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275. 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, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • General John A. Vogt, USAF
  • Ambassador U. Alexis Johnson, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Marshall Green, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
  • Colonel Richard T. Kennedy, NSC Staff

SUBJECT

  • Cambodia

Johnson: The Secretary wants to know how we carry 1,500 KIA when only light contact has been made.

Packard: Much of it is from the air.

Johnson: How solid are these figures?

Packard: I don't know.

Karamessines: One hundred and thirty-three were seen killed. There must be some contact. We aren't stressing KIA. The primary objective is supplies.

Packard: Our casualties have been very low.

Karamessines: The prisoner total is high.

Johnson: [Reviewed the COMINT summary.]2

Vogt: That suggests much confusion and serious disruption. COSVN's effectiveness has been cut. They can't control their units. The enemy is making some effort today to regroup.

Johnson: Is there any evidence we are taking pressure off the Cambodians?

Vogt: We have taken the pressures off Svay Rieng.

Green: How far west of Svay Rieng will they go?

[Page 924]

Vogt: They are staying there.

Kissinger: Alex, how about the foreign reactions?

Johnson and Green: Malik is going ahead with the meeting. Ten have accepted. They will come up with resolutions supporting Cambodia's neutrality, calling for a reactivation of the ICC, some UN presence for Cambodia, and he invited the other Asians.

Johnson: I would like information to the posts on air action in the North.

Packard: Defense is making a statement today.

Kissinger: This phase is terminated but we want to keep our options open.

Packard: A statement has been carefully avoided. We've called it “reinforced protective reaction.”

Moorer: They were effective strikes. We caught them by surprise.

Packard: We have lost two U.S. planes.

Kissinger: Dave, be sure the statement is given to State.

Johnson: McCloskey will be in touch with Henkin.

Kissinger: How about Rives (Phnom Penh 717) cable?3

Johnson: What does this mean?

Vogt: There are many enemy fire bases in the area of Takeo.

Kissinger: Just behind 704?

Vogt: Abrams isn't pushing but he wants to move against 704. He would need air controllers on the ground for the air. Probably some Americans would be needed. They could get VNAF controllers, but they are scarce.

Johnson: If we could mount an attack on 704 by sun-up, it would be better.

Vogt: It would include also a Riverine operation. The operation would have some Americans but mostly ARVN.

Johnson: It is appropriate to go to Phnom Penh and say we recognize the problem and are working at ways to help.

Green: It's appropriate to keep up their spirits but we don't want them to rest on their oars.

Vogt: We will send the execute on 702 this morning.

[Page 925]

Kissinger: How long will 702 take?

Vogt: Seven–ten days.

Kissinger: Nothing is authorized yet but 702.

Johnson: Shouldn't we authorize 704, Riverine and the other as soon as possible?

Kissinger: Can't we get ARVN to take a positive attitude, not condescending?

Green: Go to Rives. Say we are working out ways to be helpful.

Johnson: They were asking for American action, thus Rives' views seems right.

Kissinger: No, that is right, but we have to keep their spirits up. The general strategy is to relieve pressure by actions against the bases.

Johnson: We are not going to get U.S. helicopters in there. We should tell them so and tell them they should move Khmer Krom.

Kissinger: I agree, but let's keep our answers to specific requests.

Packard: We tell them it's important for the Cambodians to keep their forces pressing inside Cambodia.

[At 11:45 Dr. Kissinger left.]

Nutter: We have some of these T–28 parts.

Green: Can't we put an Air Attaché on this in Phnom Penh?

Johnson: Can't we authorize the Air Attaché to find out where this stands and if it's not in train, ask Udorn to ship them down? We should go back out to Rives and (1) verify his needs, and (2) see if the stuff is not coming and to authorize the Air Attaché to get it from whatever sources available.

Packard: We will send one to the Attaché also.

Johnson: On Khmer Krom pay: I would like to hold the pay in escrow, making payments—family allowances—where needed.

Packard: Do we have contact with their families?

Johnson: I don't know, but we need to find out if it's feasible.

Leave it up to the Cambodians to pay a subsistence allowance. We take the posture that they are off our payroll if they are Cambodians.

Helms: We need to find out who commands them.

[At 11:55 Dr. Kissinger returns.]

Johnson: No one knew they were under direct U.S. command. All of us were under the same impression that they were nominally under the South Vietnamese.

If we pay them direct, we will have mercenaries and we can't say there are no U.S. forces in Cambodia.

[Page 926]

Kissinger: How do they get paid in Cambodia?

Johnson: The Cambodians pay subsistence.

Nutter: Congress will ask how they are normally paid.

