In fact, there is good reason to believe that they would [have] the opposite effect by causing some Vietnamese to let the U.S. carry the burden while others, probably the majority, would turn actively against us. Thus intervention with ground combat forces would at best buy time and would lead to ever increasing commitments until, like the French, we would be occupying an essentially hostile foreign country.
We have reviewed the tactical operations of the past two years for occasions where employment of U.S. ground forces would have been desirable and feasible. We have found such instances to be few and far between. On balance, they do not seem to justify the presence of U.S. units, even disregarding the political problems involved.
We are not prepared to recommend that U.S. troops be placed under Vietnamese command and thus reject the second alternative.
While the military/political enclaves have some attractive features they will not contribute in large measure to the counterinsurgency war and could be political and financial liabilities.
That we adhere to the advisory system improving and expanding it as necessary. Additional district advisors will be required if the GVN presses on with the war.
That the U.S. continue to provide only operational support along current lines augmented and reinforced as the situation requires.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Nodis. Received in the Department of State at 7:51 a.m.
  2. Sections I-IV are Documents 912.
  3. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Document 477.