166. Editorial Note

In a July 5, 1967, memorandum to Special Assistant Walt Rostow, William Bowdler of the National Security Council Staff summarized the current U.S. military training role in Bolivia: “DOD is helping train and equip a new Ranger Battalion. The Bolivian absorption capacity being what it is, additional military assistance would not now seem advisable. [3 lines of source text not declassified]” Bowdler recommended that “a variable of the Special Strike Force acceptable to the Country Team be established. It might be part of the new Ranger Battalion.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Guerrilla Problem in Latin America) The Country Team objections were transmitted in telegram 2291 from La Paz, May 24. The team stated that a strike force would be viewed by the Bolivians as a “magical solution” and a “substitute for hard work and needed reform.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23 BOL)

At 4:30 p.m. on July 5 Rostow, Bowdler, and Peter Jessup met in the Situation Room of the White House with representatives of the Department of State including Assistant Secretary of State Covey Oliver, Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Sayre, and Ambassador Henderson, with William Lang of the Department of Defense, and Desmond FitzGerald and William Broe of the Central Intelligence Agency. The [Page 376] group agreed that a special strike force was not advisable because of the Embassy’s objections. They decided that the United States should “concentrate on the training of the Second Ranger Battalion with the preparation of an intelligence unit to be part of the Battalion.” They also agreed to look into expansion of the rural police program, prepare contingency plans to cover the possibility of the insurgency getting beyond the control of Barrientos and the Bolivian armed forces, and suggested that Barrientos might need $2–5 million in grant or supporting assistance in the next 2 months to meet budgetary problems resulting from the security situation. (Memorandum of meeting; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Latin America, Vol. VI, June 1967–September 1967) The gist of these decisions was relayed to the President in the context of a broader policy for counterinsurgency in Latin America; see Document 61.

U.S. efforts to support the counterinsurgency program in Bolivia against Cuban-led guerrillas followed a two-step approach. To help overcome the deficiencies of the Bolivian Army, a 16-man military training team of the U.S. Special Forces was sent to Bolivia to support the Bolivian Second Ranger Battalion in the development of anti-guerrilla tactics and techniques. The United States also provided ammunition, rations, and communications equipment on an emergency basis under MAP and expedited delivery of four helicopters. (Paper by W.D. Broderick, July 11; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files: Lot 70 D 443, POL 23–4, 1967, IRG Counter-Insurgency Subgroup) A July 3 memorandum prepared by the CIA reads: “Although original estimates were that the battalion would not be combat ready until approximately December 1967, the MILGROUP now believes that this date can be advanced to mid-September 1967.” (Central Intelligence Agency, Job 88–01415R, DDO/IMS, [file name not declassified])

As the training of the Ranger battalion progressed, weaknesses in its intelligence-collecting capability emerged. The CIA was formally given responsibility for developing a plan to provide such a capability on July 14. (ARG/ARA/COIN Action Memo #1, July 20; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files: Lot 70 D 122, IRG/ARA/COIN Action Memos) The planned operation was approved by the Department of State, CINCSO, the U.S. Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivian President Barrientos and Commander-in-Chief of the Bolivian Armed Forces Ovando. A team of two instructors arrived in La Paz on August 2. In addition to training the Bolivians in intelligence-collection techniques, the instructors—[text not declassified]—planned to accompany the Second Ranger battalion into the field. Although the team was assigned in an advisory capacity, CIA “expected that they will actually help in directing operations.” The Agency also contemplated this plan “as a pilot program for probable duplication in other Latin American countries faced with the problem of guerrilla warfare.” (Memorandum for the Acting Chief, Western Hemisphere Division, August 22; ibid.)