45. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

17480. 1. After a meeting of the Mission Council this morning, Feb 2, I took up the urgent question of what was needed in the way of action, primarily by the GVN but also by US, to overcome the psychological gains obviously made by the Viet Cong through their terrorist attacks on the population centers. We agreed that the primary thing needed was visible and effective leadership by the GVN, in order to restore confidence and deal with the urgent problems created by the recent events. We agreed that it would be useful to propose to President Thieu that a joint task force be formed, headed on the GVN side by Prime Minister Loc and on the US side by Ambassador Komer. This task force could address itself to the problems across the board, including not only the Saigon area but also the principal provincial centers affected by VC attacks.2

2. General Westmoreland and I met with President Thieu this afternoon just before he was to record his speech to the nation, which will be televised and broadcast this evening. Thieu reported that he had convened a sort of National Security Council this morning and had included the Presidents of the two houses of the Assembly. The demands of the immediate situation were discussed in some detail. Thieu said that the meeting agreed that it was necessary to maintain the martial law and the curfew for the present, at least until the most urgent security and other problems had been brought under control.3 Thieu went on to say that in order to assure that this state of martial law was kept within the Constitution, it was agreed that there should be a special joint session of the two houses at which these special measures could be endorsed. He thought this would take place as soon as the two houses could be reconvened. Thieu said he recognized that it was important to avoid the impression that a military regime was being reimposed, and this was why he had invited the Presidents of the two houses to be at the meeting and had asked them, in accordance with the Constitution, to call a special joint session. I agreed with Thieu that it was important [Page 103] that all of these measures be done within a constitutional framework and that there be no impression given that military rule was being reimposed.

3. I then told the President that we recognized that the events of the last few days, while representing a major military defeat for the VC, also brought with them a major psychological gain for the enemy. I said that we must deal with the immediate psychological problem in such a way as to avoid a pyrrhic victory and that I wished to offer whatever support and assistance we could give him and his government for these purposes. I added that if this matter were handled well, it could turn into a psychological victory for the GVN and its allies which could rally popular support and restore confidence. I concluded that the first and most important objective should be to get back to the pre-Tet situation so that the government and the population could resume work and security could be reestablished, with police and other security forces publicly evident. I added that rooting out the VC infrastructure in Saigon and the cities was an urgent part of this program and that mobilizing the population for all of these purposes was essential.

4. Following these comments I said that we had discussed these matters on our side and wanted to suggest for the President’s consideration the establishment of a joint US–GVN task force which could plan and order the execution of the necessary measures to get the situation back to normal as quickly as possible. I said that rapid and effective action, supported [possible omission] that the government was on top of the situation. I mentioned a number of urgent objectives which should be met, in addition to restoring security in the cities, such as opening roads and airports, and getting the economic life of the country underway speedily. I added that an active and imaginative psychological warfare campaign was a vital element in this process. I concluded by saying that we wished to assist in any way we could and offered to put the resources we had at the disposal of the government for these purposes. I then asked Westmoreland to outline more specifically some of the needs as he saw them.

5. Westmoreland pointed out that there was much destruction, not only in Saigon, but also in many provincial cities. He said the problems in these areas were serious but manageable and added that they were not very widespread in Saigon. Among the urgent needs are the restoration of proper health and sanitation services, caring for refugees, and the rebuilding of houses, schools, etc. Westmoreland recommended that a top-management group be set up, headed by the Prime Minister and Komer, and reporting to the President. He suggested that the President might want to consider delegating supervision to Vice President Ky. Westmoreland said that on the GVN side, the appropriate Ministries could be instructed by the Prime Minister and on the military side he [Page 104] and General Vien could work closely with Loc and Komer in providing what would be needed. He stressed that this would not be a new organization and would use existing individuals and organizations, but with an effective method for assigning specific tasks promptly from the top and keeping the President informed. Westmoreland concluded that we needed to put the best talents we have to work on both sides in order together to overcome the effects of the VC attacks. He added that there probably should be a separate Saigon task force under the over-all supervision of the Prime Minister and Komer.

6. Thieu said that he recognized there were many and varied problems to be solved, including the opening of main roads, cleaning out the VC, and restoring sanitation and other services. He agreed coordination was desirable and that this effort should be extended to the provinces as well. He suggested a joint meeting on February 3 to discuss these problems and to be briefed by the US side regarding their organizational and other suggestions.4 He thought that the proposed task force could then work out the necessary programs.

7. Comment: Although it is apparent that the GVN intends to continue the current state of martial law for a further period of time, I am encouraged to see that the President is very conscious of the need for doing this in a constitutional way and has included the principal representatives of the National Assembly in his deliberations. He also seemed generally responsive to our suggestions for dealing urgently and effectively with the vital problems to be met. We will make every effort to keep up this momentum and to overcome the many wild rumors and reports that are circulating, by restoring confidence in the government and demonstrating that we are working closely with them.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. On February 3 Komer became the designated adviser to Ky for Project Recovery, the name given to the GVN’s program to repair the losses suffered during Tet. For additional information, see the Project Recovery action memorandums in the U.S. Army Center for Military History, DepCORDS/MACV Files, Tet/Recovery: Project Recovery.
  3. Thieu declared martial law on January 31.
  4. Telegram 17607 from Saigon, February 3, reported on the joint U.S.-GVN task force, during which GVN officials stressed the necessity for a rapid restoration of order in Saigon. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)