172. Minutes of a Meeting of the 40 Committee1


  • Various—see summary of conclusions


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
    • Mr. U. Alexis Johnson
  • Defense
    • Mr. David Packard
  • JCS
    • Lt. Gen. Richard T. Knowles
  • CIA
    • Lt. Gen. Robert E. Cushman
    • Mr. Thomas Karamessines
    • Mr. William Nelson2
    • Mr. Horace Feldman3
    • Mr. David Blee4
  • NSC Staff
    • Mr. Frank M. Chapin
    • Col. Richard T. Kennedy
    • Mr. Keith Guthrie


It was agreed to:

Approve a proposal for employment of Thai SGUs in Sayaboury Province in Laos. (pages 2–3)
Use gunships stationed at Udorn, Thailand to provide cover for medical evacuation flights in North Laos. (pages 3–4)
Establish a DOD/CIA/State task force to report to the Committee by April 14 on means for providing increased Defense Department support to CIA paramilitary operations in Laos. (pages 6–7)
Have a special inter-agency group prepare a study of 1971–72 options in North Laos for discussion by the WSAG in early May. (page 10)
Approve the budget for CIA paramilitary operations in Laos. (page 11)

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Southeast Asia.]

Dr. Kissinger: I take it you have been discussing Thai deployments to Sayaboury.

Mr. Johnson: Yes. We have just now received some new information which changes Dave Packard’s and my views on this.

[Page 520]

(Mr. Johnson showed the telegrams5 to Mr. Kissinger.)

Gen. Cushman: This group would be composed of regulars and would count against the total of regulars projected for SGUs. No extra money would be required for this program, since these troops would proceed into SGU programs. The regulars are part of the 1,174-man cadre already planned for the program.

Mr. Karamessines: This is a very imaginative solution to the problem.

Mr. Johnson: On the basis of this proposal, we [the State Department] are prepared to withdraw our previous objections.

Dr. Kissinger: Is this satisfactory to the Thai?

Gen. Cushman: Yes, Ambassador Unger says so. He wants an answer tomorrow to give to the Thai.

Mr. Karamessines: A reply should be sent immediately.

(Mr. Karamessines left the meeting.)

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, why not go ahead and do it?

Mr. Johnson: There is a second item that was a late starter for this meeting. This is medevac for Ban Na. We were talking this over before the meeting and agreed that there would be great difficulty in stationing gunships in Laos. The Joint Staff is going to CINCPAC to see if it would not be possible to put the gunships in Udorn, realizing that they might have to refuel in Laos. There are two questions: whether we have the necessary assets and whether they should be stationed in Udorn.

Dr. Kissinger: Weren’t Air America pilots to be used for this?

Mr. Packard: We were talking about gunships.

Mr. Nelson: The Air America pilots are doing the medevac.

Gen. Knowles: We were talking about gunships other than Cobras. I will ring out CINCPAC to see what is available.

Gen. Cushman: Cobras are not available.

Gen. Knowles: We will check this out, but it is unlikely that we can get any Cobras.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me see if I understand what has been agreed. We are going to station gunships in Udorn.

Gen. Knowles: We are going out to CINCPAC to see, first, if we can station gunships (probably of the UHB type) at Udorn and, second, whether they can be provided with range-extension kits or whether we can put some bladders in Laos for refueling. The B-type gunships have greater utility, since they can also do some medevac.

Dr. Kissinger: We can find out if it is feasible. If it proves to be feasible why not go ahead and do it?

[Page 521]

Mr. Packard: We decided that we should not base the gunships in Laos. We can approve a program that bases them in Thailand but provides for refueling in Laos.

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t see what more we can learn once we determine whether this is technically feasible. Is everyone agreed that we should go ahead if this proposal is feasible.

All agreed. (Mr. Karamessines rejoined the meeting)

Dr. Kissinger: Now let’s turn to the regular 40 Committee agenda.

Gen. Cushman: I view the first item as the most important that this committee has had or will have. We are not trying to run away from the problem, but it is evident from visits made by me, by Tom Karamessines and by a logistician that with the programs that are coming up, this is getting beyond the scope of our ability to organize. We are not manned and equipped to handle 80 battalions. What this involves is air support, planning, logistics and staff work for a force that amounts to a field army. Our people mostly have experience at the company-officer level. They are doing pretty well, but they are coming up against a stop. In conclusion, what we are saying is that CIA has raised a red flag. We are warning that this whole operation is in danger of dissolving like the one-horse shay.

