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274. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Richard Helms, Director of Central Intelligence
  • Thomas Karamessines, Central Intelligence Agency
  • David Packard, Deputy Secretary of Defense
  • Warren Nutter, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
  • Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Acting Chairman, JCS
  • General Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman, JCS
  • General John A. Vogt, USAF
  • Amb. U. Alexis Johnson, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Marshall Green, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
  • Brigadier General Alexander M. Haig, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Colonel Richard T. Kennedy, NSC Staff

SUBJECT

  • Laos; Cambodia

Kissinger: Is there press pressure for more information?

Johnson: The question is: are we delivering American arms? Rives has asked. I suggest we say yes, we are giving some Americans small arms and they are going into South Vietnam. We should ask Saigon first.

Packard: Small arms in limited quantities.

Green: Is this ARVN arms?

[All Agree. We should ask Saigon. Johnson will do it.]2

Helms: We have been asked to raise a third Thai battalion for Laos to allow them to move Laos troops back to Southern Laos. Vang Pao has asked.3 The Ambassador has not endorsed this. Souvanna has not asked.

[Page 920]

Kissinger: Is a third battalion ready?

Karamessines: Yes.

Kissinger: Let's get a sensible assessment from Unger and Godley.

Johnson: I will do it.4

Packard: The intelligence assessment is that the NVA have enough to mount on attack after the rainy season begins. This is contrary to our earlier assessment. We need a new assessment.

Helms: I will get an assessment.5

Kissinger: I will tell the President we are looking into this and will hold for 24 hours.

[Dr. Kissinger leaves at 11:45.]

Johnson: Let me raise the subject of the Khmer Krom. We need to clarify our status vis-à-vis the GVN and the Cambodians. We have said that basic logistics are the responsibility of Cambodia except for “peculiar support.” I refer to Phnom Penh 692.6 Who is going to pay them?

Packard: It'll be good if we can.

Johnson: I agree, but the problem is “mercenaries.” It's a political problem.

Green: The mission is now different—to protect Cambodia.

Johnson: Could we pay? It would be good for morale.

Helms/Packard: DOD pays it now.

Packard: We can't get to them in Cambodia.

Johnson: Put all supply actions into regular channels rather than Nodis/Khmer. I have a draft cable. It's consistent with the Defense guidance.

Helms: The question of small arms delivery. In the future, they should submit the questions in regular channels.

[Page 921]

Packard: Dick [Helms] has a point. It avoids flagging the issue. We can protect it long enough to do what is needed.

Helms: Straight Nodis would do.

Packard: Okay.

[All agree to a cable.]

Johnson: The Secretary doesn't want to expedite Bunker's return. He says we should let him come on the 6th as planned. Also we did not send a special message to Paris. We decided it was best to let the French think about it. We did send one to Stewart.

Moorer: I want to arrange a Market Time operation along the Cambodian coast. We will tell Lon Nol to work it out.

Johnson: Could we get a draft?

Packard: How about reconnaissance in north Laos? We have a proposal.

Johnson: I want a reading on what we know.

Packard: We need to know what is going on. The question will be what is the impact on China?

Johnson: I will be in touch on that.

Packard: [3 lines of source text not declassified]

Johnson: It's a necessary evil.

Helms: We don't have a mechanism in Cambodia to pass the pay to them.

Packard: Could we turn over the money to the Cambodians?

Johnson: Would it ever get to the Khmer Krom?

Vogt: Use the Battalion Commander to pay them and make him responsible. We have supply arrangements—we use one airplane every two nights. We could pass the pay this way.

Green/Packard: The pay could be on the same basis as now vis-à-vis the South Vietnamese Army.

Johnson: Can we find out specifically what they are paid, by whom, etc.?

Helms: I'll check.7

Johnson: The cable doesn't say we need to. It just asks whether we do.

Helms: The Cambodians are broke.

