NIE 53-63 PROSPECTS IN SOUTH VIETNAM

Created: 4/17/1963

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P PROVED FC* RELEASE'

DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Caoiuned In. by lhe

UNITED STATES INTELLIGENCEi Indicahtd erethaf3

The following intelligence organizations participated in 'he preparation,

The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence orgonicotiotiv of thc{ Di'part-; menK of State, Defense, the Army, thehe Air Fo.ce, ohd NSA;,

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elation* ifn'cillgcnrrl,i tBo<jer.ee >

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Director o[ Intelligence and Research,of State -rr Defense Intelligence Agency ,

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table of contents

Page

THE

I. NATURE OP THE

II. COMMUNIST

Mililary

Tactics and

Nonmilitary

SOUTH VIETNAMESE

General Approach and

Military Capabilities and

Politico-Military Programs and Their

AND

Current Military

Communist

The

PROSPECTS IN SOUTH VIETNAM

the problem

To assess the situation and prospects in South Vietnam, with special emphasis upon the military and political factors most likely to affect the counterinsurgency effort.

CONCLUSIONS

believe that Communist progress has been bluntedthe situation is improving. Strengthened Southand effectiveness, and particularly UScausing the Viet Cong increased difficulty, althoughas yet no persuasive indications that the Communistsgrievously hurt. )

believe the Communists will continue toarhoping for some break in the situation which willvictory. They evidently hopeombination ofand political deterioration will in time createeither foroup de gr&ce or for asettlement which will enable them to continue themore favorable terms. We believe it unlikely, especiallyof the open US commitment, that the Northwill either resort to overt military attack orNorth Vietnamese military units into thean effort touick victory. )

no great increase in external support to thechanges and improvements which have occurredpast year now indicate that the Vict Cong can beand that further progress can be made inarea of government control and in creating greaterthe countryside. However, we do not believe that it is pos-

sible at this time to project the future course of the war with any confidence. Decisive campaigns have yet to be fought and no quick and easy end to the war is in sight. Despite South Vietnamese progress, the situation remains fragile.

D. Developments during the last year or two also show some promise of resolving the political weaknesses, particularly that of insecurity in the countryside, upon which the insurgency has fed. However, the government's capacity to embark upon the broader measures required to translate military success into lasting political stability is questionable. )

discussion

The Communists have been struggling to win control ofever since tho Indo-Chinese Communist Party was organized ins. This struggle has passed through several stages,operations against the Japanese in the later years of World War IIajor war against the French. After the French withdrawal, the Communists were apparently confident that the South Vietnamese Government (GVN) would collapse, or that in any event, the nationwide elections called for in the Geneva Accords would soon deliver ail of Vietnam into their bands. Although guerrilla bands wore loft behind when the country was partitioned, ihe Communists did not engage in armed operations against the GVN, but attempted to undermine it by other means. Contrary toexpectations, however, the GVN, under President Ngo Dinh Diem, not only survived but developed sufficient strength, partlyonsequence of Western political and economic support, to enable it to ignore6 election deadline and to make appreciable progress.

These developments confronted the Vietnamese Communistsew situation. They had developed substantial ground forces in North Vietnam, but South Vietnam also, with US assistance, had substantially improved its military capabilities. Open invasion, therefore, could notalk-in, and in any case tho strong US commitment, not only to South Vietnam but to southeast Asiahole, madeourse an undesirable one. The Vietnamese Communists thereupon resumed guerrilla warfare combined with intensified terrorism, subversion, and enticement. They evidently concluded that, by winning converts and sympathizers in the countryside, by depriving the government ofcontrol, and by causing loss of morale and will witliin thecadres, they would pave the wayinal political victory. This campaign was sharply stepped up in

South Vietnam was and remains highly vulnerable to ruraland guerrilla warfare. Its people have no tradition of loyaltyovernment in Saigon. The Vietnamese peasant has alwayshimself to whatever force was best able to protect or to punishofferision, however illusory,etter life. The "government" meant the local officials with whom he was in contact, many of whom tended to be ineffective and often venal.forms of minor corruption and petty bureaucratic tyranny have long been rife In the provinces, and the offenders were seldom disciplined by their superiors. Most peasants are primarily interested in peace and do not care who wins the military victories. Security Ls significant lo the peasant largely In terms of how it affects him personally.

