19. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to President Kennedy0


  • Laos Task Force Meeting, Monday, February 27, 19611
Phoumi is stuck. In the twenty-one days estimated by our people as required to take the Plaine des Jarres, he has made four to seven kilometers. He has been stopped by a better organized and better equipped opposition than anyone had calculated; employing artillery on high ground to command Route 7, mines, etc.
In addition, the good General has been politicking rather than using his forces to increase our bargaining position in the negotiations ahead.
It turns out that the airfield at Udorn is not of much use. The question of our flying into Vientiane will probably be raised with you again. The rationale is that the CAT airlift from Bangkok is running down; and there may be some supply shortage up front. In addition, it is believed that the time may not be inappropriate for us to make a show of strength and determination, since the Soviet air supply continues unabated. Further, it turns out that CAT is a very expensive operation, running to $450 million [sic] a month.
There is a serious gap in intelligence about the Communist build-up in the Plaine des Jarres. There is a possibility that they may plan an offensive before the rainy season sets in, in about a month. On the whole, the view is that Phoumi’s forces can hold even if they are unlikely to advance very far. The Pentagon is undertaking to get better intelligence and also to see whether the dumps the Communists are creating might not be targetable and, conceivably, attacked [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] volunteer pilots. This is staff work exploration, of course; and no decisions have been made.
In general, the view is that the Royal Laotian army has improved; the lack of officers and non-coms is being remedied; in time it may become a competent force; but it is still a relatively weak reed for an offensive against determined and well armed opposition.
The one bright spot in our operation is the performance of the Miaos [Meos/H’mong] whom we have specially trained and who are [Page 63] doing a good job in a limited area against Pathet Lao. There is thought of arming them with mortars, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].
The extreme difficulty with the French in Laos was discussed at some length. It was agreed that it would be unfruitful to discuss the problem of training with them in the field; but we can engage in diplomatic conversations on the question of widening of the Lao government and on the question of whether Souvanna has gone completely over to the Communists or whether he can be saved.
The Department of State is proceeding to urge the widening of the government with the King as the central figure; and the approach through some version of the neutral commission should not be regarded as having yet failed. Both the Cambodians and the Burmese have kept the door open a little; and perhaps the widening of the government may move them.
The problem of the KMT irregulars appears to be tolerably in hand at the diplomatic level; but it will take some time to extract those prepared to go back to Formosa.2
We are still trying to get a letter from the King in reserve to regularize our position (on analogy with our intervention in the Lebanon-Jordan crisis) should the French cover for our role in Laos blow.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 2/20/61–2/28/61. Secret.
  2. An account by Chapman of this meeting, classified Top Secret, provides some additional detail. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/3–161)
  3. On February 20, Rusk sent the President a paper on the Chinese irregular problem in the Burma-Laos area. (Ibid., 751J.00/2–2061)