119. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Sullivan
  • Defense
  • Kenneth Rush
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • R/Adm. William Flanagan
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas Moorer
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms
  • William Nelson [name not declassified] (only for Mr. Helms’ briefing)
  • NSC
  • Maj. Gen. Alexander Haig
  • Richard Kennedy
  • John Negroponte
  • Mark Wandler


It was agreed that:

  • —We should make a better effort to correlate intelligence reports of enemy logistic activity with the BDA reports.
  • —Defense will show some of the captured Soviet equipment at its press briefing today.
  • —The message on possible courses of action in Laos should be coordinated and sent out today. In addition, the Defense representative going to Laos to explain the interpretation of the Symington ceiling should also brief Ambassador Godley.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Helms) Dick, what do you have?

Mr. Helms: [Read his briefing.]2

Mr. Kissinger: Those units in MR 3 are eerily out of contact. I wonder where they are going. What do you think?

Mr. Sullivan: You mean the North Vietnamese units?

[Page 416]

Mr. Kissinger: Yes. They seem to be disappearing from the An Loc area. But where are they going?

Adm. Moorer: As you know, the North Vietnamese had three divisions plus the independent 271st Regiment at An Loc. Abe [Gen. Abrams] thinks the 7th and 9th Divisions are at 50 percent strength. Two regiments of the 5th Division are south of An Loc, and Abe thinks they may swing around to Tay Ninh City when they are refurbished.

Mr. Kissinger: Has the 25th ARVN Division moved out of its base camps yet?

Adm. Moorer: They’ve had some skirmishes during the last 24 hours, but they haven’t been as aggressive as they should be.

Mr. Sullivan: Ambassador Bunker said that Thieu gave Gen. Minh three days to clean up the An Loc area.

Adm. Moorer: That’s right, and two of the three days are already gone. We’ve had some scattered reports that the North Vietnamese are beginning to come down Highway 1 to Saigon. In one case, a tank track was reported. None of these reports, however, have been substantiated. We do know, though, that the 271st NVA Regiment is in bad shape.

The South Vietnamese strategy now is to transfer the Airborne forces to the north of Hue. This will involve two movements.

Mr. Kissinger: The Airborne unit has been moving around so much that it may get airsick. Has it fought yet?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. They saved the day at An Loc. They were also sent north of Kontum, and they saved the situation there, too. One Airborne Brigade has been kept at Saigon.

Mr. Kissinger: How quickly can the Airborne forces be sent to Hue?

Adm. Moorer: In general, it should take about five to seven days for all the new South Vietnamese deployments to be made.

Mr. Kissinger: Do they have that much time?

Adm. Moorer: It’s difficult to say. Hue is already getting some pressure from the enemy artillery. Johnny Vogt says the artillery is the main problem for the South Vietnamese. He says no ARVN unit has pulled out as a result of a ground assault. What’s happened is that they have been subjected to intense concentrations of artillery fire—and then they pulled out.

At Hue, we’ve made a detailed terrain study to pinpoint the most likely enemy artillery positions. We also sent a team out to Hue to help our people in using the infrared component of the gunships in pinpointing artillery positions at night. Once we have the artillery pieces spotted, Tac Air will take them out during the daytime. We’re making a big effort to disrupt and degrade the enemy’s use of artillery at Hue.

According to Vogt, no NVA ground assault has overrun an ARVN position. The South Vietnamese just leave after being subjected to [Page 417] hundreds of rounds of artillery fire. Don’t forget that Quang Tri was hit with more than 4,900 rounds—and that’s a hell of a lot.

Mr. Kissinger: If the enemy is firing so many artillery rounds, why don’t our planes spot the guns?

Adm. Moorer: For one thing, there is a mix of shells. I don’t know the exact breakdown of artillery, mortar and rocket fire at Quang Tri. It’s hard to pinpoint the source of the fire because it comes from three or four different directions miles away from the city. The enemy has obviously been able to do a good job of artillery placement.

Mr. Kissinger: I’m amazed that we can’t spot the guns. They must be in a ten-mile arc of the city.

Adm. Moorer: Yes, but many of the shells are coming through the jungle.

Mr. Kissinger: There’s jungle area at Quang Tri?

Adm. Moorer: Yes—on the western side of the city. That area is pretty well-covered. There are even trees in the DMZ. The DMZ is not all flat.

