230. Memorandum From R.C. Bowman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Ground Operations in Laos

Attached is a JCS paper2 which is now under consideration in State and could come to your attention at any time. It does the following:

Reaffirmed the 7 January request that US ground forces be authorized immediate pursuit into Laos and Cambodia (same paper asked authorization for immediate pursuit into Chinese airspace).
Pending approval of the above, requested authority to authorize actions in self-defense against enemy attacks coming from Laos.

Immediate pursuit is already authorized for air action over Laos and North Vietnam, and over Cambodia when actually engaged in combat. But ground action is not authorized in any of these countries.

Immediate pursuit would permit US forces to move into neighboring countries as far as necessary to oppose an enemy force that had attacked them, as long as combat were continuous. The lesser request for actions in self-defense against attacks from Laos would permit movement only as long as US forces were in jeopardy.

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Since the Laotian Government has previously authorized the bombing of enemy controlled sections of Laos, the new factor here is the proposal to let US troops fire into and maneuver within Laos. The Laotians probably would want us to keep such troop movements secret, as in the case of air actions. Since ground action is more likely to be directly observed and reported by the press, the Laotian political reaction might be more serious.

From past indications I would doubt that Souvanna Phouma would be very disturbed about the surfacing of an occasional ground action taken in self-defense. However, paragraph 4 of the draft message would authorize attacks against Laotian villages when the US commander felt they were necessary for the preservation of his own forces, and Souvanna has been more sensitive when it comes to attacks on villages.3

Actually, there are very few villages along the border, but it might be desirable to sound out the Laotians before authorizing any such attacks. Weighing the political consequences against the military gain it could prove better to rule out all attacks on Laotian villages

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Laos, Vol. XVI, Memos, 2/66–1/67. Top Secret.
  2. JCSM–216–66, JCS memorandum to McNamara, April 6, entitled “Combat Operations Involving Laos.” (Ibid.)
  3. In an April 11 memorandum to Captain John M. Miller, Political-Military Affairs Adviser, Office of Regional Affairs, FE, Assistant Legal Adviser George Aldrich suggested that the draft JCS message should contain a flat prohibition against attacks on Lao villages or occupied areas. He also noted that such operations should require JCS approval in advance except in emergencies and should be solely exercises in self-defense. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)