SNIE 68-60 THE SITUATION AND SHORT-TERM OUTLOOK IN LAOS

Created: 12/6/1960

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DATE:5

60

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special national intelligence estimate number .:

the situation and short-term outlook in laos

'.- by the

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THE SITUATION AND SHORT-TERM OUTLOOK IN LAOS

the estimate

the situation

Laos has neverational entityby .sure and united authority. Its peopleense ot national loyalty and identity and they continue to be divided by traditional ethnic, regional, and familyA gulf has always existedthe central government in Vientiane and the people in the countryside, and those who have governed Laos have nevereffective authority or won the respect of all of the various peoples who make up the Laotian nation. The non-Communistfactions have never achieved unity or cohesion and have tended to view one another with as much suspicion as they do theleft.esult, no strong, effective non-Communist leadership has emerged since Laos achieved independence. Theseweaknesses in the political and social fabric of Laos have been brought again to the surface and accentuated since Kong Le seized control of Vientiane in early August.developments since the coup were made possible, almost inevitable, by the incoherent nature of the country, its leaders, and its people. This chaos has been compounded by contradictory and Inconsistent Western counsel and by the wide attraction ofhowever vaguely understood, among many Laotians.

The principal political elements in Laos, aside from the Communist-dominated PathctSouvanna Phouma government in Vientiane, the Revolutionary Committee set up by Phoumi and Boun Oum at Savanna-khet, and King Savang at the royal capital of Luangbeen unwilling to work together. Alone none of them has thethe national status, and the military strength to contain the Pathct Lao. The Laotian Army, spread thin in small oftenunits, has been uncertain in itsA majority of the commanders lean to Phoumi and the Revolutionary Committee although some still support Souvanna'sOthers seek loeutral position in the struggle among thefactions. Few of them, however,willing to fight one another. Someare antl-Pathet Lao and ready to do battle with that enemy.

Under cover of the confusion, and taking advantage of both the stalemate among the non-Communist elements and the desire of Souvanna and Kong Leegotiated end to the civil conflict, the Pathet Lao have steadily improved their political and military positions. Thus, Kong Le's act of mutiny set inhain of events In Laos which could lead to the country's departure from its western orientation and Its entry into the Communist orbit.

Kong Le's mutiny and its aftermath have also had deep repercussions In Southeast Asia, particularly In Thailand and South Vietnam. Thailand's Prime Minister. Sarit, Isthatommunist takeover or the establishmenteutralist, coalition government in Laos would seriously threaten Thai security. Either development, he feels, would dangerously expose his country toinfiltration, subversion, and attack, and would generate strong pressures inside Thailandore neutralist policy.he believes It would undermine his own personal position. He almost certainly views US policy In the Laotian crisis as providing a

demonstration of what support he couldfrom the USommunist coup against his government were to occur. Thus far, he has been most disillusioned by US policy in the Laotian crisis, feeling it to beand ambiguous.

esult of the developments in Laos and theovember coup attempt In Saigon, President Diem of South Vietnam probably has lost some of his confidence in US willingness to support fully his anti-Communist position. He may believe that the Saigon coup effort was at least partly stimulated by Kong Le's coup and the failure of the US to extend General Phoumi full and immediate support. Moreover, these events, coming on the heels of US efforts to convince him to hold less tightly the reigns of power In his ownhave probably further undermined his confidence in US judgment. Prom Diem's point of view, an anti-Communist Laossome shieldorth Vietnamese attack, and southern Laos, at least, must be kept in anti-Communist hands to avoidexposing his own borders to Infiltration and attack.

The outcome of the immediate crisis,as internal considerations apply, restswith the interplay of the intentions and capabilities of the major Laotian elements: Souvanna, Phoumi, the King, Kong Le, and the Pathet Lao.

SouxHinna. Compared with other Laotian politicians. Souvanna has considerableprestige and appeal among the peoples of Laos. He is still Prime Minister, but he controls no organized political apparatus, he lacks administrative control of theand command of the Laotian military, and he is not trusted by theuorum of the National Assembly, chosen In highly corrupt elections in Mayemains in Vientiane, but almostumber of Its members, If free of duress, would oppose Souvanna or defect to the Phoumi group.