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oajor steps were taken by the Diem regime loiable South Vietnamese state. The government completed the resettlement of about one million refugees from North Vietnam, developed promising Civic Action and public informationin the countryside, extended governmental authority throughout most of the country, substantially improved internal security,governmental institutions more responsible and representative Lhan had existed before, and brought into tne bureaucracy annumber of young and capable civil and military7 Diem failed to expand this social, political, and economic base. Perhaps most important of all, the government failed toapability to protect the peasant and the villager. Partly on USthe Vietnamese Army had been organized, trained, and deployed primarilyefense against open attack from the north. It proved ill-qualified to protect the population against guerrilla attack and terrorism.

With Diem's consolidation of his personal control over theand the military establishment, he became Increasingly reluctant to delegate authority or lake other measures to improve the efficiency and morale of the military and civil services. Close operational conirol from Saigon not only generated serious discontent within all levels of the government but also inhibited the effectiveness of government actions, particularly in the countryside. The launchingull-scale Communist insurgency ininally led the Diem regime, partly out of necessity and partlyesult of tlie substantially increased US commitment to South Vietnam, to initiate broad measures to rectify these conditions.

The Communist effort in South Vietnam is essentially one ofsubversion in which extensive military activity presently plays the predominant role. The primary aim of the Communists is to secure the support of the ruralbuttressed, where possible, by positive loyalty. By various forms of military and terrorist action, thny endeavor to cow the recalcitrant, demonstrate that the government cannot protect ils adherents, andeneral atmosphere ofThey also endeavor to weaken the government's position in the countryside by assassinating its officials, defeating its forces,the morale of Its cadres and supporters and, generally, tarnishing its image in every way possible. They make extensive use of guerrilla base areas and safe havens which they seek to protect, although they seldom attempt to hold ground against appreciably superiorforces. In addition, lhe Communists are continually developing the capabilities of their "regular" units, with tho apparent hope of ultimately becoming able to engage government troops in at least quasi-conventional combat.

counter the impact of increased US assistance, thegearingong struggle and have reorganized theirpolitical apparatus accordingly. They claim to be fighting inof the "National Front for the Liberation of Southlatehis organization currently has littlein Vietnam, isront for the Communists, and itsarc political nonentities. It is designed to provideovernmental apparatus, if and when more significantmade in the current struggle, and to serve meanwhile as aseeking international neutralist support.

ii. communist capabilities

Hanoi directs the Communist campaign against the GVN, although it permits the Viet Cong commanders considerable tactical discretion. The Sino-Soviet quarrel apparently has not affected the Communist war effort. North Vietnam Is being courted by both sides, but there Is no evidence that either Moscow or Peiping has offered toubstantial intensification of the Vict Cong effort or that Hanoi has sought greatly increased aid from either. In pursuing their interests in southeast Asia and maintaining their independence, the Northprobably feel that they need the support of both Moscow and Peiping, and will probably continue therefore to attempt to avoidlo either side.

Military Strength, We estimate that there are nowull-time Viet Cong military personnel organized into identifiable units of up to battalionubstantial portion of these forces is well trained, well disciplined, and well led. Their armament consists of light infantry weapons, machine guns, bazookas, mortars,nnn recoilless rifles. Viet Cong forces are not known to have artillery or antiaircraft artillery weapons, though in recent months they have become quite adept at using small arms and machine guns against South Vietnamese and US aircraft.

Cong regular units are supplementedarge pool ofsemitrained local guerrillas and militia wholie guerrillas and militia sometimes are usedunitsirst or shock wave of an attack in theirother times, operating under local district committeeare employed for terrorism, armed propaganda, and smallThe militia are charged with protecting Viet Cong areasunits are absent. Both militia and guerrillas constitute aand replacement pool for the regular forces. The bulk of theregular troops consists of locally recruited or impressedpeasants promoted as needed to regular units on thetheir previous experience and performance in militia and localgroups.

Logistics. For weapons, ammunition, and related supplies, the Viet Cong forces rely primarily upon capture from government forces. Some stocks were left behind when the Communistsome arms are brought in by infiltrators, and some are fabricated by the Viet Cong themselves. They also rely upon indigenous sources for food, shelter, and other nonmilitary supplies. Supplies are frequently purchased, although they are seized if necessary. In areas where the Vict Cong have established firm control, they operateovernment, levying taxes and providing some services. Since most of the cadres sent from North Vietnam arc of southern origin and arc normally returned to their own provinces, they are able to draw local support for the Viet Cong effort.

