SNIE 58-68-COMMUNIST INTENTIONS IN LAOS

Created: 3/21/1968

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approved8

date: 5

SPECIAL

NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE

Communist Intentions in Laos

DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Concurred in by tht UNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE BOARD

Authenticated:

As indicated overleaf8

N?

The following inlelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate;

The Centra! Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations ot theol State and Defense, and the NSA.

Concurring!

Vice Adm. Rofus Taylor, Deputy Director, Central Intelligence Mr.ughes, the Director of Intelligence and Research, Deparlmenl of Slate

Vice Adm. Vernon t. lowrance, for the Director, Defense Intelligence Agency Lt, Gen. Marshall S. Carter, the Director, National Security Agency

Absfotningr

Mr.rown,he Assistant General Manager, Atomic Energy Com-minion and Mr. William O. Cregar, for the Asshtant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the subject being outside of their jurisdiction.

COMMUNIST INTENTIONS IN LAOS

the problem

To estimate likely Communist intentions in Laos over theonths.

conclusions

believe that Communist intentions in Laos are highlyon developments in South Vietnam. The Conununistscapability to reduce the area controlled by the Laotiana few enclaves in fairly short order. For the present,primary concern in Laos is with the security of the vitalinfiltration routes; in these circumstances it is unlikelyCommunists would wish to over-extend their forces in Laos orrisks of destroying the general framework ofe believe on balance, that they will probablyewand then reduce their military pressures during the

the possibility remains that the Gommuniststheir advantage. The chances of Hanoi adopting thisincrease in the months ahead if the war in Southa critical juncture and Hanoi saw advantage ina "second front" in Laos in order to place further strain onOr, if Hanoi were confident at some point thaton South Vietnam were at hand, it might think it useful tomuch territory in Laos as possible to strengthen theposition.'

1 H. Gen. Marshall S. Carter, The Director, National Security Agency, believes the estimate ia overly Influenced by the contingent relationship between developments in the war in South Vietnam and North Vietnamese activities in Laos- Communist military capability now present in nortlwen Laos is greater than at any timehile the Communists may be content to take und hold only those areas previously under Pathet Lao control, they nonetheless, have the capability to extend their control over additional areas of northern as well as southern Laos. In their view they could take this acUon virtually without regard to or risk of any meaningful US counteraction. Gen. Carter, therefore, believesreater emphasis should be given to this possibility.

'secret

DISCUSSION

'The town colloquially referred to as Nam Bac is shown ran lhe maps es Dan Namao Ngam is shown as Bao Lao Ngam on lhe maps.

Since2 Geneva settlement, the waros has been characterized by Communist advances In the dry season (November to April in Laos) and counteroffensives by the Royal Lao Government (RLG) forces during the rainy season (May tohese annual military operations, however, have been limited, and at least until this year neither side has appeared anxious to take action in areas that mighttrong reaction by the other.

Although generally the fortunes of war had seesawed back and forth, by the fall7 RLG forces had penetrated well into some areas usuallyby the Communists. This process was highlighted by the RLG rapture in6 of the Nam Bacmiles north of the royal capital of Luangthe Communists bad controlled for nearlyears. These successes had by the summer7 given the RLG new confidence, and in7 RLG forcesurther offensive in the Nam Bac area.

In8 the Communist forces turned the RLG offensive at Nam Bacebacle for the government. Meanwhile, the Communists had begun to launch offensives elsewhere in Laos. In support of these operations, the Communists have introduced new forces from North Vietnam and redeployed other units, possibly including several battalions normally assigned to duty along the infiltration routes to South Vietnam. In general, the present Communist offensive has been directed so far at targets which were either held by them2 or attacked by them in their campaigns since then.

In north Laos, in addition to Nam Bac, Communist forces concentrated on Phou Pha Thi, and onarch they destroyed the US navigational site located there. They have also attacked other gueirilla positions and have taken the villages of Tha Thorn and Sala Den Dine,iles north of Paksane.

In central-south Laos, Communist forces have harassedhe main road artery connecting northern and southern Laos, andebruary they blew up the bridge on this route across the Se Bang Fai River between Thakhek and Savannakhet. They also took Muong Phalane against minimal RLGand forced the removal of the US Tacan navigational site in that area.