[Page 922]

Vogt: We have to pay them if they are to be effective.

[All agree.]

Johnson: What public posture should we take? If there are direct questions, we should say yes, they are ethnic Cambodians who wanted to return to fight for their country and South Vietnam let them go.

[All agree to going to Saigon/Phnom Penh with this line.]

Green: How do we supply logistic support?

Vogt: By GVN aircraft to Phnom Penh—maybe drops. There will be no U.S. advisors.

Green: Go out with suggested press guidance to Phnom Penh and Saigon.

[All agree.]

Packard: It makes a sonic boom. They'll know something is going on. It doesn't seem provocative.

Johnson: Let it go on.

Packard: Our drones are improving. We may have a capability soon.

Johnson: In the Far East we had no problems in the official reactions. Malik deplored it. He changed it to regret—but he told us he would. The Russians—we've heard nothing since. The Chinese made another blast. Lon Nol said he had no advance warning, but he was clearly not angry. He had harsh words for the VC.

Packard: Can't we get him to use North Vietnamese instead of VC?

Green: We should try to do this.

Johnson: We will get a message out to Rives.

Helms: They'll get 100,000 rounds on 3rd, and the pack within a day or two.

[At 12:30 the President comes in with Dr. Kissinger.]

[At 12:45 the President leaves.] Dr. Kissinger then reviewed the foregoing discussion with the principals. The following was agreed:

  • —Okay to Market Time.
  • —Okay on the SR–71.
  • —Dr. Kissinger will let all know tomorrow the reactions on the third Thai battalion.8

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Minutes, Originals, Principals, 5/1/70. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. This and all substantive brackets are in the source text.
  3. Vang Pao made this request to the Chief of Station who was visiting Long Tieng on April 29. Vang Pao suggested the Thais could replace Meo (Hmong) irregulars manning the defensive line northeast of Sam Thong and northwest of Tha Tam Bleung, thus freeing the Hmong to dislodge the North Vietnamese from Ban Na area and denying the enemy a forward logistics base. (Telegram 066623 to Vientiane and Bangkok, May 1; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 LAOS)
  4. In telegram 3113 from Vientiane, Godley reported he was informed of Vang Pao's request. Godley reviewed the military situation and then agreed that a third Thai battalion was needed in Long Tieng. (Ibid.) In telegram 5342 from Bangkok, May 2, Unger reported that he expected the Thai Government would be prepared to send a third battalion because they had initially offered a regimental combat team. (Ibid., POL 27 CAMB/KHMER)
  5. According to a May 2 memorandum from Helms to Kissinger, Johnson, Packard, and Wheeler, the Station Chief in Laos did not believe that the North Vietnamese would be able to launch a major offensive in MR II after the first week in July. The North Vietnamese were currently fighting a three-front war—South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos—and northeast Laos was the lowest priority front. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 146, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, May 1, 1970)
  6. In telegram 692 from Phnom Penh, May 1, the Embassy reported that Cambodian authorities asked if the United States intended to continue to pay Khmer Krom troops and, if so, for how long? (Ibid., Box 589, Cambodian Operations (1970), Cambodia, Nodis/Khmer (Vol. I))
  7. In a May 2 memorandum from Helms to Kissinger, Johnson, Packard, and Wheeler, Helms reported that the MACV was handling payment of the Khmer Krom since they were part of the U.S. Special Forces CIDG troop complement, but that once they went to Cambodia they were the responsibility of the Lon Nol government. (Ibid., Box 507, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. IV, 4/24/70–5/7/70)
  8. In a separate summary of conclusions, May 1, the following decisions were noted: “1. A Market Time operation along the Cambodian coast was approved. 2. A SR–71 flight over Laos was approved. 3. We should get an assessment by tomorrow of the need for raising a third Thai battalion for Laos to allow them to move Laotian troops back to South Laos.” (Ibid., NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–073, WSAG Meeting, Principals, 5/1/70)