33. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Current Status of the Pacification Program

In view of Ambassador Bunker’s stated concern for the success of the Pacification program, as well as the enemy’s priority targeting of it, it seems appropriate to provide you an assessment of the current status of this program.

Results of the Pacification Program during the first six months of 1970 were spotty. National attention was diverted by other pressing political and economic problems, and by operations in Cambodia. Veteran grievances and student demonstrations continue to cause distraction. The necessity for a reinvigoration of the Pacification effort was acknowledged in a Presidential decree which ordered a Special Pacification Program for the second half of the year. The focus regained by this order resulted in greater attention to the overall effort and improved results during the second calendar quarter.

A principal objective of the 1970 Pacification plan is a consolidation of security at the village level. This is, in fact, occurring although perhaps concealed by its undramatic character. The nationwide overall Pacification rating using the Hamlet Evaluation System (HES) for population living in relatively secure areas (HES ABC) increased from 88% to 92.4% in spite of a regression in April. The April setback was due to a shift in communist tactics as they recognized the threat posed by the Pacification Program. The communists intensified terrorism throughout the country and succeeded in overrunning 29 Regional Forces, Popular Forces and Peoples Self-Defense Forces (PSDF) outposts during April and May. Nonetheless, the primary defense of over 2,000 hamlets is provided by the PSDF who, with few exceptions, have stood and fought in defense of their hamlets. Continued improvement in arming and training the PSDF is underway.

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Additional efforts at increasing the strength and quality of the National Police, especially at the local level, are included in plans for the second half of the calendar year. Neutralization of VC Infrastructure attained its numerical goals in June. However, it continues to be most successful mainly against the lower echelons, leaving the overall party organization viable. Recognition of the importance of the program is slowly being realized. Increased GVN interest and improved US selection and training of Phoenix advisors should contribute to improvement of this vital program.

Currently, five US, ten ARVN and one other Allied battalion are involved primarily in pacification support. In keeping with our current strategy the local security mission is increasingly being assumed by territorial forces. Although ARVN regular units will continue to be primarily oriented on the VC/NVA main force threat, as US redeployments proceed, ARVN units must increasingly assume the mission of backing up territorial forces. Stress is being placed on this aspect of Vietnamization.

Although the majority of goals for the first six months were not achieved, progress is being made in carrying out the eight basic Pacification Programs as is shown in the attached detailed assessment.2 Perhaps more important, President Thieu recognized in early 1970 the need for increased attention and effort at all GVN levels in order to accomplish the goals of the 1970 Pacification Program. Accordingly, a program of emphasis was initiated in May 1970 and a Special Pacification Campaign undertaken by Presidential decree on 1 July 1970. An accelerated target date of 31 October was assigned for achievement of most year end goals. The overall program is getting personal direction from President Thieu and subordinate Military Region Commanders and Province Chiefs. Weaknesses exist in social and economic areas of refugee care, veterans affairs, inflation, and student unrest and these are being addressed, although no quick solutions are foreseen.

Mel Laird
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 149, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, 1 September 1970. Confidential. Holdrige forwarded the memorandum to Kissinger under a September 10 covering memorandum, commenting that Laird considered “GVN strength and action to be more important factors than enemy efforts” and that “Viet Cong activity can cause a lot of fluctuation in the statistics over any given period.”
  2. Attached but not printed.