Telegram from the State Department to the Embassy in Laos Regarding Proposed Bombing in Laos, 26 July 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, p. 514

26 July 1964

TO: Vientiane

FROM: State 89

1. Primarily for reasons of morale in South Vietnam and to divert GVN attention from proposal to strike North Vietnam, we are considering proposing to Ambassador Taylor that he discuss with Khanh air attacks on VC supply lines in the Laotian Panhandle. For meeting of Secretaries, request by 0600 our time Monday your views on such operations, your estimate of reaction of Souvanna and other Lao leaders, and your advice as to best way to obtain Souvanna's acquiescence.

2. Our preliminary views as to possible air attacks are as follows:

a. The military objective would be to interdict and destroy facilities supporting infiltration into SVN. (It is possible that the political objective might be achieved by fewer targets and/or sorties than indicated below.)
b. Initial targets, which would be programmed for moderate to severe damage, would probably be Muong Phine army barracks (12 sorties), Ban Thay military camp and 4 AAA gun emplacements (18 sorties), Ban Na Nhom military camp (12 sorties), Tchepone army barracks (68 sorties), Muong Nong military area (10 sorties), and Ban Trim barracks and supply area (34 sorties). Also considering Mu Gia border control point just inside North Vietnam (14 sorties). At same time, attacks of opportunity would be carried out on lines of communication by armed reconnaissance.
c. Aircraft would be either A1H with only GVN pilots, or A1H plus AlE with American instructors also aboard in case of AlEs. Our present thinking does not RPT not include use of Lao T-28s.
d. Armament would be napalm unless politically unacceptable, in which case armament would be less effective conventional bombs, rockets and 20 mm.
e. Estimate that attacks could begin in early August and could, without serious degration of air support for pacification in SVN, be carried out at rate of 20 sorties a day. Our proposal, however, may be that strikes be conducted on intermittent basis at a slower rate than indicated depending on political requirements.
f. Estimated aircraft losses at less than two per cent in early stages, meaning that some planes will probably be downed in Laos during attacks on initial targets.
g. We may recommend certain readiness measures in Laos and Thailand to cope with possible communist reaction or escalation (e.g., PL moves on Panhandle towns or even toward Mekong).
h. It is assumed that attacks would promptly become known and responsibility would be acknowledged by GVN; that if US instructors are on board, US would acknowledge this fact; that operation would be justified on grounds of infiltration of personnel and supplies through corridor in violation of Geneva Accords; and that we would publicize relevant evidence from photography and POW interrogation. We would hope Souvanna would publicly support such a rationale but at minimum would do or say nothing to undermine it.

3. As you know, joint US-GVN planning is underway not only for air attacks but also for ground operations up to battalion size in Panhandle. We may be querying you shortly for your reaction regarding such ground operations.

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