White House shortly after President John F. Kennedy's inauguration in January 1961. Significantly, its arrival came at a time when the Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, was publicly pledging his country's support for "wars of national liberation."
The plan presented for the new president's consideration drew clear connections between the military and political aspects of the war in Vietnam. It included a conditional offer of U.S. support for a 20,000-man increase in the regular South Vietnamese military forces and a 32,000-man increase in the size of the Civil Guard. These military and paramilitary increases were to be dependent upon President Diem's agreement to effect major reforms in his military and political apparatus- measures which American officials in Saigon considered necessary for the success of any counter-insurgency effort.
President Kennedy approved the main provisions of the Counter-Insurgency Plan on 28 January 1961 and negotiations on the package opened with Diem two weeks later. But the talks soon deadlocked on the issue of political and military reforms. Meanwhile, with the discussions in Saigon dragging on inconclusively, the situation in the provinces continued to worsen. A National Intelligence Estimate released in March estimated that Viet Cong military strength had reached 10,000 men. Furthermore, the number of violent incidents reported in the country had risen to 650 per month. Even worse, it was estimated that 58 percent of South Vietnam was under some degree of Communist control.7
Convinced that the situation was becoming critical and fearing that it might soon become hopeless. President Kennedy approved a new program of military assistance to the Diem government on 29 April. Inspired in part by Kennedy's desire to increase Diem's confidence in the new U.S. administration, the 29 April program did not require concrete pledges of reform from the South Vietnamese. In its specifics, however, the new package was similar to the CIP. It contained provisions for supporting a 20,000 man increase in the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF)- a move which would raise the ceiling on the South Vietnamese regular forces from 150,000 to 170,000. Another provision approved the use of Military Assistance Program appropriations for the Civil Guard and Self Defense Corps and expanded the MAAG's responsibility to include training and equipping these forces. Under the 29 April plan, the paramilitary forces were to be transferred from Diem's Ministry of the Interior to his Ministry of Defense. In order to meet its increased advisory responsibilities, authorization was given to increase the size of the MAAG by 100 men to a strength of 785. This provision allowed the first enlargement of the group since the introduction of the Temporary Equipment Recovery Mission in 1956.*
General McGarr's advisory group began implementing President Kennedy's 29 April program during the summer of 1961. But the increases in the government's regular and paramilitary establishments and in the size of the MAAG failed to arrest the trend of warfare on South Vietnam's battlefields. The remainder of 1961 was characterized by increasingly aggressive guerrilla operations and the steady growth of Viet Cong military forces. In August, for example, the ARVN reported 41 major armed attacks on its units. The following month brought 450 Viet Cong-initiated incidents, including several involving multi-battalion forces of over 1,000 guerrillas. In mid-September, for example, an estimated 1,500 Viet Cong overran Phuoc Vin, the capital of Phuoc Thuan Province, and held the town for an entire day before escaping unmolested into the countryside.8
Equally alarming was the rapid rise in the Viet Cong's overall strength. Increasing numbers of Communist troops were now being infiltrated over recently opened trails through Laos. Curving southwestward out of the North Vietnamese panhandle, these infiltration routes enabled the. Communists to bypass the demilitarized zone which separated the two Vietnamese states and continue their southward movement down the length of Laos and into Cambodia. From sanctuaries within these countries the North Vietnamese could easily infiltrate into South Vietnam by using trails through the rugged mountains. Relying primarily on these routes, over 3,750 North Vietnamese infiltrators reportedly entered South Vietnam during 1961. Successful recruiting in the South served as another source of manpower for
*With the dissolution of TERM in the late 1950s, the International Control Commission had granted permission for the MAAG to maintain a strength of 685 men. When the logistics personnel departed Vietnam, new advisor billets were created within the MAAG's table of organization.
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