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

SUBJECT

  • The Current Military Situation in Cambodia

In response to your request of August 25, 1970 for an urgent assessment of the military situation in Cambodia, I tasked the JCS, the CIA and Mr. Ladd at our Embassy in Phnom Penh for their estimates of the situation. The JCS response includes a CINCPAC assessment. All are agreed that the Cambodian Government is in no danger of being toppled by Communist military attack. They do not believe the enemy intends to launch a major military attack on Phnom Penh in the near future. In sum, they believe the military situation in Cambodia to be no worse, and perhaps somewhat better, than at any time in the past few months. Mr. Ladd states that the military situation is better for the Cambodians today than it has been since he has been there. The JCS memorandum is at Tab A; CIA’s is at Tab B and Mr. Ladd’s views are at Tab C.2

The Overall Military Situation

The JCS and CIA note that the Communists’ main immediate objectives are to re-establish a secure LOC system in Cambodia, to reestablish border bases for sustaining the struggle in South Vietnam and to develop a Khmer-based insurgency. They both agree that at least through the rest of the rainy season, which ends in October–November, the Communists will probably try to keep FANK forces tied down in defending key population centers in an effort to maintain their own relative freedom of movement in rural areas. The JCS note that FANK does not have the capability to conduct sustained offensive operations but that it does have a limited defensive capability to defend key population centers and lines of communication. CIA and the JCS, [Page 61] however, stress the importance of allied military support, particularly cross-border operations and tactical air strikes, to this FANK capability.

It is CIA’s view that the Cambodians are holding their own in most populated areas of the country and that the situation is not likely to change greatly in the near future. The JCS and CIA are agreed that the Communists are practicing a protracted war strategy in Cambodia. They believe the enemy hopes to wear down the Cambodian army and government over a long period of time during which they intend to develop a Communist infrastructure to control the population. They do not believe the Communists can or intend to destroy the Lon Nol Government by direct military attacks in the near future.

The Situation Around Phnom Penh

Neither the JCS, Mr. Ladd nor the CIA believe a major enemy ground attack on Phnom Penh is likely in the next few months. All three, however, note the possibility that the Communists could harass Phnom Penh without warning with small scale ground probes and mortar or rocket attacks. They agree that one of the enemy’s major aims is to isolate Phnom Penh both to facilitate Communist control over the countryside and to intensify pressure on the government.

The Cambodian Government’s LOC’s

Mr. Ladd estimates that if the enemy chooses to use his forces in sufficient strength, he can probably block any of the LOC’s for two to six days. He notes, however, that FANK or FANK/ARVN would be able to reopen them. The JCS state that it is clear that the enemy is willing to spread his forces thin in order to maintain pressure on provincial capitals and key route junctions. The enemy, however, does not appear to have sufficient assets to enable him to keep key LOC’s closed.

Enemy and FANK Military Strength

There is general agreement that the enemy combat force in Cambodia and along the border totals approximately 24,000 men, with an additional 25,000–30,000 administrative service troops. There are an additional 7,000 to 10,000 Cambodian dissidents. Arrayed against this enemy force, FANK has a main force of better than 110,000 personnel, up from 35,000 in March 1970. The Cambodian Air Force has 80 qualified pilots and 25 more in pilot training status. FANK has shown improvement in several areas, according to CINCPAC, and still further improvement is anticipated as the combination of combat experience, improved communications and logistics and the infusion of newly trained troops take effect.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 511, Country Files, Far East, Cambodia, Vol. X. Top Secret; Sensitive. The President wrote at the top of the memorandum: “Haig—Keep on top of this—It has highest priority.” According to a handwritten note on another copy of the memorandum, Kennedy took the memorandum and its attachments to San Clemente. (Ibid.)
  2. Tab A, memorandum JCSM 420–70 from Moorer to Laird, August 27, is attached but not printed. Tab B was not attached. Tab C, a retyped message from Ladd to Haig, August 27, was not attached. A copy is attached to message WH1525 from Kennedy to Lord, August 28. (Ibid.)