43. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

SUBJECT

  • Indochina and Libya

PARTICIPANTS

  • Chairman
  • Henry Kissinger
  • State
  • William Porter
  • William Sullivan
  • Defense
  • William Clements
  • Lawrence Eagleburger
  • Gen. Alexander Haig
  • R/Adm. Daniel Murphy
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas Moorer
  • V/Adm. John Weinel
  • CIA
  • James Schlesinger
  • George Carver
  • William Nelson
  • William Newton
  • NSC
  • B/Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Richard Kennedy
  • James Hackett
[Page 198]

SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS

It was agreed that:

  • —Defense will prepare a new military plan by COB April 17 for air strikes that will be concentrated on the enemy supply complex in northern South Vietnam.2 The plan will include strikes in Quang Tri Province, including the Khe Sanh base and missile complex, the Ho Chi Minh trail area of southern Laos and the DMZ, including the North Vietnamese portion of the western end of the DMZ. The emphasis will be on the logistics centers in northern South Vietnam, with other military and transportation facilities as secondary targets. This plan will be an alternative to the existing plan which emphasizes air strikes in Laos, with residual strikes in northern South Vietnam.
  • —It will be decided on April 18 whether to fly an SR–71 flight before the weather clears or wait for better visibility.
  • —State will revise its reply and scenario for dealing with the DRV note protesting U.S. and GVN violations of the Agreement.3
  • —[2 lines of text not declassified]
  • —Henceforth, Defense will fly EC–130 missions over international waters off the coast of Libya in the normal manner.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Indochina.]

Mr. Sullivan: Where would you strike?

Mr. Kissinger: Since we would be doing it against the recommendation of everyone, we could do what we please. Don’t laugh, I’m serious.

Adm. Moorer: When Tha Viang was bombed, the enemy forces concentrating there dispersed and most of them took off for the woods. That’s why there were no good targets after the first day. It now looks as though the next enemy threat may occur at Sala Phou Khoun. Should we plan to hit them there on the same basis?

Mr. Kissinger: The next time we keep going. We aren’t going to stop after 24 hours.

Mr. Sullivan: We should tell Godley what we have in mind.

Mr. Kissinger: What was the effect of the bombing at Tha Viang?

Mr. Schlesinger: The Thai irregulars went back across the river.

Mr. Kissinger: What is the name of the town that’s now threatened?

Adm. Moorer: Sala Phou Khoun. It’s across the river. The enemy is forming up there now.

[Page 199]

Mr. Kissinger: What’s important about it?

Mr. Sullivan: It is significant. It’s on Route 13 and if the enemy can hold it, he will cut the main road from Vientiane to Luang Prabang.

Adm. Moorer: A key question is whether they are going to attack in Quang Tri as Schlesinger says they may do. The situation at Tha Viang has petered out and I think it may be better to hold the bombing in abeyance until the next cause célèbre comes along.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Porter) What do you think?

Mr. Porter: That we should wait, as Tom (Moorer) says.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Clements) What do you think?

Mr. Clements: I agree, but I think the next time we should hit the missile sites.

Mr. Kissinger: Do nothing but hit the missile sites?

Mr. Clements: No, hit everything, including the missile sites.

Adm. Moorer: Not just the missiles themselves, but the whole missile complex.

Mr. Kissinger: I am aware that the JCS is fascinated with the idea of bombing the missiles, but what we want to do is destroy the enemy supplies.

Adm. Moorer: I know you want to hit the supplies. We do, too, but it’s necessary to suppress the enemy aircraft and missiles in order to do so. Our losses go right down if we do. We don’t want any aircraft losses or POWs if it can be avoided. When we are given only two or three days to hit the enemy, it takes us that long to suppress the missiles and aircraft, and then we are out of time. That way we don’t have time to get many of the supplies. We don’t like these three day strikes. If we’re going to go, we want to go for seven days or more. That way we can have two days for the suppression of air defenses and then use all the rest to hit the supplies.

Mr. Kissinger: The missiles only protect the supplies and it’s the supplies we want to hit. I don’t care whether you hit the missiles or not.

Adm. Moorer: After the suppression strikes, the missile firings go way down.

Mr. Kissinger: I know you can suppress the missiles, but the strategic objective is to get the supplies. If the strikes last more than three days, we have domestic problems. The first day our critics are confused, but after three days they start getting rough.

