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Civilian Irregular Defense Group

Army documents refer to control by "CAS Saigon", a cover name for the CIA station, CAS usually meaning "controlled American source". CAS Saigon originally began the CIDG Program in December 1961 as a covert operation to win over and train Montagnards and other isolated ethnic minority groups into an anti-Viet Cong irregular, paramilitary force. The Civilian Irregular Defense Group had among other missions that of collecting intelligence in the highlands of central South Vietnam and in Laos, where tribal affiliations were used extensively to further clandestine activities. The program also had a civic action aspect, and CAS provided medical treatment, medicines, seeds, clothing, and other social welfare goods to win over the ethnic groups. After the U.S. Army assumed control over the overt activities of the CIDG Program, the medical phase of civic action evolved into the Special Forces Village Defense Medical Program.

The CIDG Program rapidly grew to include overt activities and embraced other paramilitary groups such as the republican youth, Catholic youth, hamlet militia, strike forces, mountain commandos, trail-watchers, fighting fathers, and force populaire. Most of these organizations served mainly to relieve the South Vietnam armed forces, the Civil Guard, and the Self-Defense Corps troops from static defense missions. Therefore, the nature of their activities were in the main defensive; but such groups as the strike forces, mountain commandos, and trail-watchers aggressively sought out the Viet Cong. The strike forces and mountain commandos operated against existing enemy units, while the trail-watchers tried to prevent infiltration into South Vietnam. When infiltrating forces were too large for a trail-watcher group to handle, it reported the presence of the enemy to the nearest Vietnamese Army corps headquarters.

The U.S. Army Special Forces overtly entered into the CIDG Program on 1 February 1962 when sixteen Special Forces troops began assisting CAS Saigon in training selected Vietnamese in special warfare activities. By the end of April 1962, seventy-five Special Forces men were providing CAS with assistance in training, advising, and supporting the various activities of the program.

By April 1962 it was becoming evident that the expanding CIDG Program was straining the capabilities of CAS Saigon, and the commander of Military Assistance Command in Vietnam recommended that direct U.S. military support be made available. In mid-July the Secretary of Defense agreed and launched Operation SWITCHBACK, the code name for MACV's assumption of the covert aspect of the CIDG Program. During the transitional period CAS Saigon continued supporting the entire program; after the takeover CAS was responsible for only the covert aspects of the effort, and the Army continued to provide CAS with Special Forces type training assistance when requested.

Military Assistance Command had operational control over the overt aspects of the program throughout the transitional period. After 1 July 1963 the bulk of the Special Forces effort together with the CIDG Program fell under complete MACV control. By October 1963 this group amounted to 16,084 strike force members, 40,765 hamlet militiamen, 4,912 mountain scouts, and 3,256 border surveillance personnel.

At the beginning of 1966 only 28,430 CIDG personnel were enrolled in 200 companies, although a strength of 37,250 was authorized for both fiscal year 1966 and 1967, which would have allowed a total buildup of 249 companies.

In 1965 a U.S. study group formulated a detailed plan for converting the majority of CIDG companies to Regional Forces companies by the end of 1965 and the remainder by the end of 1966. On 15 September 1965, the Joint General Staff had agreed to the plan in principle, but recommended that the conversion be voluntary; the Joint General Staff recognized the desirability of incorporating all military and paramilitary organizations into the South Vietnam armed forces, but recognized that the unique role of Civilian Irregular Defense Group remained valid for the immediate future. In concept, as the areas in which CIDG units were operating became more suited for Regional Forces operations, the CIDG units would be converted to Regional Forces. U.S. and South Vietnamese Special Forces then would move to other locations and recruit and train other CIDG forces. General Westmoreland recommended slow and deliberate conversion, with the use of two or three camps as pilot models.

Initially, three camps were chosen for conversion: Plei Do Lim in Pleiku Province, Buon Ea Yang in Darlac Province, and An Phu in Chau Doc Province. Numerous delays ensued before the test was completed in August. Initial problems centered around the disadvantages of conversion to the participants: reduced resupply capability, since the U.S. Army Special Forces was no longer supplying the camp; a decrease in pay to some unmarried personnel when converted; and increased pressure on South Vietnam armed forces deserters who had joined the Civilian Irregular Defense Group. When coupled with the traditional distrust of the Montagnards for the South Vietnam government, the unpopularity of conversion and its temporary suspension in 1966 was not surprising.

Concurrent with the post-1968 expansion of the Vietnamese armed forces were significant increases in the paramilitary forces. Pacification personnel (RD, ST, and VIS cadres and armed propaganda teams) peaked in 1971, provincial reconnaissance units remained stable, and both the U.S.-employed Kit Carson Scouts and Civilian Irregular Defense Group were slowly phased out. The latter were eventually either disbanded or converted into border Regional Forces and Ranger units and incorporated into the regular Army. During Vietnamization (1968-1971), SF-trained units and individuals were integrated into the Army of Vietnam (ARVN) Ranger Command.

By 1 June 1970, the number of Civilian Irregular Defense Group camps in Vietnam had been reduced to thirty-eight, either by conversion to Regional Forces status or by closure. The Vietnamese Joint General Staff and the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, staff then decided to convert the remaining camps to Vietnamese Army Ranger camps, with a target date of 31 December 1970. Progressive, concurrent conversion cycles were initiated, with the major criteria being the state of security around each camp and seasonal weather. Camps in relatively secure areas that could be supplied easily during the rainy season were converted first. Camps in less secure areas were scheduled for later conversion so that more time and resources could be applied to increasing the combat readiness of these camps. One camp, Mai Loc, was closed entirely, so that the final number of CIDG camps converted to Vietnam Army Rangers was thirty-seven.

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