337. Memorandum From the Acting Deputy Director for Intelligence of the Joint Staff (Totten) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Radford)1


  • Auto-Defense Campaign in Phong Saly Province, Laos


Map of Laos2

Beginning approximately in June 1955, the Royal Lao Government organized the first “Auto-Defense” forces for guerrilla action in the Pathet Lao re-groupment areas (Phong Saly and Sam Neua Provinces). These forces were recruited from the local population, and cadred by specially trained officers and non-commissioned officers of the Laotian National Army. Recruiting was facilitated by civilian resentment of Pathet Lao travel restrictions, forced labor, and confiscation of foodstuffs. Phong Saly was selected as the area of operations because of the relatively low Pathet Lao troop strength in that Province (only 3–4 Pathet battalions have garrisoned Phong Saly, as opposed to 9–10 battalions in Sam Neua). Under Colonel Ouane Ratrikoune, a very competent Army officer, the Auto-Defense Forces in Phong Saly number approximately 3,000 troops, located mainly in the northern and central areas of the Province (see map). The Auto-Defense Forces have a primary mission of village defense, but they have conducted some raids against Pathet units, and have cut some supply routes successfully.
We consider the Auto-Defense Forces worthy of our support because of their potential value in harassing the Pathet Lao, as well as their future value to any Laotian effort to re-establish Royal authority in the disputed provinces by force. The benefits to U.S. interests of successful anti-Communist guerrilla action by Asians are obvious.
In reference to your question as to the meaning of the last sentence of State’s 715 to Vientiane,3 we interpret it as follows: Since any enforcement of a demarcation line is virtually impracticable because of the rugged terrain, lack of roads, and intermingling of Army [Page 734] and Pathet Lao positions, it would not be feasible for the ICC to hamper Auto-Defense operations, even if a demarcation line were to be agreed upon. We agree with this assessment of the situation.

Very respectfully,

Robert Totten
Colonel, USAF
  1. Source: JCS Files, CJCS 091 Indochina. Secret. Radford wrote the following note on a covering sheet: “These are the operations on which we were briefed in Vientiane. Perhaps Col. Totten would like to know that they are also being carried out in Sam Neua province—on a larger scale than in Phong Saly according to my recollection. R”
  2. Not reproduced.
  3. The last sentence of this telegram reads: “View difficulties policing prospective demarcation line, we trust Lao Government would be able continue auto-defense operations throughout province.” (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/1–1856)