202. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

SUBJECT

  • Indochina

PARTICIPANTS

  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Robert Ingersoll
  • Philip Habib
  • Robert Miller
  • Carlyle Maw
  • DOD
  • James Schlesinger
  • William Clements
  • Robert Ellsworth
  • Morton Abramowitz
  • JCS
  • Lt. Gen. John W. Pauly
  • CIA
  • William Colby
  • NSC Staff
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • W.R. Smyser
  • William Stearman
  • David Ransom
  • James Barnum

SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS

It was agreed that:

  • —the evacuation of dependents of US personnel in South Vietnam and those US citizens who left the cities in the north will begin immediately;
  • —Embassy Saigon would prepare, by April 3, 1975, a detailed breakdown by categories and numbers of those Vietnamese the US should evacuate from South Vietnam. The breakdown is to be organized in order of priorities and should include recommendations regarding necessary arrangements with the GVN, transport, safehavens, and staging areas;
  • —Attempts would be made to stretch out the Cambodian airlift to April 17.

Secretary Kissinger: I’m going to have to get a new briefer. I don’t like the briefings I’ve been getting lately.

Mr. Colby: (Began to brief from the attached text.)2

[Page 732]

Secretary Kissinger: Are any South Vietnamese fighting?

Mr. Colby: Not many. There are a few units scattered around the country that are still putting up a fight, but not many.

Secretary Kissinger: Did any (South Vietnamese) fight at any point during this thing?

Mr. Colby: No, not really. It was the shock effect.

Secretary Schlesinger: There was very little resistance. In Tay Ninh Province there are still some pretty good fighters left. There are still some in the Delta too.

Secretary Kissinger: It seems to me that nobody in South Vietnam fought. It seems to me there was total collapse.

Mr. Colby: It was the psychology of the situation—the shock effect. The shock effect of collapse went ahead of the troops.

Secretary Schlesinger: There were some troops that stood their ground. The 22nd Division stood up moderately well. It was really rather hit and miss around the country. Some stood up, others didn’t.

Secretary Kissinger: Of course, we’ll never know what would have happened if they would have stood their ground.

Secretary Schlesinger: It was the shock effect of the swift withdrawal that led to the collapse of that house of cards. If they would have stayed their ground, perhaps they would have been able to hold on to Pleiku and Kontum Provinces. I don’t know. I don’t think, however, the situation would have been this bad had they stood their ground.

Mr. Colby: There were two main things that contributed to this situation: the pell-mell evacuation of Pleiku and Kontum Provinces, and the evacuation of Hue. (Continued to brief.)

Secretary Kissinger: Let me get a grasp on the situation. Is there anyplace—is there anywhere the South Vietnamese have a chance of establishing a line and of stopping the North Vietnamese?

Mr. Colby: Yes, north of Saigon here (pointing to a line on the map). Current plans call for bringing the remnants of the 2nd Division to here (pointing to map) and for establishing a line.

Secretary Schlesinger: That’s hopeless!

Secretary Kissinger: My experience is that the South Vietnamese have not been good attackers in that area (north of Saigon).

Secretary Schlesinger: That whole effort is hopeless!

Mr. Colby: In addition, they are moving to bring some troops up from Bang Tau. It’s the 18th Division, I believe.

Secretary Kissinger: Is that unit any good?

Secretary Schlesinger: No. In fact, it’s the worst division of all. There’s an airborne battalion from MR 1 that’s not too bad.

[Page 733]

Secretary Kissinger: As I recall, the 1st Division fought well in 1972.

Mr. Colby: Yes it did, and it fought well this time until the situation started to wobble. In addition, the South Vietnamese can call on (to defend Saigon) the 2nd Airborne Division now in the south, the 25th Division, which is not too bad, and three other divisions in the Delta. The question is, can Saigon afford to take these units out to help north of Saigon? I don’t know. We’ve already had indications of increased activity in the Delta.

Secretary Kissinger: What do you think, is South Vietnam going to collapse before the beginning of the rainy season?

Secretary Schlesinger: Yes, I would give it 60 to 90 days at the outside. It could fall within 3 weeks.

