113. 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
  • CIARichard Helms
  • JCS—Admiral Thomas Moorer
  • NSC Staff
  • Brig. Gen. Alexander M. Haig
  • Colonel Richard T. Kennedy

[Omitted here is discussion of how and when to brief countries contributing troops to Vietnam, the press, and Congress about the operation into Laos.]

Mr. Helms: Will the North Vietnamese fight?

Admiral Moorer: There will be some fighting but we simply don’t know how much the North Vietnamese will do or whether they will stand and fight for long.

Mr. Helms: We think they will fight but we can’t tell how determined they will be.

Mr. Irwin: What risks are there for U.S. helicopters landing in the area? Will the area into which they go be secure?

Admiral Moorer: There won’t be very much risk. The South Vietnamese have been operating in the area for some time along the road. I think we ought to settle what we will say on the Phase 1 operation. We need to get a public position on this.

Dr. Kissinger: Let’s turn then to Phase 1 of the Tchepone operation.

Mr. Packard: I am troubled by this. There already has been some speculation and we can anticipate more.

Mr. Helms: Given the amount that the North Vietnamese know about it, a great many others must know too.

[Page 333]

Mr. Packard: If we brief the press and Congress only on Phase 1 and the succeeding phases don’t go, we can stay credible. But we can’t brief on Phase 2 until there is a decision.

Dr. Kissinger: But we will have time between the time a decision is made and the start of Phase 2 if the decision is to go. We could brief with the literal truth before February 3.

Mr. Helms: I thought that we had a plan. We would say that we were moving troops north but we would say nothing about what might happen next. This would generate press speculation and in turn North Vietnamese reaction to protect its forces and installations. This would give us additional options on how to hit them.

Dr. Kissinger: The President sees it this way. I think then we just have to be prepared to take the heat for a week. The President wants no suggestion in our cables that we are not going ahead with the whole operation.

Mr. Irwin: What effect on the Tchepone public relations scenario will reaction to the Chup operation have?

Dr. Kissinger: We simply have to keep enigmatic. By all means there must be no leaking.

Mr. Irwin: As I understand it, nothing would be releasable under the plan proposed by General Abrams and Defense until the daily MACV embargo was lifted.

Dr. Kissinger: Do we all agree now that there will be no backgrounding by anyone on the Tchepone operation and that there can be no leaks of any kind. (All agree.)

Mr. Packard: Do we all agree that Dan Henkin should take the lead on the public relations aspects of the Chup and Phase 1 operations? (All agreed that Henkin should take the lead.) I recommend that there be a daily discussion between Henkin, McCloskey and Ziegler. (All agreed to this procedure.)

Dr. Kissinger: We want to keep the President out. If we are to go to Phase 2 we want to keep the President out of it.

Mr. Irwin: This includes the proposed TV speech. I oppose that.

Dr. Kissinger: I think we all do. This just tends to build it up. Am I correct that February 4 is D-day for Chup?

Admiral Moorer: Yes, and troop movements in Phase 1 Tchepone begin 30 January.

Dr. Kissinger: (To Admiral Moorer) Please make sure that General Abrams handles the press situation—keep the lower levels out of it. Can we send two separate messages to Abrams—one dealing with Chup and the other with Phase 1—rather than just a single message?

Mr. Packard: Yes I will do that. We will send them over for clearance.

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Dr. Kissinger: As I understand it, on Phase 1 we will tell the press that troop movements are occurring to protect our position in the northern area of South Vietnam against an increased North Vietnamese threat and North Vietnamese movements in that area. As to Chup, as I understand it, we will give the press a briefing 24 hours in advance in a low key covering the scope of the operation and the nature and the extent of U.S. participation.

Mr. Packard: That is correct and on the Hill we will have General Vogt do this in a low key “door-to-door” on Chup.

Dr. Kissinger: But he will say nothing about Phase 1 on the Hill.

Mr. Irwin: If he did, he would have to face questions on later phases.

Dr. Kissinger: On the cables to Bunker2 and Godley,3 the President has seen them. He recognizes that he has not made a decision. He will not accept that the operation has gone too far to call it off. But he wants all to believe that the operation is going and does not want to convey the opposite impression. He wants to change the thrust of the messages to be sure that they give the impression that we are going ahead.4

  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. It ended at 4:55 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76, Record of Schedule)
  2. In telegram 15224 to Saigon, January 28, the Department instructed Bunker to inform Thieu about the status of the discussions with Souvanna, including the decision to delay authorizing Phase II of Operation Ashau (the Tchepone operation) pending Souvanna’s reaction, and to propose that the South Vietnamese begin troop redeployments to Military Region I in accordance with Phase I on the night of January 30–31. He was also to inform Thieu that the public response to inquiries about the redeployments would be that they were being made to establish a stronger defensive posture in light of increasing enemy concentrations in the Lao Panhandle and to interrupt the enemy’s supply lines into South Vietnam. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 80, Vietnam Subject Files, Ops in Laos and Cambodia, Vol. II)
  3. In telegram 15223 to Vientiene, January 28, the Department informed Godley that it did not want to involve Presidential authority in the discussions with the Lao on Operation Ashau. (Ibid.)
  4. In telegram 1375 from Saigon, January 29, Bunker reported that he and Abrams met with Thieu and Vien, that Thieu agreed to go ahead with Phase I, and that GVN forces would move as planned. They also discussed Phase II. Abrams and Vien claimed it should take 1 to 2 days to reach Tchepone. Thieu thought the operation should take two divisions at least a month to complete, but Abrams felt that based on the experience of the Cambodian operation this estimate was an absolute minimum. Thieu claimed that the objective should be to clear up the area and stay in Tchepone to interdict the enemy, adding that after a month they could decide how many troops to withdraw. (Ibid.)