Harman Patil (Editor)

Operation Freedom Deal

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19 May 1970 – 15 Aug 1973

Uncertain, possibly delaying the fall of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge.

North Vietnam, United States of America, Khmer Rouge

Operation Shed Light, Operation Chenla II, Battle of Gang Toi, Battle of Suoi Bong Trang, Operation Tiger Hound

Operation freedom deal 22nd meu

Operation Freedom Deal was a U.S. Seventh Air Force interdiction and close air support campaign waged in Cambodia (later, the Khmer Republic) between 19 May 1970 and 15 August 1973, during the Vietnam War. The initial targets of the operation were the base areas and border sanctuaries of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Khmer Rouge. As time went on most of the bombing was carried out to support the Cambodian government in its struggle against the communist Khmer Rouge. The area in which the bombing took place was expanded to include most of the eastern one-half of Cambodia.


Operation Freedom Deal followed and expanded the bombing of Cambodia conducted under Operation Menu in 1969 and 1970. Most of the bombing was carried out by U.S. Air Force B-52 heavy bombers. The effectiveness of the bombing and the number of civilians killed by U.S. bombing is in dispute.


With the end of Cambodian neutrality (due to a coup that ousted Prince Norodom Sihanouk and installed pro-US General Lon Nol as president), the Cambodian civil war escalated as the PAVN reacted to military actions by the Cambodians, Americans, and South Vietnamese.

On 15 March 1970, Lon Nol issued an ultimatum to the North Vietnamese, ordering them out of the border areas. The PAVN and their indigenous Khmer Rouge allies had occupied eastern Cambodia for the previous ten years and had established a logistical system and Base Areas along the border during their struggle for a unified Vietnam. They were not about to abandon their zones of control without a fight.


The newly renamed Khmer Republic (which will herein still be referred to as Cambodia) enlarged and renamed its army Forces Aremees Nationales Khmeres or FANK and launched it against the PAVN. Hanoi's response to the ultimatum and this offensive was the launching of Campaign X in April. PAVN and NLF forces easily seized eastern and northern Cambodia, leaving only a few isolated FANK enclaves.

The U.S. responded by first launching Operation Patio, which consisted of tactical airstrikes into Cambodia as an adjunct to the highly classified Operation Menu, the strategic bombardment of the Base Areas by B-52s. The U.S. and the Republic of Vietnam (RVN or South Vietnam) then launched offensive ground operations in May 1970 during the Cambodian Campaign.

President Richard M. Nixon, however, had placed a 30 June deadline on the operation, after which all US ground forces had to return to South Vietnam. This did not bode well for the Lon Nol government. Although the incursion had temporarily thrown the PAVN and NLF off balance, they and the Khmer Rouge struck back savagly against FANK forces. As a result of this state of affairs, Freedom Deal, the overt air support afforded to the incursion, was extended on 6 June.

Operation Freedom Deal

In the post-incursion period, Freedom Deal was originally an interdiction effort, striking enemy supply lines in eastern Cambodia and it was restricted to a 30-mile deep area between the South Vietnamese border and the Mekong River. This restriction was, however, quickly voided due to Search and Rescue operations conducted by the U.S. Air Force in order to pick up downed South Vietnamese pilots, who regularly flew outside the Freedom Deal zone. Within two months (and without public announcement), the operation was expanded west of the Mekong.

The withdrawal of U.S. forces in May left only South Vietnamese and Cambodian forces to do battle with PAVN and the Khmer Rouge. U.S. tactical aircraft then began supplying FANK troops with direct air support. Meanwhile, President Nixon had announced that the policy of the U.S. Air Force was only to interdict PAVN/NLF supply networks (in the same manner that they were interdicted in Laos), and that they were only to be conducted within the specified zone (known as the AIZ or Aerial Interdiction Zone).

During the rest of the year, the Freedom Deal area of operations was expanded three times.

Transcripts of telephone conversations reveal that by December 1970 Nixon's dissatisfaction with the success of the bombings prompted him to order that they be stepped up. "They have got to go in there and I mean really go in," he told Kissinger. "I want them to hit everything. I want them to use the big planes, the small planes, everything they can that will help out there, and let's start giving them a little shock."

