21. Message From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State 1

1181. No distribution outside Department. For the Secretary from Ambassador. Bangkok eyes only for the Ambassador.

Your message 024222 and the joint White House/State/Defense/CIA message 231429 have just arrived.2 If I interpret these messages correctly, they are based on the assumption that the current deployment of Lao forces in MR II, especially the turning movement that has been launched from Pa Dong, represents an unacceptable risk to the Lao and Thai forces involved and could lead to a severe military setback in Laos at the time of the President’s Peking visit. I earnestly believe that this assumption is unwarranted and that, on the contrary, a withdrawal from Long Tieng of the kind recommended by Washington agencies would play directly into the enemy’s hands. This belief is shared by all members of my country team who have been directly involved in current troop movements for the defense of Lao Government positions in MR II and MR V.
There is little doubt in our minds that the North Vietnamese would like nothing better than to turn Long Tieng into another Dien Bien Phu. Their foremost objective is certainly the destruction of Lao and Thai fighting forces in Northern Laos. A second objective of equal importance psychologically if not militarily is the capture of Long Tieng itself. This is indicated by the fact that Communist propaganda media have prematurely and most uncharacteristically announced the fall of Long Tieng and the defeat of RLG forces in the area.
In these circumstances I believe our most practical and prudent strategy is to deploy friendly troops in the way best calculated to deny the enemy both of his goals. In the opinion of my colleagues and myself this is eminently possible. We have sufficient forces in MR II to create a stabilized military situation of the kind Washington and this Mission desire. Friendly forces have been fighting well. We have abundant evidence from intelligence sources that the enemy’s timetable has been disrupted and that his forces have been hurt. With the exception of the indispensible operation to reestablish friendly positions on Skyline, Lao and Thai losses have not repeat not been unusually high. Furthermore, troop morale is good. The recently launched Pa Dong and Muong Kassy [Page 92] operations were conceived and initiated entirely by the Lao and Thai commanders. No cajoling or arm twisting was required on our part. On the contrary, we have left the Lao and Thai in no doubt that their military objectives would have to be achieved on foot and that additional U.S. air support of any sort was out of the question. With full knowledge of these facts Sisouk, Generals Vang Pao, Dhep and Kouprasith have made their decisions.
As of the moment friendly forces have the initiative along Route 13 and may be able to reoccupy Muong Kassy in the next few days. This action should not only bolster FAR morale but will calm jangled political nerves in Vientiane. We do not think the enemy is present in the Muong Kassy area in any strength and believe therefore that Kouprasith’s operation can succeed. It is too early to assess the Pa Dong operation at this time. After a slow start it has been moving well. The enemy has not yet resisted but we believe has redeployed troops from the Long Tieng/Sam Thong complex to avoid their being flanked. This in itself is a modestly encouraging sign. The NVA are beginning to react to friendly initiatives, rather than the other way around, and the pressure against Long Tieng may be relieved at least temporarily.
If at this time with both the Muong Kassy and Pa Dong operations underway and moving as well as could be expected we attempt to turn the Lao and Thai around I fear we will have the worst of both worlds. Orderly withdrawal from positions north of Long Tieng will be difficult if not impossible. The Lao and Thai leadership will be confused and discouraged. They may leap to the unjustified conclusion that we have decided to give up the defense of Northern Laos as part of some larger politico/military strategy of which they are not aware. Misunderstanding and confusion of this kind can be quickly exploited by the enemy and Long Tieng would be likely to fall by its own weight. In these conditions I do not see how a credible defense line could be established south of Long Tieng and a sauve qui peut mentality would be almost inevitable.
Such a military withdrawal, taken against the wishes of the Lao and Thai military leadership on the ground, would, I imagine, produce profound repercussions in Bangkok as well as Vientiane. The Thai volunteers program in Northern Laos would disintegrate. Souvanna’s position would be further weakened and his critics both of the right and left immeasurably strengthened. All of this would occur at the very moment when US influence was at its lowest ebb and our power to maintain the political equilibrium in Vientiane proportionately reduced.
For these reasons I believe that Washington’s instructions would plunge us into the very abyss they are designed to avoid: a dramatic military setback and political disequilibrium in Laos at the time of the President’s visit to Peking.
These are my frank thoughts on the instructions I have received. I cannot do otherwise than to express them to you directly. All of us here are deeply conscious of the risks inherent in the present situation. The military tactics we support are those I believe most likely to avoid politico/military reverses like those anticipated in my instructions. I therefore most respectfully request that they be reconsidered in the light of the position I have outlined above.
Needless to say I will faithfully carry out to the best of my ability whatever instructions you give me. Washington agencies should however be aware that we do not repeat not have case officers with the Pa Dong units which are operating under complete radio silence. The practical difficulties involved in pulling them back, should the Lao and Thai be willing to do so, will obviously pose enormous other problems.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 550, Country Files, Far East, Laos, Vol. 9. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Repeated Immediate to Bangkok.
  2. Neither found.