110. Minutes of a Meeting of the Senior Washington Special Actions Group1


  • Southeast Asia Dry Season Campaign


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
    • John N. Irwin II
  • Defense
    • David Packard
  • CIA
    • Richard Helms
  • JCS
    • Admiral Thomas Moorer
  • NSC Staff
    • Brig. Gen. Alexander M. Haig
    • Colonel Richard T. Kennedy
[Page 313]

Dr. Kissinger: We will have a meeting of the principals with the President as soon as possible. It will be arranged when they are available. I understand that Secretaries Laird and Rogers and Admiral Moorer will be tied up on the Hill for the next day or two.

Mr. Irwin: We have to set the record on Cambodia clear. General Vogt said that some helicopters landed on the Route 4 operations. Senator Cooper objected to the report that 10 helicopters landed. General Vogt said that this was against policy. We have to be careful to keep our options for landing of helicopters in the Chup operations.

Admiral Moorer: Some marine choppers did land deliberately.

Dr. Kissinger: I think it is terrible that we have to apologize for helping a country which is helping itself. We all should use the information on the small number of U.S. air sorties that are actually involved.

Mr. Packard: On these upcoming operations, I think we should tell Congress in advance. We should brief selected members and the press in a straightforward way.

Admiral Moorer: We plan to do this. Abrams says he should brief selected reporters 24 hours in advance and be sure they understand the full details of just what is involved.

Dr. Kissinger: Why should we tell them before the operation begins? It seems to me it would be preferable to brief them as close to the actual time the operation starts as possible. We should level with them but just before it begins, not 24 hours in advance.

Mr. Packard: There is a great advantage in getting a story out right the first time. If they don’t know the facts, the first stories they file could be pretty far from the mark. I will take another look at the timing.

Mr. Helms: We want to be sure from the beginning that the press understands what we are doing and what the limits are.

Dr. Kissinger: Do all agree that this briefing should be done and we will consult again as to the timing? (All agreed.)

Mr. Packard: I suggest that for Chup we follow the general press guidance draft which I have prepared for Tchepone (a copy is attached).2 I recommend that Dan Henkin and Friedheim prepare detailed plans for both operations.

[Page 314]

Dr. Kissinger: I would prefer that we limit their participation now only to Chup until the principals have met on the Tchepone operation.

Mr. Packard: I am concerned about what we say when troops begin to move on Phase 1 of Tchepone.

Dr. Kissinger: (To Mr. Packard) Dave, would you please do up a public affairs scenario by tomorrow. (To Mr. Irwin) Jack, would you check again to see if anyone else needs to be notified on the diplomatic side. Should we tell Souvanna about the Chup operation? Do we need separate Congressional consultations? I think we should consider telling Congress 24 hours in advance.

Mr. Packard: We should brief a selected group of Congressmen in advance. I will prepare a full scenario for this.

Dr. Kissinger: We briefed the President at noon on the Tchepone operation.3 The President wanted to see if we could cut the requirements for U.S. airlift. He has no objection to all of the other air support. The President assumes that he can stop the operation up to 48 hours before H-hour. He wants to go ahead with Phase 1. The principals will get a chance to discuss this with the President. I think we should lay on heavy air attacks in the area in any event, both B–52 and TAC.

Mr. Packard: I agree.

Admiral Moorer: We’re doing about 350 sorties a day in the area now. We would just shift our targets and probably could increase the sortie rate some up to around 400. As soon as the troop movements start in Phase 1, we will step up the air.

Dr. Kissinger: Concerning the reply to Godley’s cable,4 I talked to Secretary Rogers and the President about it. The President thinks we should tell Godley to go back to Souvanna.

Mr. Irwin: Secretary Rogers wants the President to see the draft reply.5

Dr. Kissinger: Of course.

Mr. Packard: I think we should say something to the effect that it would be desirable to stay in the area for the entire dry season but that the forces could leave earlier if necessary.

Dr. Kissinger: What is the minimum time we expect will be necessary.

[Page 315]

Mr. Helms: Yes that is the question. What are we asking Souvanna to accept? How long a period will they have to remain?

Dr. Kissinger: Why don’t we say a minimum of six weeks and perhaps longer.

Mr. Packard: We could leave off then “the entire dry season”.6

Mr. Irwin: What do we say here in answer to queries from either the press or Congress? Four months? Or to the end of the dry season?

Admiral Moorer: We can’t be that specific.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree with Jack. We will take the heat whether we initially say it is for a short period or a longer one. When we brief the Congress, we should say it will be for a minimum of six weeks but that it may be desirable to remain for the whole dry season. We will evaluate the situation as we go along. But we don’t necessarily have to tell Souvanna this now.

Mr. Packard: In paragraph 5 of the draft cable, why do we tell Souvanna that this gives us pause. Why don’t we just say that the matter is being given careful consideration.7

Dr. Kissinger: Why do we tell him that we are giving him an official reaction.

Mr. Helms: Souvanna made three propositions. Do we want to keep any of these open? How about his tri-border area suggestion? Do we want to eliminate this in his mind now?

