SNIE 58-70 THE COMMUNIST VIEW OF THE SITUATION IN LAOS

Created: 2/5/1970

OCR scan of the original document, errors are possible

The following intelligence organizations participated in'.tho TMf-jKg?

The- Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence Q'ganiaation'i of (ho Dcporlv menu of Slolo and Defenie> Ond lhe NSA-

Lt. Gen. H. E. Cushman,USMC; lh8-Deputy Di'reclorRay S. Clirie, lha Director.of'Intelligence" andeportment af;en.H. Philport, for.the Director, Defense IntelligenceV(co Adrrl. Noel Gayler, the Director, National

/Sullivan, tho-Assistant Director. Federal Etaretilt- ol

THE COMMUNIST VIEW OF THE SITUATION IN LAOS

the problem

To estimate Communist views of the situation in Laos with particular attention to Northssessment of recent Royal Lao(RLG)/US military- activities in the country.

conclusions

almost certainly wants to establish its hegemonyof Laos, but subordinates this goal to its higher priorityestablishing its control over South Vietnam. Althoughare involved in Soviet and Chinese Communis!Laos, Moscow and Peking give priority to supportingeach recognizes that its ability to influence Hanoi's policyto Laos is limited.

Communists stepped up military activity inartly to counter US-supported RLCActions to which they were particularly sensitiveand intelligence operatioits in areas close to NorthChinese borders, and penetrations into areas regarded byas right!ully theirs. The increased Communistalso be seen as stemming from Hanoi's anticipation ofin Vietnam, and its related desire to bolster itsmilitary posture in Laos in order to he in the best possibleany coincident movementew settlement there,

the Communists believe that the US has violatedhave certainly done sothey wish to preserve the symbolic authority of theThey believe it affords them opportunities for anwithout further international negotiations,egitimate and

strengthened jwsition in Vientiane. This concern, among other factors, has operatedestraint on their military actions. We do not believe that they arc likely at this time to east aside these restraints and embark on military actions as dramaticush to the Mekong.

D. Nonetheless, weigorous Communist militaryover the next few months aimed at retaking the Plain of Jars, the capture of which, particularly in the context of tlie intensified US air campaign in northern Ijkk, thry probably regarded as evidenceurprisingly lough US posture. They probably will also aim atVnng I'ao and his forces who have been carrying the major burden of lhe war in northern Laos. If the Communists are successful in these efforts, they will probably seek to lake advantage of badly shaken RLG confidence to |iorsiiade RLG leaders, Souvanna and the Kingew political settlement is necessary to bring an end to the war.ettlement would almost certainly require that the RLGalt to all US bombing in Laos, and an alteration of thearrangements that would enhance the Communist political position.

discussion

I. GENERAL COMMUNIST OBJECTIVES IN LAOS

North Vietnam. Communist objectives in Laos arelmost entirely in Hanoi. The indigenous Lao Conmunist movement (the Neo Laoi Mil* and if military arm (the PathetPL) arc essentially creation* of (Ik* Vietnamese Communist Party (the Lao Dong) und are firmly under Hanoi'* conirol.

'Ihere is little question that Hanoi wants eventually to establish its hegemony over all of Laos. Physically weak und Jackingirm nationalos lie* between the far stronger and competing Thai and Vietnamese nu-tions, each nf which controlled majur portions of what is now the Kingdom of Laos before the establishment of the French protectorate. With theof tin1 French, Hanoi eame to see itself as the logical leader over all of former French Indochina and, according to tomeheinfluence over ethnk-ally related peoples in adjacent portions of Thailund. Hanoi's interest in bordering northeastern Laos is particularly strong Iwcause. nt its eastern extremity in Houa Phan (Sam Ncua) Province. Lao territory extends to withiniles ol the North Vietnamesethe Tonkin Delta. Hanoi's interest In southern Laos has been reinforced as lhat area Im* become virtually indispensable to tlie campaign to take over South Vietnam.

Hanoi appears to have no set timetable for establishing its hegemony over Laos; lhe North Vietnameseilling to defer this aim until they achieve their priority objective in South Vietnam. Nevertheless, for the ultimateof this aim, Hanoi wants to preserve and strengthen the Lao Communist movement. Thus, it is concerned too government forces from making any major inroads into Communist-held territory, to recover such ground when it is lost, to maintain the strength of PL forces, and to consolidate political control over l'L-occuplcd areas. In piusuit of these goals, however. Hanoi has been careful to avoid moves which might overtiun the Geneva settlement or be used by ihe US to justify large-scale ground intervention in Laos,against Communist supply routes in the southern conidor.

