Page 100(The Evacuation of Phnom Penh )
size=5>The Evacuation of Phnom Penh
Rouge-The Khmer Communists' Last Dry Season Offensive-The Marines Move into
Position Final Preparations Ashore-Final Preparations at Sea-The Execution of
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.
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 )