254. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

SUBJECT

  • Vietnam Evacuation

PARTICIPANTS

  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Robert Ingersoll
  • Amb. L. Dean Brown
  • Philip Habib
  • Robert Miller
  • Defense
  • William Clements
  • Howard H. Callaway
  • R/Adm. William Crowe
  • JCS
  • Gen. George S. Brown
  • Lt. Gen. John W. Pauly
  • CIA
  • William Colby
  • Ted Shackley
  • William Christison
  • NSC Staff
  • LTG Brent Scowcroft
  • Col. Clinton Granger
  • W.R. Smyser
  • William Stearman
  • James Barnum

SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS

It was agreed that:

  • —Ambassador Martin would be asked for his judgment as to when the last fixed-wing flight and helicopter airlift could be effected;
  • —Ambassador Martin would be asked whether he wants to use the six ships presently in Saigon harbor for evacuation purposes;
  • —Guam rather than Clark AFB would be used as the major processing center for evacuees.

Secretary Kissinger: Bill (Mr. Colby) do you have a briefing?

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

Secretary Kissinger: What do you mean, “no upsurge of anti-Americanism?” Is it continuing to grow? (In reference to a statement in the briefing that no breakdown of law and order or upsurge in the steady growth of anti-Americanism is evident in the aftermath of the Thieu resignation).

Mr. Colby: Yes, anti-Americanism is continuing to grow. What I mean is that there has not been an explosion of anti-Americanism since Thieu’s resignation. There has been a steady growth of anti-Americanism, but no explosion. (Continued to brief.)

Secretary Kissinger: When do you expect this attack on Tan Son Nhut?

Mr. Colby: In a day or so. We do not have precise information as to the timing, but we expect it in a day or so.

Secretary Kissinger: Have we told (Amb.) Martin yet about what (Secretary) Schlesinger and I agreed to yesterday about those people at the DAO compound at Tan Son Nhut?

Gen. Brown: Yes, Brent (Gen. Scowcroft) sent a cable out yesterday3 telling them to get all but non-essential DAO personnel out of there, and that the remaining essential personnel were to be evacuated by C–130 when the airbase came under attack.

Secretary Kissinger: That cable was to have two parts. The second part was to say that those few essential people were to move closer into town.

Mr. Clements: That’s not in the cable.

Gen. Brown: Here’s the cable, and that’s not in there.

Secretary Kissinger: Can we amend it? (Reads cable.) How many people have seen this cable?

Gen. Brown: Only Bill (Mr. Clements), myself, General Pauly, Bob (Mr. Ingersoll), and Jim (Secretary Schlesinger).

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t see any need for these last two paragraphs. Can you impound the cables?

Gen. Brown: Sure.

[Page 885]

Secretary Kissinger: I’m worried about those last two paragraphs.

Mr. Clements: We’ll amend it before we leave here this morning.

Secretary Kissinger: I’ll have Brent (Gen. Scowcroft) amend it to read that only the minimum number of DAO personnel—only the minimum number needed to man the equipment—would move into town. They can move into the Embassy, or something.

Mr. Colby continued to brief from the attached.

Secretary Kissinger: From what direction are the North Vietnamese going to move on Tan Son Nhut?

Mr. Colby: From the west, the southwest, and the northwest. (Continued to brief.)

Secretary Kissinger: Where’s Habib today?

Mr. Ingersoll: He’s on the Hill testifying.

Mr. Colby finished his briefing.

Secretary Kissinger: My instincts tell me that they (the North Vietnamese) will try to unify the country as quickly as possible. (In reference to a statement in the briefing that there is no good evidence as yet whether Hanoi will opt for a relatively quick reunification or choose to establish a Communist-controlled transitional regime.)

Mr. Colby: That’s mine too. I think they will jump right over the PRG (Provisional Revolutionary Government).

