56. Editorial Note

According to the minutes of the Washington Special Actions Group meeting of March 25, 1970, which lasted from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger told the group that he had just been with President Nixon, “who wasn’t inclined to let Laos go down the drain and let the record show he had disregarded the appeals of the King of Laos, Souvanna and Thanat.” Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson noted that the group had just been discussing alternatives and he outlined them for Kissinger. The first two alternatives, 1) acceding to the Thai and Lao request by introducing the Thai battalion as [text not declassified] and 2) agreeing to move the Thai battalion in and providing pay and allowances, but as openly declared Thai forces [text not declassified], were given the most attention.

When Kissinger asked what advantage there would be in declaring the Thai presence, Johnson replied that “there would be an advantage in the U.S. showing that we were not continuing to fight a secret war, but rather that the Thais felt strongly enough to take a clear stand.” Kissinger then asked if the Thais would be willing to declare their forces. Johnson responded that this remained to be seen, stating that with respect to Long Tieng, the Thais were reluctant, “but if the RCT crossed the border, he didn’t see how they could be expected to act in any other way.” General Earle Wheeler of the JCS said that this issue raised the question of SEATO commitments. Kissinger added to this, wondering [2 lines of source text not declassified]

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Marshall Green noted, however, that the more covert the operation, “the more suspect it would be, and the more press criticism would arise.” Green thought that they might get away with a small operation, “but if it were larger it wouldn’t jell.”

The WSAG went on to discuss the numbers, mechanics, and details of Thai troop assistance. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1969–1970) The full text of the minutes of this meeting are in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VI, Document 211.

The WSAG met on March 26 from 8:53 a.m. to 9:22 a.m., again in the White House Situation Room, concerned about the seriousness of the Laos situation and the gravity of the decisions to be made. Kissinger asked if anyone had had any second thoughts during the night. Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard replied “We would prefer not to put Thai troops into Laos now.” Kissinger asked if the United States was in a position to make a commitment to move Thai troops. General Cushman of the CIA replied that “the troops would be in place 36 hours after approval is received.”

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Kissinger then advanced two options: option 1 was an airlift of a Thai battalion of 600 men to Long Tieng, and option 2 was a commitment to Souvanna and Thanat to prepare a full RCT of three battalions for introduction into Laos at a later date. Kissinger gave a detailed explanation of the pros and cons of each option.

Kissinger noted that “The President’s preference [for putting Thai troops in Laos] has not abated.” Johnson warned against building up Long Tieng into “a turning point of the struggle in Laos” and against the “Dienbienphu factor.” Kissinger stated that the President wanted to know whether, “if we move in a Thai battalion, the enemy could then isolate it.” General Wheeler replied: “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.”

In weighing option 2, Kissinger noted that if Long Tieng fell the North Vietnamese would have moved closer to the Thai border, the effectiveness of the Lao forces would be less, “our commitment would be greater,” and that it “would be difficult to avoid linkage to SEATO and Plan Taksin.”

[text not declassified] He added that the “Thais want to involve us. They consider that U.S. involvement is tantamount to victory.”

Kissinger concluded the meeting by stating that the President wanted to make a decision by noon and that he was leaning toward option 1, moving the Thai battalion to Long Tieng as soon as possible. In response to Cushman’s question as to whether the CIA could go ahead with the movement, Kissinger replied that “I will be in touch with you.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Minutes, Originals, 1969–1970) The full text of the minutes of the meeting are in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VI, Document 212.