275. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State 1

4405. Subject: Laotian General Oudone’s conversations in Vietnam. Ref: Saigon 15996 Jan 19 (not sent Bangkok).2

As Department aware, Chief of FAR General Staff General Oudone Sananikone has nourished for some years idea of obtaining from US, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] or South Vietnamese sources funds, equipment, and training for Lao commando operations against enemy positions and infiltration routes in Laos Panhandle.
Conversations he held Jan 15 in Saigon (see reftel) are a further development of this idea. Two days later, on January 17, Oudone held another meeting, this time in Vientiane, with Deputy FAR Commander General Kouprasith Abhay, [1 line of source text not declassified] and an SVN military intelligence officer to discuss expanded Lao operations against corridor area (FOV 10,025 Jan 19).3
Reftel asks us to comment specifically on proposal advanced by Oudone in Saigon that he be provided external assistance to recruit, train, equip, and deploy some 1800 Lao commandos (three battalions) in operations against corridor.
We of course already have under way in Panhandle under CAS sponsorship, commando and roadwatch operations, which employ Lao, Kha, and other local inhabitants in clandestine operations designed to harass enemy along infiltration routes and to facilitate air interdiction. These operations have grown steadily over past year and now encompass some 3500 effectives with steps underway to recruit and train an additional 500 men. Directed by US paramilitary experts, these operations are highly sophisticated, employing helicopters and other airlift and communications equipment and operational techniques of most advanced sort. They have enjoyed success thus far precisely because they have emphasized highly centralized control of operations, rigorous recruitment and training, and sophisticated techniques.
US resources are in our judgment being very effectively employed in this program which is itself still in a stage of expansion. To create a parallel commando structure of sort apparently envisaged by General Oudone would therefore be a redundant, competitive, and less efficient use of scarce resources. Lao manpower of potential commando quality is in especially short supply, as problems General Phasouk is currently experiencing in effort attract Lao into GM-21 fully indicate. CAS has also experienced problems in obtaining and motivating suitable Lao recruits.
These practical considerations in our judgment effectively rule out extension at this time of any US military support to program being advocated by General Oudone. Without our support, we seriously doubt that Lao, even with Thai and SVN assistance, can mount efficient program of this sort.
We therefore believe Oudone should not be encouraged in this project4 and that at appropriate time our position should be made known to him, to Thai, and to South Vietnamese. Timing, level, and precise manner in which we would register our disapproval would of course have to be carefully considered; and it could well be we should make no move until our support is formally requested by Lao, Ambassador Sullivan [Page 555] may wish to comment further during his present consultations in Washington.5
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 7 LAOS–VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Exdis. Repeated to Bangkok and Saigon.
  2. Telegram 15996 from Saigon, January 19, contains an account of General Oudone’s conversations with South Vietnamese Chief of the Joint General Staff, General Cao Van Vien, and with Chief of State Thieu, both on January 15. (Ibid.)
  3. Not further identified.
  4. In telegram 9309 from Bangkok, January 23, the Embassy in Thailand agreed that the United States should not support Oudone’s program for a commando force for the time being, but it suggested that Oudone not be discouraged from discussing the idea further with the Thais and South Vietnamese. At some point, the Embassy suggested, ground forces might be required to fight North Vietnamese regulars in Laos. At that time Asian forces including those suggested by Oudone might prove useful. (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 7 LAOS–VIET S)
  5. In telegram 124769 to Bangkok, Saigon, and Vientiane, January 24, the Department agreed that it was important not to discourage Thai-South Vietnamese-Lao consultations, but at the same time it was important not to encourage the idea that the United States was prepared to support Oudone. After discussion with Sullivan the Department suggested that Oudone’s request might be a result of Finance Minister Sisouk’s campaign to reform the Lao military budget, which was characterized by a wide disparity between payroll strength and actual strength. (Ibid.)