Further south, the Communists have sharply increased their activities in the Bolovens plateau area, reducing RLG positions around Saravane andumber of villages along Routen the rice-rich Se Done Valley. In late February they attacked the town of Laothe center of the Se Done Valley pacification program) and the outskirts of the district capital of Attopeu.

The Communists, with their ability to reinforce rapidly from Northhave long had tbe capability to defeat the qualitatively inferior RLG forces and to seize control of most of Laos. Every year Hanoi has strengthened its

forces in Laos for the thy season operations. What is noteworthy this year, however, is the extent of the reinforcement and the intensity of operations.on reinforcement in recent months is not firm, but it mayattalion-size North Vietnamese Army combat units over the past year,primarily in the Botovens plateau area in the south and around Phou Pha Thi in the north. This would place total North Vietnamese combat and support personnel in Laos at' The Communist position has also been strengthened by their recent advances westward, and by the losses in manpower, material, and morale that they have been able to inflict on the RLG.we estimate that the Communists could, in fairly short order, reduce the RLG area of controlew enclaves.

It. the outlook

A. Factors Influencing Further Communist Actions

There are, however, other factors more important than raw capabilities which bear on the future scope of Ccrmmunist actions in Laos. North Vietnam, of course, desires to preserve Communist control over border areas. Hanoi alsoontinuing concern to protect and strengthen the Pathet Lao territorial base while retaining the option to return the Pathet Lao to active participation in the tripartite government. In part, recent military moves haveeaction to the RLG's "nibbling" tactics and to the raids of guerrilla forces deep within territory nominally under Communist control

For the present, however, Hanoi's ovemding concern in Laos Is with the iiifiltration system in the Lao corridor. The security of the supply and infiltration routes developed there since theas become even more critical to the Coinmunist effort in South Vietnam in recent months. The Communist "winter-spring' offensive in South Vietnam has clearly required not onlymen and material in preparation for major and widespread military action, but also increased use of the corridor.

' Thb Includes North Vietnamese Army elements in the corridor concerned primarily with support of supply routes to South Vietnam. Some of the estimated reinforcement in the Bolovens plateau area may actuallyestward deployment of units already in the

Hanoi's normal concern with the panhandle has thus been intensified, while at the same time US bombing and other expanded allied activities have been imposing greater strains on the Communist logistic system in Laos. Hanoi almost cortainly desires to improve the routes in the panhandle of Laos, expand the area of control there, and possibly develop alternative routes further west.the present Communist logistical system is adequate for the delivery of needed supplies, additional routes would provide tlie Communists with greater flexibility and force the US to spread its interdiction effortsider area.

In protecting the corridor and in advancing other local objectives in Laos, Hanoi would not wish at this time to take actions which unnecessarily complicated

or hindered support of lhe war in South Vietnam. If, for example, it employed its capability to seize and hold most of Laos, the task of supporting and defending these extended lines of communication could detract from the main effort in South Vietnam.ilitary campaign would completely upset the Geneva arrangements which still have some advantages for North Vietnam, and more important, might precipitate larger scale US operations against Hanoi's supply lines in the panhandle.

anoi probably believes that its present limited offensive in Laos will not by itself provoke large-scale US intervention in Laos. Instead, it may believe that these operations tend to deter such action by showing the US and Souvanna that the Communists have the capability to make such Intervention extremely costly. Finally, Hanoi may believe that even the present level of its military activities in Laos will cause such concern in Thailand as to affect the Thaiin South Vietnam.

B. Likely Communist Actions

* See NSA footnote to Conclusion B.

On balance, we believe the Communists do not wish to destroy the general framework of2 settlement, and, therefore, are not likely to push their military offensive so far as to run grave risks of this result. Thus theyew more positions and then reduce their military pressures during the rainy season. They will, of course, defend tlie infiltration corridor asbut Hanoi probably still prefers its present use of these routes to thethat might arise if Hanoi expanded the conflict to the point of precipitating large-scale US intervention in Laos.

Nevertheless, the possibility remains that the Conununists might press their advantage. The chances of Hanoi adopting this course would increase in the months ahead if the war in South Vietnamritical juncture and Hanoi saw advantage in deliberatelysecond front" in Laos in order to place further strain on US resources. Or, if Hanoi were confident at some point that negotiations on South Vietnam were at hand, it might think it useful to take as much territory in Laos as possible to strenghten the Communistposition."

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