Tlie USSR. Soviet policy toward Laosunction of broaderarising from Moscow's desire to offset and minimize the influence of China and the US, which il attempts to do mainly by supporting Hanoi. The Soviets also find it useful to preserve their role as one of the sponsors of2 accords on Laos and their continuing shared responsibility for the government of Sou-viiima Phouma. For the present, therefore, the USSR does not desire to have the delicate balance in Laos upset or to see the Vietnam conflict spill over into adjacent areas. Moscow is obviously in an ambiguous position, hut it is likely to continue to accord priority to the support of Hanoi's objectives and policies.

ommunist China. China's basic objectivesos are to eliminate the US military and political presence, and to ensure that Laos is controlledegime closely aligned with China. Until these objectives are achieved, Peking wishes to make certain that the areas of Laos bordering on ils own territory are in friendly hands, and that it retains access through Laos to the Communist insurgents in northern Thailand. Apparently satisfied for the present with the prospectorth VietnanH'Se-dominated Laos, the Chinese haveupporting role there that both advances their own objectives and is intended to bolster Peking's position with Hanoi in competition with Moscow. Tlieprovide supplies (or the local Communist forces in northwestern Laos where their military construction units arc also building an extensive road network.1

ii. the COMMUNIST view of the SITUATION in laos2

2 Geneva Settlement, North Vietnam understoodeneva Agreements, and the understandings reached by theo factions at Zurich and the Plainelatively secure

' Tlx- mostot thi'f* load) i* the one which the Chinexr ar* mulling unulhwt.sl. wnnb fnmi Muong Siii. previously tin- southern trraiimu of their efforts, down the Nam Beug Valley in the directionk Brag on the Mekong Rim. onlyiles from Ok Thai hortU-r. (Son map.)

cease-fireehind which il cinild meet its own priority requirements, principally ofoller lor North Vietnam's western bordersorridor for safe passageupplies and troops lo Soulh Vietnam. Hanoi also expected thai. arrangcmenls wouldommunist veto in the tripartite- Provisional Government of National Union, through the seats held hy the Lao Communists and their neutralist sympathizers and throughfor unanimity on important issues. Hanoi expected, moreover, to hi; able to play upon divisions between the right and Sinivmina's neutralists, bringing the latter increasingly under its influence.

the Communists probably did not expect that the US wouldhonor to the letter2 terms as they understood thtin, theprobably believes iu its own public position, lhe cardinal pointis lhat the US has consistently undermined the Genevathey believe thai the US has subverted the neutralists,RLG to penetrate areas rightfully controlled by the Communists, andto support lhe war against the Vietnamese people, 'lite fact thatos, particularly against tlftc Communist logistic routes in thehave been in response to Hanoi's efforts to gain control of SouthI Oreo probably docs not alter these basic views in Hanoi. Thethat the struggle in South Vietnam is an internal mailer which is oflo lhe US and leel that their military action is justified by USthwart North Vietnam's rightful claim to all of Vietnam which theytheir victories against the French.

the Communists may asserl that they arc "punishing"Iheir military activities are rarely undertaken for any singletiter, lhe Communists aie led tonot toa complex ofCertainly lhe drive lo regain their "own" territory, eliminate hostileit and retaliate against specific HLC ucls iue among theseCommunists 1K> doubt viewed lhe KLC capture of Nam Hacseupport base for guerrilla and intelligence operations in Phongand other areas close lo the Chinese borders, the establishmentsites related to the war against North Vietnam such as Phou Phaexpansion into lhe Sedone Valley in the soulh, and Ihe growth of Vangand their activities in areas of Houa Plian and Xieng Khouang Provincesretaliatory action. The RLG's recent rainy season operationsPhine in Ihe south and Vang Pao's successful drive across the Plainundoubtedly full into the same category. ButililaryLaos are not determined solelyesire for retaliatory action. Suchare made also in the context of furthering long-term Communist goals ol

Actually, tlti' Cciwvii Aijru'iiienls did nuttij.il rwignjlion toaiO-fiie line. Tlir ceasefire merelyon -ill Imops d> hold fast in placr. CIIob ten Implead iiuiptlie Icrrilmy Ih'IiI liy tlie viuknif factions at the Iliac of2 scltlirmrnt)

securing compile control over Laos and of furthering their efforts in South Vietnam, as well as such short-term goals as expanding lines of communication, leaping political benefits from military pressures, taking advantage of targets of opportunity, and making the most effective use of limited resources.

doctrines about US Ixihavior apart, the Vietnamese Communistbelieve lhat the situation in Laos us it has developed since thehas served their purposes reasonably well. This has been thewith respect to their priority objective, support nf the war inAlthough US interdiction measures against the virtuallyroutes- in the Panhandle liave imposed heavy burdens on theirthe Communists have nevertheless succeeded in keeping the suppyto South Vietnam.'