Dr. Kissinger: What is the operational meaning of this? How would it dissolve?

Gen. Cushman: We could run out of supplies because they have not been programmed. We could be deficient on hospitalization and evacuation. This should be done by a planning staff made up of professional military people. If changes are not made, the Meo will dissolve. The Ban Ban operation has already provided an indication of what could happen.

We are not in the air support business. We lack the facilities for organization, maintenance, and execution. We can’t run an air force. Now that the U.S. Air Force plans to pull out by 1973, we won’t have anybody there to provide support.

Mr. Packard: That is not right.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Packard) Aren’t you planning to shift air force units around [in Southeast Asia]?

Mr. Packard: The total level of air strength in Southeast Asia has not yet been decided, but we would like to maintain a substantial amount.

Gen. Knowles: We have some heavy requests for air support now. (to Gen. Cushman) Right now you are asking for 3400 sorties, but 3760 per quarter are all that we can provide.

(Dr. Kissinger left the meeting.)

Gen. Cushman: The number of maneuver units is going up.

Gen. Knowles: (shows figures on air sorties to Mr. Packard) This will explain availability and will shore up Bob’s [Cushman’s] comment [Page 522] [about lack of air support]. We ought to get their [CIA’s] guys to sit down with the Joint Staff to discuss this.

Mr. Packard: We may have to keep some more air capability there.

Gen. Knowles: We want to be sure that the forces approved [for guerrilla activities in Laos] do not exceed the resources available for evacuation.

Mr. Packard: I don’t think it is feasible for Defense to take this over directly. It would kill us with Congress. Secretary Laird concurs on this.

Gen. Cushman: We agree about that.

Mr. Packard: It seems that we ought to look at Option B.6 We could set up a task force to do some planning.

Gen. Cushman: Some people could be put in Udorn to do the planning.

Mr. Karamessines: This would be not only for air support but also for materiel.

(Mr. Kissinger rejoined the meeting at this point.)

Gen. Cushman: We have never had anybody who could plan for a 6,000-man force.

Mr. Packard: (to Dr. Kissinger) Our view, and Secretary Laird supports it, is that Defense can’t take over this program. It would be the end for us on the Hill.

Dr. Kissinger: Then who is going to do it? The State Department?

Mr. Johnson: We are already furnishing the field marshal [Ambassador Godley]!

Mr. Packard: Better planning needs to be done in order that we are not always operating on the basis of crash telegrams from the field. I think we need a joint planning task force made up of representatives of the Joint Staff, Defense and CIA. Maybe this planning mechanism should be put in Udorn.

Dr. Kissinger: We need a better control mechanism. Can’t you supply officers at a forward base to do some of the planning?

Gen. Cushman: That’s the middle option.

Mr. Packard: That is the only practical way to handle it.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Karamessines) Is this all right with you?

[Page 523]

Mr. Karamessines: Yes. I would have one additional suggestion: that we meet promptly in Washington to work out the ground rules for a collaborative effort.

Mr. Johnson: (to Mr. Packard) Are you going to send your people out to Udorn?

Mr. Packard: The Joint Staff will appoint two or three people to work with CIA. We could also have State representation.

Mr. Johnson: I would like to have that.

Mr. Packard: Our planning could then be done on some basis other than solving each crisis as it comes along.

Dr. Kissinger: Then we agree on the principle that we should increase JCS/DOD planning and logistical support but that operational control should be retained where it is now, keeping in mind the need to improve staff procedures. A task force, perhaps chaired by Defense, will work this out.

Mr. Packard: Perhaps operational procedures should also be changed

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Mr. Packard: The task force should have a broad charter.

Dr. Kissinger: What about air sorties?

Mr. Packard: The task force will work this out.

Dr. Kissinger: That is important in order not to be withdrawing from Thailand while we are putting more effort into Laos. Can we put a stop to further withdrawals from Thailand?

Gen. Knowles: That is not an immediate problem.

Dr. Kissinger: Then we can give task force a charter to cover tactical air, logistics, planning and operational procedures. We will need a short deadline.

