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209. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

SUBJECT

  • Laos and Cambodia

PARTICIPANTS

  • Henry A. Kissinger, Chairman
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Jonathan Moore
  • Marshall Green
  • Defense
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • Lt. Col. Gerald H. Britten
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms
  • Thomas H. Karamessines
  • [name not declassified] (for briefing only)
  • JCS
  • Vice Admiral Nels C. Johnson
  • NSC Staff
  • Brig. Gen. A. M. Haig
  • Col. Richard Kennedy
  • Col. Robert M. Behr
  • John Holdridge
  • Keith Guthrie

SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS

A WSAG Working Group will be established under the chairmanship of Col. Richard Kennedy of the NSC Staff and with representation from all WSAG members.2 The WSAG Working Group will develop an integrated plan setting forth alternative courses of action in case Long Tieng falls and the North Vietnamese continue their advance in Laos. This plan should consider minimum and higher options.

[Page 720]

(A minimum option to be considered is the occupation of enclaves in Laos along the border with Thailand.) The plan should primarily focus on possible military actions and should specifically deal with whether, when, and where Thai troops should be employed in the defense of Laos.

The existing Laos Working Group will prepare a series of contingency plans for Laos and Cambodia. Col. Kennedy of NSC Staff will coordinate closely with the Laos Working Group. Plans to be prepared by the Laos Working Group are:

a)
An overall plan covering alternative courses of action in the event of a Communist takeover in Laos which the United States decides to accept.
b)
Plans dealing with internal contingencies in Laos, for example:
1)
Rightists stage a coup against Souvanna.
2)
Souvanna capitulates to the Communists and requests the United States to halt all bombing in Laos.
c)
Plans covering possible problems in Cambodia, for example:
1)
Sihanouk, with North Vietnamese and Viet Cong support, attacks the Lon Nol/Matak Government.
2)
Lon Nol and Matak request U.S. assistance against subversion by Sihanouk and the Communists.
3)
How to obtain the release of the Columbia Eagle.3

CIA and DOD are to obtain and submit to Dr. Kissinger by the morning of March 25 accurate information on road conditions along the route from Long Tieng through Site 272 to Vientiane.4 This should include information on any AID roadbuilding activity in the area.

It was the consensus of the WSAG that our reply to Souvanna's request for support for use of three Thai battalions in the defense of [Page 721]Long Tieng5 should be along the lines of Dr. Kissinger's reply6 to a similar request from Thanat.7 Dr. Kissinger will submit to the President for approval the draft reply to Souvanna already prepared by the State Department.8

[Omitted here are the minutes of the meeting.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1969–1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. Colonel Behr sent this record and the minutes of six other WSAG meetings on Laos and Cambodia to Kissinger on March 31. A note on Behr's transmittal memorandum reads: “HAK has seen. 4/6.” The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Haig made this proposal in a March 24 memorandum to Kissinger. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 101, Vietnam Subject Files, Sensitive/Souvanna Phouma/Long Tieng)
  3. On March 14 two armed men hijacked the SS Columbia Eagle, a Military Sea Transport System ship of U.S. registry traveling from Manila to Sattahip, Thailand, with a cargo of ammunition comprising 500–750 lbs. bombs, fuses, and igniters. The hijackers forced the captain to take the ship onto an island 5 miles from Sihanoukville well within Cambodian territorial waters. Twenty-four crew members left the Columbia Eagle in life boats because of a reported “bomb scare” and were picked up by another MSTS ship; fifteen remained on board. (Memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, March 15; ibid., Box 583, Cambodian Operations, Hijack and Detention of Columbia Eagle (Cambodia))
  4. This was done in a memorandum from Karamessines to Kissinger, et al., March 25. (Ibid., Box 546, Country Files, Far East, Laos, Vol. IV, 1 February 1970–31 March 1970)
  5. Souvanna requested that the United States provide logistical support for three Thai battalions. The text of the request, with Godley's strong endorsement, is in telegram 2080 from Vientiane, March 24. (Attached to a memorandum from Haig to Kissinger, March 24; ibid., NSC Files, Box 567, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Thai Involvement in Laos)
  6. Kissinger's March 23 reply to Thanat stated: “we are not convinced that the proposed deployment of Thai troops additional to those now serving in Laos with Sierra Romeo artillery battery would be effective at this time. It is our current assessment that the fate of Long Tieng is not likely to be decided by the introduction of such additional ground troops.” Kissinger suggested that Thanat send a regimental combat team to an advanced base, possibly Udorn, for future contingencies. (Letter from Kissinger to Thanat, March 23, attached to a March 25 memorandum from Haig to Kissinger; ibid., Box 546, Laos, Vol. IV, 1 February 1970–31 March 1970)
  7. See footnote 2, Document 207.
  8. This draft letter informed Souvanna that, “It does not seem to me, however, that at this time the introduction of Thai ground forces to Long Tieng would best serve to counter North Vietnamese attack and lead to stabilization of the situation in Laos.” The draft offered “airlift” of Thai troops should Laos and Thailand make their own arrangements, but warned it would not be possible to keep such a deployment secret. The draft suggested that a regimental combat team be positioned at an advanced base in Thailand ready for deployment. (Draft letter attached to a memorandum from Haig to Kissinger, March 24; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 567, Country Files, Far East, Laos, Thai Involvement in Laos) The draft letter was approved by Nixon and sent to Souvanna minus the caveat about publicity in telegram 43329 to Vientiane, March 25. Godley delivered it on March 25 to Souvanna who was “visibly disappointed.” (Telegram 2092 from Vientiane, March 25, attached to a March 25 memorandum from Haig to Kissinger; ibid., Box 546, Vol. IV, 1 February 1970–31 March 1970) The letter as sent to Souvanna on March 25 is ibid.