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

SUBJECT

  • Reassuring Report From Our Political and Military Counsellor in Phnom Penh

We have received a report from Mr. Ladd, our political and military counsellor in Phnom Penh, which presents a reassuring picture of [Page 1116]the strategic situation in Cambodia and of future developments. (The full text of the message is at Tab A.)2

Mr. Ladd begins by discussing the earlier military situation in Cambodia, noting that our operations against the sanctuaries forced the enemy to develop his plans too rapidly to implement the plan for Cambodia which he then appeared to want to carry out, which was to bring about the rapid downfall of the Lon Nol Government. The enemy struck at many different Cambodian centers at the same time, but in doing so his forces became dispersed, his logistical support was not viable, he did not have time to prepare his battlefields, his communications were spotty, and he lacked a functioning infrastructure and the support of the people. Against this, the Cambodians could and did fight despite their lack of training, weapons, and experience. Together with U.S. and South Vietnamese assistance, they were able to hold, while the enemy was unable to take and hold any of the strategic points which he attacked. The enemy's hope of bringing down the Lon Nol Government quickly has now failed.

Looking ahead, Mr. Ladd believes that further enemy attacks can certainly be expected, but that the NVA/VC forces will attempt to organize themselves better and that this will require time. The Cambodians will be able to utilize this time to reinforce critical garrisons, distribute supplies and munitions, improve communications, coordinate defensive plans, work out South Vietnamese and Thai assistance, train troops, and gain support from other nations.

Meanwhile, the enemy is faced with the strategic choice of either bringing more pressure to bear against Cambodians, in which case he cannot exert a maximum effort against Vietnam and against Vietnamization, or redeploying at least some of the enemy forces now in Cambodia to Vietnam, thus relieving to some extent the current pressures against Cambodia. In either case he must operate over greatly extended lines of communications and in an environment generally lacking in local cooperation and intelligence factors. At the same time, it will become increasingly evident that his operations in Cambodia are nothing but absolute aggression which should put NVA/VC operations in Cambodia in ever-growing unfavorable light.

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Finally, Mr. Ladd considers that the Cambodian situation has the very positive aspects of inspiring free Asian nations to help work together against a common regional enemy. He cites the assistance being provided by the South Vietnamese, the Thais, and Australians and then assumes that other countries may join in this effort. The United States' role can be limited to providing a helping hand without the involvement of U.S. forces or U.S. military advisory missions.

Comment: While I do not believe we should allow ourselves to become euphoric about Cambodia, I agree with the general line put forward by Mr. Ladd. Undoubtedly a hard fight lies ahead in Cambodia, but the enemy's strategic and practical military problems are considerable, and the Cambodians do appear to be pulling themselves together.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 510, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. VIII, 20 June 1970–20 July 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.”
  2. Dated July 10; attached but not printed. Haig sent Kissinger a July 11 memorandum commenting on Ladd's report. Haig thought the report to be “extremely optimistic, maybe too much. But on the other hand, I think it accurately portrays the strategic importance of the Cambodian decision and the dilemma now faced by Hanoi. I am especially sympathetic because it confirms the original assessment I made during my visit to Phnom Penh in April.” See Document 219. Kissinger asked Haig to prepare a memorandum for the President. Haig had Howe do it on a “rush” basis.