224. Memorandum From the Secretary of Defense (McNamara) to the President1

SUBJECT

  • Authorization of Combined US/GVN Planning and Training for Cross-border Operations from South Vietnam into Laos

NSAM 288 of 17 March 19642 authorized, among other things, South Vietnamese ground operations into Laos for border control purposes (Recommendation 11) and also directed preparation of a full range of Laotian border control actions (Recommendation 12).

Unilateral U.S. planning has been completed for both covert and overt cross-border operations into Laos and for a full range of Laotian border control actions. The essential US/GVN negotiations, planning [Page 528]and training to attain the desired state of readiness for these operations have not been initiated, except for limited covert intelligence collection patrols authorized into Laos.

In view of the present situation in Laos and South Vietnam, it is recommended that you now authorize such negotiations with the GVN and such combined US/GVN planning and training as is necessary to achieve a state of readiness to conduct cross-border operations from South Vietnam into Laos in the event a decision is made to initiate such actions. This would not involve any commitment to carry out such operations.

Enclosure

Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (McNamara)3

JCSM–541–64

SUBJECT

  • US/GVN Combined Planning (U)
1.
Reference is made to NSAM 288, dated 17 March 1964, in which the President directed the following actions:
a.
Recommendation 11. To authorize continued high-level US overflights of South Vietnam’s borders and to authorize “hot pursuit” and South Vietnamese ground operations over the Laotian line for the purpose of border control. More ambitious operations into Laos involving units beyond battalion size should be authorized only with the approval of Souvanna Phouma. Operations across the Cambodian border should depend on the state of relations with Cambodia.
b.
Recommendation 12. To prepare immediately to be in a position on 72 hours’ notice to initiate the full range of Laotian and Cambodian “Border Control” actions (beyond those authorized in Recommendation 11, above) and the “Retaliatory Actions” against North Vietnam and to be in a position on 30 days’ notice to initiate the program of “Graduated Overt Military Pressure” against North Vietnam.
2.
In order to comply with the NSAM the following US military operations plans have been prepared:4
a.
COMUSMACV OPLAN 98–64, Covert Cross-Border Operations into Laos. (To implement Recommendation 11)
b.
COMUSMACV OPLAN 98A–64, Overt Cross-Border Operations into Laos. (To implement Recommendation 11)
c.
CINCPAC OPLAN 37–64, Military Actions to Stabilize the Situation in RVN. (To implement Recommendation 12, but includes also the operations visualized in Recommendation 11)
3.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are concerned over the general lack of progress in implementing these recommendations. Their status is as follows:
a.
Recommendation 11. Although this recommendation authorizes “hot pursuit” and ground operations into Laos under varying circumstances, agreement has been reached with the Department of State only for limited covert intelligence collection patrols. The full range of operations authorized has not been discussed with the GVN, nor has combined planning and training for these operations been initiated. The views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on this matter are contained in CM–1332–64, dated 23 April 1964.
b.
Recommendation 12. Unilateral US planning has been completed; however, the essential US/GVN negotiations, planning, and training necessary to attain the desired state of readiness for US/GVN operations have not been initiated.
4.
In view of the present situation in Laos and South Vietnam, it would appear prudent that we reduce the lead time required for the military operations envisaged in these operations plans by obtaining authorization for noncommitting negotiations with the GVN to the extent necessary to permit the combined US/GVN planning and training which is required to attain a state of readiness for US/GVN operations. Such authority need not include authority to launch operations at this time. As a collateral benefit, it should be noted that such negotiations, planning, and training could be used to convince Hanoi further of US resolve to take such action as necessary to defend the US position in Southeast Asia.
5.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that you sign the attached draft memorandum to the Secretary of State5 which recommends that authority be granted for such preliminary negotiations and combined US/GVN planning and training as is required to attain the proper degree of readiness to conduct operations in the event a decision is made to initiate US/GVN military operations.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Maxwell D. Taylor
Chairman
Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. XIII. Top Secret. A note on the source text indicates that the original memorandum went to Forrestal.
  2. Document 87.
  3. Top Secret.
  4. A second enclosure, a memorandum from the Deputy Director of the Joint Staff to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, June 25, DJSM–1069–64, contained brief summaries of the three operations plans. It is not printed.
  5. Not printed; the draft memorandum basically reiterated the arguments presented above.