217. Memorandum From the Senior Military Assistant (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Meeting with Secretary of Defense Laird and the President, 3/31/70

Secretary Laird informed the President that the main purpose of his request to see him was to discuss the situation in Cambodia. However, before doing so he wished to report that enemy rocket attacks had been conducted against five U.S. military installations. He pointed out that these attacks had been predicted by CIA and our intelligence [Page 746] in the field2 and stated that they had nothing to do with our action against the SAM sites in North Vietnam3 but rather had been planned for some period. He also estimated that there would be more attacks in III and IV Corps areas within the next day or two.

The Secretary then turned to the Cambodian problem. He informed the President he was somewhat concerned by State’s message to Bunker last weekend instructing Bunker to ask the GVN to turn off border operations against enemy sanctuaries in Cambodia.4 He then recounted that he had personally set up these operations with Bunker, Thieu and Abrams when he had visited Vietnam in February and that our calling them off now was a discouragement to the ARVN rangers who he was attempting to Vietnamize through these operations. The President stated that the decision had been made before the Cambodian coup and that he wanted to watch the situation in Cambodia a little more carefully before proceeding. Secretary Laird then said that these were very low-level operations done in coordination with the Cambodians and that there have in fact been 15 of them since his visit in February. The President then stated that he did not think it was worth waiting much longer and authorized Secretary Laird to start the operations up again very quietly, providing they were purely ARVN and could be portrayed as protective reaction.5

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The President then asked Secretary Laird where the larger plans for ARVN or U.S. and ARVN operations into the sanctuaries stood.6 Secretary Laird said that the plans had arrived and they were reviewing them now. The U.S. military felt that the ARVN alone could conduct operations against Base Areas 704, 706 and 709,7 but he felt that we should not go into the other base areas which had been worked over so heavily by our B–52’s. The President confirmed that he might order these plans executed if Hanoi goes all out against the Cambodians. The President also stated that he wanted the Menu operations continued at a high level.

Secretary Laird remarked that he felt we could do more with respect to Cambodia and had sent Secretary Rogers a memorandum (Tab A)8 suggesting a number of steps, including asking the Australians, who have good relations with the Cambodians, to do more. Secretary Laird then complained about the poor communications between Phnom Penh and Washington and noted that there was no CIA facility in Phnom Penh. The President directed General Haig to move immediately to upgrade our communications facilities in Phnom Penh, to do this as discreetly as possible, and to take the tack that these communications were needed to protect U.S. citizens. General Haig pointed out that State had already taken some measures to improve communications there by extending the operating hours of the station and doubling the capacity of the lines. The President stated that he still wished to have an improved capability there and that we should have CIA in there, although they would be under cover.

The President then turned to the air operations over North Vietnam and commented that he would like to consider further operations next Monday.9 Secretary Laird stated that they had not completed the job on at least one of the SAM sites and should probably do so. The President said that such an operation is approved for next Monday if you do not hear differently before that time. The President instructed Secretary Laird in the meantime not to go looking for trouble but to react if the North Vietnamese attack any U.S. reconnaissance aircraft.

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The President then asked Secretary Laird why some of our casualties had been up in the past two weeks. The Secretary replied that our casualties would be down again this week and that they had generally been very small except for a lot of accidents. Then the President said, “you should never report an accident as a battle death,” to which Laird responded, “we don’t.”

The President then stated that he had noted a lot of chatter in the newspapers about the next withdrawal announcement and suggested that next Thursday10 the President, Mr. Kissinger and a small close-hold group should look at the next increment. Secretary Laird stated that General Abrams wanted to hold up for 90 days and the JCS for about 60 days. The JCS would propose about 35,000 for August. Secretary Laird added that these divergent views did not create a problem and could be easily straightened out.11 The President stated that prior to a decision he wanted absolutely no speculation on this issue.

The Secretary then turned to the problem of funding for Southeast Asia. He stated that the Senate was probably going to add to the prohibition against ground operations in Laos by including air operations. The President asked whether or not this meant they would put a limit on the use of our aircraft outside of Vietnam through the use of funds. Secretary Laird confirmed this. The President stated we would fight such a limitation to the death.

