CONIROllfO DISSEM li'nila^a'iilributlon
NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE
COMMUNIST MILITARY CAPABILITIES AND NEAR-TERM INTENTIONS IN LAOS AND SOUTH VIETNAM
CIA HISTORICAL REVIEW PROGRAM RELEASE IN FULL
NOTE: This loadvance copy ol the cslimate as approved by tho United Stales Intelligence Board The printed text will be circulated within hvo daye ol Ihlft issuance.
Central Intelligence Agency
Submitted by the
DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE
The fallowing intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of Ihis estimate: The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence nrganuaiinns of Ihe fJe/>artntents of State.C and
Concurred in by Ihe
UNITED STATES INTELLIGENCE BOARD
oncurring were the Director of Intelligence and Research, Department of Stale; the Director, Defense Intelligence Agency; the Atomic Energy Commission Representative to the USIH; and the Direcior of the National Security Agency. The Assislant to the Director, Federol Bureau of Investigation, abstained, the subject being outside of his jurisdiction.
CLASSIFICATION OF TITLE IS
WHEN USED SEPARATELY
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
SUBJECT: : COMMUNIST HUJTARY CAPABILITIES AHD REAR-
TERM IBTEHTIONS TN LAOS AND SOUTH VIETNAM
To assess the significance of recant Cocanunist military forcein Laos, North Vietnam, and South China, and to estimate the scope and timing of CccamniGt military operations In Laos and South Vietnam over the next four or five months.
1. Tho Present Situation. radual buildup over several years has given the forces of Cor-tnanist China, North Vietnam, the Pathet Lao, and the Viet Cong potent military capabilities in and near Laos and South Vietnam, including offensive capabilities as yet unused and defensive capabilities as yet untested. Since tbo Tonkin Gulf incidents ofU, various Communist moves and force deployments have
noticeably improved aome of these capabilities, particularly the air defense of South China and Horth Vietnam. During tbe aane period,of Communist forces in some parts of Taos have augmented capabilities already in being. There has alsoteady improvement in the capabilities of Viet Cong forces in South Vietnam. Some of this improvement results from stepped up Horth Vietnamese support, though detailed Judgments ore complicated by the spotty and frequently ambiguous nature of the evidence available.*
2. We believe that these new deployments have the lamedlate purpose of improving the military capabilities of Communist forces ln those areas where US and US-supported pressure against them has beenn the Laos panhandle,8 end FAR ground operations are taking place, and in the air over Horth Vietnam, where reconnaissance is flown and where Turther air strikes are feared. The Communists probably also hope that these deployments will help deter the US from expanding the war to Horth Vietnam. The addition of air strength to the already formidable ground strength in the China/lndochina border area Is also intended to strengthen Chlnese/DBV defenses against the contingency that the US might Ignore Conrjunist warnings end take the var to Horth Vietnam and even to China.
* The details of Communist deployments are given in the USIBfanuary, (distributed through special channelsJ.
3. The deployments wo have observed do not now appear to be of the nature or scope that we vould expect toajor change In the nature of Communist military activity in Laos or Vietnam such as on overt offensive. Wo have seen no significant increases of ground force strength in South China or the DRV; the net increase in Communist ground strength in Loos is estimated to be no moreew thousand at the most; and no large organized military units arc known to have moved into South Vietnam.
h. Peiping hasxtended by one year the terms of service for all its armed forces. This is probably designed to improve capabilities by retaining trained personnel, and It may resultery substantial increase In the size of the armed forces. We believe that this, along with the program for development and production of more modern weapons systems, is part of Peiping's longstanding effort to strengthen its military establishment rather than an indication of an immediate Chinese intention to mount offensive activity in Indochina.
5. Increased Air Defense Capabilities. The introductionodd Jet fighters into Horth Vietnam and the increase of Chinese air strength in the border areaet fighters toppears to be responsiveimilar buildup of US air strength in the area. This move gives tbeimited capability to conduct surprise raids against Laos or the northern parts of South Vietnam, especially for psychological effect. We do not believe they will do so, however, because of the high rick of major US
retaliation and the consequent danger of air conflict with theom of hostilities most disadvantageous to the Horth Vietnamese and the Chinese. Thus far, the Communists have not used aircraft to defend forces in Laos against8 attacks. We believe they will rely on anti-aircraft artillery, ground fire, and passive defense ln Laos. However, they would certainly attempt to use fighters against air strikes on Horth Vietnam, and would certainly do so in the case of an attack on China.
6. Offensive Poteniial In Laos. The recent troop reinforcements from Horth Vietnam have also somewhat Increased Ccoeniniet offensivein Laos. In each springhe Communists hove launched some ground activity designed to improve their position during the dry season. We consider this sort of action likely again this year.
