SNIE 58-2-61-PROBABLE REACTIONS TO CERTAIN COURSES OF ACTION CONCERNING LAOS

Created: 7/5/1961

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SPfiCMA -NATIONALiSTFLLlCESCE ESTIMATE

PROBABLE REAGliUNb . TO CERTAIN COURSES OF ACTION

SRNING LAOS

NOTE; Thi: 'fei-edSta-

and Research, DepartmentolStaff'.for Intelligence, DepartmentAssistant Chief of'Naval OperationsAssistant Chief ofDirecior for Intelligence, Jotnt.Staff; the Assistant toof Defense, Specipl Operations; and the DirectorNational Securitytymrhkslonx*

Representative to the VSIB and the Assistant Dtrqfor, Fed-eral Bureau of Investigation, abstained, the subject beingof thebr. jurisdiction. [

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY

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SUBJECT: : PROBABLE REACTIONS TO CERTAIN COURSES

OP ACTION CONCERNING LAOS

THE PROBLEM

To estimate whether South Vietnam and the rest ofAsia can maintain their Independence if southern Laos should come under predominant Communist control; and to estimate the consequences of certain courses of action by non-Communist forces in the area.

NOTE

This estimate hao been prepared in response to aby the Department of State for answers to several specific questions relating to certain postulated courses of action. The questions and the courses of action are Bet forth below, and the paper is organized to correspond

directly to the terme of the request. The assumed courses of action here considered were provided for the purposes of this estimate and are not Intended to represent the full range of possibilities.

THE ESTIMATE

I. CONSEQUENCES FOR SOUTH VIETNAM AND SOUTHEAST ASIA OP PREDOMINANT COMMUNIST CONTROL OP SOUTHERN LAOS

Question: If southern Laos falls under predominant CorrmTU-

nist control! wlll_it ^becomeimpossible for South Vietnam to malntad'ependcnce, and will" all of Southeast A'sla^pe opened* to predominantInTluehceT*

A. South Vietnam. The fall of southern Laos would radically increase the already very great difficulty ofSouth Vietnam's independence. The Conmunists would gain the advantageafe haven and secure lines ofin Laos, and could greatly expand their support of the Viet Cong. This would open the possibility that the Viet Cong campaign in South Vietnam might come to resemble recent Communist tactics in Laos, with the Viet Congfrom Becured areas inommunist or ostensibly independent government had been established, militarily and

politically supported by the Bloc. There is, however, no simple correlation between the fall of southern Laos and the fall of South Vietnam. The latter might fall even if southern Laos did not. On the other hand, the Communists face in South Vietnam much more formidable armed forceseBB flabby political situation than they do in Laos. There would be no Immediate collapse. The long-term chances for the maintenance of South Vietnam's independence, however, would rest principally on the nature and amount of US support, and on the ability of Saigon to develop the political, psychological, and security programs required to gain and retain popular support.

B. The Rest of Southeast ABla. The fall of southern Laos would greatly increase the difficulties of the non-Communist position In Southeast Asia, but would not ofInevitably open the area to predominant Communist influence. Long-term developments would still depend not merely on the Communist threat, but on US actions and on those of the various governments in the area.

II. CONSEQUENCES OP CERTAIN GIVEN COURSES OP ACTION

southern Labs and along the

Question 1. What would be the short-term and lonK-term reactions of the Communists fPL/DRV/Chloom/ USSR) to the following military actions in

Sekc

A. Coordinated South Vletnainese-Thal-RLG military action, beginning gradually andmall scale, designed to secure the Savarmakhet-Tcheponc-Lao Bao line (Routend extf-ndy to leanujj_oI' southern Laos?*

* See full text of postulated course at Annex.

The Communists would probably contest the allied action In the vicinity ofith whatever forces they considered necessary to resist it, including unacknowledged DRV forces. As the allied action progressed, the Communists at some point would probably declare that the non-Ccramunist side had broken the ceasefire, and would resume military operations throughout the country. At the same time, the Bloc would almost certainlyorldwide political-propaganda campaign to highlight and to condemn the US-backed intervention in Laos.

The degree of Communist military counteraction would depend on the success of the allied operation, and on the Communist estimate of the allied objectives. If their earlier, amall-Bcale responses did not frustrate orthe allied course of action, the Communists would probably expand their military operations in Laos to include attempts to seize Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and other key points. DRV regular forces might be overtly introduced into Laos.

" tip iFhflrTj

The PL/DRV would meanwhile continue to attempt to infiltrate cadres and logistic support to South Vietnam through the mountain routes of eastern Laos.

We do not believe that, in response to course A, DRV forces wouldilitary attack on South Vietnam, lest they provoke large-scale US counteraction. Neither do we believe that Chinese Communist armed forces would bein this circumstance, either in Laos or in South Vietnam.

B. .In cpn.junctlon with Course A, temporary USof Vientiane, .Thakhok, andgether with coordinated actions by Thai, Lao, aad Meohe "ley and northern LaosT*

(l) Pathet Lao forces, with unacknowledged North Vietnamese participation and continued Soviet-DRV-Chinese Communist support, would probably step up the scale of their military actions throughout Laos, with the aim of confining US-allied control to the three towns, and of destroying RLO armed forces and political control elsewhere In the country.