Mr. Clements: I was talking to the Chiefs (Joint Chiefs of Staff) yesterday, and they pointed out that the rainy season will have no impact on the Delta. They were quite explicit about that. The rainy season affects fighting in the highlands, but not in the Delta.

Secretary Kissinger: Yeah, in 1972 they fought right into July.

Mr. Clements: Besides, they don’t have any logistics problems bringing the stuff down from the north. There are hard-surface roads all over that area (around Saigon). It’s just not the same situation.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay, we just have to be prepared for the collapse of the South within the next three months.

Secretary Schlesinger: I would say we should be prepared for collapse within three weeks. Smith (of DAO) says Saigon could fall in a matter of days. I think that’s the worst-case situation. I would think that we have from three to four weeks. I wouldn’t count on any more than 45 more days.

Secretary Kissinger: Are you all agreed on that? Bill?

Mr. Colby: Yes. It could come anytime.

Secretary Kissinger: Basically, then, nothing can be done.

Secretary Schlesinger: I can’t think of anything. General Weyand (Army Chief of Staff), in my telephone conversations with him, is much more pessimistic than when he first got out there. He’s quite grim about the situation. And, he’s talking mostly to those who are optimistic.

Mr. Colby: I think there are only two possibilities left: some sort of temporary stability around Saigon, and total collapse within the next couple of weeks.

Secretary Kissinger: All of this was triggered by Thieu’s strategy of withdrawal, right?

Secretary Schlesinger: Yes. There is one other aspect of the situation I would like to bring up. We have indications that the North Vietnamese 5th Division has been ordered to cut the roads south of Saigon [Page 734]in the Delta area. What we will begin seeing is the break-up of the Delta region.

Mr. Colby: We also have indications that two more North Vietnamese Divisions being held in reserve are beginning to more south.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, let’s go on to Cambodia. Bill would you like to brief?

Mr. Colby: (Briefed from the attached text.)

Secretary Schlesinger: Those 6,000 to 7,000 insurgents at Neak Luong will probably now move on toward Phnom Penh. It is our estimate that Cambodia has only eight to ten days left.

Secretary Kissinger: Phil (Habib) what do you think?

Mr. Habib: Ambassador Dean reports that the post-Lon Nol government’s strategy now is to try to build up morale. They feel that their only hope is to make some sort of deal with the Communists. I don’t think much of their chances.

Secretary Schlesinger: The airlift stops on April 12th. They don’t have much time.

Secretary Kissinger: Why does the airlift stop on April 12th?

Secretary Schlesinger: We don’t have anything more to give them after that. We’re wiped out. They only have eight to ten days left.

Mr. Colby: I think that the impact of what the US says over the next few days will have a very serious effect in Cambodia.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, the President is going to make another speech next week—one final effort. There is just nothing that we can do. Are there any problems with extending the airlift?

Secretary Schlesinger: We can stretch it out.

Secretary Kissinger: To the 15th (of April)?

Secretary Schlesinger: Yes.

Mr. Stearman: We could stretch it out to the 17th.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay, I’ll give Cambodia a week after that. Now, any evacuation problems? As you know, we have agreed to begin the evacuation of Phnom Penh. From everything I’ve seen, everything is in order. Is there anything more we can do?

Secretary Schlesinger: No. I think we should leave it to Ambassador Dean to decide on the timing of evacuating the rest. We should be down to about 100 persons before long.

Secretary Kissinger: We may have to go to (Operation) Eagle Pull if things get rushed.

Secretary Schlesinger: We’re counting on Eagle Pull. There are some 500–600 Khmers we would like to get out.

Secretary Kissinger: Can’t we get some of the Khmers out now? If we start taking them out now, there won’t be such a rush at the end.

[Page 735]

Secretary Schlesinger: Yes, we can do that.

Secretary Kissinger: How about the TV newsmen—third-country nationals working for the networks. I have a commitment to get them out.

Secretary Schlesinger: We can get them out.

Secretary Kissinger: Phil (Mr. Habib) call (Ted) Koppel (of NBC)and tell them to get the people they want out. Do it today. Tell him now is the time and that we can’t guarantee their safety if they have to be evacuated at the last moment.

Secretary Schlesinger: We don’t want any recurrence of the Danang fiasco.

