240. Telegram From the Staff Secretary of the National Security Council Staff Secretariat (Watts) to Winston Lord of the National Security Council Staff1
WH00519. Memorandum for Dr. Kissinger. From John Holdridge. Subject: Situation in Cambodia.
The following telegram from Rives covering a conversation with the Cambodian Chief of Staff depicts a serious political and military deterioration in Cambodia. The NVA/VC forces are not only widening their hold on the strategic areas along the Vietnamese border, but are pushing more deeply inland and have cut key communication lines, including the railroad to Sihanoukville. The Cambodian army does not seem to be able to do anything about the situation (although an offensive is being planned), and morale of the population and the troops is steadily diminishing. The Cambodians are having difficulty in obtaining arms aid and are very short of ammunition; aid from the U.S. appears to them as their main hope. The President will be receiving a formal request from Lon Nol which will ask for help in arming 430,000 [Page 835] men, and for the dispatch of Cambodian troops in Thailand and Vietnam into Cambodia to help relieve the military pressure. No ARVN help along the lines of that given lately is desired.
In the light of the pressing military situation, the kind of aid from the U.S. which the Cambodians envisage appears completely unrealistic. Arms and ammunition on a priority basis may contribute importantly to staving off a Cambodian military collapse, but the training and arming of a force of the size contemplated will take a significant amount of time—probably more time than the Cambodians can afford. The problem would appear to be more of keeping the NVA/VC forces sufficiently distracted along the Vietnamese border to preclude their being able to strike inland—in short, the kind of ARVN operation which the Cambodians now say they do not want. Cambodians in Thailand and Vietnam (the Khmer Serei and Khmer Krom) are neither numerous enough or well enough trained and led to do the job.
I have just had meeting with Fonmin and Mindefense Chief of Staff General Srey Saman.
Re delivery of 1500 AK–47 rifles, Cambodians request that this be made directly to Phnom Penh soonest. This decision due to fact that other areas such as Svay Rieng and even Sihanoukville, which I had suggested as possible landing zones, are no longer secure for road transport.
In view of USC insistence on continued security and confidential nature of entire operation, Chief of Staff suggested that plane or planes could land at night and be directed immediately to military terminal which is on opposite side of field from civilian one.
Action request: please inform soonest whether above acceptable, what type of aircraft will be used, what aircraft will be carrying, and flight data.
- Chief of Staff also asked if equipment like mortars and ammunition could be urgently delivered at same time. Also 105 mm shells.
- Re AK–47 ammo, I inquired whether Indonesians had been approached. In reply Chief of Staff indicated it was part of request to Indonesia and would be pressed again. Will let me know if Cambodia needs assist vis-à-vis Indonesia.
- In reply to query re medical supplies, Chief of Staff said urgency was for weapons and that medical needs being met temporarily by six tons of medical supplies brought in earlier for VC and seized.
- I shall be informed today of officer who will discuss with Acting DATT the specific and accurate estimate of what Cambodian military now has in use and in stock. This will be transmitted as soon as ready.
- As reported earlier, the only countries who have been given specific shopping lists are USG, Australia, Japan and Indonesia.
- FonMin informed me that as result our conversation last week, Lon Nol sending series of letters to sea countries such as Burma, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, urging them make declarations regarding their anxiety over Cambodian situation and opposition to foreign interference.
- Chief of Staff then informed me that he and FonMin crafting letter to President Nixon from General Lon Nol which will be ready in day or two. He read me draft. Crux of message is that situation becoming desperate, Cambodia needs arms and hopes that President will supply same in accordance with Nixon Doctrine. Cambodia does not want foreign troops, including South Vietnamese who have recently intruded into Cambodian territory. According to letter, the government requires total of 430,000 men under arms. He requests that Cambodian troops in Vietnam and Thailand be sent to Cambodia where they will be made part of army with ranks presently held.4
- Chief of Staff then drew out map which he have me showing latest situation in various zones. According to latest indications, VC now extend roughly from Kep inland to slightly north of Tani, then east to frontier; within this area Cambodian military have had to evacuate Kirivom and Tuk Meas has been taken by VC. This means railroad to Sihanoukville is cut. General indications are that infiltrators proceeding ahead of this drive in small groups have already passed beyond Kompong Speu.
- To east of this zone situation described earlier remains relatively stable. Here within next few days Cambodian military will make determined attack which they feel is essential to raise morale of population and troops which is steadily diminishing.
- Cambodian military staff requests that if possible attacks be made behind two areas given above by Kampuchea Krom from Vietnam.
- Turning to map again, Chief of Staff indicated that Route No. 7 from west of Krek to Snuol is completely cut and area virtually isolated by NVNA/VCM every indication is that NVNA/VC attack to be made towards Kratie from Snuol area. Therefore General Lon Nol requests attack by special forces, if available, from within SVN towards Snuol.
- Road from Snuol to Sen Monorom also cut and here General Lon Nol requests attack by special forces, if available, from Bu Prang in SVN toward Dak Dam and Sen Monram.
- Finally, General Lon Nol and Cambodian military wonder if it would be possible to assign to Embassy staff from Vietnam a Colonel Ly Vong Sar, whom they understand is in the American army but is a Cambodian. He would act as liaison between Embassy and Cambodians.
- Discussion centered for some time on possible future NVNA/VC moves and their objectives. It is obvious that Cambodians have views relatively similar to ours regarding either the conquest of Cambodia, with a puppet, Sihanouk or another installed, or attendance at a new Geneva conference during which a division of Cambodia might be attempted and lead eventually to a Vietnamese or Lao situation.
Comment: Atmosphere of meeting not very gay. More than once, General stressed deterioration of civilian and military morale.
Despite my insistence that RKG must not allow itself to become over hopeful of American aid, it was evident that this is what virtually all hopes are based on. Australia has replied it is considering Cambodian request, Japan apparently has not replied and neither apparently has Indonesia. General stated that a small Cambodian mission departs for Paris evening of April 21 to make further request for aid. He asked if I felt that contact with American Embassy Paris would help. I advised against this as possible irritant to French.5
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 506, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. III, 10 April 1970–23 April 1970. Top Secret; Nodis. Kissinger was in San Clemente on April 20; see Document 239.↩
- Not found.↩
- In telegram 057061 to Phnom Penh, April 17, Rives was instructed to tell Sirik Matak that the United States had located 1,500 AK–47 rifles available for delivery within 2 to 3 days and 4,000 to 5,500 available for delivery within 2 to 3 weeks. The United States needed to know whether the most feasible means of transfer from Cambodia was delivery via land across the Cambodia-South Vietnam border or air delivery to a Cambodian base. Rives was to assure Matak that the United States would “provide feasible assistance in a timely manner,” but Cambodia should not have “inflated expectations” of U.S. military aid on which there were important restrictions. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 506, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. III, 10 April 1970–23 April 1970)↩
- The text of the letter, April 21, is in telegram 593 from Phnom Penh, April 21. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 CAMB)↩
- In telegram 058788 to Phnom Penh, April 20, 2351Z, the Department instructed Rives to contact Lon Nol and assure him that “we are behind his government, that we are interested in providing support, and we are studying what more we can do to help.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 506, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. III, 10 April 1970–23 April 1970) This telegram was sent in reaction to telegram 579 from Phnom Penh, April 20, and it was hoped that Rives’ approach and assurances to Lon Nol would “help boost GOC morale and give leaders a more positive outlook.” (Ibid.)↩