Mr. Christison: There may be a period of one to three months when there will be some sort of transitional regime, but no longer than that.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, they might allow a provisional regime to exist for a few months, but within a year they will have absorbed the South. By the way, how much is 200 grams of rice? I saw in some intelligence report that people with red tags (in North Vietnamese occupied areas of South Vietnam) got only 200 grams of rice per day.

Mr. Shackley: It’s barely subsistence level. 200 grams is about a fifth of a pound.

Secretary Kissinger: Then they are starving them to death. This report says that the Communists have divided the people up and put tags on them. There are two categories of red tags—one category gets 200 grams of rice a day, the other gets 500 grams a day.

Mr. Colby: One of the problems is that they have their own rice shortage.

Mr. Stearman: They did the same thing in the 1950s. They just let a large number of people starve to death.

Mr. Christison: That report has not been confirmed. We are going to have to wait at least four months before we start to get any good intelligence out of the newly-occupied areas.

[Page 886]

Secretary Kissinger: Yeah, I think they will go about consolidating their control systematically. It will take a few months. I think their first priority is establishing a civil administration.

Mr. Shackley: They are doing some selective killing now.

Secretary Kissinger: How much longer do you think Saigon has?

Mr. Colby: Very few days. They are not interested in any interim deals. What they want is a full military victory and humiliation of the U.S. Tan Son Nhut is about to go.

Mr. Clements: Are you saying they are going to make a real effort to take Saigon?

Mr. Colby: Yes, all the evidence points to that.

Secretary Kissinger: At what point do we trigger the evacuation?

Mr. Colby: The sooner the better.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, I know that, but can somebody at this table tell me when the critical point is? What’s the latest we can get those people out? How much time do we have?

Mr. Christison: You will have to do it either tomorrow or the next day.

Secretary Kissinger: If they attack the base, can we get those people out?

Gen. Brown: There is more of a risk in getting them out while an attack is going on. We’d like to use those C–130s. They are a good aircraft for that type of situation, and they hold more. We would like to use the C–130s and then the helicopters if we have to.

Mr. Colby: You could get that small number (of essential DAO people) out of there earlier than planned.

Gen. Brown: We did some good work last night. A number of C–130s left after dark. They were taking 200 an hour yesterday.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, we’ll be down to 1500 Americans by tomorrow night.

Gen. Brown: Today we are going to use some of those C–141s.

Secretary Kissinger: How many Vietnamese have we gotten out so far?

Gen. Brown: Henry, we just don’t have any reliable figures on that. Everybody has a different figure. According to my book here, we took out over 2,000 Vietnamese yesterday. 670 Americans were taken out.

Secretary Kissinger: Anybody have any ideas on how we could get more Vietnamese out?

Amb. Brown: The problem is where do you take them.

Gen. Brown: Yeah, some 5,000 are due into Clark (AFB).

Mr. Clements: There’s 5,000 there already, and the Philippine government says we have to have no more than 200 there per day.

[Page 887]

Secretary Kissinger: Dean (Amb. Brown) do a cable to Graham (Amb. Martin). See what his judgment is as to when is the last moment a flight could get out, when the helicopter lift should start. Get from Graham the trigger points for each. Check with Brent (Gen. Scowcroft).

Amb. Brown: Right.

Mr. Clements: Henry, you know we have those ships in Newport (Saigon harbor) and they are not being used.

Amb. Brown: You know, Martin now has parole authority for Vietnamese.

Do you want to use those ships? I could get to Martin on that.

Secretary Kissinger: We have to leave some things to Martin’s judgment.

Gen. Brown: Four ships are there and two more are in-bound.

Secretary Kissinger: What are two more doing up there?

Gen. Brown: I have no idea.

Secretary Kissinger: It doesn’t make any sense to have the ships up there if they are not going to load on Vietnamese, does it? What do you think, Dick?

Mr. Smyser: If Tan Son Nhut is closed, those ships may be the only way to get people out.

