73. Letter From the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Packard) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)1
After our discussion over the weekend, I reviewed our force planning for U.S. forces in Thailand. I have concluded our plans to withdraw 10,000 men during FY 71 are militarily sound and should be executed expeditiously. Let me briefly review our plans for the 10,000-man phasedown.
About 40% of the 10,000-man reduction relates to the phaseout of four F–105 squadrons and the closure of Takhli Air Base. The F–105s were very effective during the bombing of NVN, but they are not well suited for interdiction in Southern Laos, particularly strikes against moving vehicles. Also, they are not as effective against enemy troop targets as are other aircraft in our force which will remain in Thailand. The eight F–4 squadrons which will remain in Thailand, in conjunction with carrier and SVN-based tactical air forces, will provide adequate capability for requirements in Northern and Southern Laos.
The air base at Takhli is the most appropriate candidate for phasing out U.S. operations, being the farthest away from targets in Laos. By closing out all U.S. activity, we can maximize the manpower and budget savings with the least impact on military capability. After we phase out of the Takhli base, we will still be able to increase the number [Page 147]of aircraft deployed in Thailand quickly, should the need arise. Each of the remaining bases has some limited expansion capability and can handle additional aircraft on an emergency basis. In addition we believe the Takhli Air Base will be kept open by the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF). A skeleton U.S. Air Force element will remain there for the rest of FY 71 to assist the Thai in learning to operate and maintain the base. Re-entry should be relatively easy since the base will be in full operation. In addition, we could move another Navy carrier into the South China Sea, or return forces to South Vietnam where ample air base facilities exist.
Another 15% of the planned 10,000-man phasedown concerns turnover of A–1 aircraft to the South Vietnamese in July 1971. These aircraft will be used in Laos until that time. Their turnover is part of our Vietnamization program and Vietnamese pilots are being trained to fly them. The loss of their truck-killing capability will be more than offset by the addition of new B–57G sensor-equipped aircraft and wider use of aircraft gunships. In this regard, I recently directed the Air Force to modify additional C–130 aircraft as gunships for use in the next dry season campaign. Planned reductions in reconnaissance forces constitute another 15% of the total Thailand force reduction. These are possible because of reduced overall sorties levels from Thailand.
We also plan to reduce Army engineers and transportation personnel (15% of the total phasedown) because they have largely completed their road-building efforts. A few parts of the projects may not be finished at their planned deployment date. If necessary, a small engineer force will be left to complete them, or local contractors will be used. The remainder of the 10,000-man phasedown consists of miscellaneous support, personnel, whose reduction will have little impact.
The 10,000-man phasedown reflects due consideration of the attendant military risks and I fully support it. Many of the redeployments were planned for the July–September period. We budgeted funds accordingly and any delays will force us to reprogram funds from other activities. You are well aware of our budget constraints and will appreciate our interest in getting these decisions carried out promptly.
For the above reasons I believe Ambassador Unger should proceed promptly with the necessary consultations with the Royal Thai Government. In his discussions he can assure the Thai that:
- Reduction of F–105 and A–1 aircraft in Thailand will be compensated by additional AC–130 and B–57G aircraft which are considerably more effective for the type missions being flown in Laos.
- The A–1 capability will remain in Southeast Asia, although the aircraft will move to South Vietnam to be flown by the VNAF.
- The withdrawal of the Army engineers will not jeopardize the projects which we have promised the Royal Thai Government would be completed.
- Remaining bases in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia have ample capability to support promptly an increase in our air assets, should the need arise. Also Takhli will be available for re-entry should it be needed.2
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, PM/ISP Files: Lot 72 D 504, Subject Files, Box 1. Top Secret; Sensitive.↩
- A joint State–Defense message to Unger on July 3 instructed him to “immediately initiate consultations with RTG re next reduction of U.S. forces in Thailand.” (Telegram 105295 to Bangkok; ibid.) However, a July 2 note to Spiers attached to the telegram noted that “entire instruction was withdrawn Friday night at White House instruction” and “DOD is now instructed to defer any action.” (Ibid.) This action was precipitated by a July 2 telegram from Rogers to Kissinger, in which the Secretary stated that he “had not had chance to talk to Johnson before departure about my conversation with President about slowing down our steps because of need to maintain strong position in Thailand for future. Telegram does not seem to take that conversation into account. Could you look into this with a view to revised instructions. In the meantime I have asked Unger to delay action on what he has received until we hear from you.” (Telegram 765 to Manila; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 562, Country Files, Far East, Thailand, Vol. IV) In telegram 10662 from Saigon, July 5, Rogers added that “as a result of my talk with the President at San Clemente I am confident that he would not want any reductions made in Thailand that would reduce our air power there. Also the timing is particularly bad because our present efforts to encourage Thailand to do more in Cambodia.” (Ibid.) A July 2 memorandum from Haig to Kissinger indicates that Kissinger wanted “to hold up on the Thai force reductions until Larry Lynn’s TACAIR studies are completed.” (Ibid.) An attached note and handwriting on the memorandum indicate that Packard was informed of the delay.↩