Secretary Laird then stated he also has the problem of having funded for a projected strength of 260,000 by July 1, 1971. This meant that between April 15 and July 1 he would have to get another $150 million if there was any delay in the next withdrawal increment and would have to take it from some other activities of the services. The President stated he would spend all of next year’s money rather than lose in Vietnam. Secretary Laird then pointed out that the pay increase of 6% which the President might approve for federal employees, in conjunction with the postal strike settlement, would cost $850 million for the military portion and that this would cause an additional problem in a budget that is already stretched too tight. The Secretary added that the Defense Department’s budget allocation was already way out of phase with the domestic side and the President nodded assent. Secretary Laird also stated that if the bombing continues after June 30 at the current level, he will need another billion dollars in the FY 71 Defense budget. The President responded that this means you must go all out now, that we cannot afford to let the dust settle, and added that [Page 749] he will not permit us to skimp on what is needed in Southeast Asia. The President also stated that he wanted Secretary Laird to:

  • —continue to look for B–52 targets in Northern Laos and to hit them;
  • —investigate the casualty lists and see if he can pick out accidental deaths from deaths actually caused by enemy action; and
  • —dust off the seven-day plan for attacks in North Vietnam.12

[Omitted here is a short discussion of the Anti-Ballistic Missile issue and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’s pamphlet comparing U.S. and Soviet Government expenditures.]

In concluding the meeting, the President congratulated Secretary Laird for the fine job the military had done with the Post Office strike and reiterated that he wanted the plan by Monday to hit the SAM sites, a continuation at a high-level of the Menu series, and also wished to find some targets for the B–52s in Northern Laos.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 224, Agency Files, Department of Defense, Vol. VI, February 1, 1970–April 20, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. Kissinger was on vacation on March 31. Nixon met with Laird and Haig from 3:01 to 4:05 p.m. that day. (Ibid., White House Central Files, Daily Diary) Kissinger wrote the following note on the memorandum: “Al, Laird’s communications with Rogers are getting troublesome. We should discuss. HK.” Kissinger’s comments relating to specific portions of this memorandum are footnoted below. Haig prepared an extensive briefing paper for the President’s meeting with Laird. (Ibid., Box 1009, Haig Special Files, Haig’s Vietnam File, Vol. V, [1 of 2])
  2. In TDCS–314/033444–70, March 31, the Station in Saigon predicted: “A surge of enemy activity is likely to begin in portions of all four Corps on the night of March 31/April 1. This surge, probably to be characterized by attacks by fire and limited ground probes, is probably a belated attempt to carry out plans delayed since February.” (Ibid., Box 144, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, March 1970)
  3. On March 21 Nixon authorized U.S. retaliatory air strikes in the event U.S. aircraft in Laos or North Vietnam were engaged by North Vietnamese SAM/AAA sites. (Memorandum from Nixon to Laird, March 21; ibid., Box 99, Vietnam Subject Files, Operating Authorities Over North Vietnam)
  4. Telegram 45730 to Saigon, March 27. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 CAMB) In telegram 4725 from Saigon, March 30, Bunker reported that Thieu agreed to suspend ARVN cross-border operations. (Ibid.) Haig also sent Bunker a backchannel message alerting him to telegram 45730 and suggesting that short-term benefits from cross-border operations would be outweighed by the risk posed to U.S. domestic support for Vietnam policy. (Telegram from Haig to Bunker, WHS0011, March 27; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 410, Backchannel Messages, Southeast Asia, 1970)
  5. On March 31 Haig sent Bunker backchannel message WH0012 informing him that the President had lifted the temporary moratorium on ARVN cross-border operations, but they had to be coordinated with Cambodian Armed Forces, should remain at previous levels, and be portrayed as ARVN operations taken under protective reactions criteria. Only Laird, McCain, and Abrams were also aware of this decision. (Ibid., Box 410, Backchannel Messages, Southeast Asia, 1970) In backchannel message 806 from Saigon, April 1, Bunker reported that he had informed Thieu of the decision; Thieu agreed. (Ibid.) Kissinger wrote the following note apparently referring to this issue: “When the hell did all this happen. Can we get report?”
  6. Kissinger wrote the following referring to this statement: “I think U.S. forces should participate if only to get out again. ARVN will never leave.”
  7. Kissinger wrote the following referring to this statement: “I don’t believe it.”
  8. Tab A was a March 31 letter from Laird to Rogers in which Laird also suggested that South Vietnam should relinquish its claim to $25 million in a blocked account in Paris in favor of Cambodia, initiate discussions on border and off-shore differences with Cambodia, and offer a general pledge to support Cambodia’s sovereignty of territory. Laird also suggested Thailand should reduce its troops on the Cambodian border. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15 CAMB) Rogers responded affirmatively to Laird’s suggestions in an April 2 letter to him. (Ibid.)
  9. April 6.
  10. April 9.
  11. Kissinger wrote in the margin: “What a liar.”
  12. The President asked General Haig if the strikes on dikes in North Vietnam would cause civilian casualties. General Haig stated that when the dikes were full there would be some flooding and possibly loss of civilian lives, but well into the dry season this would not be a problem. [Footnote in the source text.]