SNIE 58-1-68-COMMUNIST CAPABILITIES AND INTENTIONS IN LAOS OVER THE NEXT YEAR

Created: 10/31/1968

OCR scan of the original document, errors are possible

18

The fallowing Intelligence organizations participated in the preparation . v.

Thentelligence Agency ond lhe Intelligence organizations of the Depart-mems of State and Defense, and Ihe NSA.

Concurring:

Vke Adm. Rufus Taylor, the Deputy Director, Cenlral Intelligence

Mr.ughes, the Director of Intelligence and Research, Department of State

Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Carroll, the Director, Defense Intelligence Agency It. Gen. Marshall S, Carter, Ihe Director, National Security Agency

Ahstamingt '.

Dr. Charles H. Reiehardt, for the Assistant General Manager, Atomic Energyand Mr. William O. Cregor, for the Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the subject being outside of their jurisdiction.

warn/ng

material contains Information wiihin the meaning of the mission or

COMMUNIST CAPABILITIES AND INTENTIONS IN LAOS OVER THE NEXT YEAR

CONCLUSIONS

the past year the Communists have greatlycombat forces in Laos. The combined Pathet LaoArmy (NVA) forces now numberhey could overwhelm the regular and guerrilla forces ofLaotian Government (RLG) in the corning dry season.do not think that the RLG could expand the size or capabilityforces sufficientlyronths from domestic sourcescontain the Communists.

do not believe that the Communists intend to conductdrive to the Mekong, lestove provoke US entryLaotian corridor and perhaps upset any negotiations underwayVietnam. However, in tbe next few months, we expectto exert further military pressure on governmenton guerrilla outposts, in order to strengthen theirposition. They now demand that US bombing ofhaltedrerequisite to discussions of an internalmust be based on "the realities of the current situation."

if NVA resources were released from South Vietnam,that this would in itself alter Hanoi's intentions in Laos,forces already there can launch an offensive without furtherThough developments in Vietnam could changeconcerning Laos, in general we believe that thehope to achieve their objectives without mnning great riskscounteraction.

DISCUSSION

Hanoi has ambitions to control all of Laos, but has been unwilling to take actions there which would jeopardize higher priority goals in South Vietnam. In particular, Hanoi has limited the scope of its rnihtary actions in Laos, in part, at least, out of concern forarge-scale US ground action against the vital supply routes to South Vietnam which run through Laotian territory.

Since2 Geneva settlement, the war in Laos has been characterized by Royal Lao Government <RLG) offensives during the rainy season (May to October) when the mobility of Pathet Lao (PL) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces is restricted, and by Communist counteroffensives during the dry season (November to April) to retake lost areas, often just In time to seize the rice harvest. Thus an uneasy equilibrium has been established, withfactors operating on the RLG and political factors on the Communists to restrain actions that mightajor reaction by the other side.

In the political field, both sides have continued to pay lip service to2 Geneva Accords, which neutralized Laos, and until recently to the Zurich and Plainc des Jarres Agreements, whichripartiterightists, neutralists, and the PL. This arrangement has persisted despite the fact that the PL vacated their cabinet seats inhese are still kept open for them by Souvanna, the neutralist Prime Minister. Until this Jury it seemed as though the PL objective, despite their denunciations of Souvanna. was the restoration of the tripartite arrangements.

i. recent developments

Several recent events, however, suggest that the Communists area new position. For the first tune, they haveombingpecific prerequisite to discussions of an internal political settlementwhile still reatBrnung2 international agreements, they havethat the internal settlement must take into account "the realities of the current situation."

In private, PL and Soviet spokesmen have explained that such "realities"ecognition of PL control over large areas of Laos (they claim two-thirds of the territory and one-half then addition, they contend that the US and its "puppets" have destroyed tlie tripartite structure, that Souvanna no longereutralist faction, and that the presentis, in effect, illegal. Apparently, the PL are laying the ground work toarger roleew government, and may demand that the neutralists aligned with them in the so-called "National United Bloc" occupy tbe positions now held by Souvanna's neutralist faction,

"SECRET

thus signaling their intention to reorder the old tripartitethe Communists have reaffirmed their regard for the monarchypermanent feature- of Lao national life. Indeed, the whole point of tho rather odd visit of the North Vietnamese Ambassador in Julyour year absence seemed to be toramatic distinction between the King and theo government, and this line has been supported by the new Soviet Ambassador and the Neo Lao Hak Xat (NLHX) spokesman in Vientiane, The Communists have always paid deference to the King's position and may hope that the King's desire to preserve the kingdom andnited national community can be played upon to their advantage.

