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MACV intelligence officers had sporadically produced reports on the enemy order of battle—what units and organizations, with how many personnel , the Communists had in South Vietnam—since 1962. But this had not been a priority; MACV did not care much about having accurate, upto -date estimates of total enemy strength. General Harkins had actively blocked efforts to update the order of battle because he wanted to keep the overall figure for enemy strength low. General William Westmoreland replaced Harkins as commander of MACV in June 1964. Within a month, a new order of battle was issued, showing significantly more enemy forces than had been shown under Harkins. Ambassador Maxwell Taylor told Washington that the increased figures represented not a recent expansion in enemy forces but acceptance into the order of battle of enemy units the bulk of which had been “suspected for two or three years.” All the battalions that had been added to the order of battle had actually existed, as Communist units, at least since September 1963.1 There was still no effort to keep the estimates continuously updated; the July 1964 estimate seems not to have been significantly revised until January 1965. This lack of attention was seriously problematic, since the Ninth Plenum of the Lao Dong Party Central Committee, in December 1963, had initiated a major expansion of the Communist forces in South Vietnam. MACV’s July estimate, omitting the new Viet Cong battalions that had in fact been created in the first half of 1964, would already have been badly outdated on the day it was issued. The low priority the US military gave to order of battle intelligence meant that there were not enough officers assigned to the work to ensure chapter two 2 THE ORDER OF BATTLE that enemy units newly created, or newly infiltrated from North Vietnam, would promptly be added to the American estimates. The gaps could to some extent be filled in by borrowing information from RVN estimates of enemy strength, but the Americans did not even take the trouble always to make sure they had the latest RVN estimates. The American estimates therefore lagged well behind the actual growth of Communist forces. When the US combat role in South Vietnam began expanding rapidly in 1965, MACV did not have an intelligence organization adequate to support such a war effort, and not much had been done in the way of planning for its creation. Brigadier General Joseph A. McChristian became MACV’s chief of intelligence (assistant chief of staff for intelligence, J-2) in July 1965. He presided over a dramatic expansion of MACV’s intelligence organizations and capabilities. The highest priority was tactical intelligence, the type of information that would tell US combat commanders exactly where enemy units currently were and what they were planning to do in the near future. MACV intelligence quickly became better at this than most people understand. A common stereotype perceives American forces as wandering through the jungles of Vietnam and either failing to find the enemy, stumbling across the enemy by accident, or being ambushed. But more often than many of the combat troops realized, they were sent where they were sent for a reason. US intelligence was often able to learn, especially from signals intelligence (SIGINT—interception and analysis of enemy communications ), where the Communists were gathering forces for a major offensive operation.2 General Westmoreland’s preferred response was to launch a “spoiling attack,” going after the enemy forces before they could complete their preparations for their own attack. But it was extremely important to conceal American SIGINT capabilities. It would have been grossly irresponsible for General Westmoreland to reveal to his troops the extent to which American operational plans were based on knowledge of enemy plans. McChristian was also determined to have his officers compile a comprehensive and regularly updated order of battle showing the strength of all the enemy forces in South Vietnam, not just the units whose exact locations happened to be known at a particular date. The Order of Battle (OB) Branch of the Combined Intelligence Center, Vietnam (CICV), established in the second half of 1965, was able to compile far more data, 20 CHAPTER TWO THE ORDER OF BATTLE 21 and had far more analysts to look at the data, than any such organization under MACV had ever had before. The Americans chose the name “Combined Intelligence Center, Vietnam” because they intended eventually to make it a joint American...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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