429. Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Department of State1

668. From Parsons. A principal task my mission with Assistant Secretary Irwin and Admiral Riley is to establish a pattern and rhythm for supply of anti-PL forces of FAL in manner to control and not disturb delicate political situation. It is our understanding one consideration at all times overriding and determining, namely, to conduct support and supply operation in such manner as not place US in unfavorable light should Lao situation be brought UN.

Objectives and governing principles thus clear. Their application in concrete cases, however, presents formidable difficulties and gives rise some differences of opinion.

All agreed first essential is provide Phoumi with competent political and military advisors Savannakhet. Their screening in light above principles will doubtless resolve many difficulties. Others will certainly still remain, arising fundamentally from two rather different approaches which are involved.

Situation may be clarified for US if coup contemplated by King materializes and he acts so as to provide US with clear legal authority with which to deal in anti-PL support. We cannot, however, count on this. Situation may drag on for some time in present divided condition, whether or not Souvanna does anything to respond our overtures pursuant Deptel 384.2 Favorable response seems unlikely. In such [Page 905] event we will still be faced with fact Phoumi forces can be considered rebels as they have in fact been proclaimed by RLG.

Purpose of this telegram is to attempt set forth problems with which we will be faced in deciding each significant supply problem.

From viewpoint most effective support Phoumi forces, we should provide headquarters staff, operations and logistical personnel and establish effective communications system with equipment and staff. In order exercise control over Phoumi’s actions and insure that material supplied is effectively used for purposes intended and to stiffen backbone troops, would also be desirable station PEO staff battalion level as well as original headquarters Phoumi forces.

That this involves serious risk conflict overriding principle referred to above is acknowledged by all.

Argument in favor is that furnishing any significant supplies or staff creates this risk, increments added only increase risk marginally, and it is important to do good job in order avoid waste of resources and loss country. To this end we should get fully prepared on spot as much in advance possible.

Other viewpoint is that objective can be met by boosting morale and maintaining supply forces in being. Objective at present juncture should be holding operation, not build up Phoumi forces for offensive or into even more effective fighting force than they were before. To this end we should infiltrate men and supplies on minimum essential basis, accepting thereby some loss efficiency and some military risks. Any great identification US support would really risk well-documented charges against US in UN.

President Eisenhower has just made eloquent presentation to UN3 of US respect and support integrity and independence small nations UN and UN effort in Congo, in course of which he criticized direct Soviet aid to one faction in Congo. Khrushchev in reply attacked US as imperialist and UN as its tool. President’s position was overwhelmingly upheld. It would be tragic at this moment to have US actions belie its words. Our position is not helped by fact that when DRV provides matériel and support for PL, US is critical as constituting external support dissident elements against government.

Two specific cases clearly illustrate problem:


Obviously desirable and certainly necessary for large-scale operation have adequate communication system Savannakhet. It is proposed send radio now Bangkok which would constitute full load C–46 aircraft, require three or four days to assemble and necessitate staff eight men to operate and maintain. This could not be concealed since [Page 906] antenna large and visible to passers-by and even if physical concealment possible, immediately it starts operation its existence would be known French and Commies to north.

Obvious that any commander contemplating operation would as first task establish adequate communications. Impossible give satisfactory explanation why PEO, which for long time has operated adequately with smaller equipment, should suddenly need station this magnitude. Actual presence and probable future large-scale support Phoumi forces by US without permission legal government would therefore immediately be known. Situation could easily be complicated by formal objection RLG or request withdraw PEO staff with which US would have to comply.


Other case is suggestion establish PEO teams battalion headquarters. This would obviously stimulate morale, insure better use US furnished supplies and contribute materially effectiveness whole operation. On other hand, presence these American personnel with Phoumi forces in locations which they had never before occupied and do not occupy with RLG would give clear evidence overt US support Phoumi, would certainly lead complications with already suspicious French and might be considered violation Geneva accords. Again would risk request by RLG for removal PEO.

This is kind of problem which will continuously arise. Ambassador’s view is that unless legal basis for open support is provided (e.g., by successful coup as contemplated by King) we must limit ourselves to scale of support deliberately below military optimum in order comply with overriding consideration referred to above. In terms specific cases his judgment would be that they involve unacceptable political risks.

