180. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Cambodia


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Robert Ingersoll
  • Carlyle Maw
  • Robert Miller
  • DOD
  • William Clements
  • Robert Ellsworth
  • Morton Abramowitz
  • JCS
  • Lt. Gen. John W. Pauly
  • CIA
  • William Colby
  • William Christison
  • Theodore Shackley
  • NSC Staff
  • LTG Brent Scowcroft
  • William Stearman
  • Col. Clinton Granger
  • W.R. Smyser
  • James Barnum


It was agreed that:

  • —Defense and the JCS would draw up additional plans for the evacuation of more than 600 people from Phnom Penh;2
  • —Additional armored personnel carriers, now located in Thailand, would be sent to Phnom Penh.

Secretary Kissinger: Bill (Mr. Colby) . . .

Mr. Colby: [Began to brief from the attached.]3

Secretary Kissinger: Are they going to widen when the rainy season comes? (referring to two key river narrows 25 and 40 miles downstream from Phnom Penh).

Mr. Colby: Yes, in July.

Mr. Clements: And that’s a long time from now.

[Page 652]

Mr. Colby: [Continued to brief.]

Secretary Kissinger: Are the Communists taking serious casualties?

Mr. Christison: Yes, pretty heavy.

Secretary Kissinger: What do you mean by “pretty heavy?”

Mr. Christison: They are taking about 200 to 300 per day.

Secretary Kissinger: Dead and wounded or dead?

Mr. Christison: Killed.

Mr. Colby: [Finished his briefing.]

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t know if Sihanouk is all that eager to talk. I mean, I think that he personally is eager to talk, but I don’t think that he can talk. We don’t have any evidence that he is all that ready to talk.

Mr. Clements: Where is he now?

Secretary Kissinger: He’s in Peking. We’ve tried, but we have been unable to make contact with him. Well, I think we just have to look at the overwhelming evidence and face the facts that negotiations are not possible because of the military situation. The Communists are winning. They have no incentive to negotiate. We have tried all types of approaches. I think that unless the Communists run completely out of steam the chances of negotiations are very slight. If we could threaten them with something, perhaps they would agree to negotiate. But, why should the Communists negotiate? Why should they negotiate when our Congress is threatening to cut off aid? I think that whatever chances there are of negotiations, the Communists won’t accept until Congress has acted. Does anybody disagree?

Mr. Colby: No.

Secretary Kissinger: The President’s view is that we will not negotiate with Congress over the supplemental appropriation. We’re not going to accept $75 million as a compromise. We’ll accept only a sum that we think is acceptable to get the job done.

Mr. Maw: Well, if the procedure that (Congressman) Passman has outlined . . .

Secretary Kissinger: I want to make it god-damn clear that there will be no compromises unless they are approved here, in the White House, in advance. I don’t want every Department going around accepting their own compromises.

Mr. Maw: Passman is talking about a new appropriation of $75 million plus authority to drawdown another $75 million under MAP.

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. All I want to know is, is it enough?

Mr. Clements: I thought that the Passman strategm would get us $150 million.

[Page 653]

Mr. Maw: Yes, it will. Seventy-five million in drawdown authority and $75 million in a new authorization.

Secretary Kissinger: Look, the probabilities are against us getting the Communists to negotiate. If we can get the money we want and can get a military stalemate, the Communists might see the light and agree to negotiate. We might be able to get a good agreement then. But, if we don’t get a stalemate and some semblance of stability in Phnom Penh, we won’t get negotiations. It makes a hell of a lot of difference whether the Cambodians are defeated because they simply couldn’t do it militarily or because we cut off their military supplies.

Mr. Clements: I agree, Henry. That’s just what we were talking about on our way over here today. Am I correct when I say that under Passman we’ll get $150 million and not $75 million?

Mr. Maw: Yes, that’s what it looks like.

Secretary Kissinger: Look, I don’t give a damn what it looks like. I want the realities.

Mr. Clements: That much could get us to July . . .

Mr. Abramowitz: It also frees us to draw down supplies from other countries.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, like Turkey.

