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

2054. In company with Air Attaché, I spent all day Sunday with RLAF Commander General Ma. He first viewed with us (at his Savannakhet Headquarters) action which he has undertaken in course past month meticulously tracing out routes which he believes DRV is using to support 325th Division now located south of 17th parallel. This has involved literally hundreds of sorties, flown mostly at tree-top level, to determine roads, waystations and truck parks. He now believes he has a fairly good fix on two principal routes, generally moving eastward from Muong Nong (XD 6110) to the GVN frontier. He has occasionally flushed out convoys on these routes and has succeeded in destroying several trucks.

Nevertheless, all our Yankee Team photo recce missions over this area have failed to turn up a decent trace of a recognizable route. Moreover, there have been two occasions during past week when General Ma has called for U.S. jet strikes (Bango mission) on these routes and jets, upon arrival at scene, have not been able to find the road, or their target. In part, this has been due to dicey weather, but in even greater measure, it has, I am sure, been due to impenetrable tree canopy which high speed, high flying jets literally can not see through.

In order to demonstrate significance this latter point General Ma and Colonel Nouphet, commanding GM 18, took us by helicopter to some forward territory recently captured from Pathet Lao, which straddles a section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Both Air Attaché and I, despite our several years experience in this part of the world, were astounded by what we found. The “trail,” even in this rainy season, was a thoroughly passable road. We drove two jeeps over it for more than a mile. It would have easily accommodated 4x4 trucks.

Yet nowhere on this road, except for two very limited areas, was it open to the sky. Even flying over it slowly with a helicopter, road was not discernible from above. Air Attaché took several photographs demonstrating canopy which he will submit through his channels.

It seems clear to me, from this experience, that significant quantities of logistics can still be moving over routes which General Ma and his men have so meticulously plotted out for us but which our strike aircraft [Page 372] are unable to discern. This obviously poses a number of military problems, but it also involves some fairly basic political decisions. Among them are questions of massive employment of defoliants, bombing on infra-red rather than visual controls, using saturation bombing tactics to create major choke points, etc.

Any decisions on these matters, I realize, will require Washington discussion at high levels, and will doubtless demand more detailed information than I have provided in this message. By same token, if Souvanna sticks to original Algiers schedule, he will be leaving here tomorrow morning and will, in any event, be leaving in near future. I have undertaken no significant military departures since I have been here without full and frank discussion with Souvanna. This is, in my opinion, sound practice both with respect U.S. and RLG interests. Therefore, if there is to be any Washington inclination to move toward tactics suggested in preceding paragraph, I believe I should have some guidelines soonest, so that I can at least be prepared to discuss this matter in principle with Prime Minister before his imminent departure.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Repeated to Saigon, Bangkok, and CINCPAC. Passed to DOD and CIA. The substance of this telegram was retyped in the White House and a note on it reads: “send to Pres.”
  2. The Departments of State and Defense responded that time did not allow consideration in Washington of the issues raised by Sullivan before Souvanna’s departure. The Departments suggested that Sullivan brief Souvanna in general on the problem. Sullivan should ask for Souvanna’s reaction and suggestions, but should not raise the use of defoliant or saturation bombing. (Joint State/Defense telegram 1100 to Vientiane, June 21; ibid.) In telegram 2060 from Vientiane, June 22, Sullivan reported that he had talked to Souvanna along the lines suggested by the Departments of State and Defense. (Ibid.)