The limited evidence available indicates that some equipment, such as rccoilless rifles, mortar fuses, and medical supplies, together with selected cadres, have for some time been infiltrated from the north. As the scale of Vict Cong operations has increased over the last two years, the amount of materiel and numbers of personnel brought in from North Vietnam have probably also increased. While the basic guerrilla effort could continue without outside support, this support probably has been essential to the higher levels of effort which have been achieved in the last year or so.

Men and materiel are evidently being infiltrated through Laos, andesser extent through Cambodia and by sea. The Laotianwhich is controlled by Communist forces, is an important military asset. Due to the nature of the terrain, however, the Vietnamesecould almost certainly continue to make some use of the area even if it were not under Communist control. Use of the corridor would probably significantly increase if the Viet Cong decided tostep up the level of military activity.

Tactics and Effectiveness. The Viet Cong have provedormidable enemy and an effective guerrilla force. Despite some sct-backs, they have generally proved adept at the classic tactics of surprise, constant movement, concentration for attack, withdrawal and dispersaL They have also demonstrated flexibility in modifying their tactics to counter new South Vietnamese operational concepts. They have shown themselves capable of company, and even battalion, size attacks and of carrying out strikes against widely dispersed targets at about the same time. One important factor in their success is their effective intelligence system. Informants and sympathizers exist throughout the countryside, and the Viet Cong evidently have been able to maintain intelligence coverage of virtually every level in the South Vietnamese military and civil establishment. This has enabled them to avoid some government counteractions and effectively to combat others.

onmilitary Capabilities. The- Viet Cong possess two important capabilities which they have not yet fullyin the cities and hurassmcnt of economic life. Although the Viet Cong almost certainly have many adherents in urban areas, their terrorist activities have been few and generally unsuccessful. Commercial road and water transport continues to function, andprinripal earner of foreignlo be produced and moved to market. One reason Uie Viet Cong have not attempted to interdict theseis that they receive considerable revenue from "taxation" of rubber plantations and transport facilities. Another and perhaps morereason is that the Viet Cong probably have felt that fullof these capabilities would hinder rather than help them attain their objective of winning populur aupport.

iii. the south vietnamese response

General Approach and Strategy. Tlie initial South Vietnamese response to the intensified guerrilla activity in the countryside reflectedense of urgency nor an understanding of the nature of the challenge. Thereendency to regard the strengthened insurgency simplyhreat created and sustained from the outside; thereeneral failure to appreciate the Internal support which the Insurgency generated or the grievances and basic conditions upon which it fed. Jt was regarded asilitary problem to be dealt with by military means. These views have become modifiedonsequence of the progiess of events andonsequence of US effort to convince the regime to regard the conflict in broader perspective. During the past yearalf, the government has begun to sec the conflict as an internal one requiring socio-political as well as military measures and to view the rniiitary problem as one requiring greater llexlbility in deployment and tactics. Government recognition of these factors has resulted in the development, with US assistance,omprehensive counterinsurgency strategy.

Military Capabilities and Weaknesses. The South Vietnamese regular military establishment consists ofen, of whomre army. The paramilitary services, consisting of the Civil Guard of0 menelf Defense Corps of0 men, are responsible for internal security as well as counter-guerrilla operations. Supplementing these are0 men in Citizens' Irregular Defense Groups, whichide variety of units, some of which serve part-time.

IB. During the past year, force levels have been substantiallyThe various military and paramilitary forces have beenand rc-cqu)pped and their tactical mobility improved,through US helicopter and transport aircraft.esult of this Improvement in tactical mobility, the South Vietnamese forces

are now able lo strike more quickly and in greater Strength than ever before. The establishment of Citizens' Irregular Defense Groups isaramilitary capability in certain areas not now reached by regular forces. This program lias also introduced the government's presence into many hitherto remote areas and enlisted the activeof minority groups. Appreciable progress has also been made in securing the support of ethnic minorities (Montagnards) in the Central Highlands, long courted by the Viet Cong, though traditional sentiments of reciprocal suspicion and disdain between the Vietnamese and the Montagnards still liampcr this effort.

