328. Backchannel Message From Colonel Jonathan Ladd to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1

After four duty days in Phnom Penh, in which two were required to get into direct contact with highest level Cambodian officials, I believe things are beginning to move in accordance with President Nixon’s desires.
My relations with Embassy staff have progressed, so far as I can tell, from curiosity as to why I was sent here to confidence that I will be an asset to Embassy operations and personal friendships and willing assistance in all that I have endeavored to accomplish.
I shall make this an interim report as I am not yet prepared to address meaningfully every aspect of your message to me.2
When I arrived, Sunday the 14th, my first impression was that this was a “business as usual” atmosphere and that little of the environment of urgency I encountered in Washington and at MACV existed. My arrival, the visit of Admiral Butts and Amb. Koren from CINCPAC, the growing rumors of attack upon Phnom Penh and the cables announcing the intelligence augmentations all have served to [Page 1068] change my first impression. Our principal problem internally is to organize this outfit into an effective staff to respond to the many requirements and tasks facing us. Heretofore the Embassy apparently operated as almost a “one-man-show.” This is no longer possible and the fact is recognized by all concerned. I am receiving full cooperation from Mr. Rives. The Attachés are probably adequate professionally but are not the types to inspire confidence nor are they particularly well organized to tackle the problem at hand. They are now working directly under my control and I am attempting to get them productive.
Lon Nol met with Mr. Rives and me yesterday and again I met with him today after a full morning with his logistics staff. He has agreed to all of our recommendations concerning establishing realistic priorities, getting his requests funneled through me and not every Tom, Dick and Harry going to Saigon and to evacuate the forces he has in the Green Triangle.
Today FANK staff and I hammered out a priority list for receipt of captured enemy weapons and ammunitions and I sent it to MACV by back channel this morning advising GOC is ready to begin receiving priority one items immediately. A detailed breakdown of items by priority will be sent out front channel as soon as I finish this message.
With regard to your number one:3 US response to reasonable requests from the GOC has been excellent. MACV is well organized and eager to assist and has had to play it almost by ear in the past. Requests sent by DAO were vague, incomplete and in some cases just efforts to make some high level Cambodian official happy. This has been corrected. The system as now established will work fine and as soon as the Cambodians get used to it I’m sure everything will smooth out.
Your number two:4 So far as I have been able to determine the GVN assistance (material, training plans, transportation and the establishment of an effective liaison mission here in Phnom Penh) has been thorough, efficient and responsive. So far as the Thais and other countries are concerned, I know only what I read in the cables and although there is much talk, it seems all such offers end with a phrase or two about the assistance “of course” being paid for by Thais or Cambodian MAP. I will look into this in greater depth and report later. I assume action has already been taken to encourage our Embassies in potential [Page 1069] loner countries of Asia to talk to their host governments about the regional nature of this crisis, the opportunity for Asians to help Asians and the necessity for them to shoulder some of the expenses in a common cause.
Your number three:5 So far as ground operations are concerned, except for the Green Triangle area, the air support in the form of flare dropping aircraft has been most helpful in defense of several towns. I will have to get the details for you. The gut problem so far as close tactical support is concerned is experienced ground controllers and personnel who can direct the airborne FALs to the targets. Right now I am told by DAO that some of the twenty-odd PRC25 given to the Cambodians are being used for this purpose (some carried in the back seat of a T–28 and some with units on the ground). How these people communicate with U.S. or VNAF aircraft, I just don’t know but will find out and report later.
Your number four:6 My early impression is that the most critical problem of command and control in FANK is communications. The defense of Phnom Penh relies primarily on the municipal telephone system which is not good under ordinary circumstances and would probably be inoperative if the city was attacked. Most troop units in the field rely upon runners and visual signals. I do not believe FANK has any reliable communications system with its major headquarters and garrisons throughout the country. Just before I arrived, MACV made a communications survey over here but I have not seen it nor am I a communications expert. I will try to get some meaningful data on this but suggest you ask MACV for a report on the survey. Next to communications, I consider the greatest handicap to tactical operations is lack of mobility. FANK uses broken down commercial busses and trucks to move troops on the ground. They have a few C–47’s they could use if airfields happened to be available and not under enemy control or interdiction. Roads are reported to be “cut” by the enemy but I am inclined to feel “subject to interdiction” might be a better way to put it. Regardless of the wording, FANK has no effective reconnaissance vehicles (armored or non-armored) to keep the roads open or find and fix any enemy that may be there. I will report later on my findings on the FANK tactical planning capability. So far, I have had [Page 1070] time only to get deeply into the logistics problems. For the logistics field, however, I am impressed with their higher level capability to plan, extent and accuracy of their records and reports and their common sense approach to their problems. Their logisticians aren’t dumb, they just haven’t got much to work with.
