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259. Memorandum From the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Meeting on Cambodia, Sunday, April 26, 1970 at 4:30 p.m. in the President's EOB Office2
[Page 886]
  • PARTICIPANTS
  • Secretary Rogers
  • Secretary Laird
  • The Attorney General
  • Director Helms
  • General Earle Wheeler
  • Henry A. Kissinger

Purpose of Meeting

The purpose of today's meeting should be to consider the ramifications of authorizing the combined U.S.– ARVN operation into Base Area 352/353 (Fish Hook area of Cambodia containing COSVN Headquarters). Conceptually, this operation would constitute a second punch when combined with the already approved ARVN operation into the Parrot's Beak scheduled for the early morning hours of April 28th Saigon time. The combined U.S.– ARVN operation into Base Area 352/353 has been under preparation by MACV for several weeks but up until now, Secretary Laird has not been aware of the likelihood of its being approved and opposition can be anticipated from him as well as from the Secretary of State. The Joint Staff and MACV, however, have been proceeding with the view towards early implementation of the plan in the event you decided in favor of it. Care should be exercised at today's meeting not to surface the fact that General Wheeler has been conducting intensified planning to implement the attacks on Base Area 352/353 without the full knowledge of the Secretary of Defense.

General Outlines of Plan for Attack on Base Area 352/353

  • —The immediate military objective of the plan would be to destroy a main enemy headquarters area (COSVN) and troop and logistics facilities.
  • —The area contains the headquarters, as well as a large complex of troop logistics facilities, ammunition storage areas, hospitals, POW camps and Command and Control Headquarters for one division and six regiments. It is a primary staging area for enemy units operating in South Vietnam. The estimated enemy strength is approximately 4,000 men, with a reserve of up to 8,000 others who could be sent to the area in the event of attack. Intelligence indicates that enemy forces have been directed to defend this base area in the event of attack.
  • —General Wheeler will be prepared to brief the broad outlines of the plans which would involve elements of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division and a brigade of the ARVN Airborne Division, together with elements of the U.S. 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Total forces would consist of approximately 16,000 U.S. and 2,000 to 3,000 ARVN. It is estimated that the operation will require three to four weeks to complete and can be executed within 72 hours of receipt of orders to do so.
  • Timing. It would appear important to execute this operation in coordination with the ARVN operation in the Parrot's Beak. Assuming the ARVN operation kicks off as scheduled on the morning of the 28th, we can anticipate that knowledge of the operation will surface within two days or as early as Wednesday or Thursday Washington time. In order to obtain maximum psychological impact on the enemy and minimize the period of domestic turbulence, it would appear desirable to kick off the combined U.S.– ARVN operation as early as Wednesday or Thursday of this week. Furthermore, the rainy season normally commences in this part of Southeast Asia by approximately mid-May. Therefore, if you decide to approve this operation, a decision should be made to do so not later than Monday afternoon Washington time. This would enable us to get maximum benefit of the one-two punch, reduce the heat through conducting both operations simultaneously and achieve the maximum span of favorable weather.
  • Ancillary Operation. All factors considered—troop reductions, approaching rainy season, the critical situation in Cambodia, continuing intransigence in Hanoi—this one-two punch may constitute a major watershed in the outcome of events in Southeast Asia. For this reason, you may also wish to consider extending blanket authorization to General Abrams to conduct ground operations into the entire complex of identified enemy base areas along the Cambodian border. This authority would constitute prima facie evidence of your determination to take whatever steps are necessary to protect U.S. forces in South Vietnam as Vietnamization proceeds. It would also constitute a major threat to the continuation of enemy offensive operations against Phnom Penh. In addition to this broad authority, you may also wish to authorize additional military strikes against selected targets in North Vietnam which are directly linked to the current enemy offensive in Cambodia. These might include tactical air strikes against supplies and logistics installations adjacent to the Laotian border in North Vietnam (Ban Karai, Mu Gia and Nape Pass complexes). These actions, and those you have previously approved, when combined with a strong public announcement by you, would constitute positive evidence of your determination to take whatever steps are necessary to achieve a prompt settlement of events in Southeast Asia or at least serve to seriously disrupt the enemy's campaign against Phnom Penh.
[Page 888]

Conduct of the Meeting

  • —Inform the group that you had some time ago asked Secretary Laird to prepare a plan for combined U.S.– ARVN operations into Base Area 352/353 which contains COSVN Headquarters and other substantial North Vietnamese/Viet Cong facilities and that you have convened the meeting today to consider the possibility of implementing this plan in conjunction with the already authorized ARVN operation into the Parrot's Beak.
  • —Ask Director Helms to review the situation in Cambodia and to assess the importance of Base Area 352/353 to the enemy.
  • —Ask General Wheeler to brief the group on the concept of the MACV plan asked for earlier and to present his views on the military benefits, risks and overall implications of the plan.
  • —Ask General Wheeler to comment specifically on the timing of the plan, with the view towards obtaining maximum psychological impact.
  • —Following General Wheeler's presentation, you may wish to ask each of the participants, in turn, to present their views from the perspective of their overall responsibility, starting with the Secretary of State and then the Secretary of Defense.
  • —Following discussion of the combined U.S.– ARVN operation into Base Area 352/353, you should then discuss with the group the desirability of authorizing blanket authority to the U.S. Commander to conduct ground operations against all Cambodian sanctuaries and also to conduct concurrent air strikes into North Vietnam along the Laotian border against supplies and facilities which are contributing to the current NVA/VC offensive in Cambodia. Specifically, you should ask General Wheeler which areas should be hit and what benefits might be gained from additional ground operations in Cambodia and air strikes in North Vietnam along the Laotian border.
  • —At the conclusion of the meeting, you should inform the group that you will distribute a Decision Memorandum to each of the participants on an exclusively eyes only basis and that this memorandum should be in their hands by the start of business tomorrow morning.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President's Personal File, Box 58, Speech File, NSC, Ground Operations in Cambodia. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent for information.
  2. No record of this meeting is in the National Security Council Meetings Minutes, Originals, 1969–1970. Kissinger calls it an NSC meeting in his memoirs and recalls that: “From the outset, the meeting took an odd turn. Helms gave an intelligence assessment that Hanoi was expanding its base areas, linking them together and trying to create so much insecurity in Phnom Penh that the government would collapse. Wheeler described the proposed operation against the Fishhook complex and the possibility of expanding it to include other base areas. Nixon tried to avoid confrontation with his Secretaries of State and Defense by pretending that we were merely listening to a briefing. He would follow with a directive later. To my astonishment, both Rogers and Laird—who after all were familiar with their illusive chief's methods by now—fell in with the charade it was all a planning exercise and did not take a position. They avoided the question of why Nixon would call his advisers together on a Sunday night to hear a contingency briefing.” Kissinger then recounts that Nixon was “immensely relieved. He construed silence as assent; at any rate he had avoided controversy.” He and Kissinger went to the White House's family quarters to draft Document 260. (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 499)