The Communists are taking other steps to improve their political position. During the past rainy season, Uiey have made more of an effort than ever before to consolidate control over their territory. After unsuccessful attcmpls to terrorize mountain people who have been assisting RLG guerrillas in the north, the Communists arc seeking to win them over by cajolery. This is apparently partider effort to improve their hold over the mountainous and sparsely populated reaches of Phong Saly, Luang Prabang, and Houa Phan (Sam Neua) Provinces, where they have been stepping up their propaganda and politicalprograms. Newly constructed roads give the Communists access to hitherto isolated areas. In the soulh, PL troops liave been busy trying totheir hold over the rice-rich Sedone Valley, where the government carriedevelopment program5 untilhere are recent reports that the PL civil administration is being reinforced by Lao political cadre who have just completed political training in North Vietnam. One report indicates that in Savannakhet Province North Vietnamese political cadre have beento the Communist administration for the first time,

By the fallhe RLG had made considerable inroads on territory that the Communists held' The Communists finally responded by turning an RLG offensive in tbe Nam Bac areaebacle for the government inuring the remainder of the dry season,eries of defeats to the RLG which added up to the worst government setback since the precarious days1heimpact was considerable. Thereood deal of apprehension in Vientiane that the Communists would break out from the previous pattern of military action and push on to the Mekong.

But this did not happen, and perhaps the most notable feature of the rainy season now drawinglose was the lack of significant new moves by cither side. The Communists did not press iheir advantage, butore intensive political consolidation of their territory thanRLG forces, who for their part, usually regain considerable terrain in the rainy season, had only some limited successes in the northeast and in the

1 Sre cen in-spread map*.

area around Muong Phalane. RLG progress has been nil in the Sedone Valley in the south, in Borikhane Province, and in other potentially significant regions.

developments in the military and political fields seem to forma pattern related in large part to Communist strategy iu Southoulddecisive" phase in Vietnam, Hanoi movedits logistic capabilities in Laos, strengthen its forces there, recoverand set back and demoralize RLG forces. And in their recentthey have set the stage forew settlement on moreterms should the situation in South Vietnam move into seriousshort, the Communists havetronger military position whilesame time they arc preparing, ii the situation in Vietnam warrants, toa more active political phase in Laos.

II. CAPABILITIES

Our estimate of current PL/NVA strength in Laos isL0ompared toear ago. The most important increments have been in combat troops, where PL strength has grown00 and NVA strength0o oppose these Communist forces the RLGotal ofen. These Include0 combat troops of the regular armyombat troops of the neutralist forces, and0 guerrillas,f whom are Meo tribesmen commanded by General Vang Pao in the northeast.11

PL and FAR troops arc probably about evenly matched in terms of the general effectiveness of individual troops or battalions, and man for man the Meo guerrillas are probably better fighters than either. The NVA forces,are definitely better than the FAR, and the psychological impact on the latter when attacked by the NVA is often sufficient to precipitate their defeat This qualitative inferiority is somewhat compensated for, however, by airprovided by Royal Lao Air,perating out of Udom in Thailand with Thai pilots, and USAF aircraft operating out of Thailand. In good weather, the Lao flyactical sorties per week, the Thai pilotsnd the USAF. Such success as the RLG has enjoyed2 is due largely to the combination of this air support with effective use of friendly guerrilla forces.

For several years, Souvanna and other RLG leaders, including tbehave felt that if it were not for the presence of NVA troops, RLG forces could probably quickly dispose of the PL threat In our view, this Is probably too optimistic. Although in terms of present strengths on both sides. Royal

' Thb figure is for background use only and Is not to be used or republished in any other publication by holders of this estimate.