In recenl months, offensive operations have been stepped upthe Vict Cong have been engaged In small-unit actions and caught in ambushes, and efforts have been made to destroy Viet Cong forces rather than lo drive them away and allow them to disperse. Night operations and patrolling are increasing. Recent reorganization of the nrmy command structure, together with retraining of armyIs bringing about greater participation by the regularIn the counterguerrilla eflort and more effective coordination with the paramilitary services.S-tralncdare now conducting armed patrols designed to provide Intelligence and, to some extent, to interdict Vict Cong access routes from Laos.

umber of factors still prevent the Southmilitary and security forces from realizing their full potential. The army still makes extensive use of conventional tactics againstforces. The Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps haveajor share of the fighting and have suffered heavy casualties.the quality of intelligence is improving, there isack of reliable and timely combat intelligence at tlie provincial andlevel and of political intelligence on the Communist apparatus. Also, available combat Intelligence is often not exploited operationally. These shortcomings, together with Viet Cong IntelligenceIncludingthe South Vietnamese establishment, reduce tlie effectiveness of counteraction.

A shortage of experienced and aggressive leaders, especially at the company grade and noncommissioned officer level. Is one of the GVN's must serious weaknesses. This in part reflects the problem ofonventional force to the requirements of counterinsurgency and simultaneously expanding the size of this force. In part it alsopolitical factors. For example, promotions tend to be based upon presumed loyalty to Diem rather than upon professional competence. Senior commanders frequently feci hampered by the fact that some of their subordinates are directly controlled by or have direct access to the Presidency. US support and presence and some increasedon the part of the Presidency to allow professional officers greater freedom have tended to improve officer morale and to Increase

military Initiative in the field. Some officers, however, still question Diem's ability to lead the country to victory, und reports of mllltury coup plotting persist. Morale among the enlisted ranks is harder to determine and varies from unit to unit, but desertions and AWOLs stillerious drain on manpower.

The political impact of government military operations hasbeen diminished by mistakes mid offenses committed byforces. Although such incidents are difficult to prevent. South Vietnamese leaders generally recognize this problem and are trying to correct It

Politico-MHttary Programs and Their Eflccttveness. In concert with its military endeavors, the GVN is engagedumber of social, economic, and political programs. Especially Important are twopolitico-military programs: clear-and-hold operations and the strategic hamlets. Both of these programs are designed to provide the peasantry with protection from Viet Cong depredations and.to deny the Vict Cong continued access toasantry. Clear-and-hold operations are integrated pacification projects in which priority areas arc cleared by military force; political control is then consolidated by building strategic hamlets and sending in Civic Action teams to set up governmental services and help the villagers helpThe strategic hamlet program involves grouping the peasant population hi fortified, defensible settlements and undertaking various measures within these settlements to weed out Viet Cong sympathizers. Improve the villager's lot, enhance the government's image, and give the peasant grounds for identifying himself with the government's fight against the Viet Cong. The Cltixens' Irregular Defense effortelated program also designed to separate the populace from the Vict Cong. Ils armed groups, for example, are designed to penetrate Insecure areas and establish enclaves of security; these, hi turn, are to beand eventually linked with areas where strategic hamlets are already established.

he strategic hamlet program Is an undertaking of majorIt has enlarged the area under effective government conirol. and there are many indications that the Communists considerhreat of considerable magnitude. If effectively implemented it can strike at Lhe roots of Viet Cong strength. Most South Vietnamese leaders regard the programey clement in the counlerinsurgency eflort. Some ofNgo Dinhregardajor step in the social reconstruction of rural Vietnam andeans of consolidating their political control over it.

he government claims to have completed morehamlets and to havethers under construction. The "completed" hamlets vary widely in the quality of their physical defenses

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and the ellecUvcness of their political programs. The most successful have been ones set up In areas where Integrated and systematichas been undertaken; however, in many Instances, hamlets hare been set up without the necessary basis for their continuing defense having been established. Administrative deficiencies have alsotho execution of the program: excessive exactions have frequently been levied on local resources, peasants have often not beenfor materials or labor furnished, and officials have tended to show more Interest in controlling the hamlet population than InIts living conditions.

of clear-and-hold operations conductedewyear were encouraging, and plans for similar operations haveup for all provinces. However, there Is evidence that theIs becoming impatient with the time and effort suchdemand. Diem Is apparently coming to feel that hishave improved to the point where they may now beeap-frog" military strikes against the Viet Congthe country without worrying about the political consolidationmilitary gains.

IV. progress AND prospects

Current Military Situation, Although there is no satisfactory objective means or determining how the war Is going, wc believeall factorsprogress has been blunted and the situation is Improving. Strengthened South Vietnamese capabilities and effectiveness, and particularly US involvement, are causing the Viet Cong increased difficulty. There are some Indications that the Viet Cong are suffering from local shortages of suppliesecline in morale. There have been few desertions by Viet Cong regularbut there has been some increase In desertions from the Viet Cong militia and guerrilla forces. Although statistics of casualties and figures on the numbers of villages under government control are not very reliable or very helpfulreater degree of security in the countryside has apparently been achieved and the government's control of Important population areas has expanded somewhat during the past several months.