Nonetheless, Vogt said he thinks the North Vietnamese are suffering staggering losses. There was a report this morning that the 304th and 308th Divisions are being combined into one division. Vogt said there’s not a truck moving on Highways 137 and 1032—from the South Vietnamese positions up to the DMZ. We’ve been attacking those roads 24 hours a day. We’ve also been attacking the roads in the DMZ and the Ban Kerai Pass. As I told you a couple of days ago, our pilots reported seeing many trucks and mounds of supplies forty feet high at the Pass. Vogt has our aircraft attacking the enemy logistic lines day and night—with excellent results.

One of the problems is that we can’t correlate the results of these attacks with the intelligence reports. For example, we get intelligence reports on truck movements or the sighting of thirty PT–76s or fifty sampans. We also get BDA after the air strikes. But we can’t correlate the BDA reports and photos with the intelligence reports. Vogt says he takes immediate action when he gets an intelligence report. When we get the raw intelligence data, though, we don’t think they are taking any action out there.

I told Vogt that our aim should be to get more correlation between the intelligence reports and the BDA. We should try to get something along the lines of the classic war reports, which read: “Sighted sub, sank same.”

Mr. Johnson: (to Adm. Moorer) I’m glad you are finding as much difficulty with these reports as we are.

Adm. Moorer: We’re trying to work out a better reporting system. The North Vietnamese are suffering serious losses, but we don’t have [Page 418] a precise picture of these losses. During the last few days, no enemy tanks have been sighted at An Loc. And only PT–76s—amphibious tanks—were sighted at Quang Tri. However, that may be because the bridges were blown up at Quang Tri. Anyway, we don’t know if the North Vietnamese lost 300 tanks, or if the tanks are moving to other areas, or if the tanks can’t operate because they are out of fuel and ammunition.

We don’t have a precise picture of what is happening to the other side. When we spotted the large enemy convoy on Highway 1, we jumped on it, backed it up and chewed it to pieces. Vogt assures me there is no enemy truck movement on the highway—from the South Vietnamese positions up to the DMZ.

Mr. Johnson: Part of the problem is that the reports come in separately from two channels: (1) the intelligence—CIA, DIA and J–2—channel, and (2) the operations—J–3—channel. We should be bringing the two together, but that is never done.

Adm. Moorer: And it’s particularly difficult to do that when we’re reporting on a 24-hour basis. I’m trying to organize a better system. (to Mr. Johnson) I have the same problem you do: when there are 234 sorties, and when we get reports of four or five trucks destroyed, that isn’t right.

Mr. Kissinger: I’m worrying about the Airborne troops moving out of MRs 2 and 3. They may never get to Hue, especially if they keep one brigade in Saigon until the 21st Division reaches An Loc. That may take a while.

Adm. Moorer: Abe points out in his message that this is a risk. He’s more concerned about MR 2 than about MR 3. This is a risk, but the South Vietnamese don’t have any more mobile forces. They must go on the offensive. If they continue to stay on the defensive, they will be chewed up. Consequently, I don’t think we should try to discourage them at this moment.

Mr. Nutter: Aren’t they planning to take one division out of MR 4?

Mr. Kissinger: But there’s only one division left there.

Adm. Flanagan: The 7th and 9th ARVN Divisions are both in the Delta. Abrams said that Thieu may move the 9th out.

Adm. Moorer: I think he said in his message that Thieu was planning to use both divisions in MR 3, as well as in MR 4.

Gen. Haig joined the meeting at this point.

Adm. Moorer: I told Vogt to get some better BDA and to tie all the reports together—as Alex [Johnson] suggests. Vogt keeps using the word “staggering” to describe the enemy losses. He makes all the FACs report directly to him after their missions. They’ve been telling him [Page 419] that the mounds of supplies north of the Ban Kerai Pass have been chewed up.

Mr. Rush: Why aren’t we getting any reports from Vogt?

Mr. Nutter: Maybe they are too busy blowing up the supplies to write reports.

Mr. Rush: Vogt should have the time to prepare a message.

Adm. Moorer: Vogt doesn’t report directly to us. He reports to Abe, and then Abe forwards the reports to us. I’m trying to straighten this out.3

Mr. Sullivan: After we get these reports, can’t we also make some of them public?

Adm. Moorer: I think we should be able to do that. We could release some photos, too.

Mr. Kissinger: Couldn’t Vogt give a briefing out there?

Adm. Moorer: Yes, I think so.

Mr. Johnson: He handles those briefings so well.

Mr. Rush: You know, we’re playing the Vietnamization story hard. The refugee problem is especially tragic, but it could possibly have a reverse twist with the American people—and it could help us.