Souvanna is neutralist and leftist, but we do not believe that heommunist.leadership qualities are weakened by his impulsiveness, willful disregard offacts, and ovcr-weaningparticularly with regard to his ability to deal with and control lhe Pathct Lao. He believes most of the Pathet Lao to be patriots who, once reintegrated into Laotian political and social life, would lose their Communist coloration. Those few hardcore types who would remain Communists, he states, could be kept in check. Accordingly, the onlysolution for Laos, in Souvanna's mind,egotiated settlement with the Pathet Lao along the lines of7 agreement,eutral foreign policy. Souvanna is moving Laos in the direction that he has maintained for several years it should move. However, we believe that it is movingaster pace than Souvanna wouldu* he were master of his government and free from the pressures Kong Le and the Pathet Lao exert on him in Vientiane.

in the crisis, Souvannahoped to strengthen hisis the Pathet Lao. He wasuse Kong Le to this end because Kongto be more amenable to thethan to Souvanna. At one timebelievedombination ofand Pathet Lao military pressure onhand, and US political pressure onthe other, would force the latter tothus restoring his government'sover the troops and areas controlledRevolutionary Committee. Althoughattempted to open negotiations withOum-Phouml group, his conditionsunattractive to Phoumi, and. atto be calculated Insults.has attempted to strengthenby recruiting several newtroops in Vientiane. However, theseprobably infiltrated by the Pathet Lao.

also hoped to win overIn the Luang Prabang area whichtoeutralthis hope was dashed by thecoup ofovember anddefection of General Ouan toThiserious blow toand he attempted to compensateby drawing closer to the Communists In

SPSJILT

the domestic and International spheres. Onovember, his government and the Communist Neo Lao Hak Xat announced an agreement toational coaliiion government including representatives of the NLHX. The agreement also provided that the government would soon accept aid from Communist China and North Vietnam and wouldelegation lo those countries to negotiate for exchange of economic and cultural relations, for the re-establishment of telecommunications with North Vietnam, and for the immediate opening of the Laos-China border. Onovember, Souvanna's cabinetman friendship mission, headed by the Prime Minister,isit to Peiping and Hanoi beginningecember. Deliveries of Soviet food arid POL to Vientianean Soviet Embassy staff has taken up residence in Vientiane.

Thus, Souvanna now relies very heavily upon the support of pro-Communist and Kong Le elements. It appears that this willand that as opposition to him mounts he will keep on seeking broader and more specific support from the Communist Bloc. Souvanna probably still hopes to keepinfluence In cheek, but some of his measures to protect his position by moving closer to the Communists ore irrevocable, and most, if not all, of them have been highlv favorable to future Communist domination of the Vientiane Government.

Piioumi. The position of Phoumi, and of the Revolutionary Committee he has set up with Boun Oum,umber of serious weaknesses. In southern Laos, there areombat troops, most of whom are under commanders probably loyal lo Phoumi. Most of these troops are scattered widely through the area, and have their hands full attempting to cope with local Pathet Lao activities. In the Thakhet-Savannakhcl area, Phoumi hasroops. He Is in the process of recruiting and organizing an additional battalion. It is unlikely that Phoumi's troops without continued UScould or would offer very strong orresistanceetermined attack on their positions by Vientiane and Pathct Lao forces.

Phoumi's military capabilities haveincreased since he received additional US aid and moral support. Moreover, the pro-Savannakhet coup ofovember in Luang Prabang greatly improved Phoumi's military and political positions. Nearly all thein the Luang Prabang region have pledged Iheir support to him. Several small units operating against the Pathct Lao in Sam Neua are being supplied by Phoumi and are probably responsive to his guidance. Phoumi is handicapped, however, by poor communications with these units. In Xieng Khouang, the militant Meo tribesmen are being supplied with arms by Phoumi and are currently conducting effective anti-Pathet Lao operations.

The Revolutionary Committee probably has some political appeal in southern Laos Boun Oumember of the Royal Family of Champassak which ruled southern Laos until Laos was united by the Frenchthe Second World War. However, we believe that Boun Oum and Phoumi lack broad political appeal outside the south. Phouml's loss of prestige among both political and military leaders in Laosesult of the Kong Le coup has been only partially made up by the Luang Prabang coup and General Ouan's defection. Moreover. Phoumi has in the past proved to be an undependable and, at times, careless military leader, highlyand opinionated.