Mr. Christison: One problem is that you will probably have to continue the airlift until July. That is expensive, and you would have to figure that into the overall cost.

Secretary Kissinger: I can’t understand Congress’ thinking. They think they can pacify us with a few million dollars. That is clearly inadequate. It makes no sense.

Mr. Clements: With the additional $150 million and a free ceiling we’re getting pretty close to what we need.

Secretary Kissinger: (To Mr. Colby) Do you think the Cambodians can hold out until July?

Mr. Colby: It would be pretty close. I just don’t know whether they would be able to or not. It would be awfully close. Of course, you also have to think of the psychological impact in Cambodia of a cut-off. It would really destroy their morale and could lead to the disintegration of the government. If we had the money, we might be able to recruit some more men in Vietnam—the Khmer Khrom thing again.

Mr. Clements: From a historical perspective, Henry, you know we said eighteen months ago, right here in this room, that they couldn’t last another six months.4

[Page 654]

Mr. Colby: The other side (Communists) are not all that strong, either. They’ve taken a beating, too.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, I don’t think anyone is under any illusions about negotiations. There is no alternative as long as the Communists think they are winning. We have tried every conceivable method to get negotiations started, and have turned up nothing. I think Sihanouk has as much interest in getting negotiations started as we do, but I don’t think he has any influence left. I think the Communists would only use Sihanouk as a figurehead anyway, and discard him when his usefulness is gone. I don’t have any problem with trying to get Sihanouk involved in negotiations, but I don’t think it will work. Those people that are cutting the aid up there on the Hill don’t give a damn about Cambodia. What worries me is the impact this will have on Vietnam. If we accept the $75 million as a compromise—if we ask for $222 million and then settle for $75 million—they will all yell that our figures are inflated, and this will hurt us on Vietnam.

Mr. Maw: Then you would reject the $75 million and insist on $222 million.

Secretary Kissinger: I’m just worried about the impact on Vietnam.

Mr. Maw: We will not accept less than $222 million?

Secretary Kissinger: Congress will let it be known that they forced us to take $75 million.

Mr. Clements: Then, what you are saying is that $75 million is worse than $150 million.

Secretary Kissinger: No, what I’m saying is that it will be easier for Congress to impose a $75 million limit on us than approve a $150 million package.

Mr. Maw: Well, I did tell Passman that we could not live with a compromise.

Secretary Kissinger: If Cambodia collapses, are our evacuation plans in good shape?

Gen. Pauly: Since the fleet is now in Subic Bay, our reaction time is lengthened from 48 to 96 hours. But, that can be taken care of quickly.

Mr. Abramowitz: You know, the number of people to be evacuated is very high . . .

Secretary Kissinger: Are we going to take foreigners out?

Mr. Ingersoll: Yes.

Mr. Maw: There are a lot of non-nationals on that list too.

Secretary Kissinger: The TV networks approached me the other day about helping get some of their cameramen and others out.

Mr. Miller: That would add to the overload.

Secretary Kissinger: How are we going to get them out, airlift?

Gen. Pauly: Yes, a one-time lift.

[Page 655]

Secretary Kissinger: Can we get the TV people to reduce the number of people they have over there?

Mr. Clements: Henry, that 600 figure of the Joint Chiefs is what they are using as a base. They have their aircraft and evacuation plans geared to that 600 figure. Additional numbers would require additional aircraft and other things.

Mr. Stearman: The total is now 757 people.

Mr. Abramowitz: That’s right, and that figure has to be cut down to 600.

Mr. Stearman: The aircraft is geared to getting 600 out, and all at one time.

Secretary Kissinger: How do they do it, C5As?

Gen. Pauly: Helicopters—twenty five of them.

Mr. Miller: The two earlier phases call for fixed-wing aircraft.

Secretary Kissinger: I can’t believe that we can’t handle more third-country personnel. Can’t we get the Embassy (in Phnom Penh) to focus on this?

Mr. Ingersoll: I think it will be difficult to get another 150 out. We’re already exceeding the 600 mark.

Secretary Kissinger: Are we taking out other embassy personnel?

