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157. Memorandum for the 303 Committee1

SUBJECT

  • The Provincial Reconnaissance Unit Program in Vietnam

1. Introduction

The Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) Program was last presented to the 303 Committee for review and expansion on 10 April 1968.2 This paper is being submitted in response to the recent Presidential [Page 511]Directive requiring that all programs approved by the 303 Committee be reviewed annually.

A particularly significant element of this review will be to balance the results of the PRU program, and its anticipated effectiveness, against the potential for political embarrassment which it represents.

2. Summary

A.
The Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) Program in South Vietnam forms an investigative and paramilitary attack upon the covert communist apparatus in South Vietnam. PRU teams, currently totalling approximately 4,200 men, operate in 44 provinces of South Vietnam. PRU are based in their home areas and operate in teams of 15–20 men. They are presently advised and supported by 101 U.S. military advisors and seven CIA personnel. CIA funds the PRU and retains overall administrative control of the project for the U.S. Government.
B.
PRU teams act upon intelligence leads produced by Vietnamese and American units in the Phoenix/Phung Hoang program. They also have their own intelligence gathering capability. PRU teams conduct operations aimed specifically at capturing known members of the covert communist apparatus (Viet Cong infrastructure). PRU teams also become involved in fire fights with Viet Cong (VC) units. During FY 1969, PRU operations resulted in the capture of 12,140 cadre and guerrillas and the killing of 6,112.
C.
PRU teams are a significant part of the Phoenix/Phung Hoang program, which coordinates the overall American and South Vietnamese attack upon the covert communist apparatus. During August 1969, the Phoenix/Phung Hoang program in its entirety killed or captured 1,381 communist cadre. Of these, PRU units were responsible for killing or capturing 207. During the same month the Vietnamese Regional Forces, which totalled 253,600 men, killed or captured 428 communist cadre. These figures are believed to be typical of trends still in operation and attest to the comparative efficiency of the PRU operation.
D.
American officials, from Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker on down, have firmly suggested the PRU program and have cited it as the most effective method yet developed to strike directly at the covert communist apparatus which lies within many South Vietnamese villages. This program has been coordinated with Ambassador Bunker and MACV Commander, General Abrams, in Saigon. Both fully endorse the need for the program, although both also recognize the political risks involved in American support of a police paramilitary organization which strikes hard at a seemingly civilian target. The program is also closely coordinated with and supported by the Government of South Vietnam (GVN). Prime Minister Khiem and Colonel [Page 512]Hai, Director General of the National Police, are in favor of the program, which is now a part of the Directorate General of National Police under the Ministry of Interior.

[Omitted here is the Discussion section which reviews the history of the PRU program since its inception in April 1965, the tactics and methods of the PRU teams, funding arrangements, and the United States and GVN agreement in principle that the PRU would eventually be fully absorbed into South Vietnam's National Police Field Forces. Also omitted is an assessment of risks that states while the “emphasis” of the program was on capture of members of the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese infrastructure, “many PRU targets are killed” and the PRU have used “methods that are extreme by American standards.” The potential for adverse publicity was high. The assessment then described efforts undertaken to minimize U.S. identification with the program.]

5. Proposal

A.
It is proposed that CIA continue to provide financial support and operational guidance to the PRU program through FY 1971. Continuation of this support will have a two-fold purpose: first, to keep the PRU in being as a proven weapon against the covert communist apparatus, and second, to prepare the GVN for full assumption of responsibility for the PRU program by 1 July 1971.
B.
Factors favoring this proposal include the following:
1.
The present momentum and effectiveness of the PRU will be maintained at a time when the village-level communist apparatus appears to be losing both its effectiveness and appeal.
2.
Continued refinement and improvement can be made in targetting and directing the PRU against their target. The PRU are a critical element of the Phoenix/Phung Hoang program, and their weakening or removal would damage the overall effort.
3.
Vietnamization of PRU program can continue at an orderly pace, leading to absorption of the units by the GVN in a form judged most appropriate at the time.
4.
PRU production of tactical intelligence information would continue to be made available to other GVN intelligence and police units operating at the district or province levels. (In the year period ending 1 October 1969, the PRU produced almost 25,000 tactical intelligence reports on Viet Cong activities.)
5.
Continuation of U.S. support to the PRU would be interpreted by the GVN as a concrete indication of U.S. determination to proceed with the Vietnamization process on a planned and programmed basis.
C.
Factors weighing against this proposal include the following: [Page 513]
1.
Continued U.S. support of the PRU program risks adverse publicity either through an untoward incident, a press campaign to publicize its efforts or complaints from accommodation-minded South Vietnamese officials or politicians.3
2.
CIA will have to continue its support to a program which lies, at least in part, outside its usual intelligence mission.

6. Alternatives

A.
The first of these would be to terminate U.S. support to the PRU with the end of FY 1970. Factors favoring this proposal include the following:
1.
CIA would be relieved of the need to fund the PRU program for FY 1971.
2.
CIA and MACV would be relieved of the need to commit their personnel to a program involving paramilitary units.
3.
After 1 July 1970, the CIA and the U.S. could disclaim any direct responsibility for PRU operations which caused adverse public reactions.
4.
The Vietnamese National Police Field Forces (NPFF) would be augmented and strengthened by absorption of the PRU.
B.
Factors weighing against this proposal include the following:
1.
As of 1 July 1970, the PRU would cease to exist as an independent force committed to an attack on the covert communist apparatus. This would result in lowering both the intensity and effectiveness of the Phoenix/Phung Hoang program's attack.
2.
PRU tactical intelligence output would be curtailed.
3.
Cutting off support to PRU could be taken by the Vietnamese as an indication that Vietnamization of the war effort would be carried out in a precipitate manner by the U.S.
4.
Individual PRU members or teams might well resent the quick termination of U.S. support, and resist piecemeal integration into the NPFF. Adverse press play and political repercussions could result.
C.
A third course of action which can be considered is a complete turnover of the PRU program to General Abrams and MACV. This alternative has not been coordinated in Saigon, but might merit consideration if CIA support to the PRU is ruled out.

7. Costs

The PRU program is budgeted at [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] in FY 1970. The program has been reviewed by the BOB and budgeted at a level of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] for FY 1971.

8. Recommendation

It is recommended that the 303 Committee approve CIA's continued support to the PRU program through FY 1971.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Subject Files, Vietnam, 1969–1970. Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. On April 10, 1968, the 303 Committee endorsed the PRU program and approved the expansion of manpower to 6,000 men; see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. VI, Document 143.
  3. On December 15 Laird met with George A. Carver, Jr., the DCI's Special Assistant for Vietnamese Affairs. In a December 15 memorandum to Helms, Carver stated that Laird was anxious to remove all U.S. military personnel from the PRU program, as were Abrams and the JCS. Laird admitted that his concerns were “political,” and he wanted to avoid a flap over the PRU in which U.S. military personnel would be associated. Carver explained that recent steps had been taken to tighten controls over the program, curtail the operational involvement of U.S. military personnel, and shift the emphasis to intelligence collection from ambush or “elimination.” Carver argued that the sudden removal of U.S. military personnel, who were already in the process of being gradually reduced, would be a mistake and would jeopardize the program. Laird agreed to reconsider his view. (Central Intelligence Agency, Job 80–R01920R, Carver Files (SAVA–NIO), GAC Chrono, Sept–Dec 1969, #4)