Civilian Irregular Defense Group program

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Civilian Irregular Defense Group program
CIDG unit training.jpg
CountrySouth Vietnam
AllegianceCentral Intelligence Agency/U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
BranchRepublic of Vietnam Military Forces
TypeBlack-ops Indigenous Paramilitary units
RoleCounter-insurgency Direct Action program

Civilian Irregular Defense Group program (CIDG, pronounced "sid-gee") was a program developed by the U.S. government in the Vietnam War to develop South Vietnamese irregular military units from minority populations.


The Civilian Irregular Defense Group program was formed for two reasons:[1]

  1. U.S. mission Saigon believed that the South Vietnamese effort to create similar paramilitary units needed to be bolstered
  2. The U.S. feared that the Viet Cong would be able to recruit large numbers of minority troops.


The CIDG program was devised by the CIA in early 1961 to counter expanding Viet Cong influence in South Vietnam's Central Highlands.[2] Beginning in the village of Buon Enao, small A Teams from the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets) moved into villages and set up Area Development Centers. Focusing on local defense and civic action, the Special Forces teams did the majority of the training. Villagers were trained and armed for village defense for two weeks, while localized Strike Forces would receive better training and weapons and served as a quick reaction force to react to Viet Cong attacks; the vast majority of the CIDG camps were initially manned by inhabitants of ethnic minority regions in the country (especially Montagnard), who disliked both the North and South Vietnamese and therefore quickly took to the American advisers. The program was widely successful, as once one village was pacified, it served as a training camp for other local villages.[3]

By 1963, the military felt that the program was a great success, but also that the CIDG units and Special Forces units were not being employed properly, and ordered Operation Switchback, which transferred control of the CIDG program from the CIA over to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam;[4] the CIDG Program was rapidly expanded, as the entire 5th Special Forces Group, U.S. Army Special Forces, moved into Vietnam, and the CIDG units stopped focusing on village defense and instead took part in more conventional operations, most notably border surveillance. Most of these were converted to Vietnam Army Ranger units in 1970.

In 1966 Army Chief of Staff General Harold K. Johnson was confused and unhappy with the activities of the Special Forces in South Vietnam. They were "supposed to be training guerrillas," he observed, "and what they did was build fortifications out of the Middle Ages and bury themselves... with concrete." After visiting some of their more exposed Highland camps, he expressed "horror" that an organization that prided itself on being a "highly mobile, disdainful of fixed installations, innovative, [and] not requiring organized logistical support" should find itself "in fortified installations with mortars in concrete emplacements with fixed range cards printed on the concrete, and literally... locked in by their own actions." In his estimation the CIDG program drained manpower from Saigon and was too expensive; the indigenous soldiers spent too much time protecting their own dependents who lived nearby. Furthermore, he felt that U.S. Special Forces members "viewed themselves as something separate and distinct from the rest of the military effort," describing them as "fugitives from responsibility" who "tended to be nonconformist, couldn't quite get along in a straight military system, and found a haven where their actions were not scrutinized too carefully, and where they came under only sporadic or intermittent observation from the regular chain of command."[5]:198-9

See also[edit]


  1. ^ U.S. Army Special Forces 1961-1971. Vietnam Studies. Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History. 1989 [First Printed, 1973]. pp. 19–20. CMH Publication 90-23.
  2. ^ John Nagl (2005). Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. University of Chicago Press. p. 128. ISBN 9780226567709.
  3. ^ "Special Forces"..
  4. ^ Nagl, p. 129
  5. ^ Clarke, Jeffrey (1998). The U.S. Army in Vietnam Advice and Support: The Final Years, 1965-1973 (PDF). U.S. Army Center of Military History. ISBN 978-1518612619. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

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