Phoumi's motivations In the presentareombination ofpride and anti-Communist convictions. He is frustrated by what he believes to be Inadequate US support and an ambiguous US policy. However, he probably has never intended lo come lo terms with Souvanna, and probably has felt that the US would. In the final analysis, support him. He would like to retake Vientiane by force and almost certainly lias plans for such an operation.

King Savang. The King appears to have no personal courage. He has been extremely careful to stay within constitutional limits and he has never asserted, openly and clearly, his potential authority and influence.it is quite clear that he distrusts

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and desires Souvanna's resignation, thus far he has been unwilling to take any overt steps to this end The Revolutionary Committee at Savannakhct received the Ring's private approval, and theovember coup in Luang Prabang probably had his blessing, although thus far he has beento avoid associating himself with either. It is possible that the King has played abehind-the-scenes role In the antl-Souvanna plotting and maneuvering. It is unlikely, however, that he will openlytrong personal stand, or one which he believes would endanger the position of the monarchy.

Kong Le. There is some circumstantial evidence that Kong Le may have plotted his coup with Souvanna. However, Kong Le's August revolt apparently was conceived and executed on very short notice, and it may haveecision made primarily by Kong Le himself. He probably was motivated largely by personal grievances arising from the way in which his 2nd Para troopbest combat unit In the Laotian armedbeen treated. However, the revolt has assumed proportions and opened up ramifications which Kong Ledid not anticipate and which have been beyond his ability to cope with He has now become so implicated with Souvanna and the Pathet Lao that he probably cannot turn back. Although there have been some indications that his control over his troops has beenKong Le la still an Important element in Lhe situation and could still rally anumber of troops to his personal

The role of Kong Le with respect to the activities of the Souvanna government Is not clear. Until recently. It appeared that hea veto power over those political and military decisions of the Souvannawhich he considered important to him. Now, however, it appears lhat his directon the government Is being usurped by the Pathet Lao. Although Kong Le hasSouvanna's freedom of action, it is also clear that Souvanna has used Kong Le.

Shortly after the coup, Kong le critically compromised his position with respect to the Pathet Lao when he distributed the arms stored in Vientiane to villagers, including many Pathet Lao, In the surrounding area. Although he probably did this to build strengthossible attack from Luang Prabang and Savannakhet, once the arms were distributed his favorable balance ofpower in the Vientiane areais the Pathet Lao was lost. Whatever his own wishes may have been, Kong Le has becomea captive of the Pathet Lao. Ifwere to lose out and an anti-Pathet Lao government take over, Kong Le would probably join the Pathet Lao.

The Pathet Lao. The hand of the Pathet Lao has been strengthened greatly by events since the Kong Le coup. Any figuresthe strength of their armed guerrillas are highly speculative. It Is almost certain that their number is higher than at any time In the past. We estimate their present strength lo be, They have obtained considerable arms and ammunition from Kong Le andesult of capturing equipment during the rout of Phouml's forces at Paksane and their defeat and disarming of the Sam Neua garrison. They probably have been reinforced by cadres recently trained in North Vietnam, and they probably have concentrated increasing numbers of troops in the areas around Vientiane. Thakhet-Savannakhet, Phong Saly, and LuangThe Pathet Lao and Vientiane forces in the Vientiane area arc deployed inanner as to either defend or attack the city, and the forces facing Phoumi along the Nam Ca Dinh line are of both Pathet Lao and Vientiane units. At present, antl-Pathet Lao operations are going on only in Phong Saly and Xieng Khouang.

The Pathet Lao probably view thesituationolden opportunity either to force acceptance of their participation in the government and their foreign policyor to seize control of Laos by armed action if they conclude that they can do so quickly and without risking outsideWe do not believe that the Pathet

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or Peiping andlikely to let this opportunity pass. The longer the presentcontinues, the better the Pathet Lao will be able to consolidate their political andpositions.

They would prefer to gain their objectives through negotiations and political actionthis would reduce the chances ofintervention. Events since the Kong Le coup have moved along lines favorable to such tactics. They have profited greatly fromamong the non-Communist political and military leaders. Moreover, theyostage and have been able to exert considerable leverage on Souvanna and Kong Le, and Quinim, the mostmember of the government afterhimself, has apparently become their tool.

