339. Telegram From the Commander, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Westmoreland) to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)1

MAC 10822. 1. The past several weeks have witnessed emergence within US civilian circles here, notably among senior State Department personnel, of allegations that the ills of revolutionary development may be laid at the feet of ARVN and MACV. According to the proponents of this theme, ARVN was organized improperly at the outset by its US military sponsors. The basic error is said to have been creation of a so-called conventional force instead of one tailored to excel in the counter-guerrilla role. The argument goes on to assert that the basic error, having been compounded over the years by short-sighted advisors, has produced today an ARVN that is powerless in terms of organization and attitude to cope with the security tasks incident to destruction of Communist infrastructure and guerrilla forces.

2. This body of opinion reflects a condemnation of the military, both Vietnamese and US. Particularly disturbing is the suggestion that MACV is delinquent in having failed to reorient and reeducate ARVN in the course of yesteryearʼs assistance programs. I do not rule out the possibility, [Page 931] let me add, that projects such as the Enke-Aspin study entitled, “Cost-Benefit Among Armed Forces in South Vietnam,”2 which dwells on the notion that ARVN may be “a poor buy,” are associated directly or indirectly with this proposition.

3. In an effort not only to set the record straight with respect to evolutionary development of ARVN, but to counter a potentially dangerous groundswell of misguided reasoning, I addressed the Mission Council meeting on 6 December. My presentation embraced the following approach:

A. As opposed to residing in organizational and doctrinal problems, real or imaginary, ARVNʼs structure and capabilities have been moulded by the necessity for its employment against major conventional enemy forces as well as against guerrillas. It will be remembered, in this regard, that as recently as the Spring of 1965, victories by enemy regulars produced a state of near defeat for the Republic. If ARVN had been organized as a lighter force, the results could have been disastrous.

B. Only through maturing of the US/Free World buildup has it been possible to contemplate major reemphasis on ARVN capabilities from operations against enemy regular formations to security tasks in support of revolutionary development.

C. Without a visible indigenous mobilization effort, expansion of US assistance to Vietnam would have been unacceptable politically during this decade. As the one viable organizational entity within the Republic, RVNAF provided the only feasible framework for mobilization of a major segment of RVN manpower. With the zenith of mobilization having been reached, emphasis can and is being shifted to improving the quality of the Vietnamese armed forces.

D. Irrespective of organizational patterns and assigned missions, the fundamental weakness within RVNAF continues to be inadequacy of leadership at all levels. Although various measures are being applied to overcome this problem, leadership deficiencies will continue for an extended period.3

4. Although I have tried to forestall widespread circulation of the unfounded and uninformed thesis discussed above, I would not be surprised to learn that it had reached Honolulu and Washington. On the premise that it has or will, you may wish to consider counter actions.

  1. Source: Center of Military History, Westmoreland Papers, COMUSMACV Message Files. Top Secret; Personal. Also sent to Admiral Sharp.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. In a December 23 memorandum to the President, Roche summarized the gist of a CIA study, “The South Vietnamese Army Today,” December 12, which, Roche said, called the ARVN poorly trained, understrength, short of experienced leaders, and at a serious disadvantage in firepower. Roche concluded: “If this is the case now, the disruption of ARVN into battalions and companies to pacify provinces could lead to complete disintegration of the ARVN order of battle.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, vol. LXII) The CIA study is ibid.