* See full text of postulated course at Annex. See alsoLikelihood of Major Communist Military Intervention in Mainland Southeastated

PL forces, with DRV cadres, would harass US supply andlines, and Communist agents would probablyterrorist and sabotage activities within the US-occupied towns.

on

Depending/the size and apparent Intent of the US Intervention, it is possible that DRV military forces would be overtly introduced Into Laos. Even so, we believe these forces would not, at least initially, attempt to drive the US troops from the towns or otherwise seek direct engagement with US forces.

The Bloc political-propaganda response toould be more intense than that estimated forbove.

The Chinese Communists would probably be more aroused byhan by A, and might pressore aggressive DRV response than that estimated. We believe that the USSR would not share the Chinese view, however, and wouldestraining influence.

The Communists would probably consider that over the longer term, confinement of US and allied forces to the towns in question, together with world pressures on

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the US, would place the US In an awkward military-political predicament and might cause the US to withdraw from Laos. If, however, US-PL clashes expanded and the Communists came to believe that US forces threatened Communist-controlled areas of Laos, direct engagement with DRV forces wouldresult. It Is also possible in this circumstance that the Chinese Communists would introduce forces into Laos, and they would almost certainly do so if the US action appeared tohreat which the DRV forces could not counter.

courses of

Question 2. What would be the reaction of the Royal Laotian

action?

A. HLG leaders without significant exception would be reluctant to accede tonless US forces were also committed. They would be aware thatmplied their having to give up northern Laos Including the royal capital of Luang Prabangin return for an uncertain venture in the south, still with no guarantee that the US wouldto save the RLG. General Phouml's reluctance would stem alsoelief that this course would preclude his salvaging at least some political future for himselfeutralist government. Nevertheless, with sufficient US urging, the RLG leaders would probably accept course A, in

part because many of these leaders and their troops are southerners. Indeed, many of them might stir themselvesore effective effort in the south than the RLG has generally shown to date. There would be considerable chance, however, that ifid not immediately succeed, much RLG political and military resistance to Communist pressures would evaporate.

B. RLG leaders would strongly prefer thate undertaken concurrently. Most of them would welcome course B, hoping that this first step in direct US military intervention in Laos presaged further steps which wouldRLG fortunes. The King would be concerned lest this course involve the loss of Luang Prabang, and his continued backing of US-RLG moves would probably require additional guarantees or assurances to hint.

Question 3: What would be the attitudes of:

A. South Vietnam? Diem would probably agree without hesitation to participate In course A, although he would probably Beek greater assurance than he now has of US He would welcomeB tangible evidence of US determination, but would be aware that this course by itself

would not arrest the flow of Comnainist cadres and arms Into South Vietnam through southern Laos.

The Thais would be very reluctantcourse A. They would interpret it as aof US intention not to commit its own combat forcesand it has been their position that they woulda major commitment of Thai forces to Laos unlessforces were there. Moreover,ouldthem to benefit only South Vietnam, while leavingto Communist retaliation across the long border withnorthern Laos. ould be welcomedThai because it promised some protection along If they were convinced thatouldA, they might be favorably inclined to the latter.

members? Prance would probably stronglyeither course. The UK would probably object toas long as the Geneva Conference was continuing,not object if the Conference had brokenNew Zealand, Pakistan, and the Philippinesgeneral applaud either course.

Asian states? India, Cambodia, Burma,would almost certainly criticize course A, although

certain of their leaders might privately indicate sympathy with it. their reactions would be more adverse in the case of course b. the qrc would welcome either course, but would be critical of the us for notreater intervention, especially iflone had been undertaken. the noisy japanese left would agitate against both, although the more bo in the case of course b. the japanese government would be critical of course b, but would generally attempt toitself from either course.

question 4; would the slno-sovlet bloc be likely to consider these courses of action as not vital to their own interests and thereforeimited war?

yea. communist reactions, as diBcussed above, would be based on confidence that the bloc's capabilities in the laos area could frustrate the design ofnd preserve communist assets there without incurringrisk of unacceptable us responses. accordingly, the ussr, the drv, and china would almost certainly limit their response, seeking to forces withdrawal or the protracted commitment of us and allied forces to indecisive and humiliating actionemote area. if the us should extend hostilities in laos, however, the bloc would respond vigorously but still almost certainlycale intended to avoid the spread of conflict beyond laos.

Question 5. Would hostilities be limited to the typelr- the courses of action and is it likely that they could be contained within the area of southern Laos and the Mekong Valley?

The Communists would believe themselves capable, through limited action, of preventing the US from accomplishing its objectives, and they would probablyecision tohostilities up to the US. Under course B, or In the event of large scale action under course A, the necessity to protect US or allied forces and their supporting lines would pose the constant danger of some expansion.

Question 6. What would DRV reaction beS threat or actual air attack against targets near Hanoi or Haiphong, if the DRV stepped up. Itsof troops In Laos?