Although Pathet Lao tactics havenegotiations, psychological pressures, and political action, they haveairly high level of military pressure on the Laotian armed forces and have built up their guerrilla strength in key areas. This puts themavorable position to seize by force large parts of the country, including such key points as Luang Prabang, Savannakhel, the Phong Saly. If the Pathet Lao were to exert their full guerrilla warfare capabilities, the Laotian armed forces, in their presentcondition, probably could not prevent the loss of large parts of the countrysideumber of key towns.

II. POSSIBLE FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS

If present trends continue, the situation in Laos will remain one of confusion, drift, and disintegration. Ultimately this would probably result In the fragmentation of the country, with the Communists, supported by the Bloc, assuming control over most of the north and the Revolutionary Committeeto seteparate state in the south. Without large amounts of outsidea separate southern Laos probably would not survive for long.

We believe it more likely, however, that the pace of events will quicken aver the next few wcek3 and,uick victory by the Phoumi forces, that the situation either will move toward some form of political settlement or will degenerate Into widespread civil war.olitical settlement basedompromise agreement between the Vientiane and Savannakhet groups may still be possible, we believe that odds are against it. Souvanna and Phoumi are not likely to find mutually acceptable terms for cooperation at this late point in their conflict. Any negotiations held between them are not likely to beIn good faith. Although it Isthat the King might be induced to exert more influence than he has in the past, we do not believe he can be induced to take personal charge of the situation. Moreover, we do not believe that Souvanna is likely to resign voluntarily. If an effort Is made to upset his government bypecial meeting of the National Assembly in Luang Prabang too-confidence mollon,could maintain that the deputies and the King, as prisoners of rebel forces, were acting under duress. He could declare their act illegal and invalid, and maintain that he was tlie legal head of the government. If, on the other hand. Souvanna were forced out by political pressures, the Pathet Lao wouldstep up sharply their military activity. Consequently, it is probable that anymeasures to oust Souvanna will beunless enforced by military means.

hus, we believe that Laos is headingcivil war, with supporters of thethe Pathet Lao and the followers of Kongone side and anti-Palhet Lao elements and supporters of the Savannakhet group on the other. The conflict could be triggeredhoumion Vientiane orouvannaong Lc-Pathet Lao attack on Luang Prabang. Both sides have major problems of logistics, communications, and transport. Thewould probably be one of widely-scattered, small-unit operations in which the staying power, the training, and the relatively shorter supply lines from North Vietnam would give the Pathet Lao guerrillas an advantage. Without extensive outside assistance, the Phoumi forces would probably soon collapse.

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the country open to early domination by the Communists.

If no political settlement is reachedPhoumi and Souvanna. the US may soon be faced with the following situations:ouvanna solution, which would gravely risk ultimate Communist supremacy. This would involve serious adverse consequences for the US position in Southeast Asia, and over the longer run, would greatly facilitate Communist subversion, infiltration, andIn Southeast Asia,idespread civil war in which the Phoumi forces almost certainly could not prevail or even survive without extensive outside assistance. Such assistance to Phoumiivil war situation would probablyouvanna appeal to the UN and would risk the introduction of North Vietnamese or evenhile at least initially, extensive assistance to Phoumiivil war would not have the support of the Western members of SEATO or possibly of most Free World opinion, if successful it would strengthen the SEATO area against further Communist aggression.

Even if the various non-Communistsurmount the immediate crisisolitical settlement, the fundamentaland social problems of Laos will remain and,esult of recent events, willbe more acute than before. Pathet Lao armed strength will be greater and more Communist footholds established in villages throughout the country. Solutions to the fundamental problems, If Indeed there arc solutions, can be worked out onlyong period of time. Meanwhile, the urgent threats of the Pathet Lao on one hand and the centrifugal force of non-Communiston the other, will operate against the solution of long-term problems.

onsequently, we believe that any non-Communist government assuming power In the wake of the present crisis would, in time, face very heavy pressure to moveeutralist position and Pathet Laointo the political life of the country, or face the likelihood of the situation gravitating again toward civil war. It will be extremely difficult for the non-Communisl leaders of Laos to resist this pressure and to contain the Pathet Lao unless theyuch greater degree of unity, determination, and nationalism than they have in the past, take effective measures to win the loyalty of the peoples of Laos, and receive extensive outside assistance to this end.

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