143. Memorandum for the 303 Committee1
- Expansion of the Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) Program
Originally called the Counter-Terror Team Program when it got underway in 1964 as part of the 12-point covert political action program developed under NSAM 328,2 the Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) Program has undergone an almost complete transformation since early 1966. From a program geared primarily to harassment of the Viet Cong in their own areas, it has been changed to one working almost exclusively on the collection of intelligence on, and capture of, key members of the Viet Cong infrastructure in the countryside. Its effectiveness in this new role is amply attested to by the amount of intelligence collected and Viet Cong captured and equally by the fact that the program is considered to be the single most effective instrument in the Mission’s joint attack on the Viet Cong infrastructure with the South Vietnamese. In consequence of this [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Ambassador Komer to expand the program from a present personnel strength of about 3,500 men to 6,000 by the end of FY-69. Ambassador Bunker and General Westmoreland have endorsed this expansion, as has Asst. Secretary of State William Bundy. The total cost for the Program for FY-68 and FY-69 will be $13.2 million.
The PRU Program is the latest evolution in the continuing [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] effort in Vietnam to exploit unconventional and paramilitary techniques in the war against the Viet Cong. The basic concept has always been to employ covert tactics for executive action missions by small teams using ambush, disguise, night operations and the whole gamut of classical techniques of this kind of warfare. In its earlier version this program was called the Counter-Terror program and the objective was to administer to the Viet Cong the same kind of medicine that they had been serving up to the Vietnamese Government and people. While the Counter-Terror Teams were effective in their role of harassing the Viet Cong in their home territory, there were certain drawbacks in the management [Page 420] and problems in the implementation [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] in 1966. These stemmed from the difficulty of keeping this rather sensational program from public scrutiny and from difficulties in controlling the 40 or so province chiefs through whom the program was implemented. In mid-1966, the name was changed to the PRU and the units retargeted to the specific and limited task of collecting intelligence on the Viet Cong secret power structure in the countryside by capture of members of this organization. In effect the mission became that of long range police patrol penetrating into areas from which ordinary police are barred to apprehend identified subversives participating in the conspiracy against the GVN. An indication of the effectiveness of this program is that, over the past year, 11,000 operations were conducted resulting in over 5,000 intelligence reports disseminated and the capture of 2,500 Viet Cong, in addition to 3,300 killed and 1,200 wounded. The PRU were thus responsible in one year for capturing or otherwise eliminating Viet Cong equaling roughly twice the number of men engaged in the program. Because of this record of effectiveness, Ambassador Komer has requested [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] increase the size of the program from about 3,000 to 6,000 men by the end of FY-69.
3. Factors Bearing on the Problem
- Origin of the Requirement—This requirement results from the need to augment the Saigon Mission’s capability to collect intelligence on, and capture, members of the Viet Cong infrastructure and is in specific response to Ambassador Komer’s request that the PRU program be increased to 6,000 men by the end of FY-69.
- Relationship to Previous 303 Committee Actions—On 26 July 1965, the Committee was given a briefing on [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] covert operations in Southeast Asia in which the Counter-Terror program was included as part of the overall Political Action Team program. Policy approval was given at that time subject to further discussions with the Bureau of the Budget concerning the supplemental appropriations for FY-66.
- Operational Objective—[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] objective is to enhance the Saigon Mission’s capability for collecting intelligence on the Viet Cong infrastructure.
- Proposal—[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] proposes to expand the existing PRU program from its present personnel strength of about 3,500 to 6,000 by the end of FY–69. This entails substantial construction costs for increasing the size of existing training facilities to accommodate this larger number of men, increased support costs for the additional men on duty, and the cost of re-equipping existing units with M–16 rifles, to keep pace with the increased firepower demonstrated by the Viet Cong during the Tet offensive.
- Risks—There are essentially no security risks in this operation. The adverse U.S. publicity and Congressional interest generated by the predecessor Counter-Terror program stemmed partly from the somewhat sinister ring of the name and from the absence of an overt and legitimate sponsor. The redirection and renaming of the program, coupled with the Vietnamese Joint General Staff directive which places the program logically within the Vietnamese military hierarchy, have transformed the program from a colorful and somewhat conspicuous effort into a low profile activity which appears merely to be another of the many American sponsored programs in Vietnam. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] sponsorship is known to some of the older newsmen in Saigon and anyone who is interested would have little difficulty in ferreting out this fact, but the modest size of the program, even if expanded to 6,000 men, appears inconsequential against the background of the massive American involvement in Vietnam.
- Timing of the Operation—Preparations for the expansion have been completed and can be undertaken immediately upon receipt of policy approval and the necessary supplemental funds.
- Department of State—This proposal has been approved by Assistant Secretary Bundy of the State Department.
- U.S. Mission and MACV—This proposal has been approved by Ambassador Bunker and by General Westmoreland.
- Host Country—This program has been coordinated with the Vietnamese Joint General Staff which has issued a directive providing ostensible sponsorship for the program.
Because of the demonstrated effectiveness of the PRU program against the VC infrastructure and its importance to the overall U.S. effort in Vietnam, it is recommended that the 303 Committee endorse the continuation and expansion of the program as outlined above. It should be understood that the continuation and expansion of this program as recommended will result in a total program cost for FY-68 and FY–69 of $13,227,000. [2–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]3
- Source: National Security Council, 303 Committee Files, Vietnam 1965–1968. Secret; Eyes Only. A handwritten note reads: “303 Committee approved on 10 April 1968.”↩
- NSAM No. 328, April 6, 1965; see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. II, Document 242.↩
- The minutes of the April 10 meeting of the 303 Committee, recorded in an April 11 memorandum for the record, read: “The expansion of the PRU Program in Vietnam was approved by the principals. Mr. Bohlen asked a number of questions concerning the extent of direct control [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. Mr. Rostow was interested in the coordination of PRU intelligence production with military interrogations.” (National Security Council, 303 Committee Files, Minutes, 1968)↩