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AN03 Popular Forces, Regional Forces, National Police Field Force and Provincial Reconnaissance Units in Vietnam




Advisory from Disability Compensation Branch

No 3/2002

(Replaces 7/2000)










This advisory concerns the relationship of the:

  • National Police Field Force (NPFF),
  • Regional Force (RF),
  • Popular Force (PF), and
  • Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU)

to the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) and hence the possible status of members as allied veterans.




In 1999, a military historian, Dr Jeffrey Grey

[i], was commissioned to provide a report on the relationship between the RVNAF and the paramilitaries during this conflict.  His conclusions were considered in light of the legislation and, consequently, the Commission agreed that the PF, RF and NPFF of the Republic of Vietnam could be considered as auxiliaries of the regular Defence Forces of the Republic of Vietnam.  In 2002, the Commission further considered the position of the PRU and accepted that it could be considered an auxiliary of the RVNAF.  The following reasons were provided.


National Police Field Force


Expansion of the National Police began in 1964 and the organisation was divided into six main 'blocks' for functional purposes.  Created in January 1965, the NPFF constituted a separate and discrete block within the National Police organisation.  They were a lightly armed, highly mobile formation that could attack the Viet Cong in the villages.  Its members received both military and civil police training at an NPFF Training Centre, usually located in the regional capital.  Consequently, there was some confusion regarding the activities of the NPFF and those of the RF, the National Police and other organisations Hunt

[ii], describes them as 'a separate police branch', and notes that their function was to fill the gap in operational terms between the ARVN and 'regular police forces'.  Andrade[iii] describes them in similar terms.  McNeil[iv] admits to the ambiguity of their position, located between the regular military and the regular police.


In terms of personnel policy and in keeping with the requirements of the laws governing conscription, the NPFF was treated as an extension of the armed forces, specifically the ARVN.  The ARVN was ordered to make a compulsory transfer of personnel to boost the size of the police.  In pursuance of the General Mobilisation Law in 1968, between 6,000 and 9,000 men aged between 18-20 (ie within draft age) were sent to the NPFF and not to the ARVN.  Further, all personnel within the National Police aged between 21-33 (within draft age) were gradually to be transferred to the NPFF with the agreement of the Ministry of Defence.



There is no question that the NPFF was never a formal part of the RVNAF, although it is worth noting that the Government of Vietnam certainly considered this option.  It is equally clear that NPFF companies were regularly used as though they were part of the ARVN command structure, despite the complaints and protests of American advisers who wanted them used to attack the Viet Cong Infrastructure, as they were intended to do.  That the NPFF was used in conventional combat is underlined by the award of a posthumous Silver Star Medal for gallantry to a National Policeman who was killed defending a machine gun position against an attack by two battalions of Viet Cong in Hau Nghia province in May 1966.



Regional Forces/Popular Forces


In 1960, the Regional Forces/Popular Forces were incorporated directly into the defence budget.  In 1964, these Forces were integrated into the RVNAF and placed under the command of the Joint General Staff.

[vii]  The Province Chief controlled the RF while the PF was controlled at the district level.  An Officer of the ARVN generally commanded RF companies, while a Non–Commissioned Officer commanded the PF platoons.  Service in both Forces was on a full-time basis, and the soldiers underwent a five-week training course at one of the two RF and 15 PF training facilities scattered around the country.  They were poorly paid and, until 1967, poorly armed and equipped.  However, Krepinevich[viii] points out that except during Tet, the RFs consistently suffered a higher rate of casualties than the ARVN.  Additionally, they accounted for between 12-30 percent of enemy combat deaths while consuming only 2-4 percent of the resources expended to fight the war.


As a result of two decrees signed by President Thieu on 2 July 1970, the RVNAF was reorganised and the RF/PF became components of the ARVN on a formal basis.  There was no intention of raising the RF/PF to ARVN standards in terms of either training or equipment.  However, when the 3rd Division was formed in the northern provinces in late 1971, the RF was used to provide a number of battalions for newly formed regiments.  Additionally, in mid-1974, the Marine Division had eight RF battalions under its operational control and the Airborne Division controlled a further seven.  The combined strength of the RF/PF in 1968 exceeded 300,000 members.



Conclusions Regarding the NPFF, RF and PF


Professor Grey's report dealt with the organisational relationships between the RVNAF and the various paramilitary units and formations.  The roles and structures of these groups were taken into account when assessing the claim to be a part of the regular forces or at least an auxiliary force.


Professor Grey reported that, in his opinion, it was appropriate to view the NPFF as an auxiliary force of the RVNAF.  This opinion was based on the fact that the NPFF was deployed on military operations, was trained and equipped along military lines, and its functions went well beyond those of the uniformed civil police.  The NPFF operated in conjunction with units of the armed forces and this was specified as part of its operational mission.  Professor Grey's findings indicate that the role of the NPFF would satisfy the terms of the legislation.


A decision-maker should also be able to be satisfied that the PF and RF were auxiliaries of the regular ARVN.  In his report, Professor Grey outlined the command and control relationship for both the RF and PF.  He states that these two forces were incorporated directly into the defence budget and, in 1964, were integrated into the RVNAF and placed under the command of the Joint General Staff.  As a result of two decrees signed by President Thieu on 2 July 1970, the RVNAF was reorganised and the RF and PF became components of the ARVN on a formal basis.  These findings are enough to satisfy the legislative requirements of the VEA.


Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU)


The Repatriation Commission recently reconsidered Professor Grey's report regarding the status of the PRU following an inquiry from a State Office.  Previous cases involving ex-PRU members were considered in light of Nolan

[x] and Choo[xi].  The advice that follows relates only to the status of the PRU as a Unit and does not absolve decision makers from ensuring that claimants do not gain access to benefits under the VEA if they served at any time with the enemy forces.