Your number five:7 To raise FANK military capabilities on a short term basis I think that:
They must obtain a means to communicate effectively from at least battalion level upward through FANK headquarters. Also, the Phnom Penh defense command must be able to communicate between its major elements.
They must have some better mobility capability (the 40 trucks scheduled for delivery in a couple of weeks will help ground mobility). They also need access to some rotary wing troop lift capability so they can move reinforcements of at least battalion size in a reasonable length of time.
They need weapons, mostly small arms and compatible ammunition, to arm the units of volunteers now undergoing training without weapons. I will try to refine this by precise weapons and numbers they can assimilate as soon as possible.
I agree with your assessment of the overall situation and concur that the outcome may indeed pivot on psychological issues rather than raw military power. I gather Lon Nol is encouraged by what we are trying to do but he left the definite impression with me that he was discouraged by the “much talk but little positive action” on the part of his Asian neighbors. He is grateful for all the RVN is doing but is concerned about not being able to get any definite commitment from them on how much help he can expect after 30 June. He also told me he knew that practically every nation that has offered him help intended to do so only if the U.S. paid for it.
Will begin update every three days as directed and augment if necessary.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 85, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Phnom Penh (Mr. Ladd 4 of 4). Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. [text not declassified] In a telephone conversation on June 18 at 6 p.m., the President told Haig to initiate actions to get additional South Vietnamese forces engaged in Cambodia, open up Route 1, and get a Thai regiment to Cambodia. Haig told the President that he had received a message from Ladd. Nixon asked: “Is he on the job and working?” Haig responded that Ladd was “going to start screaming for shipments. For stuff they need for psychological reasons.” Nixon stated: “If they need trucks and armored vehicles, get them in there. Just get them in there. There are certainly plenty of them over there. I hope he realizes what we expect of him. Needle the hell out of him. I expect a report every 12 hours.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 363, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
  2. In a backchannel message to Ladd, June 17, Haig informed him that the President wanted his personal assessment of five issues described in the footnotes below. Haig also informed Ladd that the “President wants any and all administrative bottlenecks and red tape cut in order to take those steps now needed to prevent a takeover of Cambodia by Communist forces.” Haig suggested that “the coming days and weeks may be critical and that in large measure the outcome may pivot on psychological issues rather than military power.” The North Vietnamese were intent on giving the impression that they were “systematically rolling up Cambodian countryside and isolating Phnom Penh by overwhelming military strength, with a view toward placing maximum psychological pressure on Cambodian regime.” Haig stated that “we question whether enemy strength would permit takeover.” He asked for Ladd’s views. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 430, Backchannel Messages, Jonathan F. Ladd [Part 2])
  3. In the June 17 backchannel message to Ladd, Haig stated that the first assessment needed from Ladd was: “Adequacy and responsiveness in both type and quantity of U.S. shipments of military equipment to Cambodia and responsiveness of the current system in response to Cambodian military.” (Ibid.)
  4. Requested assessment number 2 reads: “Scope and effectiveness of assistance measures, including provision of troops, military supplies and economic assistance by GVN, Thais and other countries.” (Ibid.)
  5. Requested assessment number 3 reads: “Adequacy and responsiveness of current U.S. and VNAF air support. Is scope and timeliness of US/VNAF air support adequate to influence critical ground actions as they occur and what should be done to improve system through expanded authorities or improved technical and control capabilities?” (Ibid.)
  6. Requested assessment number 4 reads: “Measures which should be taken to improve proficiency of FANK operations, to include command and control and planning for effective tactical operations.” (Ibid.)
  7. Requested assessment number 5 reads: “In light of the responses to foregoing, measures which you think must be taken on a priority basis to raise FANK military capability on short-term basis.” (Ibid.)