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212. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

SUBJECT

  • Laos

PARTICIPANTS

  • Henry A. Kissinger, Chairman
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Marshall Green
  • Defense
  • David Packard
  • CIA
  • General Cushman
  • Thomas H. Karamessines
  • William Nelson
  • JCS
  • General Earle Wheeler
  • NSCStaff
  • B/Gen. Haig
  • Col. Richard Kennedy
  • Col. Robert M. Behr
  • John H. Holdridge
  • Keith Guthrie

Summary of Conclusions

State and OSD were opposed to moving a Thai battalion to Long Tieng. JCS considered that the movement was justified for military reasons, but that the issue involved questions that were primarily political. CIA favored the movement.

Kissinger: I want to go over the two options again and to list pros and cons as I see them. First, however, does anyone have any additional thoughts?

Wheeler: We could move a TSQ 96 radar control facility to Udorn. This has an effective range of 150 miles and would make possible accuracies of 600 feet with B–52 strikes.

[Page 732]

Johnson: By doing this, we would be able to tell Souvanna we were taking steps to improve air capabilities.

Kissinger: Have we heard from Unger?

Johnson: Not yet. I have a phone call in to him.

Kissinger: Did anyone have any second thoughts during the night?

Packard: We would prefer not to put Thai troops into Laos now.

Kissinger: Are we in a position to make a commitment to move Thai troops?

Cushman: We can move 24 hours after a commitment is made. The troops would be in place 36 hours after approval is received.

Kissinger: Option 1 is to airlift a Thai battalion of 600 men to Long Tieng. From what was just said here, I understand this can be done in less than 48 hours, as opposed to earlier estimates of 72 to 96 hours. The advantages would be:

1)
If it is in position before an all-out North Vietnamese attack takes place, it would increase the possibility of holding Long Tieng against the enemy forces now deployed. But the Thai battalion would not give us assurance that Long Tieng could be held.
2)

It would delay the fall of Long Tieng for the time required for the enemy to bring forward the division now held in reserve.

Wheeler: Let's not call it a division. It would be better described as “elements.”

Packard: We can't be sure the Thai battalion would hold against presently deployed enemy forces.

Wheeler: We said it would “increase the possibility of”—not that it would assure holding Long Tieng.

Kissinger: To continue with the advantages:

3)
It would permit stabilizing for the time being the situation with regard to friendly forces at Long Tieng.
4)
It would improve the chances for an organized retreat from Long Tieng and, therefore, of preserving the Meo as a fighting force.
5)
It would be a signal to the North Vietnamese that we did not intend to let a threat to Laotian sovereignty go unchallenged.
6)
It would strengthen Souvanna against coup-minded rightist elements.

The disadvantages would be:

1)
Long Tieng might fall anyway. The debacle would be more serious than if we had not introduced Thais.
2)
It would raise a strong outcry in this country. This would increase inhibitions on US operations in the area, including air operations in Laos.
3)
If the Thais were involved in a defeat, it would be a severe blow to their morale.

[Page 733]

Is there anything else to add?

Johnson: The Dienbienphu factor, that is, building up Long Tieng as a turning point of the struggle in Laos.

Kissinger: The President's preference [for putting Thai troops in Laos]2 has not abated.

Cushman: I doubt the Lao, Meo, and Thai could fight a Dienbienphu-type battle.

Kissinger: The President wants to know whether, if we move in a Thai battalion, the enemy could then isolate it.

Wheeler: Sure they could but it would be a difficult operation. I don't think the Meo and Thai would sit in Long Tieng for a long siege. They would just fade into the bush.

Johnson: I am still worried about building Long Tieng up as the key battle for control of Laos.

Kissinger: The President also has to weigh the deterrent effect of the Thai forces against the possibility that their presence will stimulate a North Vietnamese attack.

Green: That is a real possibility.

Wheeler: But just a possibility.

Green: Our Lao specialists feel it is an important consideration.

Kissinger: Option 2 would be to tell Souvanna and Thanat we are willing to prepare a full RCT of three battalions for introduction into Laos at a later date. We would give a firm commitment for this. We would propose arrangements for consulting on when and where to use the Thai troops.

The arguments in favor are:

1)
It would avoid the danger of a disaster involving substantial Thai forces at Long Tieng (although there are [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Thais there now).
2)
It would permit a favorable response to Souvanna and Thanat.
3)
Our domestic position would be better. We would not be taking action until North Vietnamese intentions became unambiguous. We would have shown restraint in the face of earlier earnest appeals.
4)
Since it is not certain the North Vietnamese intend to go beyond Long Tieng, we might not have to move the Thais at all.