Advised and funded by the CIA as part of the Phung Hoang (Phoenix) Program, the PRU had its origins in counter terrorist teams and worked under a cover arrangement with the Joint General Staff.  In keeping with the laws governing conscription, service in the PRU provided an exemption from service in the ARVN.  Additionally, the PRU had their own military style special warfare training facilities at Vung Tau

[xii].  They were issued with uniforms, openly bore M16 rifles and used military ranks.  Advisers from the Australian and the US militaries were attached to and led the PRU.  Further, the PRU reported to a military command and control structure.  McNeill[xiii] states that members of the PRU were involved in overt and covert intelligence operations and were used in cordon and search operations, ambushes, raids and detention operations against armed Viet Cong.


In 1967, the role of the PRU was formalised and they became part of the Civil Operations and Rural Development Support

[xiv] organisation.  This organisational structure integrated the civilian and military effort at the province level and facilitated the gathering of intelligence against the Viet Cong Infrastructure and targeting of forces against them.  This meant that the military advisers with the PRU were no longer separated from the Military Assistance Command Vietnam.[xv]


In March 1969, the PRU were officially recognised by Prime Ministerial decree.  The decree set out the command and control arrangements for the PRU.  These units now came under the non-operational control of the National Police and were tasked by the Province Chief.  However, their organisation, specific duties and operational policies were still defined by the Minister of Internal Affairs in consultation with the Minister for National Defence.

[xvi]  On disbanding, PRU personnel were transferred to the Vietnamese National Police Special Branch.


Conclusions Regarding the PRU


Professor Grey reported that, in his opinion, it was appropriate to view the PRU as an auxiliary force of the RVNAF.  This opinion was based on the fact that the PRU were trained, uniformed and disciplined along military lines, had a clear combat function, and received Advisers and other support from Military Assistance Command Vietnam.  Whilst their early legal status was problematic, they were raised with the agreement and under the administrative authority of the Joint General Staff.  While funded by the CIA, they were sanctioned at the highest level.  Although their status was regularised through some element of control by the National Police, they continued to receive operational direction through the Vietnamese Ministry of Defence until they were wound up following the demise of the Phoenix Program.



The mission of the PRU as described by McNeill is consistent with paramilitary operations and similar to the role of the Special Branch of the Royal Malay Police Force as stated in Choo.  This proposition is further supported by the fact that, on disbandment of the PRU, remaining personnel were transferred to the Special Branch of the Vietnamese National Police.  Additionally, the notion in Choo of functional integration and mutual support is implicit in the roles and command structure enunciated in the Prime Ministerial Decree that gave official recognition to the PRU.  The emergence of Civil Operations and Rural Development Support, the integration of the civilian and military effort at the provincial level and the fact that the PRU's advisers were no longer separated from the Military Assistance Command Vietnam after 1967 only strengthens this proposition.


Consequently, the Commission has agreed that these findings indicate that, on the balance of probabilities, the AAT could find t — hat the PRU was an 'auxiliary service' 'of' the regular forces of the Republic of Vietnam.


Please note that the findings on this Advisory relate only to the NPFF and PRU and not to any other branch of the Police Force.


Other Forces are not Normally Auxiliaries


There may be claims from Vietnamese veterans with service in:


·People's Self Defence Force

·People's Action Teams

·Revolutionary Development Cadres

·Rural Development Cadres


In general these units are a mixture of service types and not considered as meeting the full test for auxiliary forces.  In some cases, membership of such a force merely deferred conscription.  Other forces were not under the direct control of the Ministry of Defence.  Nevertheless, any such claim must be treated on its merit.  The service of any particular Vietnamese claimant within these units could be quite distinct from another person's experience.


Service with the enemy


Decision-makers are reminded that a person may not gain access to benefits under the VEA if they served at any time with the enemy forces.  In this situation, we are talking of service with the North Vietnamese Army, the Peoples' Army of Vietnam, or the Viet Cong.


During the course of the conflict many former cadres and members of the enemy forces were captured and some were recruited or turned and performed service for the Republic of Vietnam or the United States.  This was The Hoi Chanh program.  Any person who was turned, that is any one who was a member of a Hoi Chanh unit (sometimes the person is referred to as a Chieu Hoi) is prevented from accessing benefits under the VEA.


Within the program were Armed Propaganda Teams, the Kit Carson Scouts, Civilian Irregular Defence Groups, Mobile Strike Forces, and some members of the PRU.


Members of these groups were the first to experience the extreme retribution followed by the new government of a united Vietnam.  In fact so dangerous was their position that they were amongst the first to seek escape from Vietnam.  Persons in this position are no different to those who had served with the Italian Army before joining the partisans in World War 2.


However, any suspected instance of a Chieu Hoi applicant needs to be considered in the light of the law and the decisions of the Tribunals and Courts.  In circumstances where the enemy makes conscription compulsory, but the person seeks to leave that force (escape) at the earliest opportunity, there may by some scope for still being able to satisfy the requirements of the VEA.


Documentation required


This advisory does not detract from any other instruction concerning the determination of claims from allied veterans.  Decision-makers are still required to ask for military and/or civilian documentation, obtain proof of identity and proof of 10-year residency.


In the absence of any military and/or civilian documentation, a Statutory Declaration is the very least that is required.


Report of Professor Grey


The original Report is held in National Office.  A complete copy may be obtained on request to National Office (Vicki Ludwig on 02 6289 6274).



[Original signed]


Mark Johnson

Branch Head

Disability Compensation


7 Aug 2002


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