178. Telegram From the Embassy in Cambodia to the Department of State 1

3479. For the Secretary from the Ambassador. SUBJECT: Current Cambodian Situation.

Without rehashing all of our assessments since last June of the probable course of events in Cambodia, which could be summarized as predicting that the whole situation was likely to go downhill after December 1974, I believe it incumbent to alert you that we may now be approaching the crunch point. I am not in the habit of “crying wolf” so it is only reluctantly that I wish to warn you that the fighting ability and morale of the FANK is deteriorating. Around Phnom Penh City the enemy has fixed FANK’s strongest division, the Third, in its normal sector in the southwest. This creates the possibility that the enemy will now try to launch a major offensive against our only remaining lifeline to the outside world—Pochentong Airfield—and against the primary ammunition storage depot nearby at Kantouk. There exist no remaining FANK reserves to throw into the fray against an enemy attack of this kind. Military reverses on the lower Mekong and in the provinces—for example, the fall of the historical capital of Oudong yesterday and of the rice center of Muong Russei a few days ago—has accelerated the decline in Khmer morale.
It is by no means certain that FANK’s forces can continue to contain the enemy around Phnom Penh and an enemy breakthrough somewhere on the perimeter is a distinct possibility. On the lower Mekong one of the two enclaves established by FANK fell yesterday (Sierra One), which means that only one government position (Sierra Two) remains south of Neak Luong all the way to the border with South Vietnam. It is now exceedingly difficult for the Khmer Navy to resupply that one outpost. Even the nightly convoys from Phnom Penh to Neak Luong have had a difficult time making the trip without severe losses.
We must be realistic and accept the fact that FANK does not at the present time have the forces to place on the banks of the lower Mekong in order to suppress enemy heavy weapons fire against any convoy which tries to run the gauntlet up from South Vietnam. There is no indication that such forces will become available anytime soon. What this means is the closure for the foreseeable future of the lower Mekong to navigation. Intelligence indicates that the enemy is now planning to seed with mines the Mekong north of Neak Luong.
The morale of both the Khmer civilian and military leadership is at an all-time low. They are aware of the USG’s continuing determination to support them as exemplified by the airlift into Pochentong of military and civilian matériel and above all by the President’s and your own strong pleas to the Congress to provide supplementary assistance for Cambodia.
I am not sure, however, that even a favorable vote on supplementary assistance can turn this situation around. As the military situation has been deteriorating the Khmers unfortunately have become more interested in pointing fingers at each other, trying to fix the blame on someone else, than in sticking together to face the common danger they share. Five years of warfare have taken their toll in war-weariness. Out of a sense of some desperation I tried to bring together about thirty Khmer military and civilian leaders at my house at a meeting scheduled for this afternoon to help them iron out their differences. The civilians have refused to attend. I am now trying to reschedule this meeting for tomorrow. In a separate message I will report the difficulties encountered in trying to arrange this meeting and give an outline of what I intend to say to the Khmer leadership, when they can be gathered together, to help them regain a sense of steadiness and self-confidence.2 The Marshal is no longer a factor, as he now lacks the authority to bring the chief civilian and military actors together under his leadership.
Even if we muddle through for another couple of weeks until the supplementary assistance can be voted on, the prospects facing us for the coming weeks are a continuation of the military setbacks and of the inability of the Khmers to organize themselves effectively to cope with the mortal danger facing them. The Americans on the scene are doing all we can to help the Khmers, but we can not work miracles.
I think as far as the USG is concerned, our goal is to show the world that we have faced up to our obligations. We have done this through the airlift of civilian and military matériel and through the [Page 646]determined efforts of the President and the entire executive branch to obtain the supplementary assistance the GKR needs in order to survive. If this effort is successful and the Congress votes the necessary funds, it will further reflect our determination to help the Khmers. But I fear that despite everything the 200 man American Mission in Cambodia is doing right now, the news from the military front will not improve over the next few weeks.
The Khmers are fully are fully aware that they themselves are in no position to negotiate with the Khmers on the other side. For all practical purposes they have turned this task over to the USG. I reluctantly conclude that if any uncontrolled solution is to be avoided we must establish contact with Sihanouk despite all the obstacles in the way so that he can return to Cambodia while there is still an army, navy, air force and government in being in Phnom Penh. This would probably require the elimination in advance of the present leadership in Cambodia, but it is the only way a solution can be found which is anything other than an eventual collapse of the non-Communist side.
I fully understand the problems you are facing in getting an emissary to talk with Sihanouk at a time when the KC military are holding the upper hand in Cambodia. However, following a favorable vote on supplementary assistance, I should think that the Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs could obtain a visa to go to Peking in order to discuss with Sihanouk the means of working out a controlled solution. It really boils down to this: have we lived up to our commitment by merely providing the material means for the FANK and the GKR to survive or do we have some moral responsibility to help the Khmers on this side find a controlled settlement? If we do not pursue the latter course, and despite everything we do here on the spot and you do in Washington, I fear that Operation Eagle Pull will be the manner in which the United States departs sooner rather than later from Cambodia.3
  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, Box 4, Cambodia, State Department Telegrams, To SECSTATE, Nodis (2). Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Cherokee.
  2. Telegram 3538 from Phnom Penh, February 27; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files.
  3. Operation Eagle Pull was the name of the military plan to evacuate Phnom Penh. See footnote 2, Document 180.