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146. Memorandum From the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Planning of Military Operations in Laos
[Page 482]

After reading a recent CIA memorandum on Vang Pao's offensive in the Plain of Jars, I raised questions about the planning of Lao military operations (Tab A).2

State, Defense and CIA have prepared a coordinated reply (Tab B)3 which indicates that:

  • —U.S. ability to control (including veto) a Lao operation is to all practical purposes complete because U.S. matériel and air support are vital.
  • —In practice, most operations are conceived by commanders of individual Military Regions in close conjunction with U.S. Military Attachés, or in the case of Vang Pao and the other irregulars, with the local CIA Area Chief.
  • —In brief, the following U.S. clearance procedures are followed:
  • —The cognizant U.S. military attaché or CIA Area Chief forwards the request to U.S. Country Team, consisting of Ambassador, DCM, Military Attachés and CIA Station Chief.
  • Vang Pao's operations are also cleared by the CIA base at Udom, Thailand which assesses the Agency's ability to provide necessary support.
  • —The Ambassador requests authorization from State for politically sensitive operations or activities exceeding established operating procedures and refers requests for air support to MACV.
  • —Although U.S. and Lao planners generally decide in advance on the objectives, goals, and scope of Lao operations, it sometimes becomes difficult to restrain an operation once underway.

U.S. authorities in Laos are deeply involved in planning and providing support for military operations undertaken by the Lao Government and irregular forces. I believe that the U.S. role is an inevitable consequence of the Vietnam war and the increasing North Vietnamese activities in Laos. However, the following aspects of current procedures are cause for some concern: [Page 483]

  • —Since senior Lao authorities are often not informed until planning is well along, a conflict might develop if Souvanna were to interpose objections on political grounds to what we considered imperative from a military standpoint.
  • —Although the Ambassador and his Country Team exercise control over planning and operations, they apparently are not under continuing and direct control of any higher military or political authority. The Ambassador, in effect, runs his own Theater of Operations.
  • —Once an operation is actually under way, it becomes subject to the decisions of Lao commanders such as Vang Pao, and our ability to influence events becomes circumscribed.
  • —There seems more emphasis on tactics than on a coordinated strategy.

Recommendation:4

If you approve, I will consult with the Secretaries of State and Defense, and the Director of CIA on measures which might be taken to improve the degree of control exercised over military planning and operations in Laos.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 546, Country Files, Far East, Laos, Vol. III, 11 October 1969–31 January 1970. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action.
  2. Tab A, attached but not printed, is an October 23 memorandum from Kissinger to Rogers, Laird, and Helms transmitting Nixon's questions about direction of policy on Laos. Kissinger wrote: “The President has noted with interest reports of Vang Pao's recent offensive in North Central Laos, and has posed certain related questions: a. Who plans Laotian offensives? b. Who establishes the objectives, concepts and associated parameters for conduct of military operations in Laos? c. What specific procedures are followed in conjunction with a. and b., above?” Kissinger requested that the Department of State coordinate the three agencies' responses and reply by October 28. The signed original is ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 LAOS.
  3. Tab B, attached but not printed, is the coordinated paper Theodore L. Eliot, Jr., Executive Secretary of the Department of State, sent to Kissinger under a covering memorandum of October 28 in which Eliot stated that the paper was prepared in response to Kissinger's memorandum of October 23. The Department of State copy is ibid.
  4. Nixon initialed the approve option.