Mr. Karamessines: We can do this later this week.

Gen. Knowles: We can go on it right now.

Dr. Kissinger: Why not have an answer in two weeks?

Gen. Cushman: Will JCS chair the group?

Dr. Kissinger: Okay.

(to Mr. Packard) Is that okay with you Dave? You don’t think that Defense should chair?

Mr. Packard: I think it ought to be JCS.

Mr. Johnson: Sullivan will be my man on this group.

Dr. Kissinger: Now we come to two items labled CIA military programs and CIA paramilitary programs.

Gen. Cushman: This is to continue the program that we have going already. (to Mr. Nelson) Bill, can you discuss Item 2?

Mr. Nelson: Item 2 is a progress report on what has been done as of today and a request for permission to continue.

[Page 524]

Dr. Kissinger: When CIA reaches the point of having the largest army in Southeast Asia, we better review the program!

Mr. Nelson: There are a total of 38 Lao SGUs. [1½ lines not declassified] There are four Cambodian SGUs.

Dr. Kissinger: What happened to the Thai SGUs that were roaming around near Long Tieng?

Mr. Nelson: They are still doing that.

Dr. Kissinger: But they are not finding anything.

Mr. Karamessines: They were very instrumental in clearing the northwest approaches to Long Tieng.

Mr. Nelson: If all the plans go through, we will have a force level of 60,000, consisting of 80 battalions. In terms of maneuver battalions that is worth about six or eight divisions. You are familiar with the program in MR 2 (in the Northeast) as a result of the Long Tieng defense operations. In other areas, the effort this year has been focused on the South Laos interdiction campaign. These troops have performed effectively on two different occasions. The real problem this year is whether we can keep the Meos fighting.

Mr. Karamessines: When I was out there, I talked with Vang Pao in the presence of his Thai associates. He explained that he was under pressure from the tribal leadership. In a recent meeting, the Governor of Xieng Khouang province got up and told Vang Pao that the Meo had gone about as far as they could go, that the refugees were being hit, that for years they had had no chance to put in crops or raise cattle, and that they had to be resettled in the Plaine des Jarres or in Sayaboury. Vang Pao has made such noises before, but those that know him say he is really under hard pressure.

Dr. Kissinger: His military situation is better now than at this time last year.

Mr. Karamessines: Yes, but he has lost a lot of people and the war is not permitting the Meo to put in their crops and raise their cattle. He says he has now been given an ultimatum by the tribal leaders. What he is saying in effect is that “you guys better plan for the possibility that there will not be any Meos available for the next round.” Vang Pao is mercurial, but there has never been such dissension among the Meos before.

Mr. Johnson: What are their alternatives? They could move to Sayaboury.

Mr. Nelson: Vang Pao says that his people have to settle somewhere. Either we should make sure that they are able to go to the Plaine de Jarres or we should let them go to Sayaboury.

Dr. Kissinger: Then Long Tieng will fall.

Mr. Karamessines: There has been a real degradation in the Meo contribution in that area. The Long Tieng–Sam Thong complex is essentially defended by Thai SGUs.

[Page 525]

Dr. Kissinger: Why should the Thai defend Long Tieng if the Meo are not doing anything?

Mr. Karamessines: The Thai are not there because of the Meos but because of the larger question of Thai security in Southeast Asia.

Gen. Cushman: The Thai believe they are keeping the enemy away from the Mekong.

Mr. Johnson: If the Meo are pulled out, it will be a different ball game.

Gen. Cushman: The Thai might prefer to make a stand on a different mountain ridge. Long Tieng has no special significance except that there is a base established there.

Dr. Kissinger: When would Vang Pao make his withdrawal?

Mr. Karamessines: He can last through this dry season and the next rainy season.

Dr. Kissinger: Then the withdrawal will be next fall. That is when we all come up against the sixty-four-dollar question.

Gen. Cushman: All of this fits in with the need to obtain JCS cooperation.

Mr. Karamessines: They have been fighting the good fight at Long Tieng. However, having seen the terrain first hand, I can say that there is no way of guaranteeing that two little bastards could not come down the trail, put one rocket in the ammunition dump, and wipe the whole place out.

Dr. Kissinger: Why don’t you have several smaller ammunition dumps?