Mr. Ingersoll: We think that we should.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay, tell the other embassies to get out.

Mr. Clements: You know, it could get hairy, especially if things happened fast.

Mr. Ingersoll: The thing could collapse very fast. I would like to get the embassies out of there.

Secretary Kissinger: No, I don’t want foreign embassies to start leaving. They can reduce their personnel, but I don’t want the whole embassy packing up and getting out. That would look like we have lost the whole situation. I don’t want our people to start panicking everybody else. Can’t we do it in a quiet way, say like ten percent?

Mr. Miller: Yes, I think we can do it that way.

Mr. Ingersoll: There are volunteer agencies, too.

Mr. Abramowitz: Yes, and others, like (reads from list).

Secretary Kissinger: Can’t we get Embassy recommendations on how to cut down to the 600 figure?

Mr. Stearman: There are at least 50 Cambodians we will want to get out as well.

Mr. Clements: This raises a point. I think we have to take those important Cambodians that want to get out.

Secretary Kissinger: We can come back and get more, can’t we?

[Page 656]

Gen. Pauly: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: How quickly can we get back?

Gen. Pauly: In two to three hours.

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t want the Embassy taking a census. They will just panic everybody.

Mr. Miller: I think they have a good idea now on how many want and should get out.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, I have two worries. I think it’s only right to save as many Cambodians as possible. How do you get plans drawn up without starting total panic?

Mr. Miller: We could get the Embassy to work this up.

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t want the Cambodians to know about this.

Mr. Clements: Henry, we’re going to have a severe problem with our people if we have to have a second “go.” You’re going to have to have more security personnel, more Cambodians will try to get on. You’re going to have a mess. It would put our people (the security people) under a real strain.

Gen. Pauly: I agree one-hundred percent.

Mr. Clements: We could lose one hell of a lot of good people.

Mr. Maw: A mob!

Secretary Kissinger: (To Mr. Clements). Can we get a plan worked up for taking more than the 600 out? Would you need more helicopters?

Gen. Pauly: Yes. At the moment, all our assets are used up.

Mr. Clements: Let us work on that.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay, but do it overnight (by Friday, February 28).

Mr. Colby: The South Vietnamese might be able to help.

Secretary Kissinger: We must have more than twenty-five helicopters.

Gen. Pauly: We’d need eight to twelve more helicopters. It depends on the type. We’d probably have to go to Hawaii for more.

Mr. Clements: We’ll submit a plan.

Secretary Kissinger: I think we should make a major effort to evacuate all the Cambodians we can. We will do our best to try to get negotiations started, but I’m not very optimistic. We don’t even know who to negotiate with.

Mr. Clements: There’s one other thing, Henry. We suggest that, from a morale standpoint and in order to keep Ponchetong Airfield open, we give some more armored personnel carriers to the Cambodians. There are about twenty the Air Force has in Thailand, and they could be shipped to Phnom Penh. We could replace them in Thailand at a later date.

[Page 657]

Secretary Kissinger: Good, I’m strongly for it.

Mr. Miller: I think it would help ease their fears.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay, do it. How are you going to pay for it? No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Just do it.

Mr. Clements: One other thing on Cambodia before we turn to Ethiopia. I think we ought to tell those other governments in East Asia about the seriousness of the situation and ask them to see if they could do something.

Secretary Kissinger: We have. All they say is restore the military situation. The basic fact is that if we could do one-quarter of what we did in Laos we would break the Communists’ back and they would have to negotiate.

Mr. Colby: That’s true.

Secretary Kissinger: Even if we could bomb we could get the Communists’ momentum stopped and get negotiations. Okay, thank you.

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box 24, WSAG Meeting Minutes, Originals, February 1975. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. Brackets are in the original.
  2. A memorandum from Pauley to Wickham, March 1, which contained the Operation Eagle Pull plan, argued that “to have the best chance of successfully accomplishing the mission, the helicopter operation must be executed rapidly, with surprise, and in one lift cycle.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–78–0058, Cambodia, 1975)
  3. Colby’s briefing, “The Situation in Cambodia,” February 26, attached but not printed.
  4. See Document 92.