150. Memorandum From John H. Holdridge of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

SUJBECT

  • Communist Insurgency in Northern Thailand

The Chinese-supported Communist insurgency in Northern Thailand has been steadily gaining strength. The number of armed Thai Communist insurgents (CT), estimated in 1968 to be some 250, is (according to CIA) now over 3,100—2,300 full time and 800 village militia. Moreover, their weaponry has improved and now reportedly includes mortars, machine guns, flamethrowers, grenade launchers and anti-personnel mines as well as numerous AK–47s and SKS carbines. It is not known whether these weapons are coming direct from China or are from stockpiles in Laos and North Vietnam.

In addition, the CT have made major improvements in their politico-military organization and have formed some small battalions. While most of their indigenous support has come from the various hill tribes, the CT are beginning to make inroads among lowland Thai in the North.

The number of CT-initiated incidents in the North jumped from none in 1966 to 947 in 1969, dropped to 589 in 1970, and then rose to well over 1,000 in 1971. A January 2 NCNA report proclaimed that “the [Page 325]fighting efficiency of the Thai Peoples Armed Forces markedly increased in 1971.”

Ambassador Unger believes that the southward expansion of the Chinese road (and Chinese military presence) in Laos and Communist military advances in Laos are closing the gap between the external and internal threat to Thailand. He believes these developments suggest that China continues to apply indirect but growing pressure upon Thailand as a matter of policy, not merely “as casual encouragement of what has been erroneously characterized as a chronic, low-level dissidence.” Unger further believes that if these developments proceed on their current course, they could eventually diminish Thai ability to play a significant role in the stabilization of Laos, and undermine the internal development and stability of Thailand.

Peking’s Role

The leading Chinese role in the Thai insurgency is ill-disguised. The insurgency radio, the “Voice of the People of Thailand,” broadcasts from China and has unabashedly extolled the virtues of “Mao Tse-tung thought.”CT cadre adhere strictly to Maoist ideology. The Thai Communist Party and its “NLF,” the Thai Patriotic Front, seem to be led by exiles now resident in China.

The Chinese road building operation in Laos—now involving over 30,000 construction and anti-aircraft troops—seems to have little purpose other than to provide direct access to Thailand from China and North Vietnam (See map at Tab A). Significantly, these roads point to the area where the CT are strongest (See map at Tab B). Since roads such as these are not needed to meet present CT resupply demands, it seems likely they are intended to support a considerably increased insurgency in Thailand.

Hanoi’s Role

Hanoi is also involved in supporting the Thai insurgency; but its role is strictly secondary to that of Peking and is largely confined to North-eastern Thailand. The North Vietnamese (and perhaps the Pathet Lao) have trained Thai cadre and have helped supply the CT. Many of the 40–50,000 North Vietnamese living in Thailand are under Hanoi’s influence and constitute a serious potential fifth column. Recently Hanoi-controlled media claimed that Thai insurgents are actively supporting their comrades in Indochina and cited as evidence the January sapper attack on our B–52 base at U Tapao. Hanoi has, of course, strongly attacked the presence of Thai troops in Laos as well as Thai-Cambodian cooperation.

Thai Countermeasures

The Thai Government has become increasingly concerned about the growing insurgency in the North and Northeast and plans a [Page 326]major counterinsurgency effort this year. In fact, a major military campaign has just recently been launched against CT strongpoints.2

In any case, insurgency in Thailand has reached the stage where it also deserves increased attention on our part.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 564, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. VIII. Secret. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum in Kissinger’s handwriting reads: “Al—Let’s get CIA assessment. HK” Another notation in Holdridge’s handwriting reads: “done 2/20.” Haig wrote on the memorandum: “Tom Latimer see me.”
  2. In telegram 2039 from Bangkok, February 12, Unger reported on his conversation with NEC Chairman Thanom, in which the former stressed the importance of “an effective RTG response to the evident insurgent decision to stand and fight regular Thai forces in operation Phu Kwang.” Unger told Thanom that the “new situation created by insurgent resistance and strength indicates requirement on RTG part to apply complete campaign plans with necessary support and continuity to get the job done.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–7)