Civilian Irregular Defense Group program

The 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.

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


The Civilian Irregular Defense Group program was formed for two reasons:[1]: 19–20 

  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 (VC) would be able to recruit large numbers of minority troops.


The CIDG program was devised by the CIA in early 1961 to counter expanding VC influence in the Central Highlands.[2] Beginning in the village of Buon Enao, small A Teams from the US 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 VC 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 (MACV).[2]: 129  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.

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."[4]: 198–9 

Many CIDG camps were assaulted or attacked; an example of this is the assault on Camp Loc Ninh, A-311, situated in the III Corps area. It took place from 29 October to 4 November 1967. The camp strike force, together with elements of the US 1st Infantry Division, which reinforced it on the second day, successfully defended the camp with no other help, except for air strikes. On that action, 1.000 enemies were killed, of which 184 were credited to the civilian irregulars and their American allies. Also, 6 CIDG troops died and 39 were wounded. Four members of the Special Forces died.

According to Kelly, F. (1973)[1] three major changes took place in the CIDG effort during June 1967 and June 1968:

  1. In the context of the Vietnamization, the 5th Special Forces began to prepare for disengagement and prepared CIDG members to become part of the ARVN or other government agencies. This involved closure, conversion and/or turnover of the CIDG camps to full ARVN Special Forces control.
  2. Great emphasis was given to assistance of the CIDG soldier and his family; with the intention of increasing Vietnamese participation, thereby preparing the South Vietnamese for a total take-over and improving their motivation to keep fighting.
  3. The third change was a result of the TET Offensive, launched in January 1968, in which CIDG troops successfully defended a number of urban centers, such as Nha Trang, Qui Nhon, Kontum, Pleiku, Chau Doc, Ban Me Thuot, Phan Thiet and Dalat. This was considered an excellent performance considering their training mainly involved jungle operations. Since then, CIDG forces were regarded as an economy of force element, which could be used to release conventional units for deployment in response to new enemy buildups. They also were used for conventional operations, along with US and other Free World forces.

In response to the increasing enemy firepower, and also in recognition to the CIGG, the US MACV approved a weapons modernization program in April 1968, under which CIDG troops were equipped with M16 rifles, M60 machine guns, and M79 grenade launchers. Up to that point, CIDG troops had used mainly M1 Carbines and M14 rifles. The weapons transfer program was completed in January 1969.

By 1 June 1970, the number of CIDG camps in South Vietnam had been reduced to thirty-eight, either by conversion to Regional Forces status or by closure. The South Vietnamese Joint General Staff (JGS) and the MACV staff then decided to convert the remaining camps to 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. The final number of CIDG camps converted to Rangers was 37.[1]: 156 

During the stand-down period every effort was made to raise the combat readiness of the 37 remaining CIDG camps to the highest efficiency. Concurrently, a concerted effort was made to assimilate the Montagnard and other minority ethnic groups from remote areas into the ARVN. The Vietnamese Special Forces and the 5th Special Forces Croup staffs developed jointly a program designed to continue operational missions in CIDG camps; process CIDG members administratively and medically; prepare MACV advisers for camp missions; transfer logistical support; reorganize CIDG units into Ranger battalions; and assimilate CIDG leaders into the ARVN ranks. The conversion process proceeded successfully, partly because the Vietnamese Special Forces camp commanders stayed in place and automatically became Ranger battalion commanders. Their familiarity with the troops, the camp area, and the tactical area of operations was invaluable. The MACV advisers did not arrive for duty until some 17 camps had been converted. The fact that many of the advisers were former Special Forces men familiar with the camps minimized problems. As a result of the close co-ordination between U.S. and Vietnamese Special Forces, the Ranger Command was strengthened by the addition of 37 light infantry battalions. Of the possible 17,057 troop spaces scheduled for conversion 14,534 CIDG troops actually became members of the Ranger command. A significant benefit that accrued to the minority ethnic groups involved was better treatment by the government of South Vietnam. For their allegiance, as expressed by their willingness to join the ARVN units, the government provided legal birth and marriage certificates as well as medical benefits and disability pay for injuries received in military action. This was the first time that the minority groups, and particularly the Montagnards, were given full status as citizens of South Vietnam.[1]: 157–8 

See alsoEdit


  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.

  1. ^ a b c d Kelly, Francis (1973). Vietnam Studies U.S. Army Special Forces 1961 - 1971. US Army Center of Military History. ISBN 978-1519258953.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ a b 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. ^ 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.