171. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Komer) to President Johnson1
- Second Komer Trip to Vietnam, 23–29 June 1966
This trip was far more valuable than my first. By now Iʼve established sound working relations with all the key people, and have begun to find out the real problems.
I try to make these visits both educational (for me) and cathartic (for others). In the course of a week I talked with 60–70 Americans from Lodge and Westy on down to sergeants, and at least 60 Vietnamese from Ky down to villagers. Each got a tailored pep talk.
General Conclusions. I return both an optimist and a realist. Optimistic because Westyʼs spoiling operations are going well; his prudent concern that a monsoon “offensive” is still in the offing is partly offset by abundant evidence that the VC has lost a lot of steam despite the infusion of strength from the north. Optimistic also because our own civil side effort has finally gotten off the ground, and because the GVN itself has a new wind—born of its success in containing the Buddhist bid for power over the last three months. It is taking pacification more seriously too. Third, weʼve got the economic situation under better control. In short, the US/GVN effort is greater and more efficient than ever before—though one keeps wondering why it takes so long.
But is all this enough? The more I learn the more Iʼm sobered by the realization of how much further we may have to go. On the military side, our intelligence is improving but it is still only one in several sweeps that really catches and clobbers a VC main force unit. Nonetheless, Westy sees the VC/NVA as committed to a classical Phase III Maoist strategy rather than reverting to guerrilla war. He thinks they are trying to concentrate in divisional strength in at least 8–10 different areas. Their aim is to tie down our forces by synchronized though widely separated attacks and hopefully to overwhelm us in at least some cases. Westyʼs counterstrategy is to mount spoiling attacks, hitting the VC first wherever he can pinpoint a concentration. He seems to be keeping them off balance.
But our military effort against the VC is not yet matched by our pacification and civil side operations. Our greatest weakness is our inability as yet to capitalize on the initiative our own military operations have given[Page 475]us by extending our control over the countryside. We have stopped the erosion of GVN control, but I would judge that we have not really extended our control significantly outside the main towns over the last year. Until we can get rolling on pacification in its widest sense—securing the villages, flushing out the local VC (not just the main force) and giving the peasant both security and hope for a better future—we cannot assure a victory.
The weak link in the chain is the GVN and the ARVN. We must get a greater return out of them—and it would be cheap at the price. The 700,000 ARVN forces are not pulling their weight. Nor is the GVN civil side. The US is bearing the brunt of the effort—which is neither necessary nor desirable.
My two main conclusions from this trip are that we must (a) step up our own support of pacification/RD; and (b) galvanize the GVN and ARVN into a much greater—and better—effort in this field. There are some encouraging signs that this is feasible. My ideas as to how to do it follow—they differ in some significant respects from the views in my 14 June memo to you2 (which proves to me that trips are quite useful).
Stepping up the RD/Pacification Effort. This is essentially a matter of better management of US/GVN resources, and of generating enough resources to meet the need.
On the US management side, there is encouraging progress. Porter has recognized that he canʼt run a billion dollar enterprise without a staff. He is organizing one, headed by Ambassador Koren, a top notch FSO. Heʼll report 10 July. With Westyʼs help, Iʼve also urged Porter to get a good general officer as No. 3, because better civil/military coordination is essential. Most of our pacification people in the field are military—some 2200 MACV advisers working at least part time on pacification vs. some 300 odd civilians.
Also most encouraging is Kyʼs plan to give General Thang, the highly energetic RD Minister, super-ministerial supervision over the Agriculture, Public Works, and perhaps Information Ministries—as well as the Regional and Popular Forces. This step should serve to integrate control over the key security, cadre, and reconstruction assets in the countryside under probably the most capable man in the GVN. Equally important, the province chief will now be given more direct control over the local RF/PF security assets available. Divided authority between the province chief (usually a Lieutenant Colonel) who is pacification-minded and the ARVN regimental, division and corps commanders—who often are not—has been a serious problem. In my visits to five provinces I found this a concern of US advisors as well as province and district chiefs.[Page 476]
Next steps. We may need to go further in this direction, however. The crazy quilt pattern of ARVN and local forces has further proliferated over the past year as pacification concepts have evolved. Now Police Field Force companies—which Westy has come around to favoring—and RD cadre teams have been added. The security element of the 59-man RD cadre team roughly equates to a Popular Force platoon; a Police Field Force company is not much different than a Regional Force Company. Confusion exists as to the proper roles and missions of each component of the pacification forces. There are also a number of hangovers from earlier programs, such as auto-defense forces and Combat Youth.