Until the fallecause of its concentration on South Vietnam, Hanoi did not attempt to move decisively against US/RLG gains in Laos at its expense. Characteristically, the war in Laos seesawed back and forth, with RLC offensives during the May-Octohcr rainy season and Communist couiiteroffensives during the Novembcr-Ajiril dry season. If North Vietnamese forces were not withdrawn as required by the Geneva settlement, neither were they used to modify greatly the general lines of military control pertainingndeed, afteret gain in such seesaw exchanges in the first few years,67 the Communistset loss of territory, and an even greater loss of population (through migration} in these annual cycles of military action.

Recent Developments. Communist military action tookew intensitySL/NVA combat forces in northern Laos were increasedduring the period. Vigorous campaigns in the dry seasons of both years, beginning with the recapture of Nam Bac and targeted primarily against major government sites behind Communist lines, resulted in some of the worst RLG setbacks of the war.

J.kly Trtaiitafellu, tho Assistant Chief of Stall, Intelligence, USAF, believes (henlii-ii- of tills paragraph seriously undcnsitiiiMihs llie enlenl lo which thr flow of supplies through Lao* tu Soulh Vietnam has been hnpedcil and the impart which this has had on Hanoi'* uptioni and slrnlrgy in the war.

olts thattbe 'i'rt offensiveCiHlliniiPists have had two years and

cv.ry hitunlivo to rebuildrco* to ill* level necessary lo achieve their objectives in South Vii-lnam. TIm: enemy has made cnuimoiii olfurts lo overcome the interdiction ohvlacle hyate- five times tlx- level he eventually filtered through. Although noi ivr-omiel limited in the iwith, he win forced to reduce troop infiltrationevel he (Oiilj support Utgislically. litis has resultedn Intensity of operation* insufficient to pn'vtiiln pacification <uid VV'tiwnii'ation.

He believe* tlitt lhe interdiction in Laos it causing theio .South Vielnam to remain atosing level for tl* enemy and forcing Hanoi tot is facedi-.ie protracted war. finally, lhe margin of interdictioni failure iv very critical. 'Ihr outcome will impinge heavily upon the rats and mcms of pacifieatioii and Vict-uamiuttoi..

This buildup andommunist offensives are nol fully explained, bow-ever, only as reactions to RLC initiatives, increased USr Hanoi's concern over the security til bender areas. Communist military movesn Laos must also lie seen in tlie context of Hanoi's expectations with respect to lhc war in Vietnam.anoi apparently began to expect the military and political struggle in Vietnam and pressures on US policy to develop increasingly in its favor. In anticipation of such developments in Vietnam, it appears that Hanoi set out in Laos tn bolster ils political ami military posture in order to be in the lwst possible position for coincident developmentsew settlement in Laos.

On the political side tlie Lao Communists began in the spring8 to set the stageew internal settlement which would retain the tripartite principle hut accord lo the "true" neutralists under their control Ihe right to represent the neutral faction. Moreover, while Lao Communist propaganda attacks on Souvanna continued, lhc- North Vietnamese, and perhaps the Russians as well, seemed to be suggesting lo Souvanna that he could purge himself of the pupiiel stain and continue to play an important roleevised tripartite formula if he could bring an end to US bombing. Unusual gestures of respect to the King were also orchestrated with demands that the bombing ceaserelude to an internal settlement to be reached by the Lao among themselves.

The psychological impact of lhe Communist military and politicalwas considerable, and al lhe end of both dry seasons there was much apprehension in Vientiane tliat the Communists would soon break out of previous patterns of military action and push to the Mekong. At the end ofor example, it appeared in Vientiane lhat the Communists had established ain north Laos from which they would bunch major offensives carlv in (he winter.

ir ivronmussiinee Invontli Literlane* writ siulliiiii/iil lo return fire.ttack SOIUC* tnfivw .ttoaililyn

otmifi. Infter the iKitnhing of Northu halted. US attack *oitie* ovei Law lumped fromvirugc olui month to0 per month. UntilP,r the greatn (lortloil of lliOse viutk* wen? nude iu the .oriidiu Inmc, Ik-ginning hi July 1QGO however, attack jkwUhs iniiB, lluwii niiiiiilv in support of Vang Piiu's opcraluxif. im renin] from-

ii<mlh toht month.

hen, much to the Communists" surprise, Vang Paoajor rainy season offensive which drove the Communists off the Plain of Jars for the first lime and captured stores in quantities which appeared far in excess of normal Communist requirements. The Communists probably viewed the capture of the Plain, especially in the context of the intensified US air campaign iu northernas evidenceurprisingly tough US posture in Laos. The loss of tlte Plain was notlow lo Communist prestige huterious setback which complicates their continuation of the high level of military activity ihey pursued8ow, the Communists almost certainly believeave lo recapture the Plain before they can Increase the military pressure on the

RLG hi pursuit of their objectives of stopping tlie US tombing andavorable political settlement.