'See Annexetailed lireakdosvn of Order of battle for both Communist aod RLG forces.

Lao combat forces would then outnumber those of the Pathet Lao by more than two to one, we do not believe that this numerical advantage would be decisive, in view of the many weaknesses and divisions that will continue to limit FAR effectiveness whatever enemy it confronts. We do believe that the PLonsiderable amount of NVA support toajor attack, and that without it, theould almost certainly contain them. We also believe that in northern Laos tlie Meo guerrillas could put considerable pressure on the PL. But RLG forces could probably not reduce PL forces and territory veryatsubstantial outside logistical and air support.

continue to estimate,we did inL/NVA forces now in Laos have the military capability toRLG area of controlew enclaves in fairly short order. Theyso without diverting resources from South Vietnam or drawingfrom the North. And we do not think that RLG forcestheir size or capability sufficientlyronths fromalone to contain the Communists,

III. COMMUNIST INTENTIONS

There are several options open to the Communists over the next six months or so. There are various indications of preparations to resume military activity as the dry season commences, and it is possible that the Communists have decided to exercise their military superiority and quickly overrun most of Laos. They might think this would be an effective means of putting the US under new pressures toeneral settlement in Indochina. We believe this is unlikely. The Communists would necessarily feel considerableover US countermoves in the Laotian corridor, especiallyime of changeover in American administrations. And. as long as the outcome inis in doubt and under some sort of negotiation, we believe that Hanoi would not run needless military risks in Laos before the chancesewsettlement there had been tested.

Wc do expect, however, that Communist forces will keep up substantial military pressure on RLG forces in the coming dry season. In the northeast, where Ceneral Vang Pao's Meo guerrillas have longhorn in their side, particularly in Houa Phan and Xieng Khouang Provinces, theyonsiderable effort toumber of guerrilla sites andtheir claims. They will probably also try to clear the guerrilla outposts along the border of northeastern Khammouane Province with North Vietnam, as well as hi the northwest Provinces of Houa Khong and Luang Prabang. In the south, they will maintain the threat to the Mekong from Thakhek to Champassak Province. They will attempt to disrupt US-sponsored aid and development programs. And, of course, they wffl protect their vital infiltration and supply routes to South Vietnam in the Laotian corridor.

' Sec. "Comiwioist Iiiteutior* ioatedECRET.

We anticipate more direct political pressures on Vientiane and the King, which these military moves will serve to reinforce. At some point, depending again on developments in South Vietnam, the Communists might offer to open negotiations, providing the bombing in Laos ended. In any case, Hanoi would believe its rnihtary pressures would improve the chances for eventualon better terms.

ajor change in the situation in Vietnam could affect Hanoi's calculations. But we do not believe that the release of NVA assets from South Vietnam would, in and of itself,ecisive factor in changing Hanoi's policy in Laos. In the eventietnam settlement favorable to them, the North Vietnamese would anticipate that political pressures would cause Laos to fall into their hands fairly soon. They would therefore sec no need for ambitious moves in Laos that might risk upsetting any agreements reached on South Vietnam, particularly respecting US rnihtary withdrawals. Should the settlement be unfavorable to the Communists, we believe that military caution in Laos would appear even more desirable to them.

Eventually, if the Communists cannot achieve what they want in Laosombination of pressures, they may resortigorous rnihtaryBut for now, they appear to be moving slowly, calculating that the Outcome in Vietnam will be suchew settlement in Laos can be reached which would provide them an improved power position, from which they could ultimately take control.

military capabilities

Order of battle information on the Communist forces in Laos is derivedumber of sources. The most important are informants contacted by clandestine friendly guerrillas and by road-watch teams. Other usefulIs obtained from prisoners and raUlers. from civilianlow-lcvcl administrativefrom special sources. The estimates of enemy strength are best In those provinces where friendly guerrillas and other assets are most active: Houa Kboug, Luang Prabang Xieng Khouang, Khammouane, Savannakhet, Saravane. Attopeu, and Sedone. It is least reliable along most of the South Vietnamese border, in northern Phong Saly, southern Sayaboury, and northeast Houa Phan (Sam Neua) Provinces. In the other prov-inces, where we rely largely on the Laotian Army reporting, the qualityit is reasonably good for Vientiane and Borikhanc, but poor for Champassak, Sithandone, and Wapikhamthong. Estimating the number of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Pathet Lao (PL) troops is also complicated by the mixture of NVA and PL personnel within many individual battalions.

