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

SUBJECT

  • Situation in Southeast Asia

Based on initial conversations with General Abrams and Ambassador Bunker, a personal visit to MR–3, and result of staff member’s visit to MR–4, General Haig has made the following significant points:2

MR–3

  • —The situation along the length of Route 13 from Loc Vinh to Lai Khe has been most tenuous. The only factor which has prevented a major debacle has been US air, especially B–52s.
  • —The situation in and around An Loc was worse than anticipated. Three enemy main force units reinforced by tanks and artillery have been deployed against one of the ARVN’s weakest divisions along a route leading directly to Saigon.
  • —Yesterday the situation stabilized in and around An Loc due to massive US air and modest ARVN reinforcements. General Hollingsworth estimates that the enemy has lost up to 50 tanks in the An Loc–Loc Vinh area, including many T–54s. Yesterday beleaguered forces in An Loc started destroying tanks with infantry anti-tank weapons. As a result, the morale of the garrison has materially improved.
  • —The enemy has slipped around An Loc and is also applying greater pressure against the 21st ARVN Division at Chon Thanh. The division, however, is inflicting considerable punishment on the enemy.
  • —The 21st Division commander is very aggressive and impressive. His units’ morale is very high. However, General Minh, the commanding general in III Corps is slow, unsure and definitely not up to the task.3
  • —There are some very tough days ahead in III Corps area, but ARVN will hold and by the end of the month the enemy should be driven out of III Corps with great losses.

MR–4

  • —There has been heavy combat in certain areas of the delta. The initial phase of the enemy offensive seems to be ending but more heavy combat can be expected.
  • —Other areas of the delta are quiet. The roads are open and everything appears normal.
  • —Despite heavy fighting, there is broad confidence that the situation is under control. Reinforcements are enroute to the threatened areas and advisors feel there are ample South Vietnamese forces available.

Air

  • —When large B–52 strikes are conducted in the north, much of the carrier aircraft reinforcements are lost to the battle. The movement of the carriers causes delays in availability of these assets to meet threats in southern South Vietnam. To alleviate this problem General Vogt is refueling Thai-based aircraft in the Saigon area.
  • —The participation of US air and naval forces has been a significant factor in maintaining public confidence.
  • —General Abrams understands completely the necessity for escalation of the air effort in the north.

Political

—Ambassador Bunker is most enthusiastic about special diplomatic plans which he believes should be followed up.

Conclusions

  • ARVN with US help will weather what is clearly the major North Vietnamese effort of the war.
  • —All the serious threats are coming from main force units.
  • —There is a surge of nationalistic spirit evident but this is fragile.
  • —We have a good basis for confidence that the situation will hold together but there may be some tough moments between now and the end of the month. Following this, we will have some rebuilding to do before new enemy efforts which may come in July. Subsequent enemy efforts, however, should be far less virulent and should fail.4
  • —Ambassador Bunker believes the planned diplomatic project offers the best long-term hope for the situation, and believes that President Thieu’s offer to step down and not run for re-election is still valid.
  • —We should be able to proceed from a posture of confidence that the situation in South Vietnam will hold together for a long time. Events will improve during this next year with the greatest danger coming after that if there is no settlement.5
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 96, Vietnam Subject Files, Air Activity in Southeast Asia, Vol. III, Jan–Aug 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. Haig’s report is in backchannel message 64 from Saigon, April 16. (Ibid., Box 414, Backchannel, Backchannel Messages, From Amb. Bunker—Saigon—1972) Haig visited Vietnam April 16–18. His written report, submitted to the President on his return, is ibid., Box 1014, Haig Special Files, Haig Trip Papers—4/14–4/19.
  3. Nixon circled “General Minh,” referring to Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Minh, and wrote in the margin: “Tell Thieu he must be replaced immediately.”
  4. Nixon circled “may come in July.”
  5. The President wrote the following comments on the last page: “K—In view of this memo I believe we cannot go on the longer game plan of getting an interim withdrawal across DMZ in exchange for Bombing Halt & resumption of talks. (1) I have no confidence whatever that Soviet will help on talks if we take off the pressure (2) We have to go on with the blockade.”