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


  • Meeting between the President, Secretary Rogers, Secretary Laird, Director of CIA Helms, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Moorer at 5:00 p.m., Tuesday, February 2, 1971 regarding Special Operations in Southeast Asia

Purpose of the Meeting

You are scheduled to meet with Secretary Rogers, Secretary Laird, CIA Director Helms, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Moorer and myself in your office at 5:00 p.m. today to discuss Phase II of the Tchepone operation.2

This meeting will give the small group of principals who have met with you earlier on this subject3 an opportunity to recap for you their views in a more limited forum, prior to the NSC meeting scheduled for 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.4

Conduct of the Meeting

In order to bring the participants abreast of the current battlefield situation and the status of Phase I of the Tchepone operation, as well as the timing and status of planning for the Chup operation, you may wish to call on Secretary Laird who, in turn, can ask Admiral Moorer to bring the group abreast of the last minute details on the Chup operation scheduled to commence at 4:00 a.m., 4 February, Saigon time (3:00 p.m., February 3, D.C. time). You should then ask Admiral Moorer, through Secretary Laird, to cover the current status of operations underway in Phase I of the Tchepone plan and the status of plans for the initiation of Phase II, to include current enemy order of battle.

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Following this, you may wish to ask Director Helms to briefly recap for the group the effect that Phase II will have on the North Vietnamese logistics effort in Southeast Asia.

Following this brief update, you may then wish to ask Secretary Rogers, Secretary Laird and Admiral Moorer for their views on whether or not an affirmative decision should be made with respect to Phase II. The pros and cons of Phase II are summarized on the handout I have already circulated to the participants (copy of handout at Tab A). The most significant related event that has occurred since our last discussion is the fact that surprise has been largely lost due to press speculation.

Talking Points

Inform group that you have convened this special meeting to provide an opportunity for a frank exchange of views on Phase II of the Tchepone operation prior to the meeting in the larger NSC forum tomorrow morning:

  • —Ask Secretary Laird to have the Chairman provide the group with a brief update on:
    The status of planning and H-hour for the Chup operation.
    The current military situation in I Corps on D+3 of Phase I. Include the current enemy order of battle.
  • —Following the update briefing by Secretary Laird and Admiral Moorer, you may wish to ask Director Helms to provide the group once more a brief assessment of the impact the operation will have on the North Vietnamese logistics effort in Southeast Asia, together with a brief wrapup of what he considers North Vietnamese, Chinese, Soviet and other pertinent international reactions might be.
  • —Ask Secretary Rogers to present his views on Souvanna’s current attitude and his overall assessment of the pros and cons of proceeding with Phase II of the operation.
  • —Ask Secretary Laird to provide his assessment of the pros and cons of proceeding with Phase II.
  • —Ask Admiral Moorer for his views.
  • —Inform the group that you have given careful thought to the operation this past weekend and intend to convene a meeting of the principals of the NSC at 10:00 a.m. in the morning. The meeting will also include the Vice President, the Attorney General, Governor Connally, General Lincoln and Ambassador Bunker. In the interim, you wish to caution each of the participants that there has been too much laxity in security as manifested by several fairly precise news pieces today. Instruct the participants to insure a maximum degree of discipline within their departments and agencies.

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Tab A


Pros Cons

1. Domestic Reaction

By taking domestic heat now, will be buying insurance that withdrawals can be successfully continued at a time when militarily much more vulnerable. Segments of Congress and general public will be extremely critical of operation, calling it an expansion of war and violation of Laotian neutrality. U.S. support of ARVN required to insure success. U.S. helo losses in Laos will fuel domestic reaction.
U.S. involvement with air not ground combat troops. There are no legislative inhibitions to planned U.S. involvement. Operation consistent with Nixon Doctrine.

2. Effect on Vietnamization

Vietnamization may work but failure to carry out operation will increase risks at precise time that withdrawals are accelerating substantially. Operation will lessen our long term requirements for supporting South Vietnamese forces for next 3 or 4 years. Vietnamization will work without this operation.

3. Risks of Failure

Military Commanders are confident of success. Enemy has avoided standing and fighting in past. If they fight, our fire power advantage will be most effective and enemy losses substantially increased. Failure could be totally demoralizing for SVN and topple Thieu in election.
Enemy aware of possibility of operation and has concentrated forces in area. Can inflict heavy casualties. We have turned down operation in past due to insufficient strength. ARVN may not have the capability to successfully accomplish this difficult operation.

