244. Memorandum From the Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Westmoreland) to Secretary of Defense Laird 1



  • Courses of Action With Regard To Cambodia2
[Page 843]
Following our discussions this afternoon, and in response to your request that I provide recommendations on immediate courses of action with regard to the Cambodian situation, I reviewed developments within Cambodia, and submit the following comments and recommendations.
The latest intelligence concerning the situation in Cambodia, while fragmentary, strongly suggests that the enemy is moving to isolate Phnom Penh by the systematic interdiction of all the major roads and waterways leading into the city. Because of Phnom Penh’s dependence on oil for power, this can have serious repercussions for the future. Small, but effective, enemy forces are astride virtually all of the other main roads leading into Phnom Penh, with the possible exception of some roads to the west, and are maintaining blocking positions on the navigable river routes. The enemy objective may well be to isolate the city of Phnom Penh, bring military pressure to bear on it from all sides, and perhaps, ultimately, to bring Sihanouk back to regain political control at the appropriate time.
There is evidence that the FARK is marginally effective against these military moves by the VC/NVA. They are apparently untrained for operations above platoon or company level, and apparently have not been able to stop advances of even relatively small enemy forces. In addition to poor training, they suffer from a severe shortage of arms and equipment. While we can, and must, do everything possible to provide appropriate equipment, I suspect that this, by itself, will no longer be enough to stem the enemy advance. As you know, we have begun the air shipment of captured AK–47s, with the first 1500 guns and a supply of munitions, presumably moving out of Saigon this evening, by VNAF aircraft to Phnom Penh. While we will probably be able to ship an additional four or five thousand such weapons in the [Page 844] next several days, as I indicated above, this probably will fall far short of altering the military situation. I recommend that serious consideration be given to providing U.S. M–1s to the Cambodians. We are currently supplying these to the South Vietnamese People’s Self Defense Forces. A large proportion of these weapons can be diverted to help equip the some 85,000-man force in Cambodia.
In my view, we must move well beyond the measures outlined above if we are to stem the deterioration within Cambodia. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong have taken a calculated risk in moving out of their base areas. Their logistic situation is becoming more strained. I believe we should now move quickly to exploit their vulnerabilities. I would recommend, therefore, that, as a matter of urgency, plans be developed for attacks by division-size RVNAF forces on vulnerable enemy positions. Targets selected for attack, in order of priority, should be headquarters and communications facilities, caches and supply depots, and troop areas and concentrations. Such attacks should commence within the next several days. In about a month, monsoon rains will complicate such operations. As you are aware, MACV is currently undertaking such planning with the JGS, and, hopefully, we will have some details within the next 24-hours for your consideration. I am informed that the JGS and the RVNAF III and IV Corps Commanders are meeting today to prepare these plans, and they will go to President Thieu for approval following this meeting. MACV is doing everything possible to speed up the process.
I would recommend that we also rescind some of the current restraints placed on U.S. forces. Specifically, we should place U.S. forces on the border to provide logistic and artillery support for the RVNAF forces engaged in operations within Cambodia. I believe we can exploit the developing situation without the necessity of actually crossing the border with U.S. forces. We have asked General Abrams to provide his views on how such U.S. support can be optimized.
I believe it would be prudent for us to also develop a plan for employment of the Khmer in the CIDG. My initial thought is that they can best be utilized in raids across the border from strategically-located base areas which can be logistically supported by U.S. forces and, in which we can provide appropriate Vietnamese or U.S. Special Forces Advisors. However, we must leave to General Abrams, specific recommendations with regard to their employment.3 I would [Page 845] recommend, however, that we be authorized, now, to plan for their employment and support, generally, along the lines I have indicated above.
In summary, while all assistance of a material nature should be provided to the Cambodians on an expedited basis, I believe we have gone beyond the point where this, alone, can arrest the deterioration. We must move quickly against the vulnerable enemy base areas in Cambodia with RVNAF forces. This should relieve the pressure on the Cambodians. If we react quickly enough, we may be able to exploit the situation to our overall advantage without any substantial involvement by United States forces on the ground.
W.C. Westmoreland 4
  1. 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. Pursley sent this memorandum to Kissinger under an attached April 22 covering memorandum that indicated Westmoreland gave it to Laird the morning of April 22.
  2. On April 22 Kissinger telephoned Westmoreland to request his or Moorer’s support at the NSC principals meeting at 3 p.m.; see Document 248. Kissinger asked: “Can you see that whoever comes stands firm?” Kissinger told Westmoreland that the President “can understand the political people thinking of reasons why we shouldn’t, but the military usually stands with its Commander-in-Chief and he wants to do something.” Westmoreland promised his support and that he would “get the message to Moorer.” Westmoreland also cautioned Kissinger that he may have overemphasized the importance of the monsoon season in his previous conversation. There was a month of good weather remaining. Kissinger explained he was thinking of three operations: current small level GVN cross border operations, something larger but not an investiture of all the sanctuaries, and all-out investiture of the sanctuaries. Westmoreland favored the second. Kissinger asked if this “makes sense,” suggesting that Westmoreland knew better than anyone “the trouble field marshals in Washington can make.” “To do the job right would require a division size force of 10,000 troops,” Westmoreland answered. In response to Kissinger’s question, he replied that Abrams could put two or three GVN divisions into Cambodia in different areas if the U.S. provided transportation, logistics, artillery, helicopter gun ships, and tactical air support at the border. Kissinger ended the conversation with a quip: “I hope you need a political analyst in the army. I’ll never be able to go back to Harvard.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Kissinger and Westmoreland, April 22; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 363, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
  3. In telegram MAC 5164 from Abrams to Wheeler, April 18, Abrams reported that there were 3,500 Khmer Serei serving in CIDG camps in South Vietnam adjacent to the Cambodian border and most would respond to a request from Cambodia for assistance. Abrams suggested that the South Vietnamese might oppose Khmer Serei leaving the camps. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 410, Backchannel Messages, Southeast Asia, 1970)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.