?. ikely Communist move would be an attempt to recapture the junction ofost to rightist forces last cutmer. The Communists might estimate that they could attempt this without risking serious escalation of the war. The Communists might also move against Kong Lo'b position near Huong Soul. In the panhandle, tbe Communists ore likely to try to push the FAR out of positions it has recently taken alonga Operation "Victorious Arrow." Though they ore capable of seizing any of the Mekong townshakhek or Savannakhet) or Seno,ot believe they will attempt to do eo, since they would consider it involved undue risk of enlarged US counteraction.
8. Military Portents ln South Vietnam. In the past year, thc Cocujuninta have appreciably augmented the size, armament, and general capabilities of Viet Cong (VC) forces with particular emphasis on theirainnits. Recent battleslnh Ola) Indicate that when the VC consider the circumstances favorablo they are willing to Initiate battles with sizable OVH regular units. They have not yet willingly engaged GVB regular units except when they outnumbered them at the point of attack. More probes and actions on the order of Blnh Gla are probable. Ve consider, bovever, that unless GVh* military capabilities deteriorate sharply, the chances are less than even that thc next four or five months will see prolonged offensives employing largor units.
9- Tho VC ei! itary campaign will certainly be carefully tailored to exploit and increase South Vietnam's political and moraleor reasons of psychological warfare, the Communistsunless and until convinced that such actions carry unacceptable risksill probably ossay further attacks against US facilities and personnel. The Ccenunists will also continue to Improve their conventional capabilities so that. If discord should split the GVH's military estabUshaent, they could. If they chose, take full nllltary advantage of the situation.
10. Although Hanoi and Peiping are still apprehensive about thc possibility of US attacks on Horth Vietnam tbey are probably less so than they were ln the late autumn. For example, while the attack ln
Auguste Soto patrol met with instant retaliation, US varohipa later suspended these patrols. Communist action against Dien Hoa in Bovember and the bombing of the Brink BOQ in December did not produce any military rejoinder. The Communists appear prepared to accept present love la of US and US-sponsored activity and even to run the risk of some escalation. Influential voices in the,US opposing extension of the var may have persuaded the Ccaniunists that the US is not disposed to undertake major escalation.
U. In these circumstances, ve believe that Hanoi and Peiping are determined to continue their present policies in Laos and South Vietnam. While the Comoamists are probably not yet ready to embarkeneral military offensive. It is almost certain that they vill continue their support of insurrectionary forces and will prepare to exploit any new opportunities which arise in either Laos or South Vietnam.
12. Role of tho USSR. Kosygin's projected visit to Hortharries forward the trend of increasing Soviet involvement In this area which began directly after the fall of Khrushchev. The new leaders apparently believe that Khrushchev erred inangerous situation largely in the hands of Peiping and that his limited responses in past Incidents may have encouraged the US to be more aggressive. We believe tbat the USSR now hopes to rebuild Influence ln Hanoi and to deter the US from expanding the scope of hostllitlos. To this end, the Soviets will probably Increase their
military and economic assistance to north Vietnam to include additional
air defense equipment and perhaps jet fighters and surface-to-air missile
They vill probably alsoull line of equipment for use in Insurgency
and subversion. But ve doubt that the Soviets vill undertake the military
defense of the DRV or run very high risks to protect It.
13- The Soviets almost certainly hope that Horth Vietnam will avoid actions which might provoke OS reprisals and produce further escalation. Kosygin will probably urge this point of view in Hanoi, but the Intricacy of Sino-Soviet-Horth Vietnamese relations will require him to maneuver carefully lest the USSR seem to be lacking enthusiasm for the DRV cause.
lfc. Less Likely Contingencies. Our estimate of what the Communists probably will do militarily In tho near-term future falls far short of our appreciation of what they could do against indigenous forces If the latter were not reinforced froa the outside. Using only forces already In Laos, the Communists almost certainly have tho capability to carry out actions such as the following: to recapture tho junction ofndn Laos and toubsequent drive on both Vientiane and Luang Prabang; to capture Thakhek and Attopeu and to harass both Seno and Savannakhet. At the same time, the VC could be augmented by some of the PAVH forces now ln the panhandle of Laosrive against the northern provinces of South Vietnam. However, such moves are not likely unless Hanoi and Peiping are
willing to take the riek of direct and punishing attacks cm at leant DRV territoryor unless Hanoi and Peiping should coae to believe that Free World persuasion coupled with internal US pressures vould be strong enough to prevent such retaliation and force the USegotiated settlement.