On the whole, we think the estimates are reasonably accurate and support our conclusion that Communist strength in Laos is greater than at any time in the past. Strengths fluctuate somewhat between the dry and rainy seasons, however, as the NVA tend to put combat troops in for the dry seasonparticularly elements oflh NVAthen withdraw them during the rainy season. NVA combat troops outnumber the PL troops in the southern provinces of Saravane, Attopeu, and Sedone, where, as might bethe defense of their supply and infiltration corridor to South Vietnam is most critical. There are about an equal number of NVA and PL troops in Houa Phan (Sam Neua) Province. In the remaining provinces, the PLthe NVA substantially, and (here are no known NVA battalions at all in four provinces: Sayaboury, Vientiane, Champassak, and Wapikhamthong. The dissident neutralist troops are all in Xieng Khouang and Phong Saly Provinces.

TABLE A

estimated strength of communist forces in laos

Vietnamese Forces

Independent Infantry .

Troops and Advisors In Mixed Units

AAA

Total NVA Combat Troops

Command and Support Troops

Engineers and Coolies

TOTAL NVA Forces

Lao Communist Forces

Independent PL Infantry

Infantry in Mixed Units (with NVA troops

advisors)

Dissident Neutralist Infantry

Armor

Artillery

AAA

Total Imo Communist Combat Troops

Command and Support Troops .

Engineers and Construction Troops

TOTAL Lau Communist Forces

CKAND TOTAL

or

0

1 A

TABLE B

ROYAL LAO GOVERNMENT FORCES

oyal Lao Amy)

Infantry

Artillery

Total

Support

TOTAL FAR 0

FAN (Progovenunent Neutralist Forces)

Infantry

Total

Support

TOTAL 0

uto-defense deDefense

RLAF (Air 0

River

GUERRILLA FORCES'

Northwest Tribal Guerrillas (Yuo und

Northcentral Tribal Guertillas (Irregulars in Luang

Prabang and Phong Saly Provinces)

Meo

Central Laos Tribal Guerrillas (I

South LaosGuerrillas (Lao &

TOTAL0

Figures in this category are for background use only. They are not lo be used orin any other publication by holders of this estimate.

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY DISSEMINATION NOTICE '

Thb document wen disseminated by tho Central Intelligence Agency. This copy l> for the Information and use of the recipient and of persons under his jurisdictioneed-to-know basis. Additional essential dissemination may be authorized by the following officials within their respective deportmentsi

of Intelligence and Research, for the Department of State

Defense Intelligence Agency, for the Office of the SecretoryDefense and tho organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

* c. Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, forof the ..

Chief of Naval Operationsor the Department of the

Navy

Chief of Staff, Inlelligence, USAf, for lhe Department of the Air

force

of Intelligence, AEC, for the Atomic Energy Commission

Direcior, FBI, for the Federal Bureau of Investigation

of NSA for tho National Security Agency

I. Director of Central Reference Service, CIA for any other Department or Agency

This aoewejgntimay be retained, or destroyed by burning in accordance with applicable securityFe^fcir^jons, or returned to the Central Intelligence Agency by arrangement with the CerrrroTTteietinice Service, CIA

When this document is disseml rHitearji>erjeos, lhe overseas recipients may retain fteriod not In excess of one yoar. (ft**fae^end of Ihis period, fhe document should etlher be destroyed, returned to theorshould bo requested of lhe forwarding agency to retain it in accoTtff**tewith2

A. The.title of this document when used separately from lhe text should be iif nriyj_

DISTRIBUTION:

White House

National Security Council

Deparlmenl of Stale

Department of Defense

Atomic Energy Commission

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Original document.

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

CAPTCHA