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

SUBJECT

  • Ground Operations Against Base Camps in Cambodia

Attached is a memorandum from Secretary Laird forwarding a plan prepared by MACV for operations against enemy sanctuary areas in Cambodia.2 The plan has not yet been evaluated by CINCPAC, JCS or Secretary Laird. It is presented in five parts:

Part I. General Description
Part II. Option 1—Plan for Attack on Base Area 352/353 (see map at Tab A)
Part III. Option 2—Plan for Attack on Base Areas 704 and 367/706 (see map at Tab B)
Part IV. Answers to Questions
Part V. Supplementary Information

The Plan assesses two options:

  • Option 1 is an attack (utilizing elements of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division and the ARVN Airborne Division) into Base Areas 352/353 where large supply storage and headquarters areas are located. B–52 operations would be followed by initial ground attacks with two regiments. Three to four weeks are considered necessary to complete the operation.
  • Option 2 provides for simultaneous attacks against Base Area 704, a major storage area and transshipment point, and Base Area 367/706, an extensive logistics base and subregional headquarters area. Attacks against Base Area 704 would be accomplished by an ARVN armored brigade with U.S. riverine support and attacks on Base Area 367/706 would be conducted by three brigades of US/ARVN forces in an air mobile and ground operation. The operations would last about 14 days.

A brief summary sheet describing each option is at Tab C.3

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The Base Area attacked under Option 1 is a potentially more lucrative target because of the major enemy headquarters located there. It has the significant additional advantage of a much smaller risk to noncombatants. Option 2 has the advantages of greater ARVN participation, shorter duration, more favorable terrain and the probability of fewer US/RVNAF casualties.

In describing these plans, MACV has made the following important points:

  • —The plan should be successful, although whether it would be sufficiently disruptive to stop an enemy attack on the Cambodian capital is highly dependent on political factors.
  • —Successful operations would probably:
  • —have a highly favorable effect on RVNAF morale and confidence which would enhance Vietnamization;
  • —result in destruction of enemy facilities which would significantly reduce the threat to III and IV CTZ;
  • —have a long-term impact which would more than offset the costs.
  • —Significant U.S. involvement is essential to insure success. Option 1 would require a preponderance of U.S. participation.
  • —A major risk of the operations is the possibility that they would trigger an all-out enemy effort against I CTZ. Because of this, U.S. troop withdrawals beyond those scheduled for April 15 should be delayed as long as execution of the Cambodian operations is considered possible.
  • —Military casualties would fall into the high-intensity category. Non-combatant casualties under Option 1 would be negligible but the possibility under Option 2 is high. This is one of the major risks of Option 2 and is likely to be emphasized in press coverage.
  • —Weather is an important factor. April is a favorable month but after that the situation deteriorates rapidly and operations would be more time-consuming and difficult.
  • —The concept of short duration, raid-type operations has been discarded since the impact would be limited and of doubtful remuneration.
  • —Because of the difficulties in concealing preparations of the operations themselves, the press should be briefed to minimize the risk of leaks just prior to the mission.
  • MACV would require 72 hours from time of order to commencement of the mission.

MACV concludes that the risks involved in these operations are acceptable if U.S. force levels are not reduced beyond the level which will be reached on April 15. MACV recommends that Option 1 be executed [Page 755]as soon as possible and that further U.S. redeployments be held in abeyance over the next 75–90 days.

A number of problem areas with the plan will probably surface as the various military staffs make their assessments. Some problem areas and questions which should be raised are readily apparent:

  • —The plan is predicated on varying degrees of U.S. participation. It is not clear whether any successful operation could be carried out by the ARVN alone. However, the implication is that U.S. involvement is essential to the success of all of these operations. Attacks on Base Area 704 appear to require the least direct U.S. involvement. However, even in this operation, U.S. helicopter, naval and air support is considered essential.
  • —The predicted durations for accomplishment of the missions are partially based on the assumption that the operations must be sufficiently disruptive to cause a turnaround of enemy forces approaching Phnom Penh. Short thrusts have been discarded; however, MACV might find some value in these, at least from a purely military standpoint, if asked to re-examine such a possibility.
  • —A major political scenario and assessment of the political impact of these operations should be developed.
  • —The plan is written to beat the drum for no U.S. troop withdrawals beyond April 15 levels. Although the concern is legitimate, the problem appears to be over-played in the context of presenting this plan. Whether an all-out enemy attack on the I CTZ Area is the most likely and feasible enemy counteraction to these operations is an assumption which needs careful reappraisal.
  • —The plan indicates there will be little possibility of keeping these operations from the press. Therefore, the operations will pose a major public relations problem, particularly if not done in the context of a major enemy assault against the Cambodian Government.
  • —There does not appear to be sufficient provision for blocking forces to prevent enemy forces in the base areas from fading deeper into Cambodia if they choose not to fight. Therefore, the enemy may suffer few casualties and only yield territory temporarily, although these operations will probably have a devastating effect on the enemy supply problem as well as a number of psychological advantages.
  • —It would be helpful to have a casualty prediction in terms of numbers rather than the “high intensity” friendly casualty estimates.
  • —It should also be noted that in one place in the plan, MACV indicates a problem exists concerning the availability of sufficient air munitions.

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Recommendations:4

A more careful assessment of the plan will be possible once the staff evaluations have been completed. In the interim, however, it would probably be advisable to:

  • —task MACV to develop alternate plans for attacking sanctuary areas where it is considered that an all-ARVN operation could be successful.
  • —Ask DOD to report on the problem raised by MACV concerning the availability of air munitions.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 506, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. II, September 1969–9 April 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive; Spoke; Eyes Only.
  2. The attached undated memorandum is not printed but a note on a covering memorandum from Laird reads: “(Cover for April 3, 1970 MACV message).” The MACV plan is dated March 30.
  3. Not attached.
  4. Kissinger initialed the approve option of both recommendations. On April 4 Kissinger and Holdridge drafted a memorandum to Laird asking MACV “to develop alternative plans for attacking sanctuary areas in Cambodia where the operations could be successfully concluded entirely by South Vietnamese armed forces.” Kissinger also asked for a report on the status of levels of air munitions to support these operations. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 506, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. II, September 1969–9 April 1970) The memorandum was not sent until April 16, but Kissinger raised the issue in a breakfast meeting with Laird on April 7. (Memorandum from Howe to Haig, April 6; ibid.)