Johnson: We will have to say they were paid by U.S. Special Forces but we are not paying them in Cambodia.

Helms: If they don't get paid, they will sour. I don't know whether Cambodia can pay.

Packard: We are still subject to criticism if we put it in escrow.

Johnson: Can't we shift their pay to South Vietnam?

Packard: This is better.

Kissinger: We could say that when they went over, they transferred to the South Vietnamese.

Let's send messages to Bunker and Abrams. I suggest our first choice is to transfer them to South Vietnam—we compensate them about $150,000 a month—and our second choice is the escrow idea.4

How about the T–28/A–1?

Packard: I will check and report tomorrow.

What about A–2 liaison?

Vogt: It seemed impractical because of the confused situation on the ground.

Packard: Okay. I agree not to send it.

Johnson: We want to be sure to get out to Lon Nol to inform him ahead of time before the operations begin. We will inform him promptly on 702.5

Packard: We will set up a procedure to inform State in advance.

Kissinger: What is the press guidance on 702? Does MACV announce this routinely?

Moorer: We will announce it routinely in Saigon.

Helms: Can we delay this announcement for a day or so?

Kissinger: Let's get guidance. Can MACV restrain themselves for a few days? We want to get guidance—we can call attention to the SecDef's statement and this is a continuation. We will say nothing until asked, and then low key.

Packard: We will coordinate this.

Johnson: We would like five hours notice.

[Page 927]

Packard: Moorer will set this up to include a description of the operation which is meaningful to Lon Nol.

Kissinger: It would be helpful if we can get an operation concluded and we could announce it. I don't want to press this, but if we could show limited operations, this would help us stay longer in COSVN. Maybe even announce that some have been withdrawn when they are.

Moorer: On the Riverine operation, I have asked Abrams for a time schedule. We will try to put all three out at roughly the same time.

Kissinger: I will tell the President there can be no tac air strikes because we would have to put controllers on the ground. I am not in favor of helicopter lift.

Let's discuss Thai Bien.

Johnson: Is it clear this is a temporary operation during the dry season, with the forces to be withdrawn in wet season?

Packard: We can't tell.

Moorer: The North Vietnamese may have stocked for operations in the rainy season.

Helms: There is no talk yet about withdrawing.

Johnson: Unger raises the question of equipping and training additional Thai forces. They will push for increased training and/or equipment or withdraw their forces from South Vietnam. If this is an indefinite deployment, we should begin to determine our position on more training/equipment and withdrawal from South Vietnam. We have a whole RCT we thought of as a reserve. Do we need to move the SGU battalions back south?

Helms: We are training three new units of SGU in the south but they won't be ready until June, July, August. The assessment is the NVA won't attack in the north during the rainy season.

The units won't stay in the north anyway. They don't like it there.

Kissinger: What is the view of this group about a third battalion?

Johnson: The Chinese can give us a time if they beefed up their forces along the road they are building. It's a logical move for them to make.

Packard: That is the biggest danger of all.

Johnson: They can't say this was triggered by this battalion.

Packard: They have alerted their intelligence but haven't found anything yet.

Johnson: A move like this would scare the Thai and would scare the United States.

Helms: The fall of Laos would be a headache for us. I think the battalion is needed.

[Page 928]

Packard: We should advise the President we might have to do more for the Thais.

Green: Should the CIA give an estimate on the Chinese?

Kissinger: We will get word this afternoon.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1969–1970, 5/4/70. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. All brackets in the source text.
  3. In telegram 717 from Phnom Penh, May 3, the Embassy passed on a request from the Cambodian military for U.S.– ARVN air strikes on North Vietnamese positions around Takeo and U.S. air lift of Khmer Krom from South Vietnam to the Takeo area. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–073, WSAG Meeting, Cambodia, May 4–8, 1970)
  4. Done in telegram 67434 to Saigon, May 4. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 CAMB/KHMER)
  5. Done in telegram 67369 to Phnom Penh, May 4. (Ibid.)
  6. In a separate summary of conclusions, May 4, the following decisions were noted: “1. The execute on 702 would be sent this morning. 2. U.S. helicopters should not go into Cambodia. The South Vietnamese should be told this and that they should move the Khmer Krom. We should keep our answers to specific requests. 3. Messages should be sent to Bunker and Abrams indicating that our first choice was to have the South Vietnamese pay the Khmer Krom for which we would compensate them about $150,000 a month. Our second choice was to hold the pay escrow making payments (family allowances) where needed. 4. There could be no tac air strikes because we would have to put controllers on the ground.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–073, WSAG Meetings, May 4–8, 1970)