345. Note From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

You may wish to take into account at lunch2 these thoughts of the meeting of the Southeast Asian Ambassadors and Gen. Westmoreland at Cam Ranh Bay.

They raise, among other matters, the possibility of:

  • —a feint against North Vietnam;
  • —limited operations in Laos.

W.W. Rostow
[Page 672]


Telegram 22495 From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State


  • Southeast Asia Coordinating Committee Recommendations

1. The Southeast Asia Coordinating Committee (SEACOORD) convened at Cam Ranh Bay on March 7. Present were Ambassadors Bunker, Sullivan and Unger, Admiral Sharp and General Westmoreland, together with their principal advisors. Following represents agreed summary of recommendations:

Vietnam—1. In light of enemy divisions in DMZ-Khe Sanh area, the U.S. Government should study possibility of conducting amphibious feint north of the DMZ to relieve pressure on I Corps recommended by CINCPAC. Study should include careful re-examination of earlier expressed fear that failure to follow though on such a feint might be termed a propaganda victory for North Vietnam.
Laos—The extensive use of Laos by North Vietnamese military forces has greatly increased the problem of combating the enemy throughout South Vietnam. The use of Laotian territory by the enemy has reached a degree of seriousness where, despite the political problems involved, we should consider permitting limited military operations in Laos. Current military situation in Laos is moreover marked by aggressive enemy action which bears direct relation to increased North Vietnamese presence in Northern provinces of South Vietnam. Specially planned operations by US forces on Khe Sanh plateau may encounter harassment and fire from enemy forces across the border in enemy base areas of Laos.

SEACOORD recommends following actions relating to foregoing evaluation:

Contingency planning for possible limited ground operations by US and/or ARVN forces in Laos should proceed. The point may be reached when it will become necessary on a case by case basis to put limited ground forces into Laos. In that event, these forces should be employed close to the border and the operations should be conducted in [Page 673] such a way as to have no press exposure. It is important that the targets selected be worthy of the political risks involved. The Commander, US MACV will prepare contingency plans for consideration by Embassy Vientiane and will forward them to CINCPAC and the JCS for approval. The problems of deniability and/or press disclosure of such operations are recognized, and they will be covered in an appropriate annex.
Make immediate efforts to locate an alternate position for Site 85, primarily for aircraft guidance purposes. One such site, Phou Bia, would be valuable but requires specialized helicopter support because of altitude. The 7th Air Force will examine possibilities of obtaining such helicopters.
Authorize launching of Prairie Fire missions through Nakhon Phanom, recovering at forward refueling sites in Laos after team insertion when poor weather prevents operations from South Vietnam. These launches from Nakhon Phanom will be subject to existing restrictions on Vietnamese presence in Thailand and Laos. The Commander of Special Operations Groups (MACSOG) will coordinate with Embassy Vientiane re operating arc of current helicopters from Nakhon Phanom in order to determine feasible forward refueling sites in Laos.MACSOG will also propose for consideration by Bangkok alternate launching sites other than Nakhom Phanom. The possible use of other sites in Thailand will be studied by Embassy Bangkok and Commander, U.S. MACV, having in mind military factors as well as the likelihood of approval by the Thai Government which must be sought before any extension in operations beyond the present authorization.
Commander, U.S. MACV proposed that Washington accept the principle that the current Prairie Fire boundary is a coordination line and authorize Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) and Embassy Vientiane to coordinate locally for exploitation of targets west of Prairie Fire boundary. Vientiane felt case by case coordination locally submitted through Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) for approval by Washington was adequate, but agreed to leave decision on this subject up to Washington.
Initiate a Prairie Fire intelligence collection operation, exploiting the potential of Kha tribesmen indigenous to the Prairie Fire area as elements of a low-level MACV-directed intelligence net.
Since enemy operations in Laos threatening Khe Sanh area appeared to require extension of dump truck area southward in Laos, it was agreed that Embassy Vientiane would submit a proposal through channels for such extension.
Embassy Vientiane proposed an increase in A–1 and A–26 aircraft positioned in Thailand and available for operations in Laos. It was agreed that the weekly planning meetings at Udorn between the 7th Air [Page 674] Force and Embassy Vientiane would include planning air support for ground force operations in counter-insurgency context.
Seek immediate augmentation of helicopters for entire SEACOORD area and employ a portion of this augmentation to provide better support for CIA guerrilla activity in Laos panhandle.

[Here follows recommendations on Cambodia printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXVII, Document 232.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Cambodia 5 E (2)a, 1/68–10/68. Top Secret.
  2. According to the notes of the March 19 Tuesday luncheon meeting, neither this cable nor the issues that it raised were discussed. (Ibid., Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings, 3/19/68)
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  4. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 1 ASIA SE. Top Secret; Exdis. A note on the source text indicates it was retyped at the White House.