291. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Your Meeting with Secretary Laird, Admiral Moorer and Dr. Kissinger at 9:00 AM, May 14, 19702


You have requested a meeting with Secretary Laird and the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, for the purpose of expressing your appreciation to the Secretary of Defense for his responsive performance over recent days and to provide him with the benefit of your views on conduct of future U.S./ARVN military operations in Southeast Asia.

[Page 971]


Since your decision to authorize ARVN and U.S. operations into Cambodian sanctuaries, we have conducted 8 operations against 11 enemy base areas.

It is probable that upon the completion of the operations in Cambodia the enemy’s capabilities to conduct operations against US/ARVN forces in the III and IV Corps areas in South Vietnam will be considerably reduced.

To insure this, we should not over-pressure General Abrams to withdraw his forces from Cambodia prematurely but permit him to regulate his own schedule and insure the maximum destruction or disposition of captured material between now and July 1.

Talking Points:

  • —Compliment Secretary Laird for the outstanding manner in which his Department and the military have conducted the myriad of complex and difficult tasks associated with your Cambodian decision. Specifically:
    Mention the prompt and efficient implementation of your decisions for operations in Cambodia.
    Cite the high degree of security and discipline reflected throughout the defense structure thus far.
    Compliment Secretary Laird for the military success achieved thus far.
  • —Emphasize that we have already largely paid the price domestically and abroad for the decision to attack the sanctuaries and for the strikes against North Vietnam. Therefore:
    We must continue moving boldly to inflict maximum damage on the enemy between now and 1 July but with minimum U.S. casualties.
    We must continually bear in mind that the wisdom of the decision to strike in Cambodia will be judged not in terms of the immediate problems it has generated in the U.S. but rather in terms of the overall long term success it achieves.
  • —In the days ahead, it is essential that detailed planning be undertaken in the following areas:
    A plan for the timely and successful withdrawal of U.S. forces from Cambodian territory. The plan should also include recommendations for future ARVN operations in Cambodia. Within the limitations of weather, it should guarantee maximum damage to enemy supplies and facilities in Cambodia during the period between now and July 1.
    A detailed plan for the effective disposition or destruction of the vast supplies discovered during these operations.
    A detailed campaign plan for operations in South Vietnam to [Page 972] commence immediately following the withdrawal of our forces from Cambodia.
    • —The plan should consider the most effective military steps required to maintain pressure on the enemy and to exploit the success achieved by the Cambodian operations.
    • —It should consider the respective roles of U.S. and ARVN forces.
    • —It should be prepared in the light of various possible out comes of the situation within Cambodia.
    In order to inflict heavy damage on the weakened enemy force structure in South Vietnam, especially in III and IV Corps, U.S. troop withdrawal rates between now and next fall should be held down to the absolute minimum. Also, General Abrams will have to be in a posture in the weeks ahead to respond to strong enemy retaliatory attacks, especially in I or II Corps. Therefore, you would like to have the recommendations of General Abrams, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary Laird on the specific schedule for the withdrawal of 60,000 troops from Vietnam between now and the end of calendar year 1970.
  • —To maintain maximum pressure on the enemy during the remaining period of operations in Cambodia and during the period immediately following their conclusion, Secretary Laird should be prepared to conduct a higher level of air sorties against North Vietnamese supply routes in Laos and Cambodia. (This will require continuation of higher sortie rates than were programmed before the Cambodian situation developed.)
  • —Because the enemy may at any time escalate to an unacceptable level in South Vietnam, we must be prepared to conduct, on short notice, an intensified air offensive against North Vietnam and air assets must be retained in theater to insure this capability is retained for the immediate future.

Secretary Laird may also raise the proposed plan for the second phase of the operation against enemy base area 704 (Tab A)3 which is scheduled to commence on Saturday. The objectives are to destroy the western portion of the Base Area 704, seize key road junctions in the area, destroy another enemy base area in the vicinity of Nui O Mountain (which is southeast of base area 704), and relieve pressure on the Cambodian cities of Kampot and Takeo. Briefly, the plan provides for:

  • —A coordinated air mobile, armored and infantry assault across the Cambodian border from its southern-most point to the Mekong River.
  • —Conduct of the operation by the ARVN (with U.S. support) and South Vietnamese Regional Force units.
  • —Blocking with South Vietnamese naval units enemy escape from the Coast by sea.
  • Secretary Laird has raised two questions about the plan and has recommended that reassurance on these points be obtained from General Abrams prior to final approval:
  • —How many regional force troops will be involved in Cambodia?
  • —What will be the effect on pacification and IV Corps security of the proposed operations?

You should instruct Secretary Laird to proceed on schedule barring any additional unforeseen risks.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 507, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. V, 8 May 1970–22 May 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sent for briefing.
  2. The President and Haldeman met with Laird and Wheeler from 9:06 to 10:01 a.m. on May 14. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) According to Haldeman, The Haldeman Diaries, p. 166, Kissinger also attended this meeting. No other record of the meeting has been found.
  3. Attached but not printed at Tab A was a May 13 memorandum from Laird to the President enclosing CM–5317–70, the outline plan for the phase II attack on base area 704.