214. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
3070. For the President. This has been a pleasantly quiet week both in a military and in a political sense. Viet Cong units country-wide appeared to be avoiding contact with government forces as their activity dropped to the lowest level since the lunar new year (early February). There were no large-scale Viet Cong attacks and only two district towns were fired on during the week. For the first time in my memory, during the last week all three of the principal indicators of military activity, killed in action, prisoners captured and weapons lost to the enemy have been favorable to the government.
Evidence of arms infiltration from Hanoi increased in this period. Thanks in one case to information given by a Viet Cong defector and in another case to timely intelligence, arms caches were uncovered in the Vung Ro area near the bay where the arms ship was found last month, and in a motorized wooden vessel carrying quantities of arms sunk by government forces at a point off Quang Tri.
Government operations were maintained at a high level, although contacts with the enemy were fewer than the week before. USAF B-57’s attacked Viet Cong targets every day of the week with evidence of favorable results.
The pacification indicators also took a favorable turn. In II Corps area, there was a marked decrease in the number of Viet Cong incidents, attributable in part to U.S. and Vietnamese air operations. In Binh Dinh Province, visible progress was made in caring for the refugees. Work has started on eleven new refugee centers and the province chief has recruited several hundred refugees for the regional and popular forces. The units formed from these recruits will accompany the refugees when they are able to return to their villages or are resettled in new locations. Pacification progress elsewhere in South Vietnam was as uneven as usual.
In the political sphere, Quat continued to exhibit understanding of the importance of building up his public image. During the early part of the week, he spent a good deal of time meeting with and entertaining the provincial officials convened in Saigon for a “National Administrative [Page 476]Congress.” While it is too early to assess the results of the Congress, it provided a unique opportunity for each province to air its problems and hopes before responsible Saigon authorities and thus to reestablish badly needed communication between Saigon and the provincial administrations. Also, Quat is spending two days in central Vietnam this week on a personal inspection of the refugee situation there and establishing political contact in Hue and Danang, the traditional center of political turbulence in South Vietnam. I expect to join him in Danang Wednesday2 for a visit to the aircraft carrier Coral Sea off the coast and to our Marines in Danang.
The Armed Forces Council met over the weekend to consider changes in the high command. Although Quat has told me that no decisions have been taken, the press and our informants have it that the Council confirmed General “Little” Minh as commander-in-chief (he holds this post now on an “acting” basis), selected General Huynh Van Cao as Chief of the Joint General Staff and is about to recommend several other changes. If these appointments materialize, they place Catholic generals in the three top military positions (the third being General Thieu, Deputy Prime Minister and Armed Forces Minister). This could stimulate a reaction from the Buddhist Institute, and we have reports that the Armed Forces Council have sent representatives to discuss the matter with Institute leaders. Except for Cao whose ability to fill the job of chief of staff is questionable, we would take no issue with the reported changes.
Despite the apparently improved Catholic position within the military establishment, we have begun to receive some indications that the militant northern refugee Catholics are becoming more and more restless at what they consider to be the growing alliance between the Buddhist Institute and Generals Thi and Ky, I Corps and Air Force commanders respectively. We will take more soundings among these Catholic groups in order to monitor their feelings and intentions as closely as we can.
If the Catholics are getting increasingly restless, it is perhaps understandable that the Buddhist Institute continues to be relatively tranquil. The Institute had a national conference last week and, as far as we can determine from talking to key leaders, they agreed that Quang Lien should cease his involvement in the peace movement he initiated (although Quang Lien reportedly believes the conference did not take such a hard and fast decision). Institute leaders also decided that they should concentrate on internal Buddhist organizational and program matters, avoiding politics unless “directly threatened.” They seem reasonably [Page 477]satisfied with Quat for the time being and may be willing to stick to propagating the dharma. Time will tell.
I look forward to seeing you soon and going over the situation which has shifted significantly since I was home in December.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Received in the Department of State at 1:21 a.m. Forwarded to the President by McGeorge Bundy on March 29 under a cover memorandum explaining that “the initial cable was garbled, and then when there was a correction I was slow in getting it up to you.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. IX)↩
- Apparently March 24.↩