Secretary Kissinger: I agree. Let’s get the non-essential personnel out of there now. On Vietnam evacuation. I think (Ambassador) Martin should begin preparing a plan for evacuation.

Secretary Schlesinger: We should push him hard on that. We ought to clear out all non-essentials—and fast.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay, is anybody opposed to getting (US) dependents out?

All: No.

Secretary Schlesinger: Okay, we’ll get to work on that.

Secretary Kissinger: I think we should do it like we did in Phnom Penh—let (Amb.) Graham Martin go to Thieu and tell him what we are doing, that is, evacuating all the people who got out of the north and all of the dependents.3

Mr. Habib: You’re going to have third-country nationals . . .

Secretary Kissinger: We don’t have to worry about them now. The best way to get started is to evacuate all those Americans who fled from the north—they are not useful in Saigon anyway—dependents, and transients. We can wait on the residents. Who are they, anyway?

Mr. Habib: Businessmen, people of US citizenship who live and work in Vietnam.

Secretary Kissinger: We have to be careful that our evacuation not trigger the collapse of the Thieu Government. I think there are good reasons for evacuating those from the north and the dependents. What is it, some 2,000 people? The Embassy should inform the residents that the situation is precarious and urge them to get out. Let’s look at the situation in another 48 hours. In the meantime, get started.

Secretary Schlesinger: Technically, South Vietnam is a far worse situation than Phnom Penh . . .

Secretary Kissinger: Are there any Americans outside Saigon?

[Page 736]

Mr. Habib: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: We should recommend to them that they pull back to Saigon. I would like to stage the withdrawals.

Mr. Habib: If the government collapses, we may not have the time. It could be very chaotic.

Secretary Kissinger: Do you have plans to get them out?

Mr. Habib: We will by the end of the day.

Secretary Kissinger: We have spent million of dollars over the past ten years so that the North Vietnamese could tear up South Vietnam. I think we owe—it’s our duty—to get the people who believed in us out. Do we have a list of those South Vietnamese that we want to get out?

Mr. Habib: There is one, but it’s limited.

Secretary Kissinger: Tell Graham Martin to give us a list of those South Vietnamese we need to get out of the country. Tell Graham that we must have the list by tomorrow (April 3, 1975).

Mr. Habib: The problem is that you have different categories of people. You have relatives of Americans, tens of thousands of people (Vietnamese) who worked for us . . . One thing I would recommend is that the Embassy destroy all personnel records when they leave.

Secretary Kissinger: The Communists will know who they are anyway. Let’s get a look at the different categories of people who need to get out. There may be upwards of 10,000 people.

Mr. Habib: There are 93,000 already on the list.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, get that list. We’ll try for as many as we can.

Mr. Stearman: It could reach a million people.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, that is one thing this Congress can’t refuse—humanitarian aid to get people out.

Mr. Habib: It depends on the nature of the collapse.

Secretary Kissinger: Bill (Mr. Colby), we have to take out those people who participated in the Phoenix program.

Mr. Colby: Yes. We could talk about a negotiated release. (Negotiate with the North Vietnamese for people following a takeover).

Secretary Kissinger: Don’t kid yourself. The North Vietnamese would never agree.

Mr. Habib: They did with the French in 1954.

Secretary Kissinger: They did with the French in 1954 because they were opposed by force. We have no cards to play. We have no leverage. We have nothing left. I guarantee you that we will get no cooperation whatsoever out of Le Duc Tho.

[Page 737]

Mr. Stearman: One possible solution to the evacuation problem is to move some of the people to those two islands offshore.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, that’s a possibility. Let’s get that list of people who have to get out and some ideas on where we should move them. We may have to ask Congress for military force to help rescue these people. I can’t see how they could refuse.

Secretary Schlesinger: Yes, after a 45-day debate . . .

Mr. Colby: There is another issue I would like to bring up—the political situation in Saigon. We’re getting rumors and rumbles about some move to oust Thieu. Some of these rumbles indicate a military move, some of them indicate a move from other quarters like the Buddhists and politicians. There’s a possibility we could get some sort of coalition government—at least for a short period of time. Then, maybe we could bring that negotiated release into play.

