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

SUBJECT

  • Ground Attacks on Base Camps in Cambodia

Attached at Tab A2 is a brief summary of the two options for ground attacks on enemy base camps in Cambodia submitted by General Abrams on March 30. In developing plans for potential operations against enemy base areas, General Abrams was asked to consider two possibilities:

  • —An attack against targets of high military priority which could involve the use of US forces if necessary.
  • —Any other operation which would reduce the necessity of the involvement of US forces.

With respect to military priority, MACV considered an attack on Base Area 352/353 (COSVN Hq) to be the most lucrative. He made the following significant points about this base area:

  • —In addition to the main enemy headquarters (COSVN), the area contains a large complex of troop and logistics facilities, ammunition storage areas, hospitals, prisoner of war camps and command/control headquarters for one division and six regiments.
  • —To insure success under Option 1, a preponderance of US participation would be required.
  • —There is minimal risk to noncombatants in attacking this base area. There are also no known Cambodian units in this area.3
  • —The plan would take three to four weeks to conduct.
  • —The enemy is well-entrenched with an estimated strength of 4,000 men and a reserve of approximately 8,000 others who could be sent to the area in event of attack. Casualties to US/ARVN units would probably be of high intensity.

In considering operations which would emphasize ARVN participation, MACV felt that attacks on the Parrot's Beak and Base Area 704 would be preferable. MACV pointed out the following considerations concerning operations in these areas:

  • —Compared with the option of attacking COSVN (Base Area 352/353), these operations have the advantages of shorter duration, more favorable terrain and the probability of fewer US/ARVN casualties.
  • —Some US involvement would be required in both cases. However, US participation in attacks on Base Area 704 would be limited primarily to air and naval support. US ground forces were considered necessary for attacks on the Parrot's Beak.
  • —Attacks in the Parrot's Beak area involve substantial risk of noncombatant casualties because of the density of the civilian population. In Base Area 704 noncombatant civilian population is light.
  • —Base Area 704 contains troop cantonments, medical and logistics facilities and headquarters elements. Enemy strength is estimated to be 1,000.
  • —The Parrot's Beak area contains base camps and training sites, storage areas, prisoner of war compounds, hospital dispensaries, and triangular strong-points. Estimated total enemy strength is 5,830.

MACV concluded that from a military viewpoint the probability of success would justify execution of either option under the plan and recommended that the operation be carried out in April due to weather considerations.

It is important to remember that under the original MACV plan, the second option calls for combined US/ARVN operations in the Parrot's Beak and ARVN ground units alone in Base Area 704. US ground forces have not been operating in IV Corps where Base Area 704 is located and MACV did not suggest employing units in this swampy area. Under the currently approved plan for operations in the Parrot's Beak Area scheduled to commence early on the 29th, only ARVN ground units are involved. Therefore, if it is decided to attack Base Area 704 also it will probably be necessary to replace some ARVN units currently slated for the Parrot's Beak Area with US forces and use the ARVN units in the attack on Base Area 704.

The full MACV plan submitted on March 30 is at Tab B, and a map showing options 1 and 2 is at Tab C. A brief precis of the currently approved plan for an all- ARVN operation in the Parrot's Beak is at Tab D.

  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; Nodis. Sent for information.
  2. Tabs A–D are attached but not printed.
  3. The President underlined the phrases: “minimal risk to combatants in attacking” and “no known Cambodian units in this area.”