Question: Why did Kennedy refuse any military action in Laos at first and then decided otherwise by sending combat troops?
Kennedy was always adverse to committing United States combat troops to south east Asia. In Laos he opted for a negotiated peace. When that failed Kennedy pursued forming a clandestine asian force augmented by military aid and advisors from the United States.
When Kennedy came into office the American anti communist allies in the Laotian civil war were failing. Kennedy first pursued a international moratorium on foreign involvement in the Laotian civil war. After the agreement was signed, when North Vietnam failed to remove their troops by the prescribed deadline, see Loas 1962 and further began expanding their positions, Kennedy re-committed the CIA to outfit and train domestic Laotian fighters (Hmong).
Kennedy never sent combat troops to Laos. That's an important distinction even if in modern times it might seem a technicality.
Kennedy did pledge increased military aid including troops to South Vietnam in Dec 1961. After some negotiations with South Vietnamese President Diem, Kennedy did send increased aid and advisors, but never sent the recommended combat troops.
Kennedy announces intent to increase aid to South Vietnam Dec 12, 1961
The first United States Combat troops in South East Asia were sent by President Johnson, not President Kennedy; to South Vietnam, March 8, 1965.
The Vietnam War
March 8, 1965 - The first U.S. combat troops arrive in Vietnam as 3500 Marines land at China Beach to defend the American air base at Da Nang. They join 23,000 American military advisors already in Vietnam.
Kennedy died in Dallas Texas Nov 22, 1963 a little over a year after he signed the pledge of neutrality and a few weeks after President Diem was murdered by his own Generals in a military coup. The American "Secret War" in Laos would continue into the 1970s.
America had been supplying financial aid and military advisors to anti communist forces in the Loatian civl war since the mid 1950's when France withdrew from the country. When President Kennedy came to office Jan 20th, 1961 he was warned by President Eisenhower that America's efforts in Laos were failing and US military involvement there might be required. Kennedy alternatively pursued a negotiated solution to the Laotian civil war.
- Within months of coming into office beginning in May of 1961, Kennedy sought an international agreement, on neutrality in Laos, which he obtained in mid 1962.
International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos
The International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos is an international agreement signed in Geneva on July 23, 1962 between 14 states including Laos. It was a result of the International Conference on the Settlement of the Laotian Question which lasted from May 16, 1961 to July 23, 1962.
- People's Republic of China,
- the Democratic Republic of Vietnam,
- Republic of Vietnam,
- Soviet Union,
- United Kingdom,
- United States
Signed a Declaration which together with the statement of neutrality by the Royal Government of Laos of July 9, 1962, entered into force as an international agreement on the date of signature July 23, 1962.
- After the N. Vietnamese failed to remove their troops from Laos, Kennedy directed the CIA to fund, train and arm domestic fighters to engage the communists in Laos and their allies the N. Vietnam.
CIA Activities in Laos
On July 23, 1962, a formal "Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos" was signed in Geneva. This neutrality provided for a coalition government and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country by October 7. After this declaration was signed the U.S. pulled out 666 military advisors and support staff, and Air America stopped dropping weapons to the Hmong. The U.S. followed the guidelines of this declaration and only allowed the CIA to retain only two men in Laos to monitor Communist compliance with the agreement.
CIA offices soon found that the North Vietnamese Army had failed to remove 7000 troops, who were expanding Northern Vietnamese positions in Laos. CIA reports from officers in the hills were soon pleading for arms so that the Hmong could defend themselves against the NVA onslaught. These requests were granted by Secretary of State Averell Harriman on an individual basis going forward.
On August 17, 1962, five American prisoners released by the Pathet Lao, as well as several members of NSBC in Laos, estimated the North Vietnamese Forces in Laos to be around 10,000.
The Hmong were targeted as allies because after President Kennedy took power, he refused to send more American soldiers to battle in Southeast Asia. Instead, he called the CIA to use its tribal forces in Laos and "make every possible effort to launch guerrilla operations in North Vietnam' with its Asian recruits." (Laotian) General Vang Pao then recruited and trained his Hmong soldiers to ally with the CIA and fight against North Vietnam.2
The CIA organized the Hmong tribe to fight against the North Vietnamese-backed Pathet Lao. The Pathet Lao were the communists in Laos.
Kennedy died in Dallas Texas Nov 22, 1963 a little over a year after he signed the pledge of neutrality. The American clandestine war in Laos would continue into the 1970s.