So Porter and I started a high priority study by a top notch inter-agency group in Saigon to redefine these functions. Then, working with the GVN, the Mission hopes that the roles and missions of pacification forces can be precisely defined by a GVN decree. Such a rationalization of roles and missions might also lead to certain consolidations and overhead reductions—essential as well for meeting the growing Vietnamese manpower shortage.
Some of the most knowledgeable and imaginative experts also believe that there is a critical lack of enough bodies to extend GVN control further into the countryside and provide security for the RD effort. They say that all the RF, PF, Cadres, and police put together are not enough to do more than hold the present real estate the GVN controls. One solution advocated is to shift many of the ARVN regular units—which are not pulling their weight in the battle against the VC main force anyway—into local security work. Those who advocate this solution would break up the lower grade ARVN units into battalions and put them under the province chiefs. They argue that when regular ARVN units are committed to a pacification (clearing and security) role, the ARVN regimental/division/corps levels frequently inhibit the proper tactical employment of company and battalion-sized units.
This highly important matter of the GVN military and para-military structure merits open-minded investigation. It is plain that whatever change in operational roles or chain of command might be contemplated, the present MACV-supported logistic and administrative structure must be maintained. No one else could do the job. There might also be local political complications in disturbing the present distribution of military power. Major changes would doubtless be stoutly opposed by many in MACV or elsewhere. But as MACV necessarily devotes more and more attention to an ever larger US military effort, it inevitably becomes less of an advisory group and more of an operational headquarters. So experienced hands like General Krulak in Honolulu support a re-examination of this whole problem area.[Page 477]
The MACV advisory effort. Whatever is done about the above, however, the MACV province and district advisory effort is indispensable—and one of the bright spots in Vietnam. We have 153 subsector (district) teams in 75% of the districts now, and MACV is considering 12 more. They are really the backbone of our effort in the countryside. Their high quality must be maintained.
Indeed, I favor a “single manager” concept whereby the senior man in each province or district—military or civilian—would be designated as team chief for pacification/RD advisory purposes, reporting through region to Porterʼs office. Over a year ago, we experimented by appointing one of the US representatives at provincial level as US Team Captain, with coordinating authority over the entire US effort. I was impressed by how well this concept is still working in Binh Thuan province, even though the experiment ended six months ago with the decision to operate on a cooperative basis—not under a team captain. It stands to reason that if the province chief is a single manager on the VN side, we should have a single manager on the US side. Therefore, I intend to re-open the question of a US team chief. He would receive guidance directly from Porter operating in his expanded role. MACV would still be able to deal with the sector advisors on purely military matters.
The RD Cadre Program is now fully launched. Over 26,000 cadre are in the field (not all well-trained). We will be graduating 5700 more each four months from the Vung Tau center and the Montagnard center at Pleiku. I visited three 59-man teams in their hamlets. Many of them were not on duty stations. Neither Porter nor I are satisfied with the quality of the cadre or their supervision in the field. I have urged that the MACV district advisory teams (the only Americans down at the district level) keep an eye on them. CIA is simply spread too thin to do the entire job; nor is AID much better
Colonel Chau, a trusted member of General Thangʼs staff (assisted by Major Be, who did such an outstanding job with the cadre in Binh Dinh) has taken charge of Vung Tau. The former chief instructor (Captain Mai) and a group of close supporters attempting to build the cadre into a “third force” have been removed. There has been a temporary setback in the orderly development of an effective training establishment. Porter will recommend any slowdown in rate of cadre output needed to insure that quality has priority over quantity. The cadre program is promising, but it is just one of many pacification instruments and will take time to achieve significant impact.
