Created: 5/24/1973

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the impact on the laotian situation of an early reduction or withdrawal of thai forces from laos



This Estimate considers the likely impact of an early withdrawal of some or all of the Thai SCI' battalions from Laos, prior to asettlement. For illustrative purposes, two situations arehe drawdown fromoCUsrojected further reductionhe total withdrawal of the Thai SCL's over the next few months.



The combination of US supported Thai SCt's and US air support hasajor military and psychological prop of the RLC in recent years. Removal of either of these elements would greatly reduce the military effectiveness of the other, and greatly increase the already considerable vulnerability of the RLC to communist military and political pressures.

A partial withdrawal of the Thai SCUs alone,ut ofercent in authorized strength, need not be destabilizing so long as themilitary pressures remain at the low levels generally in effect since the cease-fire. But it would raise fears in Vientiane of further reductions in US aid to the RLC. and thus increase the sense of vulnerability to communist pressure.

.Any withdrawal of the Thai force might tempt Hanoi to step up military- pressure in order to force further political concessions by Souvanna. This temptation would be much greater if US air support had been terminated. Hanoi's actions in Laos, however, are governed by the requirements of its overall strategy with respect to South Vietnam, which holds priority in North Vietnamese planning.its already favorable political and military position in Laos, Hanoi would probably feel no compulsion to act thereay which would carry risks of upsetting its overall position in Indochina.onsequence of the postulated US action, Hanoi might regard such risks as much reduced bufjnecessarily negligible.


Role of the Thai SGUs in Laos

L A! present, there arehi:0 men) committed to Laos, partotal friendly ground combat force ofost significant in temu of the situation in Laos itself are the Thai unitsefensive positions at Sala PSou Khoun. in the Long Tieng salient and west ol Paksong ui southern Laos. Theseave been the backbone of the government's defensiie force on the ground, particularly at Loee. Tienc, where years of fighting have left the local Meo forces depleted andThe five Thai battalions deployed in Sayaboury Province have [ess relevance to the tactical situation along the de factoline; they are there primarily liecause of Thai concern with the security of their own borders

1ometimes spotty performancevery presence ol Thai units at defensive itrong points has meant that attackingunits have been forced to mass and risk heavy casualties from artillery and from Lao and L'S support aircraft. While Hanoi has been willing over the years lo accept these risks in order to push Ceneral Vang Pao's forces back from the Plain of Jars and to defend the logistics routes nnd installations in the Lao panhandle, Hanoi has not been willing to pay theandattempting to puih much beyond these limited objectives

he lack of an all-out countrywideeffort in Laos has tended to obscure the steady deterioriation of Vientiane'sposition over the past several years. Even with the Thaihe government forcesoor match for communist combat forces deployed in Laos (now numberingL andVA) In addition lo their superior leadership,and morale, the communistsmm field gurureater effective lange and rate of flic thanmm howitzers used by the RLC forces While the Thai SCU have played an important role in containing communist military pressures, particularly inhe key element has been the availability of Laomoreair support.

4 There is. of course, an Interdependence between ground forces and airneither can be fully effective without the other In Laos, it is doubtful that the Thai SCI* would stand before large-scale com


m is; assaults without IS air supportwithout some Thai SCU* toailing of communist troops, the air arm would lack concentrated targets.

V The presence of Thai troops inand particularly US willingness to provide for theiralso of politicalto the RLC. Lao military leaders see the Thai force,ymbolontinuing Thai and US commitment to the defense of the government in Vientiane. Souvanna. less sanguine perhaps, nonetheless sees the force as worth something in bargaining with the Lao commuauts.

Effectsithdrawal of Thai Farces

6 Military Effects. Except for minorishing directed at securing local advantage in still contested areas, the cease-fire hat taken effect In Laos. The communists now appear content with the present de facto ceasefire line,enewal of large-scale hostilities is not likely, in the near future at least. So long as military action remainsm-eduction of the Thai SCU force toattalions need not have serious militaryemaining Thai units would presumably be con cen tilled in the lev-Long Tieng and Paksong areas, where MVA forces pose the greatesthese units together with ihe various RLC elements could probably cope with minor communist probes and harassment* of the type nowof the situation. But friendly forces would

' tr Mhen chit OW battsUnv -wM be it ot near nulhorireiioul olen At prewni (he SCU' force is well belowf tv> ikte to normal rffWsoo. daemon.

f saan^eaa

Thai Covetnmmt mieht object to the reiki-plorment ol Ihe Thaiayaboury tot thulloaibte.r, that the Thu*ould be retvcUexkeep anv in Lao* it the force were to be cur in hall.

have little capability for counterattacks tolost positions.

A total withdrawal of the Thai units would be far more serious It wouldepressing effect on Lao troops in the area* where Ihe SCUs haveajor role and would, in any event, leave RLC forces in some key areas much more vulnerable toprobes and assaults, evenmall scale. Without the presence of Thai SCUs toassing of communist forces, US air support would lack concentrated targets.of this condition might, in fact,further communist attempts to expand territorial control.

The Effects on RLCartial withdrawal of the Thai* before the signing ol the political agreement would certainly cause distress in Vientiane. The concern would probably be less with the effects of theon the military balance than with the possibility that this action mighteduction in all types of US aid and die elimination of US air support. The net result wouldense of increased vulnerability to communist pressures

9 These concents would be much more pronounced if the SCUs were totallyprior to the signingoliticalThe government would view itsposition as extremely weak, but once again, if US air support were still thought to be available. Souvanna would probably ac: as if he still had some cards to play (he would sbJI attempt to use whatever contacts he has with Peking and Moscow to gain asstitinie in limiting theo's more extreme demands)

ere it to appear, however, thatwas preparing to grant substantialconcessions to the communists, the ightists would ceruinh- contemplate moving against him Aprobably control-


restuint on theirowover. would be theu fearoup agaimtwould bring an end to American tup-port.

HaiUrt'f flwt'fimr .Any ul the Thai forcesolitical settlement Is reached in Laos might tempt Hanoi to step up military preuure in order to force further political concessions by Souvanna Thuwould be much greater if US airhad been terminated

Hanoi's actionsov honesn. are governedomplex of factors. South Vietnam holds priority in North Vietnamese planning, and Laos is seeneconJaiy theatre.esult, communistaos are not so much affected by the militaryon the ground there, as by theof Hanoi's overall strategy with icspect to South Vietnam Hanoi is not likely to launch actions in Laos which would carry any risk of upsetting its overall position in Indochina.

onsequence of ihe postulated US action. Hanoi might regard such risks as muchbut not necessarily negligible.

t had been intended to withdraw the Thai battalionsate consistent with the withdiawal of WA units inday periodolitical settlement. Premature withdrawal of the Thai SCU could affect Hanoi's intentions with respect to withdrawal of its own forces from Laos following aagreement If Hanoi viewed this actionessening of US commitment andin Laos, it would probably feel less pressure to abide bv the withdrawalIn that esmt. it* action on withdrawal would be determined primarily on the basis of convenience and other general policyNonetheless, in the absence ol the Thai SCU. Hanoi might see little reason to maintain large numbers of NVA Hoops incombat positions and inobtxal settlement, it couldseveral of its regiments with little rttk.

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