Ambassador Brown concurs foregoing.

Irwin position as follows:

I question the use of “overriding and determining” in above statement of understanding that “one consideration at all times overriding and determining, namely, to conduct support and supply operation in such manner as not place US in unfavorable light should Lao situation be brought UN.” If this applied literally we do nothing for Phoumi and little for other anti-Communist forces in Laos. Our policy has been to support directly in moderate measure Phoumi and other anti-Communist forces. This policy is contrary to that of Souvanna, who is dedicated to obtaining agreement with Pathet Lao and, I believe, will oppose our aid to active anti-Pathet Lao forces. Examples of US actions to date are the movement of the Lopburi paratroopers to Pakse, continuance of MAP deliveries to Phoumi and payment of Phoumi forces [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. I believe US should establish a pattern and rhythm for support and supply of anti-PL forces of FAL in manner best calculated to control and least likely to [Page 907] disturb political situation but at same time assuring a reasonably effective support and supply system. The support and supply operation should be conducted in such manner as to avoid to greatest degree possible consistent with reasonably effective support to the anti-Communist Lao forces the placing of the US in unfavorable light should Lao situation be brought UN. My point is that US can already be placed in unfavorable light. Although risk to date is relatively small, it will increase as we continue to aid Lao anti-Communist forces unless and until the political situation changes in Laos. Thus, since the US has already accepted an increasing risk and if US is going to continue its effort to save Laos, it should establish an effective mechanism to do so even though the mechanism constitutes, not the creation of the risk, but some increase in the risk.

Before discussing specific case I wish to enlarge on mechanism already agreed upon in Washington.

Establish political and military liaison officers at Savannakhet with instructions to control and guide Phoumi’s political and military policies and plans.
Furnish military liaison officer with sufficient personnel to carry out his operational and logistic responsibilities. He and political officer should be instructed to keep these to a minimum consistent with an effective execution of his mission.
Both political and military liaison officers should be members of Ambassador’s country team.
CINCPAC will carry out supply operation in accordance with his present directive.
Following guidance should be given Ambassador: Pattern and rhythm for support and supply of anti-Communist forces in Laos will be established in manner best calculated to control and least likely to disturb political situation, but at same time assuring reasonably effective support and supply system. Emphasis will be placed on conducting the support and supply operation in such manner as to avoid to greatest degree possible consistent with reasonably effective supply and support of anti-Communist Lao forces placing of US in unfavorable light should Lao situation be brought UN.

With respect to specific cases referred to by Secretary Parsons, I concur that proposed communication system should not be erected at this time at Savannakhet. However, it should be recognized that communication system at Savannakhet is very poor and that it may be desirable or even necessary to improve it in the future if Savannakhet becomes center from which other anti-Communist forces in Regions I and II as well as IV are supplied. Further, if events should occur that result in a new RLG, perhaps with Vientiane in revolt against the RLG established at Luang Prabang, quick availability of an adequate communication system will be essential. Radio eqipment is now boxed at Bangkok ready for shipment to Savannakhet. It would take approximately three days to deliver and put equipment into operation. A [Page 908] compromise solution would be to erect in Savannakhet the radio equipment except for the antennae. This would pose some risk, but I believe it slight as the equipment will all be indoors. Advantage would be that immediate facilities would be available in case of need.

Likewise, I concur that PEO teams should not be assigned to battalion headquarters at present time. However, I can envisage circumstances arising at early date when this added risk might be worth taking. We should not automatically rule out this type of action, and field should be encouraged to make timely recommendations on all such actions that might advance the anti-Communist cause in Laos.

Difference between my view and that of Secretary Parsons and Ambassador Brown is one of emphasis. I believe it to be essential to create reasonably effective mechanism that can act and react quickly in confused situation that now exists and will doubtless continue to exist.

Admiral Riley concurs with Irwin.

Special mission has not found any other substantial point of difference relating to our policy in Laos within country team or between Ambassador and Washington or among members special mission.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/10–1560. Top Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution.
  2. Document 421.
  3. Reference is to Eisenhower’s address before the 15th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, September 22; for text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960-61, pp. 707–720.