Mr. Carver: Khe Sanh has a number of things that make it an attractive target. In addition to the missiles, it is a major supply base, with a lot of POL, troops and everything else. It is protected by an entire AAA division, with both missiles and radar-guided anti-aircraft [Page 200]guns. The missiles and AAA are there precisely because it is such a big supply base.

Mr. Kissinger: I thought the A-Shau Valley was loaded with supplies.

Mr. Carver: The A-Shau Valley and Khe Sanh are connected. They are building up the whole area.

Adm. Moorer: I propose striking the AAA emplacements, the missile complex, the airfield, the supply depots, the storage area and the whole thing at Khe Sanh.

Mr. Carver: They have built roads all through the area. This is not just a buildup; the result will be the de facto annexation of most of Quang Tri and Thua Thien Provinces.

Mr. Clements: The missiles have gotten a lot of publicity.

Mr. Kissinger: Publicity makes no difference; success is what makes the difference. Our opponents scream about everything we do, no matter what town we hit or what the justification. Now they are crying about the poor Cambodians.

Adm. Moorer: Let’s go tomorrow against Khe Sanh.

Mr. Kissinger: No, we need a pretext.

Adm. Moorer: We are ready to go tomorrow with 80 B–52s and 500 tactical fighter-bombers.

Mr. Kissinger: What about that area in MR–3?

Adm. Moorer: Tong Le Chan? We’re ready to go there any time. The targets are all set.

Mr. Porter: Souvanna Phouma is very definitely on record now that any strikes on the trail would violate the ceasefire.

Mr. Sullivan: If we resume bombing North Vietnam, he would expect strikes on the trail, but otherwise not.

Adm. Moorer: If we go into the DMZ that may satisfy him.

Mr. Schlesinger: For all practical purposes Khe Sanh is part of North Vietnam now.

Mr. Kissinger: We have never protested their virtual annexation of Khe Sanh, have we?

Mr. Sullivan: No, we haven’t.

Mr. Kissinger: I understand the consensus of this group is to await another pretext.

Mr. Carver: You’re going to get one all right, and fairly soon. There will almost certainly be some kind of enemy attack in the Quang Tri area.

Mr. Kissinger: Would Souvanna criticize us if we bombed in Quang Tri Province and slopped over into Laos?

Adm. Moorer: Perhaps we could do some groundwork with Souvanna on that possibility.

[Page 201]

Mr. Clements: What do you think, Al (Haig)?

Gen. Haig: I think Souvanna’s scared that we may leave him naked. Anything that assuages that concern should help us.

Mr. Kissinger: If the enemy attacks in Quang Tri, why don’t we strike the whole area?

Mr. Carver: We can do that. There may also be a North Vietnamese attack against Hue.

Mr. Sullivan: Why not bomb southern North Vietnam?

Mr. Carver: Quang Tri is administered out of Vinh. The whole area from Quang Tri Province through the DMZ and all the way up to Vinh is part of the administrative complex controlled from Vinh.

Mr. Kissinger: I hope you gentlemen stop short of Peking in your recommendations for air strikes. Some day I am going to write a book about the bureaucratic method; you oppose something most effectively by urging the person who has to make the decision to go all the way.

Adm. Moorer: I would bomb them and at the same time mine the whole North Vietnamese coast. The mining would seriously impair their long range outlook, and we could do it with no losses. They wouldn’t be able to get a ship in for a year. They were extremely anxious about the removal of the mines and re-seeding with new mines would cause them a lot of concern.

Mr. Kissinger: Do you have a plan to re-seed the mines?

Adm. Moorer: Sure, it could be the next step. They have a large number of ships inbound right now. The ratio of supplies that is coming in now is higher than it’s ever been.

Mr. Kissinger: If we bomb them in South Vietnam, we want to hit them hard. We pay the same price domestically no matter how severe the bombing is.

Adm. Moorer: We’re ready!

Mr. Kissinger: Where would you hit them?

Adm. Moorer: We would get the most targets by hitting the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Those are the most lucrative targets, and then afterwards we could bomb the supply depots in South Vietnam. You may want to do something different for the best political effect, but that’s what I would recommend for the best military results.

Mr. Kissinger: If we decide to go, we want to do it effectively. We need two plans for the President’s consideration, one which puts emphasis on air strikes in Laos and another with emphasis on strikes in South Vietnam. In either case, you should include the possibility of the strikes slopping over to the other. Can we have that by the end of the day?