Admiral Moorer: I think we ought to tell him that we looked at the other suggestions but that Tchepone is the preferable course. At the end of paragraph 3 of the cable we could say that we considered these other alternatives including the tri-border operation very carefully but the Tchepone plan offers the greatest military benefit.8

[Page 316]

Mr. Helms: We are dropping the last sentence (all agreed that it should be dropped).9 We are trying to find out the depth of Souvanna’s feelings.

Dr. Kissinger: Why not say in paragraph 3 that you should inform him at the next meeting, which we hope will be soonest. (All agree.)10

Dr. Kissinger: How about instructions to Bunker to give him the state of play? Should he tell Thieu—I realize Thieu is not available for the next day or so. (All agree that Bunker should be informed on the state of play but that he should not tell Thieu until the next round.)

Dr. Kissinger: We will need a public posture on troop movements and Phase 1.

Mr. Packard: I will give you a recommendation.

Dr. Kissinger: What about Alex Johnson’s scenario for Tchepone?11 (All indicated a preference for Mr. Packard’s general plan. All agree that the Presidential involvement proposed in the Johnson scenario was undesirable.)

Mr. Irwin: I will do a new scenario based upon Alex Johnson’s outline and David Packard’s plan.

Dr. Kissinger: Good, I think we should have that for our next meeting.

Mr. Irwin: In drafting it, I am concerned about the reasons why we would do this. As I understand it, we saw a high infiltration rate late in 1970 and the effect of this is what we are concerned about. But the situation is improving by all accounts in South Vietnam and the infiltration rate was down in January.

Dr. Kissinger: We cannot make a recommendation whether we should or should not carry out the operation. It is our job to plan on the assumption that the operation will be conducted. The principals and the President will discuss the issue of whether we should or should not go through with it. The basic rationale rests on the CIA assessment.12 If the operation is conducted, it would block the North Vietnamese [Page 317] from launching a major offensive until the end of the dry season of 1972. They could not recover from the effects until then. That means that we would gain an extra dry season to continue our Vietnamization program and protect our withdrawals.

Admiral Moorer: This will be the last time that the South Vietnamese will be able to mount this kind of an operation. Our forces will have been drawn down to the point that we will be unable to take over the security mission in South Vietnam to release South Vietnamese forces for this kind of operation outside.

Mr. Irwin: The Congressional reaction to this will be strongly negative.13

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–115, WSAG Meetings Minutes, Originals, 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting took place in the Situation Room of the White House. According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, the meeting ended at 5:35 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  2. Attached but not printed is an undated, untitled, 2-page paper with general public relations guidance and a draft statement for General Abrams to make after operations began. The statement did not name the country in which the operations were being conducted, but noted that the purpose was to “help thwart the enemy’s movement of men and materiel down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.” It noted also that the RVNAF was receiving air and logistics assistance from U.S. forces, including U.S. artillery fire from South Vietnam, but that no U.S. combat troops were participating in the operation.
  3. See Document 109.
  4. For a summary, see footnote 3, Document 109.
  5. The draft telegram to Vientiane is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–115, WSAG Meetings Minutes, Originals, 1971. The approved version was sent as telegram 13902 to Vientiane, January 26. (Ibid., Box 80, Vietnam Subject Files, Ops in Laos and Cambodia, Vol. II)
  6. In paragraph 4 of the draft, the Department asked Godley to inform Souvanna that the RVNAF “would expect to stay in place during the entire dry season.” Telegram 13902 reads, “they would expect to stay in place during much of the dry season.”
  7. The draft reads, “The serious objections Souvanna appears to have had to the proposal in your initial discussion with him naturally give us pause,” and instructed Godley to say that he did not yet have an official reaction. Telegram 13902 reads, “The objections Souvanna appears to have had to the proposal in your initial discussion with him naturally are being given careful consideration,” and left off the clause indicating that Washington had not reacted. In its place, the final draft instructed Godley to ask Souvanna that if he insisted on protesting the ARVN operation he should also protest the presence of North Vietnamese troops in Laos.
  8. That language was included in telegram 13902.
  9. The last sentence in paragraph 3 of the draft, which was dropped from telegram 13902, reads: “We wish to avoid any possible suggestion that we are engaging in duplicity in our relationship with him.”
  10. That language was included in telegram 13902. Haig also sent a backchannel message to Godley, January 26, in which he noted that instructions were being sent through normal channels, but that the President asked him to conduct his discussions in a way most likely to gain Souvanna’s acquiescence, particularly in regard to the duration of the operation. The message was attached to a note from Haig to Karamessines, January 26. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 83, Vietnam Subject Files, Special Operations File, Vol. I)
  11. See footnote 7, Document 108.
  12. See Document 111.
  13. In his January 26 diary entry, Haldeman wrote that Kissinger had spoken with him about the operation and believed that if it were successful it would end the war by totally demolishing the enemy’s capability. Haldeman was concerned, though, about whether it would be worth the public and Congressional outrage over the operation. He noted that there was an alternative that might be more acceptable domestically: there were indications that the enemy had learned about the operation and that enemy troops were massing to counterattack, which presented an excellent target for an air operation that could prove just as effective as the Laos plan. Either plan, Kissinger worried, might scuttle recent successes he had had in negotiations with the Soviets. (The Haldeman Diaries, p. 239)