446. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Deparment of State1

14556. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my thirty-second weekly message:

A. General

The twenty-four hour Christmas stand-down brought momentary respite to this beleaguered country and, in major urban centers at least, there was a genuine holiday atmosphere despite the immediate prospect of renewed hostilities. Your visit to Cam Ranh on December 23rd was an encouragement to all of us; that you should have added many thousands of miles to your journey to come here and to speak [Page 1128] generous words of appreciation and support has been an inspiration to all of us who are engaged in this great task on the soil of Viet-Nam. And your working session with President Thieu and other free world leaders in Canberra served to reassure the Vietnamese of our commitment here.2 Public expressions of concern that we may be unilaterally changing our posture vis-à-vis the NLF have measurably diminished.
While your December 19 interview with three major television networks3 at first was interpreted in some local political circles as an indication of differences between ourselves and the GVN on the subject of NLF recognition, when President Thieu returned to Saigon on December 24, he reassured the press that there were no differences of view between us and the Vietnamese on this subject; Thieu emphasized that while the GVN would not recognize the NLF as an organization he reiterated his willingness to “listen” to anyone who wants to come in from the other side. Thieu added that the policy of Viet-Nam and its allies remains the same as elaborated in the 1966 Manila communiqué.
In my talk with President Thieu day before yesterday he expressed his pleasure at the opportunity to talk with you in Canberra and said that from his viewpoint he thought that the meetings had been very worthwhile. Having in mind the growing impression that the new GVN was not giving much public indication of progress, I stressed to him the need for action and leadership; that I sensed an air of expectancy among the people who were waiting and hoping that the new government would move ahead. I suggested to him that it might be timely for him to make some kind of public statement of government actions and intentions, follow up on his fine inaugural address and Prime Minister Loc’s summary of government plans and programs. I was happy to have him say that he was already working on a major address which he planned to make to a joint session of both houses when he would present the budget for the coming year. In it he would deal with the principal problems facing the nation and the government’s planned actions to meet them. Thieu mentioned that you had expressed particular interest in the GVN’s plans for land reform, raising of taxes, progress in pacification, and the development of the joint US/Japanese educational TV project. Thieu said that as he had told me previously the Minister of Agriculture was working on a comprehensive land reform program and that he expected to bring this up for consideration at the Council of Ministers’ meeting at which he will preside today. He repeated again that he was aware of the need to increase taxes but noted the inadvisability of such a move before the Tet holidays [Page 1129] in view of the upward pressure on prices generally during this period. He expressed confidence that the pacification program could be materially accelerated during the coming year.
As I mentioned in my last message4 I think that more progress is being made than appears on the surface in preparatory work in putting action programs in definitive form. But it is time to get these moving and on the road and let the people know that the government is prepared to act. Hopefully if Thieu keeps to his plan to address the joint session of the Assembly in the first week in January it will be the cue for moving ahead.
The Christmas stand-down lasted from 6 pm local time December 24 to 6 pm December 25. Seven free world combatants were killed and 45 wounded as a result of enemy action during the truce period. Of these casualties, 26 were U.S. (2 killed and 24 wounded). Enemy casualties were 33 killed.
It is difficult to make meaningful comparisons of this stand-down with previous ones on the basis of statistics, although there were more incidents and deaths this year in 24 hours than there were last year in 48 hours. As before, many incidents have been reported during the stand-down that might not have been reported during active hostilities. And a large percentage of incidents were reactions to patrol and reconnaissance activities on our part. There was no major military action during the 24 hour period nor were there any terrorist actions in Saigon. There were, however, a number of evidences of bad faith on the part of the enemy. The most flagrant of these were a mortar attack on the province capital of Bac Lieu and an attack on a CIDG camp in Phu Yen Province.

[Here follows discussion of military pursuit into Cambodia, Romney’s visit, and priority measures for the GVN.]

D. Pacification

20. Attack on infrastructure. The Prime Minister has finally signed the order setting up the GVN anti-infrastructure organization along the lines I mentioned three weeks ago.5 This is a long awaited breakthrough and we can now move into the operational phase of this top priority [Page 1130] program. Bob Komer has long made this a personal project and deserves full credit.6

[Here follows discussion of pacification planning, refugees, anti-corruption measures, planning for 1968, peace moves, and political and economic matters.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received at 10:32 a.m. This telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 269–276.
  2. See Document 442.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 441.
  4. Document 436.
  5. In telegram 12892 from Saigon, December 7, Bunker reported a “minor breakthrough” when on December 5 the GVN unveiled plans for a joint intelligence system to carry out the anti-VCI campaign. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S) Officially established on December 20, the program was termed Phuong Huong, which translated as “Phoenix.” Phuong Huong was based on the U.S. counterpart program termed ICEX, which brought together CIA, MACV, and AID efforts against the VC. ICEX was developed during 1967 in order to selectively target full-time VC cadres rather than round up entire suspected hamlet populations as the army was doing in the so-called “county fair” operations. A “counterpart relationship” with the GVN had been viewed as the best means of accelerating the program. Phuong Huong consolidated the anti-VC operations of the NP, the Police Special Branch, MSS, RF/PF, Chieu Hoi, PRUs, RD teams, Census Grievance Cadre, Self-Defense Forces, and the ARVN. (Memorandum from Leonhart to Rostow, November 8; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, I C (2))
  6. In a conversation with Bunker and Komer, Thieu mentioned that pacification would be run at the division instead of at the corps level and outlined plans for increasing ARVN responsibility for pacification, especially in III and IV CTZ. (Memorandum for the Record by Komer, December 30; Center for Military History, Dep CORDS/MACV Files, Komer GVN Liaison File: 1967) Komer also went to great efforts to ensure that Thieu would retain Thang despite the latter’s open criticism of the corruption and inefficiency of the newly-elected regime. (Telegram CAS 359 from Saigon, December 17; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, IE(1) Post Inaugural Political Activity) Thang eventually made good on his long-standing threat to resign from the RD Ministry in January 1968.