Adm. Moorer: Sure, I can get something to you today that will set it out conceptually, but that isn’t enough time to do it in detail.

[Page 202]

Mr. Kissinger: The plan we have now is weighted four to one on strikes in Laos. It’s fine, but let’s also do one weighted four to one on strikes in South Vietnam, then the President can take his choice.

Adm. Moorer: O.K.

Mr. Kissinger: Since we already have the one for Laos, we only need the one emphasizing strikes in South Vietnam.

Mr. Sullivan: What do you think our major difficulties will be if attacks are made in South Vietnam?

Mr. Kissinger: The possibility of new POWs and the domestic uproar that will develop.

Mr. Sullivan: More uproar than about the Cambodian bombing?

Mr. Kissinger: Absolutely. (to Adm. Moorer) Did we get all those men back on the minesweepers?

Adm. Moorer: Yes, all the men are on board the ships.

Mr. Porter: Has the word been passed to the North Vietnamese about the suspension of the Joint Economic Committee Meetings?

Mr. Kissinger: Yes. All right, let’s get that additional plan that provides for air strikes in Laos, but with an emphasis on strikes in South Vietnam.

Mr. Schlesinger: But you plan to wait for justification before using it?

Mr. Kissinger: That’s right. I’ll convey to the President the consensus of this group that the pretext given us by Tha Viang has expired and that we should wait for a new one.

Mr. Sullivan: You have our proposed reply to the DRV note protesting alleged U.S. and GVN violations of the agreement.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, I have it here, but I don’t want to defend them against our charges of violations. I want it to say that there have been flagrant violations of the agreement on their part and that we protest them.

Mr. Sullivan: It does say that, right here (pointing to text).

Mr. Kissinger: You have their defense first and our charges afterward. You should reverse the order.

Mr. Sullivan: O.K., we’ll turn it around.

Mr. Schlesinger: Henry, we’re not out of pretexts yet. We may be worried about some of the subtleties of the Tha Viang situation, but we have not yet run out of the pretext. We’ve made a public case of the enemy violation at Tha Viang and that is still current in the public mind.

Mr. Kissinger: Are they going to do something else or aren’t they? If they aren’t, we may not want to strike them.

Mr. Schlesinger: COSVN has been passing the word for some time that Richard Nixon is not prepared to resume the bombing of the North.

[Page 203]

They think they can operate with impunity and so long as they believe that, they will continue their infiltration and preparations.

Adm. Moorer: (holding a copy of the Washington Post) We can take advantage of these headlines this morning (about U.S. bombing in Laos) and say we are prepared to do it again, if necessary. The air strikes at Tha Viang have already given them a good signal.

Gen. Haig: We should think strategically, in the broadest possible context, and not get involved in these tactical details. We are thinking too tactically here.

Mr. Kissinger: You may be, but we are not.

Mr. Carver: The things that used to drive them crackers were the pre-emptive probes. They like to prepare their attacks in great detail, very carefully, and anything that broke them up in the preparation stage caused them a lot of stress. Since the ceasefire, the South Vietnamese can’t launch those pre-emptive probes, but if we strike before they have a chance to attack, it will be very disruptive for them.

Mr. Sullivan: I don’t want to sound too hawkish, but I think giving them a total sanctuary of everything north of the DMZ is a bad precedent.

Mr. Kissinger: How far north would you go?

Mr. Sullivan: To the end of the administrative complex at Vinh.

Adm. Moorer: Let’s go to Hanoi. That will be a good signal to them.

Mr. Carver: If you bomb the DMZ and slop over to the western end, they’ll get the message all right.

Mr. Kissinger: Last year we had to fight the bureaucracy all the way on the bombing of the North. The President finally went to Dong Hoi with the raids and then all the way to Hanoi. Now the bureaucracy wants to lead the way.

Adm. Moorer: They are convinced we aren’t going to bomb the North again. They have their planes all lined up in a row on the run-ways in North Vietnam. They are beautiful targets.

Mr. Porter: But they won’t leave them there for long if they detect our planes coming north.

Adm. Moorer: Maybe so, but I think we can get quite a few.

Mr. Schlesinger: COSVN predicts an uprising in the South and a new offensive this year. They are passing the word that the U.S. is out of the war. They keep saying that Richard Nixon will not intervene again in Vietnam.