Mr. Johnson: I agree. We were talking about this on the Hill yesterday. In a perverse way, the refugee problem could help us—and make the opposition play right into our hands.

Mr. Kissinger: Did the DOD logistics team leave yesterday?

Mr. Rush: Yes. It left at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Mr. Kissinger: Was it in the newspapers?

Mr. Rush: Yes. All the papers carried the story.

Mr. Kissinger: Are you going to show the Soviet equipment at your briefing today?

Mr. Rush: Yes. We’ll show it at the 11:00 a.m. briefing. We were supposed to do it yesterday, but the signals somehow got crossed.

Adm. Moorer: We’re starting to move the aircraft out to Takli.

Mr. Kissinger: Has there been a readout yet from Porter?

[Page 420]

Mr. Sullivan: No. I spoke to Paris at 9:40 this morning, but they weren’t back from the meeting yet. I left word that they are to call over here as soon as they get back. The only thing the press has so far is the two opening statements.

Mr. Kissinger: It doesn’t look like the North Vietnamese will make a new proposal.

Mr. Sullivan: That’s right. Le Duc Tho didn’t even go to the meeting. The other side presented the same old boilerplate.

Mr. Kissinger: I take it Porter understands what he should say if he doesn’t agree to another meeting next week. He should say we are ready to go back any time the other side has something new to say. He should not emphasize that we are adjourning the talks.

Mr. Sullivan: All that was explained to Porter yesterday—over the phone and in the cable of instructions. He will emphasize the negativism of the other side, and he will say we are ready to go back when they start to negotiate seriously.4

Adm. Moorer: Six of the M–48 tanks were delivered by air to Danang yesterday.

Mr. Johnson: Did the South Vietnamese have drivers available to get the tanks off the planes?

Adm. Moorer: Don’t worry. We got the tanks off.

Mr. Kissinger: I see Godley sent a cable in about possible courses of action and the Symington ceiling.

Mr. Rush: I should point out that we are now in good shape on the ceiling. We’re within one percent of it. There’s no hope, though, of getting it increased.

Mr. Kissinger: Can the operations Godley suggests be put off until July?

Mr. Sullivan: We think so. That’s the essence of a message we want to get cleared and sent out today.

Mr. Helms left the meeting at this point.

Mr. Sullivan: Godley wants to harass the NVA units in southern Laos.

Mr. Johnson: The essence of the matter is—as Ken [Rush] says—that the ceiling cannot be lifted. Therefore, we have to figure out what we can do now to stay within it and what can be postponed until July.

[Page 421]

Mr. Rush: We swallowed $30 million, and Godley doesn’t realize that yet. So we think Godley is really asking for another $20 million rather than $50 million, as his $400 million estimate would suggest.

Mr. Sullivan: I assume you are sending someone out to Laos to explain the new interpretation of the ceiling.

Adm. Flanagan: Yes. Col. Morris5 is on his way out there.

Mr. Sullivan: I hope he sees Godley. I told the Laos Desk to tell your people that the person who goes to Laos should see the Ambassador and tell him orally about the new interpretation.

Adm. Flanagan: Col. Morris will do that. He’s in the Comptroller’s shop.

Mr. Johnson: The new DOD interpretation should be explained to Stennis because we don’t want to deceive him.

Mr. Rush: We’ll take care of Stennis.

Mr. Sullivan: But we may not be able to take care of Symington.

Mr. Rush: That’s right.

Adm. Flanagan: When the GAO comes to us, we will argue it. But we won’t say anything before that time.

Mr. Kissinger: How long can the enemy sustain these attacks logistically? Where is Carver?

Mr. Nelson: George is on the Hill—briefing the House Armed Services Committee. Our estimate was that the enemy could keep going for six months.

Mr. Kissinger: I don’t believe that.

Adm. Moorer: The estimate was for six months—interspersed with lulls in different areas at different times. Given the activity of recent days, though, I think it will probably be difficult for them to keep it up for six months.

Mr. Rush: If the North Vietnamese are losing as much of their equipment as we are losing of ours, they won’t be able to sustain the offensive for six months.

Mr. Johnson: I think Henry was referring to how long they can keep up the tempo of recent days.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s right.

Adm. Moorer: I think their tempo has been somewhat dulled.

Mr. Johnson: (to Adm. Moorer) You feel they are past their peak?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. But I do think there will be one more big bash at Hue—and maybe at Kontum, too. The first onslaught across the DMZ has been dulled.

