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  Page 46 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

Following the pacification of a few contiguous hamlets, the same process was to be repeated over and over, in an expanding pattern. In this manner Diem hoped to expand the GVN's control progressively outward from the initial secure hamlets over large areas of the countryside. Ultimately the GVN intended to construct nearly 11,000 such protected communities in several of the country's most critical rural areas.

A principal shortcoming of this method of pacification was that the success of the entire program within a specific area depended on the successful completion of virtually every developmental phase in every strategic hamlet. Should the Communist infrastructure remain intact in even one hamlet, that hamlet could precipitate the collapse of the entire campaign by contaminating the surrounding communities in a geometric progression.

Given this critical requirement that all phases be accomplished in a deliberate and orderly manner, it was unfortunate that Nhu initiated the program in an uncoordinated fashion. By the first of the year, months before the appropriate American and South Vietnamese agencies had been formed to guide the program, the construction of hamlets had begun on a scale which already suggested a nationwide campaign. Furthermore, the government failed to test the plan in a pilot project such as Thompson (as well as U.S. advisors) had recommended. Instead, it launched rather extensive campaigns simultaneously in several traditional Communist strongholds during the spring of 1962.

Nevertheless, once formally initiated, the Strategic Hamlet Program constituted the government's first real effort to implement a concerted counter-insurgency strategy on a national scale. Regardless of its weaknesses and its somewhat abortive start, the program would serve as the context within which the Diem government would wage its battle with the Viet Cong during 1962 and most of 1963. From this military standpoint, moreover, Diem's adoption of the Strategic Hamlet Program marked somewhat of a watershed in the evolution of ground strategy in the Vietnam war. Inherent in its selection was the decision to opt for a 'clear-and-hold' as opposed to a 'search-and-destroy' strategy. In accordance with the dictates of the pacification campaign, RVNAF ground forces would focus primarily during the next two years on operations to clear Communist military formations from the more densely populated rural areas.

The Creation of MACV and Marine Advisory Division

The American military build-up called for by the Washington decisions of December 1961 was well underway as the new year opened. Several U.S. units introduced in the closing weeks of 1961 had already begun operations by January. These included two U.S. Army transport helicopter companies and a composite U.S. Air Force detachment. Designated FARM GATE and composed initially of 151 officers and men, the Air Force detachment had a dual mission of training VNAF elements and conducting attack sorties in support of President Diem's forces. The arrival of another U.S. Air Force unit, a C-123 transport squadron, another Army helicopter company, and an Army communications organization, the 3d Radio Research Unit, just after the first of the year raised the number of American military personnel serving on permanent assignment in Vietnam to over 3,000. Assigned to the Army's radio unit, which immediately began operations from Pleiku in II Corps Tactical Zone, were 42 Marines from the 1st Composite Radio Company, FMF. Designated Sub-Unit #1, 1st Composite Radio Company, these were the first U.S. Marines to participate in the ongoing build-up.

Thus far, however, the U.S. troops arriving in Vietnam were for combat support rather than advisory type duty. At a meeting held in Honolulu in mid-January, Secretary of Defense McNamara ordered the ranking American military officials concerned with Vietnam to make substantial increases in the number of advisors serving with the Vietnamese armed forces. Less than a month after the Honolulu conference, a new U.S. command was created in Saigon to manage the expected influx of advisors and the intensified military assistance effort more efficiently. On 8 February, the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (USMACV or MACV) supplanted the MAAG as the senior American command in the Republic of Vietnam. Its commander. Army General Paul D. Harkins (ComUSMACV), assumed direct responsibility for all U.S. military policy, operations, and assistance to President Diem's

 

Page 46 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)