Document 27. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State (1)

Saigon, June 5, 1965.

4074. The following is an estimate of the political-military situation in South Vietnam as of 5 June 1965, drafted by the mission Intelligence Committee and concurred in by Ambassador Taylor, Ambassador Johnson and General Westmoreland. Suggest it be passed eyes only to Secretary McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Admiral Raborn and Admiral Sharp.

Military Situation

After a two-month relative lull, evidently spent in regrouping, re-equipping and training, the Viet Cong have quickened the tempo of the fighting. Since early May, main force units have returned to the battlefield in increasing numbers, engaging in a number of attacks and ambushes with forces up to regimental size. While the months of March and April were relatively favorable for the government forces in terms of casualty and weapons loss ratios, the trend in May became less favorable as Viet Cong pressure mounted.

Captured documents indicate the Viet Cong have embarked on a new military campaign which will probably extend through the summer. Both Hanoi and Liberation Front broadcasts have heralded this new campaign as a demonstration of the Communists' will and determination to continue to press the war despite increased U.S. involvement in both North and South Vietnam. The apparent aims of this campaign are to alter the balance of military forces in favor of the Viet Cong by inflicting maximum attrition on the government forces, including specifically the piecemeal destruction of regular ARVN ground combat units where possible, and to extend Viet Cong control in rural areas by constricting GVN forces to the principal towns and cities. The pattern of Viet Cong operations to date indicates the campaign will be pressed vigorously in all military regions, the major attacks and ambushes will be accompanied by intensified, small-scale guerrilla activity, particularly sabotage and harassment of lines of communication, and that the Viet Cong intend to consolidate their rural gains through intensified subversion and political action. Increased terrorist attacks against U.S. personnel and installations in urban areas are also likely.

So far, the enemy has not employed his full capabilities in this campaign. Only two of the nine Viet Cong regiments have been heavily engaged (one in Phuoc Long and one in Quang Ngai), and probably only a similar proportion of their separate battalions has been committed. In most engagements, their main force units have displayed improved training and discipline, heavier firepower, and a willingness to take heavy losses if necessary to achieve their objectives. Their healthy respect for the effectiveness of U.S. and GVN tactical air support is reflected, however, in their reliance on ambush tactics instead of open assaults.

In pressing their campaign, the Viet Cong are capable of mounting regimental-size operations in all four ARVN Corps areas, and at least battalion-sized attacks in virtually any province. The larger attacks can be supported by a limited number of 70-mm or 75-mm artillery pieces. Known dispositions indicate major actions are likely in the near future in the Binh Duong-Phuoc Thanh-Phuoc Long area north of Saigon, in the Quang Ngai-Quang Tin area in central Vietnam, and in Kontum Province. Major attacks could occur also in other areas, since the Viet Cong have shown that they are capable of concentrating in regimental strength without giving significant warning.

While the Viet Cong remain numerically inferior in over-all strength, they can achieve temporary local superiority at times and places of their selection. Their ability to do this is facilitated by the commitment of a large portion of the RVNAF infantry-type battalions to relatively static missions, while the Viet Cong main force and local battalions are employed only in an offensive role. During periods of intensive activity, the Viet Cong thus enjoy the initiative in that they can choose the time, conditions, and place of engagement; significant contacts rarely occur, even when RVNAF units are engaged in aggressive operations, unless the Viet Cong elect to engage. By posing simultaneous or successive threats in widely separated areas, the Viet Cong have demonstrated an ability to offset [to] some extent ARVN's superior transportation resources.

Despite severe losses on occasion, Viet Cong forces have shown a remarkable recuperative ability. This has been facilitated by a systematic recruiting effort and an evidently effective replacement system, supplemented by the infiltration of northern draftees who have been integrated into Viet Cong units in the northern provinces. Access for recruiting purposes to the major portion of the population has enabled the Viet Cong not only to replace their losses but to continue to form new units. In addition to elements of the PAVN 325th Division already identified in the South, other units of this division and the PAVN 304th Division may already have entered or are stationed in the Laos border area. These elements represent a significant reinforcement capability for Viet Cong units in the I and II Corps areas.

Although GVN forces generally have responded well to the increased Viet Cong pressure, there have been several disturbing instances of poor performance in critical situations. Some units have broken under pressure and fled from the battlefield. These manifestations, coupled with the continuing high desertion rate in many units, reflect a generally marginal state of morale. The morale and confidence of the Officer Corps were buoyed up by the more direct involvement of U.S. forces since February. This improved spirit was enhanced by the period of relative inactivity of the Viet Cong main force units. The growing realization, however, that the increased U.S. commitment would not produce an immediate end to the war, together with ARVN's apparent inability to cope decisively as yet with the renewed Viet Cong offensive, apparently has caused morale to sag again. Unless the anticipated Viet Cong major attacks are effectively countered, morale will deteriorate further. Indeed, the cumulative psychological impact of a series of significant ARVN defeats could lead to a collapse in ARVN's will to continue to fight, despite the presence in South Vietnam of U.S. forces. To ward against the possibility of such a collapse, it will probably be necessary to commit US ground forces to action.

Conclusions:

1. The Communist leadership in Hanoi has not yet been shaken in its determination to continue the war. It apparently has elected to respond to the growing commitment of U.S. military resources in Vietnam by employing their principal weapon--the Viet Cong ground force reinforced by PAVN--in intensified operations in the South.

2. Having resumed major offensive actions in South Vietnam, the enemy is capable of continuing the recent pace of attacks and ambushes over the next several months, although there will probably be local cyclical fluctuations in the level activity. While the Viet Cong have suffered heavy losses, they have generally achieved their objectives in actions to date.

3. RVNAF general reserves have been barely adequate to deal with any one major thrust and are inadequate to counter simultaneous or successive thrusts in widely separated areas. Taking advantage of terrain and weather conditions, the Viet Cong appear likely to achieve further successes. To meet the shortage of ARVN reserves, it will probably be necessary to commit U.S. ground forces to action.

4. Further military reverses, coupled with the economic disruption caused by the harassment and blocking of lines of communication, will have a serious adverse impact on popular confidence and morale, exacerbating political instability in Saigon.

5. The political situation remains essentially unstable. Although the constitutional impasse appears to have been resolved, the Quat government continues to be faced with the difficult task of reaching an accommodation with strong opposition groups seeking its ouster and its life line is of uncertain length. The military and political situations are closely interrelated, and reverses in either area will have an adverse reaction in the other.

Taylor


Footnotes:

(1) Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret: Immediate; Nodis. No time of transmission is indicated on the source text, but it was received in the Department of State at 9:06 a.m. A copy of the telegram was passed to the White House, and McGeorge Bundy sent it to the President on June 5 with a covering note emphasizing the final two pages dealing with the military balance, which Bundy noted were "interesting, and also troubling." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Nodis, Vol. II (A))

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