66. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to Thailand (Unger) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)1

Ref: [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] 510.2

Ref is very much appreciated by Ambassador [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. We will have a number of questions to raise, but the most immediate problem is set forth in the following message from Ambassador Unger. For Under Secretary Alexis Johnson from Ambassador Unger

Dawee asked to see me on urgent basis this afternoon. As anticipated, he wanted above all to discuss support arrangements for Thai [Page 137]forces that might go to Cambodia. Present at our discussion also were General Kriangsak and General Prasert, Deputy Commander AFSC. Dawee said that after the Prime Minister had received another urgent letter for help from Lon Nol both the Cabinet and the Security Council had again discussed this issue. The Thai were prepared to send two regiments (3,600 men) of [1 line of source text not declassified], but could do so only on the basis of support arrangements similar to those made for the three battalions in Laos. He said, “If you cannot help Cambodia directly, help us to help them.” Dawee stressed the importance of holding Cambodia and that the situation there required immediate deployment of Thai forces; there was no time to await completion of a training program as previously discussed. Yem Sambour is still in town and he will meet again with Deputy PriMin Praphat tomorrow. Next week Praphat and a Thai delegation including Dawee and Chairatana will leave for Phnom Penh to conduct further discussions on Thai assistance.
Agreeing with him on the importance of assisting Cambodia, I went into the basic differences between the situation in Cambodia and that in Laos and Viet-Nam and explained Washington’s thinking about support arrangements in terms of para 6, reftel. I stressed that we would help out with training and equipment while the forces were still in Thailand, but once they went into Cambodia we could no longer support their subsistence the way we do in Viet-Nam or Laos. We do not and will not have the means we have in both of those places to set up direct supply channels for Thai personnel. Dawee accepted this but retorted that if we don’t find some means to help the Thai with the financial burden of supporting the forces, there would be no chance of sending any Thai forces to Cambodia; Thailand has the men, but needs matériel assistance. He confirmed that the RTG would pay basic pay, but would look to us for payment of subsistence and other allowances, various benefits, as well as for matériel and equipment. He said the reason they were thinking in terms of the same support arrangements as in Laos was that they would not send regular troops, but [2 lines of source text not declassified]. In this manner, the question of budgetary support would not come to public attention. He felt this was politically the most acceptable arrangement for us and would not stir up trouble in the U.S. such as charges about Thailand and/or Lon Nol trying to involve the U.S. a la Vietnam.
The forces provided by Thailand could be immediately used to stabilize the situation around Phnom Penh, and generally along the route from Thailand as, for example, around Kompong Thom; perhaps also on the west bank of the Mekong. He also said it was important to destroy enemy forces in the border triangle of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. After the forces drawn from the Khmer Serei and other Cambodian groups had had their training (in about 3–4 months) they could [Page 138]be rotated in to replace the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]Thai forces. The latter can be phased in one battalion at a time, beginning practically immediately.
In a separate development, Pote Sarasin asked [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] to call on him this morning in order to urge U.S. reconsideration of decision re non-support for Thai troops once deployed in Cambodia. Pote pointed out that the RTG intends to commit all the help to Cambodia that it can from its own resources and that the National Security Council had allocated 20 million baht to provide the kinds of finished goods which can be produced in Thailand such as shoes, uniforms, mosquito nets, and canteens. The RTG, however, needs U.S. assistance of the kind provided in Laos for Thai regiments in Cambodia and, in any case, could not fund such support from the Thai budget, even if it were able, without the knowledge of parliamentary reviewing committees and the consequent exposure of the covert nature of the effort. He pointed out that with U.S. assistance the Thais can maintain a credible cover story, if the presence of Thai troops in Cambodia subsequently comes to public attention, by claiming that these Thais are volunteers who are fighting with the Cambodian Army. Finally, Pote cited the contributions Thailand is now making to support free world efforts to resist aggression in Vietnam, Laos, and now Cambodia as evidence of RTG commitment to participate fully in this effort within the limits of its means.
To summarize, the Thais have undertaken to make two regiments of total of 3,600 men available as rapidly as possible in response to Lon Nol’s urgent request. To the maximum extent possible, these troops will be familiar with the Cambodian language [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. In the meantime, the Thais are proceeding to recruit former Khmer Serei and other Cambodian-speaking men on both sides of the Thai/Cambodian border. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] has independent confirmation that this recruitment is proceeding. When these troops trained they can be rotated to replace the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Thai forces.
It seems to me that we should agree to pay such allowances as we are now paying the battalions in Laos in addition to the training expenses which you have authorized in reftel. These include subsistence, combat allowance, and death and disability payments. I have made it clear to Dawee that we cannot provide subsistence in kind as in Vietnam. It seems to me, therefore, that a monthly sum based on a daily baht rate should be negotiated as a reimbursement for the outlay the RTG will have to make. I think it is clear from the reasons which have been cited by Dawee and also by Pote that the Thais are unlikely to feel able to respond to Lon Nol’s urgent request for these troops unless arrangements similar to those in Laos can be worked out. I am satisfied [Page 139]that Thais do intend and have already started providing significant assistance to the Cambodians from their own resources, namely finished goods which can be produced here. They are also ready to continue the basic pay for the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] troops just as in the case of all of the other troops now fighting outside of Thailand.
I urge therefore that you give this matter urgent and favorable consideration3 since it is highly desirable for the Praphat delegation to be able to discuss further and complete the arrangements for Thai troops when it visits Phnom Penh, possibly as early as Monday, the 25th of May.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–074, WSAG Meeting, 5/22/70.
  2. Document 64.
  3. This request for U.S. financial support for the two [text not declassified] regiments received extensive consideration at the WSAG and other high levels in Washington, but was never given an affirmative response. Instead, Washington’s basic negative response was given in message 637, May 28, in which Johnson informed Unger of the “number of legal and operational questions” concerning the requested financial support. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 561, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. III)