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Page 100(The Evacuation of Phnom Penh )


size=5>CHAPTER 7

size=5>The Evacuation of Phnom Penh

The Khmer

Rouge-The Khmer Communists' Last Dry Season Offensive-The Marines Move into

Position Final Preparations Ashore-Final Preparations at Sea-The Execution of

Eagle Pull

 

Throughout the years of major United

States involvement in South Vietnam, Cambodia was officially neutral. The

nonbelligerent status was, however, a onesided affair. Cambodian territory

served as a vital link in the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Not surprisingly, Cambodia also

became a convenient haven for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong (NVA/VC) forces

worn out from the fighting in South Vietnam. Of particular importance to the

North Vietnamese as sanctuary areas were the regions to the immediate west and

northwest of Saigon. No change in these arrangements occurred until March of

1970 when a pro-Western coalition under the leadership of then-Marshal Lon Noi

mounted a successful coup against the 'neutralist' Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

Marshal Lon Nol's coup created the Khmer Republic. The following month, U.S. and

South Vietnamese forces launched an offensive into Cambodia, with the limited

objective of destroying the NVA/VC sanctuaries. They focused their efforts in

the Parrot's Beak region, the easternmost area of Cambodia that juts into the

heart of southern South Vietnam, at its easternmost point only 50 kilometers

from Saigon. As a fringe benefit, the offensive served to bolster the fledgling

government in Phnom Penh. Struggling against an internal. Communist-dominated

insurgency, Lon Nol's government welcomed such assistance.

The NVA forces, despite their

longstanding differences with the Cambodians, supported the insurgent movement,

and regardless of their ethnic differences, which occasionally erupted into open

warfare, the North Vietnamese aided and even trained Cambodian cadres in North

Vietnam. These cadres later joined those already in Cambodia. Their numbers grew

to 60,000 hard-core guerrillas. Although their ranks contained a number of

smaller factions, they collectively came to be known as the Khmer Rouge or Khmer

Communists. Supplied with weapons from Communist China and the Soviet Union, the

Khmer Communists for the most part lived off the land.1

During the first three years of its

existence, the Army of the Khmer Republic was an ill-equipped band of soldiers.

The Air Force and the Navy proved themselves to be the republic's elite forces.

Yet despite its lack of equipment and funds, the Cambodian Army, called the FANK

(Force Armee Nationale Khmer), was able, with U.S. air support, to hold at bay

the better-trained, and initially better-equipped, Khmer Communists.2

The five-year conflict in Cambodia,

like the war in South Vietnam, took its cues from the Southeast Asian weather.

The southwest monsoon season annually inundated the lowlands adjacent to the

government population centers, thereby effectively precluding or at least

limiting any offensive action from June through December. During the dry season,

January to June, virtually the same scenario occurred each year. At the start of

each calendar year, the Khmer Rouge attacked the government enclaves,

interdicted the lines of communication and attempted to draw sufficient

Cambodian government forces from Phnom Penh in order to strike a mortal blow

before the onset of another monsoon season. Neither side gained a clear upper

hand during the first years of dry season fighting. Equilibrium was maintained

in this see-saw battle of seasons by the American presence. U.S. air support

provided the difference between victory and defeat for the Khmer Republic. It

initially bought time for the government troops to improve their combat

capabilities, particularly the government troops' fire-support coordination.

American air support also allowed the Khmer Rouge time to improve, particularly

in the area of coordinated offensive actions. Hampered by the confusion

attendant to an army composed of diverse factions, the insurgents remedied their

deficiencies through trial and error. As each new rainy season began, it became

increasingly more difficult to ignore the ominous, inescapable fact that the

Communists were gradually gaining control of the river and road network. As each

new dry season came to a close, the noose around Phnom Penh shrunk ever tighter.

3

To address this issue, the U.S.

Congress sent a fact-finding commission to Cambodia in April 1973 to determine

if continued American aid was warranted. Two of the Congressional staff members

who made the trip, James G. Lowenstein and Richard M. Moose, authored the report

to the chairman of the Subcommittee on





Page 100(The Evacuation of Phnom Penh )