III. THE OUTLOOK

The available evidence stronglyigorous Communist campaign during the present dry season in north Laos.inimum,ampaign would be aimed at retaking the Plain of Jars; the extent of their militarysuggests lhat the Communists may also intend to move against the major Meo bases and eliminate Vang Puo and his forces, once and for alL Theprobably are aware thai Vang Pao's reserves are reLatively thin;oncerted campaign against his Meo forces could exhaust themingle dry season; and tliat once the Meo, who have been carrying lhe major burden of the war inos, had been dispersed, the psychological impact on the ULC. combined with the military effect, could leave ull of northern Laos open to the Communists.

Tlie Communists might also move against Vang Vieng, lhe headquarters of tlie Souvanna neutralist troops, hoping to take advantage of ils politicalby installing tlie "Patriotic Neutralist Forces" there. In order to increase political pressure on lhe UI.G, Communist forces may alsohreat to Luang Prabang, and possibly Vientiane, without actually carrying out attacks. Interest in political impact might also lead them to further shellings of important towns and other terrorist aclions. Ill the southern Panhandle, where the Communists alreadyelatively satisfactory territorial position, they will prohahly devote their energies lo interdicting the RLG's lines of communication, andlocal RLG commanders.

If tho Communists retake tlie Plain of Jars, and inflict heavy damage on Vang Pao's forces, they are likely to follow up fairly quicklyeightened political campaign. They will hope (hereby lo take optimum advantage of badly shaken HLG confidence. Their intent will be to persuade RLG leaders, Souvanna and the King in particular,ew political settlement is necessary to bring an end to the war. 'llie Communists would probably offer Souvanna and other Lao politicalosition of some continuing legitimacy and authority. But the settlement would almost certainly require tlwt the RLGalt io all US bombing in Laos, and enhance the Communist political position in atripartite government.

The Communists arc unlikely to engage in military actions suchilitary drive to the Mekong so dramatic and extensive as to threaten the survival ofi2 arrangements.2 arrangements are probably still regarded by the Communists as providing them witheturn to legitimacy and the political path to powerimer of their own choosing. The- Communists may calculate thai the major signatories are willing, even anxious lo regard the international aspects of the Lao* question as settled in principle, if not in practice, by these arrangements.hey may anticipate that all thai will be required in Laos itself, when lhe

Umv is ripe, iscailjiistnu-nt of tho internal arrangements! which will strengthen and guarantee Ihe position of lhe Lao Communists, while hopefully retaining the prestige and legitimacy attached to the participation of Souvanna and the .sanction of the King. Once the tripartite government ii restored with alterations favoring the Communists, Hanoi probably has considerable confidence, despite its experience with2 accords, that with North Vietnamese assistance, its Lao clients will eventually take control of the country.

Although the North Vietnamese probably no longer have any serious concernove to the Mekong on their part would bring US ground forces into Laos in strength, tbey woulduch better thin even chance of an intense air reaction. We do not Itebcvr they would want to run these risks at this lime simply toeir political impact in Vientiane. Their political objectives with respect to the RLC can be better served by more measured actions that shake its confidence severely without causing il lo disappear.

The North Vietnamese probably calculate thai any Communist successes in Laos are likely to contribute to American war-weariness, However, we doubt that Hanoi would east long-standing restraints aside and move in strength to the Mekong, in lheurt the US Government would feel compelled by its own re-evaluation ol llie overall prospects Or by public opinion, tn move more rapidly toward withdrawing American forces in Vietnam and ending the war there On Communist terms. Hanoi cannot be especially confident .it this time of its reading of either Aim man public opinion or US Government policy, nor docs it haw any particular basis in past behavior for assuming that specific events in Laos cause specific US reactions with respect to Vietnam.

cannot predict the outcome of the current military strugglePlain nl Jars except to note lhat Vang Pao is upuchand his hoops luck the resilience and reserves toustainedcampaign. But we have no doubterious defeat wunld causein Vientiane, possibly even panic. In certain circumstances Souvannahis ability to hold things (ogether. Either he or the King might thennecessary to bargain with the Communists with few useful cards left inlands.

Original document.

Comment about this article or add new information about this topic:

CAPTCHA