14. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
2059. For the President. Embtel 1988.2 In view of my response3 to your CAP-643754 which I have just dispatched, I have very little to add as a weekly report. The political situation still remains an impasse between the government and the armed forces, both sides unwilling to make any major lead toward opening up the situation. While there is little definite progress to record toward reconciliation, I would say that time is starting to heal the rawness of relations which resulted from the events of the week of December 20. For the moment, at least, there seems to be no danger of a knock-down confrontation between Huong government and the military chiefs. We Americans continue to search for ways to bring the contending parties together on a basis which offers some hope for eliminating the present duality within the government.
As the American press has made abundantly clear, we have had a bad week in the military field. However, in spite of the losses which occurred in the Phuoc Tuy Province action,5 we have not suffered a Dien Bien Phu as some describe it. However, there is certainly no room for complacency in assessing the outcome of this particular engagement. In its simplest terms, it was the piecemeal commitment of government forces against a well organized Viet-Cong task force which had picked its battlefield and had prepared itself carefully for the ensuing actions. The government forces arrived on the scene battalion by battalion and took the inevitable losses of a piecemeal commitment into battle in the presence of the enemy. The losses on our side presently include about 200 killed in action, 190 wounded and almost a hundred missing. This includes 16 U.S. losses (5 killed, 8 wounded and 3 missing). GVN are claiming 140 VC killed.
This action was a serious defeat but not a disaster, and the consequences should not be overstated. However, it is a reminder of the distracting effect upon military actions of the continuing immersion of the generals in politics. Had the senior generals not been closeted during this period in Vung Tau plotting against the Huong government, I am quite [Page 30]sure that the leadership of the action would have been of a higher quality and the outcome might have been quite different.
Elsewhere the progress in pacification as in recent weeks was almost undetectable. The effects of the political impasse in Saigon gradually are making an appearance in the provinces. Civilian officials, in particular, are uncertain how to act and normally follow their instinctive tendency toward timidity when there is not a clear voice of authority to direct them.
The general public is strangely unaware what is taking place. Because of the double censorship in Saigon, first by the government and second by the military, the news is not being published in the local press. Although the word is gradually seeping out that there is a conflict between the civilian Huong government and the military, no one seems to be particularly agitated or anxious to take sides on behalf of either party. An exception are the political monks of the Buddhist Institute who are taking advantage of the opportunity to renew their harassment of the government.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Nodis. Received in the Department of State at 9:17 a.m.↩
- Telegram 1988, December 30, transmitted Taylor’s previous weekly report to the President. (Ibid.)↩
- Documents 9– 13.↩
Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Document 477.↩
- Reference is to the battle at Binh Gia, 40 miles southeast of Saigon, which took place December 28, 1964–January 4, 1965, the longest battle of the war to that point.↩