By the beginning of 1971, the area of operations stretched from Route 7 to the Laotian border in the north and 75 miles beyond the Mekong to the west. Between July 1970 and February 1971, approximately 44 percent of the 8,000 sorties flown in Cambodia struck targets outside the authorized zone. This led to a policy of falsifying the reports of missions carried out beyond the boundary.

Most of the strikes were flown in direct support of FANK troops, although American officials continued to deny the fact. Despite this effort, the communists occupied one-half of Cambodia by late 1970 and had cut all the land routes leading to and from the capital of Phnom Penh. In short order the U.S. Air Force found itself shifting more and more of its diminishing air power from its interdiction campaign in southern Laos to the struggle in Cambodia. In 1971 Cambodian missions made up nearly 15 percent of the total number of combat sorties flown in Southeast Asia, up from eight percent during the previous year.

In Cambodia, the ground war dragged on, with the Khmer Rouge doing the bulk of the fighting against the government. On 28 January 1973, the day the Paris Peace Accord was signed, Lon Nol announced a unilateral cease-fire and U.S. airstrikes were halted. When the Khmer Rouge refused to respond, the bombing resumed on 9 February. The US Seventh Air Force argued that the bombing prevented the fall of Phnom Penh in 1973 by killing 16,000 of 25,000 Khmer Rouge fighters besieging the city. In March the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed a much expanded bombing campaign. From then until the end of the operation on 15 August, sortie and tonnage rates increased. By the last day of Operation Freedom Deal (15 August 1973), 250,000 tons of bombs had been dropped on the Khmer Republic, 82,000 tons of which had been released in the last 45 days of the operation.

The end

During 1973 Freedom Deal aircraft dropped 250,000 tons of bombs (primarily high explosive), more than the 180,000 tons dropped on Japan during the Second World War. As communist forces drew a tighter ring around Phnom Penh in April, the U.S. Air Force flew more than 12,000 bombing sorties and dropped more than 82,000 tons of ordnance in support of Lon Nol's forces during the last 45 days of the operation. Since the inception of the Menu bombings in March 1969, the total amount of ordnance dropped on Cambodia reached 539,129 tons. On 15 August, the last mission of Freedom Deal was flown.

Additional detail concerning the disputed effectiveness of the bombing of Cambodia is in the article Operation Menu. According to David Chandler: "If you just made a very cold, calculating, military decision, the bombing of 1973 was in fact a sensible thing to do [at the time], because had it not happened, the Khmer Rouge would have taken Phnom Penh [much earlier] and South Vietnam would have had a communist country on its flank."

Cambodian civilian casualties caused by U.S. bombing

U.S. bombing of Cambodia extended over the entire eastern one-half of the country and was especially intense in the heavily-populated southeastern one-quarter of the country, including a wide ring surrounding the largest city of Phnom Penh. In large areas, according to maps of U.S. bombing sites, it appears that nearly every square mile of land was hit by bombs.

When extensive bombing by the U.S. of Cambodia began in 1969 it was primarily directed against the North Vietnamese army and its supply lines and depots. As the North Vietnamese dispersed their operations deeper into Cambodia to escape U.S. bombing the area bombed by the U.S. expanded. Increasingly, U.S. bombing missions had the objective of supporting the government of Cambodia in its war against the insurgent Khmer Rouge.

The number of casualties of Cambodian civilians and Khmer Rouge fighters caused by U.S. bombing is unknown. The most credible estimates are that the total death toll in the five-year Cambodian civil war (1970-1975) was between 240,000 and 300,000. The death toll of the civil war includes both civilians and Cambodian combatants (Khmer Rouge and army) who died in the war. According to Craig Etcheson, a minimum of 5,000 civilians were killed by U.S. bombing, a figure based on "interviews with Cambodians who lived through that period of Cambodian history." Ben Kiernan estimates the total number of victims at between 50 and 150 thousand. A demographic study by Marek Sliwinski estimated that 40,000 Cambodians were killed by the bombing, though it did not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Another impact of the U.S. bombing and the Cambodian civil war was to destroy the homes and livelihood of many people. This was a large contributor to the refugee crisis in Cambodia with two million people—more than 25 percent of the population—displaced from rural areas into the cities, especially Phnom Penh which grew from about 600,000 in 1970 to an estimated population of nearly 2 million by 1975. The Cambodian government estimated that more than 20 percent of the property in the country had been destroyed during the war.


Operation Freedom Deal Wikipedia

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