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


  • Assessment by General Abrams

Attached at Tab A2 is a message from General Abrams assessing the effects of the Laotian and Cambodian operations. The following are excerpts from key paragraphs which comment on progress in Vietnamization, impact on U.S. forces, collateral benefits, effect on enemy capabilities and effect on enemy logistics of the Laos operation. (The full text of these paragraphs is indicated at the tabs.)

Progress in Vietnamization

  • —The operation has been a significant test. The South Vietnamese operated without U.S. advisors, without the reassuring presence of adjacent U.S. units which could render assistance if needed, and they did so concurrently with a major operation in Cambodia in addition to continuing operations in their own country.
  • —The South Vietnamese have mounted a complex multi-division operation in conditions of difficult unfamiliar terrain, adverse weather and against a well prepared and determined foe.
  • RVNAF forces acquitted themselves well militarily, achieved the objectives they set for themselves and did so in the face of the most determined opposition.
  • —Success has not been without cost. Some units will require a period of refitting before becoming fully combat effective again and there are indications of reduced morale and self-confidence on the part of some units which suffered heavy losses without achieving significant results.
  • —Highly encouraging, however, and a strong indication of continuing progress toward the goal of Vietnamization is the planning currently being accomplished toward further operations in Laos as a continuation of Lam Son 719.
[Page 486]

Impact on U.S. Forces

  • —Although expensive in terms of U.S. support costs, achievements indicate that in the long run the Laotian operation has been highly productive.
  • Lam Son 719 has certainly achieved its primary objective of carrying the fight to the enemy’s sanctuary and disrupting his principal lines of communications. This success will buy the South Vietnamese additional time in which to continue strengthening their armed forces while permitting withdrawal of U.S. combat troops as planned.

Collateral Benefits

  • —The operation has demonstrated the capability of conducting air mobile operations in areas where there are large numbers of antiaircraft weapons. Aircraft losses have been about 1 helicopter per 2,400 sorties. The weather has been generally adverse, the terrain inhospitable and yet large scale air mobile operations have been successfully conducted.

Effects Upon Enemy Logistical Capabilities

  • —Although it will take some time for a full assessment, considerable disruption has occurred. Interdiction of routes caused the enemy to shift to less desirable alternate routes and to relocate at least one supply transshipment center.
  • —The loss of an estimated 3,500 experienced rear service personnel will have a deleterious effect on the efficiency of the logistical system.
  • —Most of the input into the logistic system since the beginning of the Lam Son operation is believed to have been in direct support of the battle. This fact, coupled with an approximate 75% reduction in throughput to South Vietnam and Cambodia when compared to last year’s estimate, leads to the conclusion of a further and accelerated degradation of enemy capability against South Vietnam and Cambodia.
  • —The increased requirements of consumption due to the Laotian operation, greatly increased lines of communication security forces, and ground/air interdiction are probably collectively responsible for the throughput reduction. The lost throughput volume will result in a further dampening effect on the enemy capability in both South Vietnam and Cambodia.

Effects on Enemy Capability

  • —The enemy withdrawal of a division from Military Region I will probably have an accelerating effect on the progress of community defense and local development efforts.
  • —The operation probably disrupted plans for returning two regiments of one division to South Vietnam and necessitated the [Page 487] diversion of another regiment which was bound for Military Region I. Although these units can be brought back up to strength, an extensive delay can be anticipated.
  • —The enemy’s commitment of his strategic reserves in North Vietnam has further reduced capability to institute major future actions against South Vietnam.
  • —One regiment destined for the COSVN area was also diverted.

In concluding his report, General Abrams makes the following summary comments about the two operations:

While significantly different in concept, execution and results, there are many similarities between Lam Son and Toan Thang. They are both multi-division operations, conducted without accompanying U.S. advisors, executing complex plans and, in the main, achieving their goals. There have been disappointments and failures in each as well as successes. However, on an overview, both operations have gone well militarily and the maximum practical benefits have been realized. The fact that the RVNAF were able to mount two such operations simultaneously speaks for the success of the Vietnamization program. Also, the willingness of the ARVN to conduct cross border operations reflects a dramatic change from the thinking which previously left the initiative entirely to the enemy.3 These operations have undoubtedly bought more time for both the RVN and GKR to strengthen their internal security.

Some statistics on enemy losses in Laos which have been extracted from the message are at Tab B.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 153, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, 11 February–28 March 1971. Secret. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads, “The President has seen.”
  2. Attached but not printed is message 220325Z from Abrams to McCain and Moorer, March 22.
  3. Nixon underlined this sentence and wrote in the margin: “K—get out to press.”
  4. Attached but not printed is a list that includes the following statistics: 13 of 33 PAVN battalions rendered ineffective; 55 tank kills; food destroyed that would feed 172 PAVN battalions for a month; captured weapons equivalent to equip 13 battalions; 1.5 million pounds of ammunition destroyed; 1,362 destroyed trucks and 419 damaged; 90,000 gallons of petroleum in barrels; and the interdiction of a pipeline that reduced the PAVN capability to move supplies.