4. Timing

Important to do now. This is last opportunity when U.S. will be able to give backup support. In next dry season, U.S. will not have forces available to free ARVN for major operations outside of SVN.
Enemy supplies are stacked up at Tchepone at this time. Will move South in near future.
Doing simultaneously with Chup creates possibility of disrupting Communist base structure and plans for at least a year.
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5. Sufficiency of Military/Political Gains

Tchepone is a vital enemy supply hub. Enemy preparations to defend it are indicative of its strategic importance. Caches are strung out and will be difficult to locate.
Will give South Vietnamese much greater chance for survival over the long term. Enemy may choose to move to West rather than fight, reducing military gain and increasing pressure on Souvanna.
Enemy has been denied sea supply route; to deny land supply route from North Vietnam will have major consequences for enemy forces in SVN, Southern Laos and Cambodia.
ARVN confidence and pride will be greatly increased by success of operation conducted solely by their ground forces. Thieu’s position for election will be enhanced.

6. U.S. Casualties

Although there will be some helo losses, it is estimated that casualties will not be increased measurably. It will guarantee less casualties over long term. U.S. casualties might be increased substantially because of air support operations in heavily defended area, especially by anti-aircraft weapons.
If enemy crossed DMZ, U.S. defenders in blocking positions would suffer increased casualties.

7. Another Location

Military assessment has been made and operation in this location will have greatest impact on enemy. Operations further south would be less risky since further from North Vietnamese reinforcements.

8. Credibility of U.S. Position Domestically

President has warned on numerous occasions that he would react to enemy increases in infiltration. It is the North Vietnamese who are operating in substantially increased numbers in Laos in violation of the Accords. Congress believes neither U.S. nor South Vietnamese would move into Laos and violate neutrality.

9. Effect on Political/Military Situation in Laos

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Souvanna expressed some initial reservations but after talking to King now in favor. Souvanna can call for withdrawal of all foreign forces, and may even state publicly that operation is necessary in light of NVN moves against Laos. Might put Souvanna in untenable political position. Would risk losing acquiescence of Soviets, North Vietnamese and Chinese.
Souvanna feels it will tip balance in right direction. Enemy is already moving in Northern Laos. Enemy may not react in other locations. Rightists who favor grouping of SVN, Cambodia, and Laos would be strengthened at Souvanna’s expense.
Souvanna will have to call for withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Could unsettle whole fragile balance in Laos. Enemy might move in Northern Laos or move to the West.

10. Relations with Other Countries

Will increase credibility of U.S. strength and resolve. Might set back our relations with Soviets and Chinese.
CIA believes Soviet reactions would be largely propaganda. Chinese would be more threatening and give more supplies but it is doubtful they would intervene. Operation would be of deep concern to both Chinese and Soviets who would recognize it as major threat to Communist operations in Cambodia and South Vietnam.
Our friends are anxious to have us out of Vietnam. This will increase the probability of a successful withdrawal. Thai reaction will probably be positive. Chinese might move into Laos.
Our allies, particularly outside Asia, will be critical and this will add to domestic criticism.

11. Paris Negotiations

Negotiations are not moving at this time and U.S. public is not optimistic about them. Setback will probably be temporary. North Vietnamese will probably boycott for some period of time. Increases domestic pressure in U.S.
On the other hand, NVN may be a little more convinced it is in its interests to seek a negotiated settlement.

12. Thieu’s Political Position

Success will strengthen Thieu’s popularity and SVN confidence in him. Failure of the operation or a standoff with heavy casualties could completely demoralize SVN and undermine Thieu’s chances politically.
Souvanna may indicate operation is necessary, even though he was not consulted, in light of NVN activities. Souvanna may have to denounce operation publicly, whether it is a success or failure, and this will make Thieu and U.S. seem irresponsible in eyes of the world. He will at least not be able to admit to consultations prior to operation.

13. Enemy Reactions

President has warned publicly that U.S. would bomb North if they moved across DMZ in violation of understanding. It is not likely they will incur this risk. North Vietnamese might increase activities in South Vietnam, cross DMZ, move in Laos, or intensify activities in Cambodia.
Operation will strengthen friendly capability to squeeze enemy in Cambodia and South Vietnam. Enemy has tended to concentrate forces in Laos. Therefore, ARVN success will have significant impact.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 83, Vietnam Subject Files, Special Operations File, Vol. III. Top Secret; Sensitive. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads, “The President has seen.”
  2. According to a chronology attached to a memorandum from Howe to Haig, February 9, the meeting took place from 5:02 to 7:25 p.m. (Ibid., Vol. IV) The President’s Daily Diary indicates that it took place in the Oval Office, Kissinger arrived at 4:22 and left at 7:24 p.m., the remaining attendees arrived at 5:07 and left between 6:45 and 6:55 p.m., and Haig and Bunker also attended. (Ibid., White House Central Files) Kissinger wrote in Ending the Vietnam War, p. 198, “No new arguments emerged from the meeting.” No other record of the meeting was found.
  3. See Document 112.
  4. The meeting was cancelled; See Document 117.