nce Copy of the5
na tional 'intelligence estima te
COMMUNIST MILITARY CAPABILITIES AND .; INTENTIONS -IN LAOS AND SOUTH VIETNAM.,.
L i Submitted by director of central INTElXIGENCEintelligence organizationsx>fi_ht% Gsltrndie The Central 'inteftigetite Agency ;. .the intetltmno; organ nation Of-the-Departments ot C . ;
Concurred in by ihe' "
UNITED STATES INTrXUGENCE BOARD -
5 fyricurring I'.frcllrecor ofand. Research, Departmental State; the
efense Intelligencehe Atomic EneryyRepresentative to the US/If; and the Director of the National-Agen-.y Th$ Ass'Star? io ibs. .Director
Bureau of Investigation, abstained, the subject being
Ihe meaning ol I
. ihe trani-'Viiliiin'*<pifchipili<f.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AOESCY
SUBJECT: : COMMJNIST MILITARY CAPABH.IT3ES AHD HEAfl-
T2RM Drrawiows ai lacs and sooth Vietnam
To assess the significance of recent Comnunlst military forcein Laos, Horth Vietnam, sad South China, and to estimate the scope and timing of CcrsBunist military operations in Laos and South Vietnam over the next four or five months.
1. The Present Situation. radual buildup over severalgiven the forces of Communist China, North Vietnam, the Pathetthe Viet Cong potent military capabilities in and near LaosVietnam, including offensive capabilities as yet unusedcapabilities as yet untested. Since the Tonkin GulfCcexsunist povos and foroa lapinyse-tc 'cvo
noticeably improved some of these capabilities, particularly the air defense of South China and Horth Vietnam. During the same period,of Communist forces in 3ome parts of Laos have augmented capabilities already in being. There has alsoteady improvement in the capabilities f Viet Cong forces in South Vietnam. Some of this improvement results from stepped up North Vietnamese support, though detailed Judgments are complicated by the spotty and frequently ombicruous nature of the evidence available.*
2. We believe that these new deployments have the immediate purpose of improving the military capabilities of Communist forces in those areas where US and US-supported pressure against then has beenn the Laos panhandle,8 and PAR ground operations are taking place, and in the air over North Vietnam, where reconnaissance is flown and where further air 3trikes are feared. The Communists probably also hope that these deployments will help deter the US from expanding the war to North Vietnam. The addition of air strength to the alroady formidable ground strength in the China/lndochina border area is also intended to strengthen Chinese/DRV defenses against the contingency that the US might ignore ContaaniBt warnings and take the war to Horth Vietnam and even to China.
* The details of Cormaunist deployments ore given in tha US IBfanuary, (distributed through special channels).
3. The deployment6 we have observed do not nov appear to be of the nature or scope that we would erpect toajor change In the nature of Communist military activity in Loos or Vietnam such as an overt offensive. We have seen no significant increases of ground force strength in South China or the DRV; the net increase in Communiet ground strength in Laos Is estimated to be no moreew thousand at the most; and no large organized military units are known to have moved into South Vietnam.
ft. Peiping has recently extended 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 ofongstanding 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 theimited 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 risk of major US
retaliation and tho consequent danger of air conflict with theorm of hostilities most disadvantageous to tho Rorth 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 in 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. otential in Lgos. Tae recent troop reinforcements from Horth Vietnam have aleo sonewhat increased Communist offensiveIn Laos. In each springhe Cocominists have launched some ground activity designed to improve their position during the dry season. We consider this sort of action likely again this year.
T. ikely Communist move would be an attempt to recapture the junction ofost to rightist forces last summer. The Communists might estimate that they couM attempt this without risking serious escalation of the war. The Cottmunists might also move againct Kong Le's position near Huong Soul. In the panhandle, the Communists are likely to try to push the FAB out of positions it has recently taken alongn Operation "Victorious Arrow." Though they are capable of seizing any of the Mekong townshakhok or Savannakhet) or Seno, we do not believe they will attempt to do so, since they would consider it involved undue risk of enlarged OS counteraction.
Militaryouth Vietnam. In the paat year, the Communists have appreciably augmented the size, armament, and general capabilities of Viet Cong (VC) forces with particular emphasis on theirainnits. Recent battlesinh Cia) indicate that when the VC consider the circumstances favorable they ore willing to initiate battles with sizable CVN regular units. They have not yet willingly engaged OVK regular units except vhen they outnumbered then at the point of attach. More probes and actions on the order of Binh Gia are probable. He consider, however, that unless GVN military capabilities deteriorate sharply, the chances are leas than even that the next four or five months will see prolonged offensives employing larger units.
The VC military campaign will certainly be carefully tailored to exploit and increase South Vietnam's political and morale problems. For reasons of psychological warfare, the Communistsunless and until convinced that such actions carry unacceptable riskswill probably essay further attacks against US facilities and personnel. The Coanuniste will also continue to Improve their conventional capabilities so that, if discord should split the CVll's military establishment, they could, if they chose, take full military advantage of the situation.
Although Hanoi and Peiping are still apprehensive about the possibility of OS attacks on North Vietnam they are probably less so than they were in the late autumnU. For example, while the attack In
Auguste Soto patrol net vith instant retaliation, US warships later suspended these patrols. Ccasunist ectlon against a Hoa in Hoveaber and the bombing of the Brink BC3 in December did not produce any military rejoinder. The Corrniuniots appear prepared to accept present levels 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 Communists that the US Is not disposed to undertake major escalation.
In these circumstances, ve believe that Hanoi and Peiping are determined to continue their present policies in Laos and South Vietnam. While the Communiotn are probably not yet ready to embarkeneral military offensive, it is almost certain that thoy will continue their support of insurrectionary forces and will prepare to exploit any new opportunities which arise tn either Laos or South Vietnam.
Role of the USSR. Koayein'a projected visit to Borth Vietnam carries forward the trend of increasing Soviet involvement in this area which began directly after the fall of Khrushchev. The now lenders 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 that the USSR now hopes to rebuild influence in Hanoi and to deter the US from expanding the scope of hostilities. To this end, tho Soviets will probably increaso their
military and ecooccic assistance to IJorth Viet nan to include additional air defense equipment and perhaps Jet fighters and surface-to-air missiles. They will probably alsoull line of equipment for use in insurgency and subversion. But ve doubt that the Soviets will undertake the military defense of the DRY or run very high risks to protect it.
13. The Soviets almost certainly hope thatot nan will avoid actions which might provoke US reprisals and produce further escalation-Kosygin will probably urge thio point of view in Hanoi, but the intricooy of Sino-Soviet-North Vietnamese relations will require him to maneuver carefully lest the USSR seem to be lacking enthusiasm for the DRV cause.
. Logs Likely Continrencleo. Our estimate of what the Communists probably will do militarily in the near-term future falls far short of our appreciation of what they could do against indigenous forces if the latter were not reinforced from the outside. Using only forces already in Laos, the Communists almost certainly have the capability to carry out actions such as the following: to recapture the junction ofndn Laos and toubsequent drive on both Vientiane and Luang Prabang; to capture Thakhck and Attopcu and to harass both 3eno and Savannakhet. At the same timo, the VC could be augmented by seme of tho PAVM forces now in the panhandle of Laosrive against the northern provinces of South Vietnam. However, such coves are not likely unless Hanoi and Peiping are
willing to take the risk of direct and punishing attacks on at least DRV territoryor unless Hanoi and Peiping should come to "believe that Free World persuasion coupled with internal US pressures would be strong enough to prevent such retaliation and force the USegotiated settlement.Original document.