[Page 422]

Mr. Johnson: We have to keep in mind that the 312th and 325th NVA Divisions may be coming into the fight.

Adm. Moorer: Two regiments of the 312th Division are still in Laos.

Mr. Johnson: But the 325th Division is fresh.

Adm. Moorer: One unit of the 312th—the Headquarters—has moved to Vietnam. But two of the division’s regiments are still on the Plain of Jars.

Mr. Nelson: Nonetheless, it looks like the 312th Division will be coming out of Laos.

Adm. Moorer: Our aircraft are working Highway 7, looking for the division.

Mr. Johnson: The 325th Division has fresh troops, and it’s insertion into the battle could bring the activity back to a high level.

Mr. Nelson: We also have some tenuous indications the 316th NVA Division is moving back from Laos.

Mr. Kissinger: From North Laos?

Mr. Nelson: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: Weren’t these divisions used up and didn’t they take heavy casualties during the campaign?

Adm. Moorer: If they had not taken heavy casualties, they would have captured Long Tieng.

Mr. Nelson: We think they are at less than 50 percent strength.

Mr. Kissinger: What will happen as they withdraw from Laos? Will Vang Pao follow them?

Mr. Nelson: No. The Symington ceiling won’t allow us to do that.

Mr. Kissinger: What’s the problem? Is there no money? Can’t we borrow against next year’s funds?

Mr. Nelson: We’ve just about reached the ceiling now.

Mr. Kissinger: I don’t care so much about southern Laos. But we should follow the enemy in Northern Laos.

Mr. Sullivan: I’m sure Vang Pao will follow them a bit. He’s already sent a unit in the direction of Phou Pha Sai.

Mr. Johnson: We’ll have to face up very shortly to the decision of whether we want to encourage Vang Pao to move out. And we have to remember that his operations on the PDJ last year were very expensive.

Mr. Nelson: Last year, he went to the edge of the PDJ.

Mr. Kissinger: We never let him go beyond it.

Mr. Sullivan: One of the most significant things this year is that the Thais have performed very well.

[Page 423]

[Received message about today’s plenary session, which he read.]6

Message was: “The other side presented no new proposals. Their presentation was entirely hardline boilerplate, with no ostensible flexibility. They repeated all standard demands, including necessity to respond to seven points. Our side followed contingency A of guidance, posing eight questions. The other side made no effort to respond to our questions. Instead they made irrelevant statements, quoting from press articles, etc.

“We said we saw no grounds for meeting next week and suggested plenaries resume when the other side indicates it is seriously interested in negotiating substance. The other side indicated it was ready for this move by reading prepared statement denouncing our sabotage of meetings and calling for continuation of plenaries.

“As he was leaving meeting, Porter told press that our decision was based not merely on developments at today’s meeting but on our inability to make progress in all available channels.”

Mr. Kissinger: Are there any other items of business?

Adm. Moorer: Generally speaking, the last 24 hours have been quiet.

Mr. Kissinger: Let me bring one other thing up. Just in case the situation in the South becomes unstuck, do we have any forces we can put in to protect U.S. personnel?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. We have 3,000 Marines available for that.

Mr. Kissinger: Where are the Marines?

Adm. Moorer: On ships, off the beaches.

Mr. Kissinger: Are they there now?

Adm. Moorer: Yes. We’re keeping them out there.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–116, Washington Special Actions Group, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 1–3–72 to 7–24–72. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. All brackets, except those that indicate the omission of material, are in the original.
  2. Helms’s May 4 briefing, “The Situation in Vietnam,” is in the Central Intelligence Agency, Files of the Deputy Director for Intelligence, Job 79–T00862A, Box 4, DCI Briefing for 4 May 1972 WSAG Meeting.
  3. At 8:43 a.m. that morning, Moorer spoke with Vogt in Saigon, telling him that he (Moorer) needed information to show the White House and the Secretary of Defense the key role of air power in countering the enemy offensive. Vogt replied: “I will try to fill my reports out with more of that. In actual fact I have dozens and dozens of statements from reports that our advisers sent in from the field, all saying without any question, if it was not for air they say done a long time ago time after time air saved their neck, they say. I don’t emphasize these things with Abrams. After a while he would think blowing my own horn. The fact no mistaking it everybody understands out here holding together out here is air power. More of that in my reports.” (Moorer Diary, May 4; National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman)
  4. See footnote 5, Document 115.
  5. Not further identified.
  6. Message 8581 from USDel Paris, May 4. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 191, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks, January–June 1972)