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Cambodia, Bombing of


CAMBODIA, BOMBING OF. As part of the American involvement in the Vietnam War, the U.S. military began secret bombing operations, code-named Operation Menu, in Cambodia on 9 March 1969. Initially conducted by B-52 bomber planes, the operations aimed to reduce the threat to U.S. ground forces, which were being withdrawn as part of President Richard M. Nixon's program to end U.S. ground involvement. At the time of the decision to begin the B-52 strikes, American casualties were occurring at a rate of about 250 a week. The North Vietnamese had established stockpiles of arms and munitions in Cambodian sanctuaries, from which they launched attacks across the border into South Vietnam against American troops. After quick strikes, enemy forces returned to their sanctuaries to rearm and prepare for further action. The air strikes, in conjunction with other factors—such as the reduction of the overall vulnerability of American forces as they relinquished the major combat roles to South Vietnamese forces—cut the number of American ground casualties in half.

Limited tactical air operations in Cambodia began on 24 April 1970, preparatory to ground operations during the American-Vietnamese incursion. The purpose of these strictly controlled operations, made with the acquiescence of the government of Cambodia but without the consent of the U.S. Congress, was to destroy long-standing North Vietnamese base areas and supply depots near

the Cambodian border and cause the North Vietnamese to further disperse their forces.

In the United States the bombing of Cambodia became a subject of contention. Although the Nixon administration intended to keep it a secret, journalists quickly broke the story. The bombings became a major object of protest within the antiwar movement, with some labeling the covert operations foolish and others declaring them illegal. A protest against the bombing of Cambodia at Kent State University on 4 May 1970 turned violent, resulting in the death of four students after a National Guard unit, brought in to quiet the protesters, fired into the crowd.

The bombings were devastating to Cambodia's civilian population and proved to be a major source of political instability as well. General Lon Nol's coup in 1970, shortly after the American raids began, displaced Prince Norodom Sihanouk and sent the country into a period of political turmoil. This ultimately resulted in the rise to power of leader Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, a communist political and military group, in 1975.

After the withdrawal of U.S. ground troops from Cambodia on 30 June 1970, tactical air and B-52 strikes continued at the request of the Cambodian government. These missions were approved by Federal Armée National Khmer representatives prior to execution. Air strikes continued, again at the request of the Cambodian government, until the Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings on the bombing operations. After determining that Nixon had improperly conducted such operations in a country that Congress officially recognized as neutral, Congress voted to terminate the bombing—after some thirty-five hundred raids—as of midnight, 14 August 1973. The bombing operations lasted four and one-half years, but they represented only about 1 percent of the total U.S. air activity in the Vietnam War.


Goldstein, Donald M., Katherine V. Dillon, and J. Michael Wenger. The Vietnam War: The Story and Photographs. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 1997.

Matusow, Allen J. The Unravelling of America: A History of Liberalism in the 1960s. New York: Harper and Row, 1984.

Michon, Michel M. Indochina Memoir: Rubber, Politics, and War in Vietnam and Cambodia, 1955–1972. Tempe: Arizona State University Program for Southeast Asian Studies, Mono-graph Series Press, 2000.

Philip D.Caine


See alsoAir Power, Strategic ; Antiwar Movements ; Bombing ; Vietnamization ; War Powers Act .

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