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

581. Ref: WH40015.2

I suppose one can only rarely, in the type of warfare going on here, classify military activity with wholly satisfactory precision according to dictionary definitions of “offensive” or “defensive.”
In the larger sense I have no difficulty in placing everything that the GVN is presently doing in the latter category. There simply cannot be a return to a wholly unilateral observation by the GVN of the Paris Agreements while the DRV continues to openly violate them with impunity. Nor can there be a return to the “privileged sanctuary” concepts of a decade ago whereby the so-called PRG controlled areas cannot be touched while being used to mount large-scale operations against GVN areas and population. Were this the case, we would have to return to the old Templar formula in Malaysia which calculated a 14 to one ratio necessary to contain a guerrilla insurgency.
It is difficult enough for you to get the appropriations to keep the GVN even on a one to one ratio with the other side. Therefore, it has been necessary to press as hard as possible to clean up the GVN held areas, but occasionally to reply to particularly flagrant violations of the DRV with strikes into vulnerable PRG areas.
I think we must realize that were the GVN to remain wholly defensive within its own area, permitting the GVN to continue the build-up within the PRG controlled areas, there would soon develop a “besieged fortress” kind of psychology which would insure their defeat and a DRV victory.
I wholly agree that restraint is necessary for military as well as political reasons. The difficulty is drawing the line between the degree of “restraint” that is necessary for those reasons and the degree of “restraint” that would start the downward spiral resulting in loss of morale and of the will to withstand the onslaughts of the other side. [Page 505]In July the restraints we were exercising were clearly detrimental to the survival of the GVN. I think we are now back to about an even keel. I will try to see that we stay there.
Prefaced with the above observations, which I realize are a restatement of the obvious and understood by you as well or better as they are by me, a review of current “offensive” operations reveals that they are chiefly designed to cut infiltration routes, open land and water routes, and gain vantage points along the NVN supply routes along the western corridor.
MR–1. In MR–1, just west of Hue, ARVN forces are continuing operations to retake a series of small outposts and mortar positions which the enemy took in the past two months. The purpose is to deny to enemy a natural infiltration route to the lowlands west of Hue along the Song (River) Bo Corridor.
In MR–2—Plei D’Jereng Border Ranger Camp. ARVN is currently planning to begin an offensive operation on 14 January in Pleiku to retake the Plei D’Jereng Border Ranger Camp in a combined tank/infantry assault. The camp, located about 25 kilometers west of Pleiku City, was seized by the NVA/VC in November 1973. Prior to that date it has always been under GVN control. ARVN wants to reoccupy the camp and the surrounding area to prevent the enemy from moving men and matériel along the western corridor.
Duc Co area west of Pleiku City. On 14 January VNAF is to begin heavy bombing of NVA/VC storage areas and troop barracks in the Duc Co area, west and southwest of Pleiku City along the Cambodian border. Duc Co is the location of the NVN 320th Division. This offensive action is designed to damage the logistical build-up and enemy concentration in the area. ARVN has no intention to occupy the area.
Quang Duc Province. ARVN continues to “nibble” around the Bu Prang/Bu Bong outposts in an effort to cut off Communist road building activity, but no significant offensive activity is currently taking place. The situation for both sides is essentially as it was when action began there in January 1973—no gain.
MR–3. ARVN’s 25th Division is operating in the tri-border area of Gia Dinh, Binh Duong and Hau Nghia Provinces to clear the Saigon River corridor of enemy forces. This action threatens the security of enemy transportation and communication routes from Cambodia into enemy secret base areas. It will also push the enemy back from the Saigon perimeter.
The ARVN 5th Division is conducting operations to open Route 13 from northern Binh Duong Province into Binh Long Province, bordering Cambodia, where there are two isolated ARVN outposts.
The ARVN 18th Division has mounted a clearing operation in northeastern Binh Duong Province along Route 1A to push NVA elements up to the north from their present blocking positions along the route.
MR–4. ARVN aggressive operations in MR–4 consist of operations to interdict main infiltration–supply routes. One center of activity has been Dinh Tuong Province, where ARVN forces have concentrated action in the southern three districts, athwart three main infiltration corridors and adjacent to a VC/NVA base area. ARVN actions thus far have resulted in serious losses to two of the opposing VC/NVA regiments.
A second center of activity has been Kien Giang and Chuong Thien Provinces, where there are continuing combined military/police operations to interdict the main infiltration corridor from Cambodia into the Southern Delta.
In An Xuyen Province, the ARVN is conducting probing operations in the northern Ca Mau Peninsula, in the vicinity of the U Minh Forest, a traditional VC enclave.
In Ba Xuyen Province, ARVN is attempting to block the VC/NVA supply/commo route which links Chuong Thien with a route up into Dinh Tuong Province.
That about sums it up. In some ways the GVN is not being as “offensive” as I would like, but prudence dictates that they not be pushed either beyond their capabilities or beyond currently acceptable political and diplomatic parameters.
Warm regards.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 416, Backchannel Messages, Martin Channel, Saigon, 1974. Secret; Immediate; Eyes Only.
  2. In backchannel message WH40015 to Saigon, January 10, Kissinger wrote to Martin: “I am puzzled by accounts beginning to appear that the GVN is undertaking, or making preparations for, substantial offensive military operations. I think there has to be some restraint exercised if the situation is not to get out of control. Would appreciate whatever light you can shed on the matter.” (Ibid.)