A. We do not believe that in present circumstances the Communists would takehreat very seriously unless it were accompanied by evidences that the US was preparingajor military effort in Southeast Asia. Accordingly we doubt that the threat would cause the DRV to alter its courses of action in any significant way. Moscow and Peiping would almost certainly announce their determination tothe DRV against attack and stress that any such US action would carry the risk of general war.

B. An actual US air attack on the DRV wouldtrong Bloc response and an entirely new crisis situation. Soviet or Chinese Communist aircraft would almost certainly be oonmitted to the defense of the DRV, and Bloc aircraft might attempt to attack bases from which the US strikes had been mounted. At the same time the USSR would probably seek to keep hostilities from further expanding, and would attempt to marshal world opinion againat the US. We cannot rule out the possibility that Communist China, considering the UShreat to its security, might undertake major military action in Laos, or even in the Taiwan Strait or Korea.

Question 7- Could the recommended courses of action clean up, or effectively curtail, Communist (chiefly Viet Com;) Infiltration Into South Vietnam? Would they be cuccessfuj without the commU.ir.cnt of US rr-oopB in southern Laos?

Most of the eastern two-thirds ofs now held by the Communists, withroops on or near the road.dditional Communist forces are in Laos south of Route 9. Since the Thai and Vietnamese special forceatotal onlyt present, we do not believe that they could secure the road and the surrounding area,

r

either by themselves or with PAL assistance. To clear the Communists from all of southern Laos would of course be a

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still more difficult task. Taking into consideration the Communist capability for reinforcement in the area, wethat the stated objectives could only be accomplishedajor military operation (major certainly by Laotiannvolving the commitment of substantialand possibly US forces. The Thai and Vietnamese special forces,ong-continued harassment of Communist positions, could hinder but probably not effectively curtail Communist infiltration into South Vietnam. Additionally, the postulated courses of action would not solve the problem of continuing Viet Cong success in enlisting the majority of Its strength locally in South Vietnam.

Communists are capable of keeping upparamilitary pressures in southern Laos for anand they would probably do so.

military action were sufficient to clearfromnd southern Laos, theseprobably be relaxedime, as has been the Commu-

nist habit when faced with superior force. Oiven substantial

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OS, GVN, and Thaiao government confined to thlB southern part of the country would probably be able to resist internal and external Communist pressures for Some time.

Question 9- Would the recommended courses of action prevent

n its initial, inconspicuous stages, would probably have little effect on Communist conduct at the Geneva Conference. r the advanced stages ofight cause the Communists to withdraw from the Conference, though we believe it more likely that the Communists would use the Conferencelatform for castigating the TJS intervention asaotian settlement, and would seek to.gain political capital from the situation. We do not believe that either course would exert any significant pressure on the Communists to become more reasonable at Geneva.

Would the Communist reaction be greater if

these actions are takenftvflfallB to agree on, Laps?

We believe that the Communist response toould be influenced more by the military-political situation In Laos and the world reaction to the OS-backed moves than by the status of the Geneva negotiations.

ANNEX; GIVEN COURSES OP ACTION

"A. Coordinated moves by picked Vietnamese, Thai, Laos troops to push salients westward from Viet-Ham and eastward fromalongor the purpose of securing thia road and the surrounding area. The Vietnamese wouldour force clean up using (l) hunter-killer groups (whose training will be finished in early July) to locate Commie radio stations and concentrations without engagement. They would radio back the Information. The killers would thenorce for the Job which would smash the target and escape. If these forces were insufficient, ARVN elements would be used. Secretary Thuan reports they are eager to attack Communists in southern Laos. The Thais would use elements of the Thai PARU units who have already fought in Laos. Ambassador Young believes Sarit might be Induced to use them in southern Laos in aeffort. Encourage Phouial to hold hia present positions if he can and withdraw to the south if he cannot. Elements of PAL, with US advisers, can be used in the clean up of southern Laos. Continue to supply the Heos by air dropuilt-in force behind the enemy lines for so long as the Heos can hold out (in the forests of Laos this mightong period). These moves would be supported by US arms and advice, but not by US troops. US air drops and airlifts would be used if necessary. The action would be undertaken quietlyeriod of two or three months. The increase in pressure would be relatively gradual for the purpose of avoiding dramatic military confrontations and resultant International excitement. World opinion would be presented slowlyituation of increasing Thai-Vietnamese strength in the area. This slow pace would be consonant with limited Thai-Vietnamese military potential. It should also be synchronized with increasing world acceptance of the fact that Lao independence andcannot be guaranteed at Geneva. But the action onhould be started as soon aB possible and not beuntil the end of the Geneva Conference. Delay willarger and internationally more dangerous operation.

"B. If the action alongucceeded or if it became clear that the Oeneva Conference had failed (whichever camee decide whether to carry out plans now under(Operation Porkchop) to hold the Mekong Valley and as much of Laos to the north as feasible. It is understood that US occupation forces would move temporarily into Vientiane, Thakhek, and Savannakhet and there would be coordinated actions by Thai, Lao, and "eo troops."

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