Gen. Brown: I’ll find out who ordered those ships up there and why they are there.

Secretary Kissinger: We’ll have to get to Martin about whether he wants to use those ships.

Amb. Brown: I’ll talk to Graham about that.

Mr. Miller: They (the two new ships) could be carrying the remaining military aid supplies.

Secretary Kissinger: Look, you guys get together on these things. Are you all coordinating together?

Mr. Clements: Sure, we’re working together on these things, Henry. We’re coordinating.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay, we’ll try to find out from Graham when the trigger points are. In my judgment, Graham probably believes that it would be dangerous to load those ships. We’ll see what he says.

Amb. Brown: You know, once we’re at the 1500 level (American citizens) we could start to peel down that number.

Mr. Clements: George (Gen. Brown) we received a cable this morning saying that only a small contingent of territorial forces now stand in the way of the Viet Cong from taking Saigon. Is that right?

Mr. Colby: There are two marine brigades still west of Saigon and remnants of other units scattered around. There are more than just territorial units standing in the way.

[Page 888]

Secretary Kissinger: The North Vietnamese are not running out of steam are they? I mean logistically.

Mr. Colby: No, they sure are not. They are in good shape.

Secretary Kissinger: Are the South Vietnamese fighting?

Mr. Colby: There hasn’t been much going on in the last 24 hours. It could be that they are just waiting for the final assault.

Secretary Kissinger: In your judgment then, during any given 24-hour period they could begin the attack on Tan Son Nhut.

Mr. Colby: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Graham is under clear instructions that if an attack starts on Tan Son Nhut, the DAO personnel are to get out immediately.

Gen. Brown: That’s right, but he (Martin) still has 400 people at the DAO compound.

Secretary Kissinger: We’ll get to Martin to find out when the trigger points are, if he wants to load the ships, and when the helicopter evacuation should be. Then we will have a guide to go by.

Amb. Brown: Will do.

(A telephone call came in at this point for Ambassador Brown, who was subsequently called out of the meeting.)

Mr. Clements: I agree, Henry, going to Guam (with the Vietnamese refugees) is our best bet. We can take much better care of them there.

Secretary Kissinger: But you are going to have only 5,000 people.

Amb. Brown: You’re going to have a lot more than that.

Gen. Brown: We’re going to have to have a tent city at Guam, but I think it would be better than Clark (AFB).

Amb. Brown: We can handle 50,000 at Guam.

Secretary Kissinger: I think I prefer Guam. What do you think, Dick?

Mr. Smyser: I think Guam makes better sense.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay, let’s go to Guam.

Mr. Clements: Good!

Secretary Kissinger: We could take some of them to the Trust

Territories.

Mr. Smyser: Using the Northern Marianas as a relocation center could have some negative political impact, but stress could be placed on the temporary nature of the center.

(Ambassador Brown returned to the meeting.)

Amb. Brown: President Thieu and his family have just landed at Clark. This is a telephone report. There are two C–130s. The report is that the General Staff is on the second plane. We’re trying to get some confirmation now.

Secretary Kissinger: Wait! If they (the General Staff) is bugging out, that changes the whole situation. I mean, they don’t have a [Page 889]government then. It changes our whole planning. Get on the phone with Graham and find out what is going on. If the whole government is leaving, then we have no obligation to keep supporting them.

Mr. Stearman: It could be only the ex-government, not the new one. Secretary Kissinger: If it is the General Staff, then no one is in charge, is there? Somebody get in touch with Graham. Our moral obligation ends when that government does.

Mr. Shackley: It depends on who’s aboard. You could still have the new government in Saigon.

Secretary Kissinger: Let’s get that cable out (on trigger points) and find out about Thieu. (The report later proved erroneous.)

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box 25, WSAG Meeting Minutes, Originals, April 1975. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Colby’s briefing, “Vietnam,” April 22, attached but not printed.
  3. Document 250.