The arguments against are:

1)
It would give Souvanna less than he has asked for. He might be led to seek a deal with the North Vietnamese.
2)
If we wait, we may find ourselves in a worse position later. The North Vietnamese would have moved closer to the Thai border, [Page 734]effectiveness of the Lao forces would be less and our commitment would be greater. Our commitment would then be greater.
3)
It would be difficult to avoid linkage to SEATO and Plan Taksin.

Johnson: The importance of some of those latter points against would be affected by whether or not we hold Long Tieng.

Kissinger: If Long Tieng falls, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], we could still have another look about whether to make a formal commitment of Thai forces. Option 2 would commit us to the introduction of regular Thai units. If, under those circumstances, the Thais are overrun, we would face a real problem. One of the important policy decisions would be at what point to remove the Thais. Having [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Thais in Long Tieng would be different from a formal commitment to move in a Thai regiment with U.S. assistance on the Vietnam model. If that were to fail, the Thais would really be dealt a blow. 800 [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Thais, on the other hand, could be considered merely an extension of Sierra Romeo.

Green: There will still be a problem.

Kissinger: We have to consider whether to face it under existing conditions or with a formal commitment.

Packard: It would be better under existing conditions.

Kissinger: Option 2 gets us out of a decision on Long Tieng, but it gets us involved in a commitment.

Packard: We could avoid a firm commitment by telling Souvanna and Thanat we would “consult on appropriate steps”.

Johnson: My draft is along these lines. It says that commitment of Thai troops is subject to agreement of the three governments. The message to Souvanna says: “Should the North Vietnamese army advance beyond Long Tieng, the United States is prepared to support the introduction of Thai forces into Laos at a time and under conditions agreed by the three governments”.3

Kissinger: How naive is Souvanna?

Wheeler: Not particularly, according to our reports.

Johnson: Souvanna goes up and down. He has often cried wolf.

Kissinger: Since the other two governments already agree, we are the missing element. What we would be saying is “we will support if we will support”.

Green: It will be interesting to have Unger's comments. The Thais are mortally afraid of making their involvement public. They fear what [Page 735]will happen if Thai troops are defeated under such circumstances. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]

Kissinger: If [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] forces are used, the Thais' need for our support may not eventuate.

Green: The Thais want to involve us. They consider that U.S. involvement is tantamount to victory.

Cushman: There already is a battalion of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Thai artillery at Long Tieng.

Kissinger: (to Johnson) Your idea is that the North Vietnamese won't go beyond Long Tieng and that the Thais won't accept open involvement of their forces?

Johnson: Generally that is not a bad statement.

Green: Our caveats will go down hard with the Thais.

Johnson: We have asked Unger's views on a whole range of questions concerned with Thai involvement. (Reads sections of outgoing cable to Bangkok.)4

Kissinger: As put in that cable, I can tell what Unger's answer will be. What we want is his assessment of the overall political impact in Thailand of our refusal to support introduction of Thai troops.

Johnson: That was the first question in the cable.

Kissinger: The President has asked why we should acknowledge publicly moving Thai troops if we do so. Why not say that we are continuing Sierra Romeo?

Packard: It would be better not to move Thai troops.

Kissinger: This suggests that Thai involvement would have to be public. This terrifies the Thais.

Johnson: I cabled Unger that it would be virtually impossible to cover up Thai involvement.

Kissinger: We can't go much further without hearing from Unger.

Johnson: (to Kissinger) I'd like you to look at the drafts of responses we prepared.

Kissinger: Let me review individual positions [on sending a Thai battalion to Long Tieng].5 Defense is against primarily for domestic political reasons. (Packard agrees.) State is against for reasons we have discussed.

Wheeler: On purely military grounds we are more for than against. However, we think it is not primarily a military problem; it is a political problem.

[Page 736]

Cushman: We consider that since some Thais are already there, the problems posed by Thai involvement already exist to some degree.

Kissinger: The President wants to make a decision by noon. He is leaning toward doing it [introducing a Thai battalion at Long Tieng].

Cushman: Can we go ahead with our plan [for movement of Thai unit to Long Tieng]?

Kissinger: I am not going to be a field marshal. I am assuming that you know how to move a Thai battalion from Udorn to Long Tieng. Given the time differential, we probably can't start moving till late this afternoon. I will be in touch with you. (to Johnson) I will read to you over the telephone the statement of pros and cons.

  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. Brackets in the source text.
  3. A copy of the draft has not been found; for text of the message as sent to Souvanna, see Document 214.
  4. For the response to this cable, see footnote 8, Document 211. The outgoing message to Unger has not been found.
  5. These and the remaining brackets are in the source text.