179. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State1

1726. Subject: Laos cross border operations. Ref: (A) Saigon 78 sent Dept 913.2 (B) COMUSMACV 270428Z.3 (C)CINCPAC 302249Z.2 (D) Saigon 553.4 During recent SEACOORD meeting Saigon, participants discussed proposed cross border operations into Laos. Focus of discussion was Ref B, in which MACV laid out three phase concept of operations. It was noted that Ref B was based on, but departed from, initial operating concepts laid out in Ref A, which had been approved by earlier SEACOORD meeting last September. It was further noted that none of cross border operations authorized in that earlier message had been executed as yet.

After considerable discussion, we reached a meeting of minds on steps to be taken and I agreed reduce this to writing in form of comment on Ref B. This message represents that comment and indicates action in which I would be prepared concur.

I would agree that all actions contemplated paras 2 A through 2 D of Ref A could be carried out as previously programmed. That is to say that ARVN assets could operate in all three zones in accordance with their capabilities and characteristics.
I would be prepared modify Vientiane position reflected para 2 E Ref A to the extent that I would agree to presence U.S. advisors accompanying ground units infiltrated overland in two southern zones of operation, provided it is clear that they will penetrate only up to an eventual depth of 20 kms and provided they will remain in penetration areas no longer than ten days. I do not concur in presence U.S. advisors introduced by paradrop or by helicopter, or by light aircraft. I further do not concur in presence U.S. advisors with any ARVN teams which may be introduced (a la Leaping Lena) in northern region around Route 9. After some experience with overland operations in two southern areas, I would be prepared consider possibility linking up these two zones or otherwise expanding operations with U.S. advisors in shallow penetration overland operations in this sparsely occupied area of Panhandle. I would wish to consider this request, however, in the light of some established [Page 361] operational experience. All other provisions Ref A would continue apply.
As for region in vicinity Route 9, I am convinced it is so sensitive and so well guarded that introduction any assets there runs high risk capture. However, if SOG wishes introduce AVRN agents in same manner and under same ground rules as 34 A assets in DRV, I would not object. To send Americans would, in my view, be suicide and would also be politically counterproductive.
As for follow-on phases in proposed concept, I wish to reserve all judgment pending some operational experience in Phase I. I see no need make commitments to entire three phase concept at this time.
The rather wistful expansion of MACV’s concept proposed in CINCPAC’s message (Ref C) strikes me as an old White Star ghost pulling my leg. It is, in my view, totally unrealistic to think in these terms under today’s circumstances. In fact, I have some doubts it has ever been or would ever be realistic. The hill areas of the Panhandle accessible from the Bolovens are very sparsely populated (perhaps 15,000 people at most). These are the most primitive tribes, civilizations removed from the Meo or the Rhade, or the Jurai. They do not ordinarily hunt with firearms but with crossbows, etc. The firearms which an earlier White Star generation gave them were turned in (and collected by) the FAR because the Lao did not consider it safe to have them loose in the hills. It is, in my view, far-fetched to think of storming the Ho Chi Minh Trail with a bare bottomed bunch of these boys.
In the final analysis, my feeling is that in the Laos Panhandle a little intelligence scouting, with luck a little sabotage, and maybe even a little interception can be done by assets foreseeable available to be spared from the counterinsurgency effort in SVN. This could be all accomplished in southern reaches of Panhandle. But if there is any serious intent to break up the real marrow of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the area where the Viets truly protect it by organic battalions, we had better start thinking in terms of regiments and divisions, and not tribal assets.
Finally, I hope SOG will be fully briefed on CAS operations which we are already running and expanding in the Panhandle. These, it seems to me, have the best chance of being profitable. An SOG visit to 333 Headquarters in Udorn might be useful.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 LAOS. Top Secret; Limdis. Repeated to Bangkok,CINCPAC, Saigon, and USUN.
  2. Not found.
  3. Not found, but summarized in the text.
  4. Telegram 553 from Saigon to Vientaine, was sent to the Department as telegram 3464, April 21. It contained an account of the SEACOORD meetings of April 20–21. (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 1 ASIA SE)