89. Backchannel Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

993. To: The White House, Exclusively Eyes Only Dr. Kissinger.

I have completed detailed discussions with General Abrams and Ambassador Bunker of three-phase military operational concept discussed with you prior to departure. I have also discussed with Ambassador Bunker the political initiative which we will discuss with Thieu on Thursday December 17. General Abrams has assured me that he has discussed each of the phases with General Vien who has in turn cleared the concept with President Thieu. Ambassador Bunker has also been fully apprised and concurs wholeheartedly.
The first operation would involve an armor and infantry thrust westward along Route 7 to Chup Plantation. General Abrams has stepped up jump-off time from original estimate of 1 February to approximately 15 January. He states earlier jump-off would be impossible due to need for cross-country trafficability for armored vehicles as well as requirement of all involved forces to make necessary maintenance preparations. General Abrams thinks that this operation will [Page 220] cause maximum disruption in rear and in base areas of VC 9th Division and NVA 7th Division currently in the Route 6–7–Mekong triangle. As you know ARVN launched Kampong Cham relief opeation yesterday and I am just informed initial contact has already been made south of Route 7 with what appears to be elements of 272 regiment. This operation is planned for termination in ten days but if it proves lucrative, as it well may, there is a good chance that General Tri will decide to coordinate Chup operation with linkup with forces now in Kampong Cham.
General Abrams this morning approved several raid proposals targeted against North Vietnam. He has been under great pressure from Admiral McCain to develop these plans. They have also been coordinated with VNAF through General Vien who is enthusiastic. General Abrams is somewhat skeptical of operations in North Vietnam which must depend on intelligence which lags by 45 days. For this reason, his proposal will probably be based on naval raids. I will speak with Admiral McCain and suggest that raid programs be timed for initiation concurrent with operations in Laos sometime in February.
General Abrams has just forwarded a proposal which has been coordinated fully with President Thieu and General Vien, and which was developed largely as a result of Vietnamese initiative.2 General Abrams describes it as the most significant operation of the war thus far and one which he considers as potentially decisive. I will bring the details of the operation with me. In brief, it would involve a two-division ARVN force moving westward over Route 9 to Tchepone. General Abrams, President Thieu, and General Vien all feel strongly that Tchepone is the decisive target area in Laos which offers the most potentially lucrative results. General Abrams has considered both the Route 19 operations favored by General Westmoreland and the operation developed by ISA and he has rejected both as being marginally effective. In his view both of these plans provide an inadequate configuration of supplies given the disposition of enemy forces and the size of the target area. General Abrams is confident that Tchepone is [Page 221] the vital NVA/VC logistic nerve center providing logistic support not only to Cambodia and southern South Vietnam, but to Laos and I and II Corps as well. All here are extremely enthusiastic about this operation, even in view of obvious political difficulties which it will encounter in Washington.
In addition to the three operations described above, General Trung, Commanding General ARVN IV Corps, plans to initiate operations in southern Cambodia with the ARVN 9th Division starting 1 February. This operation according to Trung would be designed to engage the 1st NVA Division and will include an area of operations running as far west as Route 4 and will include operations around Takao and Kompot south to the coast.3
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1012, Haig Special File, Haig Trip File—Vietnam, Phnom Penh, December 11–18, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. According to a trip report he prepared after his return, Haig traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam from December 13 to 18. (Ibid, Box 1011, Haig Special File, December 1970, Haig’s Southeast Asia Trip [1 of 2])
  2. In COMUSMACV message 15808 to McCain, December 12, Abrams outlined a plan for a joint U.S.-GVN operation into Laos “to sever the enemy LOC and achieve maximum destruction of enemy forces and stockpiles.” On November 10, McCain sent him a draft concept plan for such an operation and on December 6 requested that he begin planning for a “major ARVN ground operation into the Laos panhandle, with maximum U.S. air support.” On December 8, McCain authorized Abrams to begin planning efforts with General Vien. (Ibid., Box 1012, Haig Special File, Haig Trip File—Vietnam, Phnom Penh, December 11–18, 1970) McCain informed Moorer about the plan in CINCPAC message 150236Z, December 15, noting that he had asked Abrams to develop it and he approved his design wholeheartedly. (Ibid.)
  3. In his December 18 diary entry, Haldeman noted that Kissinger and the President discussed an operations plan in Laos in which the GVN would stage a “major attack this time without U.S. support, so it will be substantially different than Cambodia.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)