138. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to South Vietnam (Bunker) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

89. Ref: WHS 2066.2

As instructed, I presented the President’s message3 to Thieu this morning. He was, of course, tremendously pleased and encouraged by it.
I asked General Abrams to accompany me so that we could impress on Thieu the need to energize RVNAF to the utmost of their abilities. I said I was certain that the actions which the President is announcing could leave no doubt in his mind about our support and our determination to do everything within our power to help South Vietnam defend itself. We assume the measures we are taking will be met with an overwhelmingly favorable reaction by his people. At this critical period, it is essential that not only the Vietnamese armed forces, but the entire governmental organization be energized to take aggressive action all along the line. Initiative against the enemy must be regained and pacification losses recovered.
I recalled to Thieu that he had mentioned that the defeats which RVNAF has suffered have been primarily due to failures of leadership and organization. We believe this is so and, therefore, the time has come when the most competent officers who can lead and command the loyalty and allegiance of their units must be placed in charge regardless of any considerations, political or other. Half measures or compromises will no longer suffice.
I added that recent intelligence indicates that successes have increased the enemy’s appetite and he is determined now to continue his offensive to ultimate victory. A situation such as this demands not only the sternest military measures, but requires enlisting the support of the entire population. Up to the present, there has been a degree of complacency among people in those areas not threatened, but the situation facing the country no longer permits such an attitude.
Thieu agreed that these were matters which must be addressed promptly. He asked General Abrams’ views concerning the situation [Page 518] in Kontum and the question of a suitable replacement for General Dzu as commander in MR 2.
General Abrams replied that the enemy is continuing preparations in the Kontum area, but also has been badly hurt. Forces are available to defend the area, but the problem lies with the commander who lacks determination himself and cannot instill it in others.
After discussion of several candidates suggested by General Vien, none of whom seemed satisfactory, there was agreement that General Toan, former commander of the 2nd Division, now engaged in reorganizing the Armor command, would probably be the best available choice. General Abrams noted he had been a first rate division commander and is a good tactician.
In further moves, Thieu said that he was dispatching an Airborne brigade to Hue today and had sent General Vien to MR 4 to try to secure another brigade for transfer to MR 1. He hopes to have the whole Airborne division in MR 1 within a week. General Truong now has available to him the Marine division, the First ARVN Division, one regiment of the Second Division and will shortly have these additional reinforcements. Thieu said that he had instructed General Truong to go over to the offensive as soon as possible.
General Abrams cautioned that the counterattack should not be mounted too soon. It will take some days to train men in the use of the new anti-tank missiles which are being supplied and plans are being worked out for a flanking operation involving coastal landings by helicopters. Thieu commented that he had instructed all his commanders that the objective now should be to regain terrain and inflict casualties on the enemy.
General Abrams and I will be following up on these and other problems which Thieu and the GVN face. Not nearly enough has been done to arouse and energize the people and to marshall their support. Criticisms of the government on this score have come to us with increasing frequency. Leaders of political, social, and religious groups should be called in and their support enlisted. There is much volunteer work to be done, especially among the refugees, already an enormous problem. The manpower problem needs to be tackled and emergency taxes raised in order to assist the fighting men and for refugee relief. People need to be dealt with frankly in news about the current situation. These are all matters which we shall be pursuing.
Warm regards.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 414, Backchannel, Backchannel Messages, From Amb. Bunker—Saigon, 1972. Top Secret; Immediate; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. Document 128.
  3. Printed in Nguyen and Schecter, The Palace File, pp. 373–374.