Police Field Forces (company sized units of motivated, well trained policemen working night and day in the areas between hamlets) are receiving a great deal of attention. The concept is good; execution on the part of the first units in the field has apparently been good also. Because of the manpower implications and the overlap with Popular and Regional [Page 478] Force roles and missions, MACV has opposed PFF expansion. Based on my discussions with Westmoreland, he now favors police and agrees with a 15,000 PFF level by 1967. Again (I will explain how later) this powerful instrument must be fully integrated with the overall RD effort.
The Police Special Branch, charged with the local intelligence effort against the VC infrastructure seems to be progressing nicely. Black lists given to US units before operations have led to the capture of many VC cadre. Likewise, pacification has been enhanced by the pin-pointing of cadre and guerillas in hamlets. Here is an area where I think weʼll see progress of the most meaningful sort.
Land Reform. No progress here. A study has recently been completed but the recommended program is more theoretical than practical. The big problem is now to administer a new land reform law with the very thin GVN administrative apparatus. My idea is to implement simple reforms in local areas as the areas are secured. Liberalized tenure and credit for tenant accomplished improvements are two possibly workable ideas. Cabotʼs people will work with the GVN.
Chieu Hoi. Much more can be done. The cost per defector is 1/100th the cost per enemy killed by military action. Weʼve recruited a new and imaginative chief US advisor, who will work directly under Porter to step up our effort, since an inter-agency committee approach hasnʼt worked. The GVN has to carry the ball, but we can prod and help to insure that the effort at least keeps pace with expanding military operations.
Area Priorities. Clearly, present capabilities for expansion of area control are limited and may not correspond with the four National Priority Areas to which the GVN and ourselves are committed. By and large, I favor instead more attention to those areas where greatest progress is feasible. For example, with very little additional effort it might be possible to pacify the entire province of Tuyen Duc. Binh Thuan Province under a dynamic province chief and an excellent US provincial team appears ready to expand the area of government control. Wherever US bases exist the spillover improvement in security and economic conditions should allow extension of pacified areas. Much depends also on the competence and morale of the local GVN organization at province, district, and village. As the RD mechanism at province and below grows in capability and the national level RD organization takes shape, this type of selective expansion probably should become the general operational approach. Porter intends to foster this concept.
Better Civil/Military Coordination. In keeping with the move toward super-ministerial status for RD, the US Mission needs to strengthen its own machinery for civil/military coordination. I had useful discussions with our Mission principals, who all agree on expanding the capabilities of Porterʼs office, perhaps by adding a general officer as a chief of field [Page 479] operations and top-flight assistants for economic warfare, Chieu Hoi, manpower, revolutionary development (in the restricted sense), and possibly RF and PF. Given this organization, Porter should be able to work closely with the Ministry of Revolutionary Development and cover the key civil/military components of pacification.
The Economic and Logistic Front. Here we are doing much better. Kyʼs bold devaluation plus McNamaraʼs piaster budget should between them keep about 30 billion piasters out of circulation during FY 1967, thus effectively braking inflation. Devaluation led to some short term price rises of 10–25% except for rice (which we got the GVN to subsidize)—but prices should drop back after a few months unless we undermine the devaluation by too many offsetting wage increases. This would also nullify the special wage increase allowed the GVN and ARVN, the chief victims of inflation. So I pressed the Mission not to yield too much to the RMK strikers—lest we trigger a further chain of wage demands.
MACV port takeover should take place shortly. Westy, Lodge and I found Ky quite willing. Everyone (AID included) agrees that takeover is the right thing, even though Mann claimed that waiting time on commercial ships was down to two days. I gave Westy the green light to proceed as fast as feasible (he confessed that after I mentioned the likely need on my last trip, he laid on contingency planning long before formal instruction was received). The GVN also insists that goods are moving out of the port much faster under the new 10-day rule (and the spur of devaluation). Next, we are proceeding to bring AID cargo under the military shipping scheduling and priority system, which will help ensure a smoother flow of goods into the ports.