Secretary Kissinger: My feeling is that North Vietnam wants a united Vietnam, not a coalition or provisional revolutionary government.

Mr. Colby: I agree, but there might be some type of political process . . .

Secretary Kissinger: Do you expect Thieu to be able to survive?

Mr. Colby: It will be very close. It depends on the shock wave . . .

Secretary Kissinger: It really doesn’t make any difference whether Thieu survives or not. He’ll be through in six months, anyway. Does anybody disagree?

Secretary Schlesinger: No.

Mr. Stearman: Ken Quinn says that there is a lot of sentiment to put General Truong in charge of the war.

Secretary Schlesinger: Aw, that’s just imagery. He’s a sick man. Secretary Kissinger: Putting Truong in charge doesn’t change the reality of the situation. Thieu’s concept (withdrawal) wasn’t wrong, the execution was bad. At least that’s how I understand it. He tried to save $75 million by rapid withdrawal, fight on a limited scale next year, and hope for more US aid in 1977. The trouble is, he never understood the problems of moving such a large body of troops with their families and everything.

Mr. Colby: The real question now is, do we try for a redoubt around Saigon or actively seek some sort of fig-leaf negotiations?

Secretary Kissinger: We can save nothing at this point.

Mr. Colby: Nothing but lives.

Secretary Kissinger: How?

Mr. Colby: Talk to the North Vietnamese. Offer up Thieu for a negotiated release of people.

Secretary Kissinger: The withdrawal of Thieu at this point is the same as that of Lon Nol. They will just put the next guy up. They will [Page 738]just ask for the head of Thieu’s successor. It’s a question of compounding the disaster. If we pull the plug on Thieu and offer up Truong, they will just scream for his head.

Mr. Stearman: They want in on the action in Saigon.

Secretary Kissinger: They are going to get it anyway.

Mr. Colby: That’s my point—a figleaf . . .

Secretary Kissinger: We are not going to be involved in any negotiations between North and South Vietnam. We are going to let the North and the South work it out—alone. The US will not negotiate South Vietnam’s surrender as long as I am in this chair. I do not want any further discussion of that. We have an international position to maintain and I don’t want it damaged by our negotiating South Vietnam’s surrender. There is nothing that the US can gain by that. There is nothing that we can contribute. I’ve negotiated with these guys for four years. We got out, now let the situation be settled locally.

Now, we need to identify those who need to get out. And, I don’t exclude asking other countries to help us out. After we identify those who need to get out, we will want to move fast. I’m open to the question of asking the Soviets and Chinese to help us get them out.

Mr. Habib: We could have a wider appeal—to UN Secretary General Waldheim, for example.

Secretary Schlesinger: A lot of good he will do.

Secretary Kissinger: It’s all charades.

Mr. Clements: There is one thing I would like to bring up, Henry. What do we do about deliveries of military hardware over the short term?

Secretary Kissinger: Are we continuing to deliver hardware?

Secretary Schlesinger: Yes, there is some in the pipeline.

Secretary Kissinger: We should continue it.

Mr. Stearman: Graham Martin is going to come in with a shopping list. It could reach $700 million.

Secretary Kissinger: I think we should go to Congress with a humanitarian list and a modified military list. Something for a six-month period.

Mr. Clements: That could be several hundred million dollars.

Secretary Kissinger: We should first ask for substantial humanitarian aid and a modified military program. The US cannot afford the spectacle of cutting off aid at this point. I think we should ask for the $300 million supplemental and additional humanitarian aid.

Secretary Schlesinger: Congress will cut it back, anyway.

Mr. Stearman: Do you want to gin-up a public affairs program?

[Page 739]

Secretary Kissinger: Not until the President makes up his mind what he wants to do. What do you mean public affairs campaign?

Mr. Stearman: Get everybody on board—coordinate a public position and an interpretation of events there.

Secretary Kissinger: Jim (Secretary Schlesinger), what do you think?

Secretary Schlesinger: I think it’s alright, but it has to be done with some discretion.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay, thank you.

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box 24, WSAG Meeting Minutes, Originals, April 1975. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Colby’s briefing, “The Situation in Indochina,” April 2, attached but not printed.
  3. See Document 203.