Cable From Ambassador Taylor in Saigon to the State Department on Air War in Laos, 7 October 1964


Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 578-579


Action Priority Dept. 1063 from Saigon Oct 9, 7 PM

EXDIS

DEPTEL 763

Organizing session was held October 8 and terms of reference agreed and referendum to Ambassadors Unger and Martin. Agreed text will be transmitted Department.

Group also discussed all operations of common interest mentioned Saigon's 1017 with particular emphasis on rules of engagement for US aircraft three countries and SAR operations, particularly problems of SAR for OPLAN 34A crews that may be downed in Laos. Discussion rules of engagement disclosed possible grey area with respect to status of RTG clearance for Thai-based US aircraft to takeoff on air defense mission over Laos prior to actual initiation of attacks over Laos by hostile aircraft. Bangkok will seek to clarify.

Very useful discussion of problem of SAR for OPLAN 34A crews clarified situation for Vientiane which will undertake definitive comments on Saigon's 1030 to Dept. as basis for Washington decision.

Bangkok will also seek to clarify situation with respect to Thai ranger cadres for Hard Nose as discussed at previous Udorn meeting.

There was also discussion of sharpening existing coordination and responsiveness of all intelligence assets to Viet Cong movements through Lao corridor, specifically, a military targeting sub-committee was formed to extend and improve the target list and reaction time.

In view of stand down on ground cross border operations and good possibility that ARVN will be unable afford detachment any significant ground combat capability for corridor in foreseeable future, air strikes are sole remaining dependable alternative.

Fixed targets (the 22 target list) will soon be destroyed if the RLAF performs as advertised and authorization received for Yankee Team strikes. Thus, the group discussed at length problem of acquisition additional targets in corridor and particularly problem of quick air reaction on targets of opportunity developed by ground observers. Saigon and Vientiane will further examine their assets and possibilities in this regard. Bangkok will explore availability and possibility of extending use of Thai assets in this connection.

There was also unanimous agreement that US participation in air operations in corridor is essential if such operations are to have desired military and psychological impact, particularly since initiative for operations came from us. US failure to participate could diminish US influence over these operations (whether we wish to expand or to limit them) and their continuation could well be jeopardized if Lao are expected to do job unassisted. Although Vientiane believes Lao prepared to go ahead with strikes against first twelve targets authorized DEPTEL 765 to Saigon, their initial enthusiasm may not survive loss of a few aircraft.

If so, if Lao do not hit those four targets for which US strikes [word illegible] and are discouraged from strikes on Mu Gia Pass, [words illegible] targets in the corridor will go unscathed. These omissions will grossly diminish the military benefits of these bombings. The group thus hoped that Washington would reconsider present ban on RLAF attack on Mu Gia Pass and approve soonest Yankee Team strike on other targets.

It was noted that Washington is still considering the Lao recommendations that the US provide CAP over RLAF strike aircraft. The present rules of engagement for US aircraft currently permit US attack on Communist Bloc aircraft attacking Laotian aircraft over Laos. Provisioning of a CAP would hence be a relatively minor extension of existing authority. Since the Lao have requested such CAP, it would have psychological value and group recommends early Washington approval. Vientiane anticipates RLAF would initiate operations October 14. Affirmative decision re CAP prior to that date would be most helpful.

Vientiane does not expect RLG will initiate any publicity on strikes but will probably acknowledge RLAF operations in response [words missing] to queries. Saigon and Bangkok will privately inform Khanh and Thanom prior to initiation operations. Vientiane will undertake keep Souvanna currently informed.

TAYLOR


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