I stressed to Westy the McNamara/Komer “most efficient operator” and “single manager” concepts for meeting civil sector needs. If the military are already doing similar things and can take care of the civil side as well by a marginal increase in already well-established military logistic programs, letʼs do so. It saves money and increases efficiency. Weʼre setting this up right now on medical logistics. (Westy would like to go further and integrate the whole civil/military medical effort under General Humphreys, but the latter is opposed.) My problem here is not Westy, who agrees, but the reluctant civil side. Both will cooperate in the BOB logistics study Iʼve laid on with DOD. My next target for possible integration is in-country lift.
Meanwhile, AID is seeking to strengthen its Vietnam team and to increase the efficiency of our economic aid program. Weʼve made real progress toward agreement on streamlining the Commercial Import Program via consolidated procurement, bulk purchasing, and opening up the Saigon import community to insure healthy competitiion. I personally prodded Minister Thanh on this front, and believe I made some progress. AID is also [Page 480] sending a dozen more top people to Saigon. Wehrleʼs agreement to extend six months is another boon. I hit the AID people hard on stepping up our agricultural programs, and getting more help from Orville Freeman.
Lagging rice collection from the Delta remains a critical problem. Collections are up a bit from the nine-year low of the last four months, but weʼre still estimating less than 300,000 tons this year (compared to 700,000 tons in 1963). A lot of this rice seems to be going to Cambodia, and then partly to the VC. So I taxed everyone from Ky and Thanh to Lodge and Westy on the importance of an integrated civil/military rice strategy. “Rice is as important as bullets” was my theme. I even invested a lunch with General Quang at IV Corps in pressing him on rice.
Porter will join me in pressing for more effective rice control measures, before the next harvest begins around the turn of the year. Heʼs plugging the concept of a canal barrier along the Cambodia/Delta border, but MACV claims it will take too long to build, require too many engineer resources, and tie down too many troops. However, Westyʼs plan to put one or two US brigades in the IV Corps region will help a good deal. We will also press more effective resource control measures (the 750 police checkpoints are largely farcical). Next, Iʼm seeking ways to use over 400,000 tons of US aid rice as leverage to force the GVN to subsidize rice purchases and then subsidize rice sales (weʼll foot the bill through piaster counterpart). Lastly, we must open up the Delta transport routes and get more barges. We are still neglecting the Delta.
Economic Warfare. Aside from the rice problem, the broader field of economic warfare requires increased attention. For years we have urged that a widespread resource control program be enforced. Except for some police check points (mostly statically positioned on major roads and simply bypassed by the VC), few effective resource control measures are being carried out. Yet thousands of military outposts exist on roads and canals. Ergo, use these outposts as resource control points and employ the many daily PF/RF patrols and ambushes as part of a system of mobile resource control check points. Ample laws exist giving military forces emergency police powers. However, the GVN has an aversion to using military forces for checking supplies and people moving throughout the country. It must be changed.
The extensive bombing of VC base areas, military search and destroy operations against the bases, and crop destruction are effective economic warfare measures. But unsupported by other necessary measures, these military activities alone will not result in economic strangulation of the enemy. It should also be possible to undertake both active and passive measures against the widespread and productive VC efforts to tax merchants, truckers, barge operators and the peasants.[Page 481]
Manpower. The most critical commodity in South Vietnam is manpower, particularly skilled manpower. Since some drastic control measures are needed, I took Assistant Secretary of Labor Leo Werts and Dr. Kidd from Dr. Hornigʼs office with me to look into the situation. They are doing a great job, and have outlined the dimensions for its solution. A carefully worked out manpower budget will be necessary before we can lift the temporary manpower ceilings that have been imposed. I should have a preliminary report on the manpower team findings within a month.
Briefing the Saigon Press Corps. Both Lodge and Porter have responded handsomely to your injunction that they devote more attention to the US press people. I followed up hard on this. It will take continued urging, so I will regard it as an ongoing chore. Lodge still complains about his Mission giving daily press briefings (i.e., only the Ambassador should speak), but he canʼt cover 350 pressmen by himself.
The above is a mixed bag of large and small thoughts and actions. But I increasingly see the civil side problem as less one of discovering any single new key to success than one of much better management and stepped up activity on many fronts. At the least I can say that we are moving more rapidly in this direction, and I am reasonably confident that we can move faster yet.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, vol. LVI. Secret.↩
- Document 155.↩