Mr. Karamessines: There is only one location protected by the hills. Any other place would be on open ground.

Gen. Cushman: If there were small dumps, that would mean that several places would have to be protected against sappers.

Mr. Karamessines: They are doing an extraordinary job with what they have.

Dr. Kissinger: I take it no decision is required on this until October.

Mr. Karamessines: That’s right. Vang Pao has not served an ultimatum yet.

Mr. Johnson: Those people must be getting awfully tired.

Dr. Kissinger: Why is it that Hanoi doesn’t get tired?

Mr. Johnson: We have never had an answer to that. You have to take your hats off to them.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree. It has been an extraordinary performance.

Mr. Packard: One reason is that the people in Hanoi are not suffering.

Gen. Knowles: This is a religion with them.

Dr. Kissinger: How many casualties do you think the North Vietnamese have suffered in North Laos?

[Page 526]

Mr. Johnson: About 5,000 this dry season.

Mr. Packard: Our figure is 5,365.

Gen. Cushman: The ratio has been about 2 to 1 or 2.5 to 1. This is pretty rough for guerrillas.

Dr. Kissinger: Do you think there will be a full scale attack on Long Tieng this year?

Gen. Cushman: I think the odds are that there will be.

Mr. Karamessines: Vang Pao is convinced that his people will be attacked.

Dr. Kissinger: This time last year the North Vietnamese had sort of stopped.

Mr. Packard: They might be holding back waiting on the weather.

Mr. Johnson: So that we can’t use our air.

Mr. Karamessines: The enemy is now using helicopters to bring in supplies.

Gen. Knowles: Why don’t they shoot them down?

Mr. Nelson: They are flying in at 2:00 a.m.

Dr. Kissinger: Given what is ahead of us, I wonder whether the little group we put together to plan the Laotian operation could work out some of the choices we will face in North Laos and then report to the WSAG. If the Meos hold out, we could continue our present policy. If they don’t last, we have the choice of trying to hold with the Thai and perhaps increasing Thai participation or of losing the Vientiane–Luangprabang axis. We need to determine what options we have if Vang Pao bugs out.

Mr. Johnson: Bill Sullivan is already working on this. We need to continue that study and put it before WSAG.7

Dr. Kissinger: That would be a useful thing to do.

Mr. Karamessines: (to Mr. Johnson) Could you put Tom Pickering on that group?

Mr. Johnson: Let me look into that.

Dr. Kissinger: (to Col. Kennedy) Let’s get a WSAG together in a month or so.

Is there anything more on the paramilitary forces?

[Page 527]

Mr. Johnson: (to Gen. Cushman) You are asking for approval of the budget?

Gen. Cushman: Yes. It totals $75,038,000.

Mr. Johnson: To show that we are exercising judgment we should change that from 38 to 37 thousand.

Dr. Kissinger: I have no basis for challenging that figure.

Mr. Johnson: Nor do I.

Mr. Packard: The only question is why it is being approved before it is submitted to Congress.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Southeast Asia.]

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, 40 Committee Meetings. Top Secret; Nodis; Eyes Only. The meeting took place in the Conference Room of the Western White House. All brackets except those that indicate omissions are in the original.
  2. Not present for entire meeting. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. Not present for entire meeting. [Footnote in the original.]
  4. Not present for entire meeting. [Footnote in the original.]
  5. Not further identified.
  6. Helms discussed the options in a March 24 memorandum to the 40 Committee in which he argued that the CIA was not equipped to continue supporting the Laos paramilitary program, which would grow to 60,000 men in 1972. He recommended that an interagency working group examine the following options: A) turn the program over to the Defense Department; B) have CIA continue directing it, but with Defense funding and materiel assistance as well as U.S. tactical air support from Thailand; C) scale down the program in conjunction with the U.S. withdrawal until it was a small intelligence operation. (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, 40 Committee Meetings)
  7. The report, which was included in a March 12 memorandum for the 40 Committee, recommended increasing funding from $74.336 million in FY 1971 to $75.038 million for FY 1972 for the Lao paramilitaries, noting that while they regularly lost territory during the dry season, they regained it during the rainy season and were the only indigenous force capable of carrying on sustained operations against enemy lines of communication and permitted the RLG to maintain its independence. (Ibid.)