There are as yet no persuasive indications, however, that the Vict Cong have been grievously hurt. They continue to operate in most sections of South Vietnam, and much of the countryside remains in their hands. Although the number of Vict Cong incidents andis2 levels, this number has Increased in the past few weeks. Government military capabilities have increased markedlythe past year, but so have those of the Vict Cong.

Communist Intentions. The magnitude of the US commitment and the increasing effectiveness of the South Vietnameseeffort are almost certainly causing Hanoi and its Viet Cong subordinates increasing concern. Although we believe that thehave In no way relaxed their determination to win control of South Vietnam, tlicy must realize that their taak ia becomingdifficult, and they may be reappraising their general policy. We believe it unlikely, especially in view of the open US commitment, that the North Vietnamese regime will either resort to overt military attack or introduce acknowledged North Vietnamese military units into the south In an effort touick victory.

For the present, at least, we believe that the Communists will continue Uiar of attrition, hoping for some break in the situation which will lead to victory. They must be aware, for example, of the disaffection engendered by the political methods of the regime, and Ihey are probably also aware of the dissatisfaction among many Americans over the policies and practices of the OVN. They probably hope for political deterioration which will make their task easier, or that the US will tire of costly and frustrating guerrilla warfare and accept some facesovlng way out. At some point the Communists mighterious effort to convene an international conference tothe neutralization of South Vietnam.

Any non-Communist coup effort would probably be regarded as providing an opportunity for exploitation. We believe that at present the Communists have neither the capability themselves to lead acoup d'etat nor the ties with the non-Communist opposition which would enable them to participateoup led byNevertheless, they might be able in an unstable situationfromuccessful or unsuccessful coup to gain somestrategic position. In any event, the Communists evidently hopeombination of military pressure and political deterioration will in time create favorable circumstances either foroup de grdce orolitical settlement, say on the mixlcl of Laos, which would enable them to continue the struggle on more favorable terms.

The Outlook. Whether the Communists arc correct In theirwill, of course, depend in some measure upon the extent and nature of US involvement, but primarily upon the South Vietnamese response to the developing situation. We do not believe that it isat this time to project the future course of the war with any confidence. Despite GVN progress, the situation remainseries of major Vict Cong successes, should they occur, mighthattering psychological effect. Nevertheless, the heavy USand close working relationships between US and Vietnamesehave fundamentally altered the outlook. Changes andhave occurred during the past year which lor the first time

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indicate that the Viet Cong can be contained militarily and thatprogress can be made In expanding the area of government control and in creating greater security in the countryside. However, some areas of Viet Cong control, such as the Mekong delta, will be very difficult to pacify, decisive campaigns have yet to be fought, and no quick and easy end to the war is in sight.

Developments in the last year or two have also gone somoinasis for winning over the peasantry and in improving the efficiency of the military establishment and the civilian bureaucracy. It can, of course, be argued thatighly centralized regime, single-mindcdly dedicated to independence, andeavy emphasis on personal loyalty can cope with the problems of guerrilla warfare. However, we believereater willingness on the part of tho regime to enlist the active support of those who have becomeor discouraged in the face of Diem's techniques of government would considerably speed the reduction of the Viet Cong insurgency.

Substantial reduction of Viet Cong military power, however, would probably intensify rather than reduce the need for changes In the philosophy and practice of the Diem regime, if revived insurgency were to be precluded and military victory translated into politicalThe achievement of physical security in the countryside would in Itselfajor political requirement In convincing the peasants of the government's ability to protect them. But the government must be both willing and able to expand its efforts to bring social, political, and economic improvements to the countryside if the peasant is totake in the survival of the government and to be fortified against Communist blandishments. Effective action in this and other fields, particularly with the removalubstantial US presence at all levels of the government, would almost certainlyiderIn the development and implementation of policy and areduction in the tight, personal control of the bureaucracy.

On the basis of its past performance, the ability of the Diem regime to move willingly and effectively In these directions isand may become even more so should military victory come within sight. With the removal of the inhibiting effects of an immediate and overwhelming military danger, political stability would be greatly threatened if disappointment with the regime's performance mounted among important sectors of the population and the conviction deepened that legal avenues to change remained blocked.

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