Mr. Kissinger: Could we have a plan today that gives us more targets in South Vietnam and which includes slopping over into North Vietnam in the western half of the DMZ? Let us worry about the publicity.

[Page 204]

Mr. Clements: What’s the advantage of waiting?

Mr. Kissinger: We may be able to position the strikes better. If we are fairly certain they are going to attack, we will be able to hit them more effectively.

Adm. Moorer: If we strike them just before an attack, it would be ten times more effective than otherwise.

Mr. Kissinger: Do we concur that what they are doing is conducting probing actions as part of an overall strategic concept?

Mr. Carver: I think so. They probe here and then there, and after a while you have what amounts to a general offensive underway.

Gen. Haig: (to Mr. Kissinger) You’ve taken certain diplomatic actions, you’ve stopped the mine removal and the Joint Economic Commission talks, now is it better to wait to see what their reaction will be to those steps or to hit them militarily too, in conjunction with the diplomatic signals? I think now is the time to strike, to reinforce the other signals.

Mr. Clements: I agree with that.

Mr. Carver: The record has shown that the efficacy of verbal warnings to the North Vietnamese has not been great.

Mr. Sullivan: Breaking off the Joint Economic Commission talks is not verbal; that’s a major diplomatic action.

Mr. Kissinger: Stopping the mine removal is a signal, too.

Adm. Moorer: Actually, in a few more days there will be no more live mines left. They’ve all been set to deactivate, although the North Vietnamese don’t know that.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Adm. Moorer) I have a paper my staff prepared; I’ll give you a copy to work from. If what Jim (Schlesinger) says is true, it doesn’t matter whether we strike now or later.

Mr. Porter: What is the status of the reconnaissance flights?

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, are they still delayed by the weather?

Mr. Schlesinger: It’s bad today.

Mr. Carver: It’s sloppy this time of the year. I don’t know when we will be able to go.

Adm. Moorer: We’re ready to go at any time, but we would like to get the intelligence, too.

Mr. Kissinger: Don’t you think we should?

Adm. Moorer: Sure, if we’re going to do it we may as well get some pictures.

Mr. Kennedy: Whether we got pictures or not, it would be another signal to them if the plane flew over the North. That would be one more signal added to the suspension of the minesweeping and the Joint Economic Commission.

[Page 205]

Mr. Kissinger: What kind of signal would a flight of a recon plane in bad weather convey?

Adm. Moorer: They wouldn’t know what it would mean. They may think it would be getting information from infra-red sensors, or something.

Mr. Kissinger: We may go tomorrow night regardless of the weather. We’ll decide that tomorrow (April 18).

Mr. Nelson: [4 lines not declassified]

Mr. Kissinger: [1 line not declassified]

Mr. Nelson: [1 line not declassified]

Mr. Kissinger: [1 line not declassified]

Mr. Nelson: [1 line not declassified]

Mr. Kennedy: Only if we have problems with all of MASF.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Sullivan) Can you have a draft for us to look at by the end of the day? (referring again to the US/GVN reply to the DRV note on ceasefire violations).3

Mr. Sullivan: We can prepare a model and send it out to the GVN for approval.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s have it ready to go by Thursday (April 19).

Mr. Sullivan: O.K.

Mr. Kissinger: Now, I want a new plan that will include strikes on Quang Tri, Khe Sanh and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, with some slopping over into North Vietnam. (to Adm. Moorer) I don’t want you to be obsessed with Khe Sanh; I want you to make plans to get the logistics complex in and around the DMZ. If you want to strike Khe Sanh in connection with carrying out that objective, that’s O.K. with me. I have no objection to that.

Adm. Moorer: It can be done that way.

Mr. Kissinger: We want two plans for the President’s consideration, one emphasizing strikes in Laos and the other with an emphasis on South Vietnam. Are we pushing the MAP deliveries to Cambodia?

Adm. Murphy: Yes, sir.

Adm. Moorer: We are moving them, especially 105s and things that are needed to keep the roads open.

Mr. Kissinger: Is the airlift operating?

Adm. Moorer: Yes, sir, it’s operating well.

Mr. Kissinger: This reminds me of the glorious days of the India/Pakistan WSAGs.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–91, WSAG Meeting Minutes, Originals, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. “Contingency Plans, Southeast Asia,” April 19; Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–78–0002, 385.1, Viet.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 42.
  4. Kissinger presented the reply based on the referenced draft to the North Vietnamese two days later. See Document 49 and footnote 3 thereto.