23. Memorandum From John D. Negroponte of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1


  • Situation in North Laos

As you know, we have had a series of meetings and exchange of cables on the situation in North Laos.2 Essentially, the problem boils down to:

  • —The Washington agencies are nervous because the Lao and the Thai have not prepared and occupied defensive fall-back positions in the event of an all-out assault on Long Tieng. This concern has been conveyed to Godley although everyone has agreed we must refrain from giving him detailed tactical instruction.
  • —As of the latest reading, Godley feels that the Lao and Thai forces are well dug in defensively at Long Tieng, and if the NVA attack it will be a good fight and not a rout and that the very act of repositioning forces now to defensive fall-back positions would have a more debilitating effect on the Lao/Thai forces than whatever outcome of the strategy which is now being pursued.

All this discussion is very nice. But the real problem, if I understand it correctly, is that when the crunch comes the Lao/Thai forces will be almost completely reliant on air. This fact puts MACV and DOD in an excellent position to pull the plug on North Laos. I don’t want to sound cynical, but there is an aspect of self-fulfilling prophesy here. DOD and the Army have been the most critical of our half-baked effort in Laos; they have been predicting its doom for a long time and now are in a commanding position to allocate our resources in a way which might conceivably make or break that prophesy.

There has already been a drop in tactical air and arc light sorties in North Laos, primarily to make available assets against the B–3 front build up. And yet, the densest concentration of NVA forces in all of Indochina now preparing to do battle is south and west of PDJ.

The reason Godley and Unger repeatedly relayed to us Lao and Thai requests for an assured level of air sorties is obviously to give a political shove to an otherwise weak position. They are not in the military chain of command and have no control over those resources. If the Lao and the Thai have a fixation about Long Tieng, I think Laird and the military have an equal or greater fixation about Vietnam, where after all the Vietnamization program has in fact virtually eliminated the risk of a major set back this dry season. This is simply not true in Laos where we have not had a parallel program of beefing up local forces, and our air is all the more critical.

With three carriers off the Gulf of Tonkin, another on the way, and a fresh squadron of F–4s assigned to the Indochina area, it is inconceivable to me that we could not dedicate a bit more to North Laos than we are at the moment. This is not something that I would propose accomplishing formally but perhaps you, in discussions with colleagues over in the DOD, might be able to help in an informal way.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 550, Country Files, Far East, Laos, Vol. 9. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. At the top of the memorandum, Haig wrote: “Agree—Let’s watch.”
  2. See Documents 21 and 22.