198. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Laos1

192. Joint State/Defense Message. Ref: (A) Embtel 220.2 (B) Deptel 1121.3 (C)Embtel 1950.4 (D) Embtel 1802.5 (E) Embtel 3.6 (F) CINCPAC 180035Z July.7

Duck Soup

Ref F proposed solutions for conduct of Duck Soup operations which is concurred in by Amembassy Vientiane (Ref A). It is agreed that this solution would constitute an acceptable basis for conducting such operations at an appropriate time. However, in absence recent reports of daylight air drops in Sam Neua area, we agree that you would not be warranted in keeping planes on alert to intercept.
We have carefully considered your request for discretionary authority to mount intercept operation when and as sightings and other conditions so warrant. Conclusion is that political risks are sufficiently great and involve factors (e.g., US/Soviet relations) beyond purview of Vientiane, that decision to intercept made last April should be reviewed in Washington in light of circumstances prevailing when flights are next reported. Considerations underlying this decision are outlined in paragraphs which follow.
When consulted regarding proposed operation in May, Souvanna concurred but only subject to restrictions which would require that enemy aircraft be attacked in flight and while actually engaged in dropping supplies to enemy forces. Even under these conditions, Souvanna’s concurrence pertained only to operations in Sam Neua province (Ref D).
In Ref B Department laid down additional condition that only North Vietnamese aircraft could be intercepted.
Operationally, above factors require that intercept be carried out in daylight and by American pilots.
Reports of enemy air drops in Laos are quite intermittent and seldom confirmed. Few actual sightings of drops have in fact been reported and all recent reports of enemy aircraft activity have been at night.
During the last five months neither the Lao Armed Forces nor Souvanna Phouma has raised this subject with U.S. officials, as they might have been expected to do if air drops were materially affecting operations in the Sam Neua area.
Use of Air America pilots in armed T–28s poses problem of permitting U.S. civilians to engage in hostilities under conditions in which they might be treated legally as “unprivileged belligerents” if they fell into enemy hands. Not only would it be difficult to claim rights POW treatment for them in accordance with international law and practice, but communists would be given confirmation of their charges of paramilitary character of Air America. We have accepted these risks in connection with SAR operations but are more reluctant to do so in this case in absence stronger showing military advantages. Emphasize that we are not ruling out use of Air America pilots; we simply wish to review question of their use in total context prevailing at time air drops are next reported.
Any recommendation to mount Duck Soup operation will be acted on promptly.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 LAOS. Top Secret. Drafted by Trueheart; cleared by Unger, George H. Aldrich of L/FE, and McNamara; and approved by Bundy. Repeated to CINCPAC, COMUSMACV, and DEPCHIEFJUSMAG.
  2. In telegram 220 from Vientiane, August 28, the Embassy concurred in the plan suggested in CINCPAC telegram 180035Z, but the plan would be implemented at the discretion of the Ambassador in Laos. Telegram 220 is ibid. Regarding telegram 180035Z, see footnote 7 below,
  3. See footnote 4, Document 197.
  4. Telegram 1950 from Vientiane was a repeat to the Department of State of telegram 1508 from Vientiane to CINCPAC, June 2, in which the Embassy reported that Souvanna had authorized attacking a DRV transport plane when it was involved in a supply mission. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  5. See footnote 3, Document 197.
  6. In telegram 3 from Vientiane, July 1, the Embassy stated that the use of Thai or Lao pilots was not feasible because of technical difficulties in landing and taking off from the launch sites and communications/language problems. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 LAOS)
  7. CINCPAC telegram 180035Z, July 18, proposed a solution whereby Air America pilots would fly T–28’s based in northern Laos. They would remain on ground alert until 5 p.m. and then would go on airborne alert. (Ibid.)