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Cablegate: Military-to-Military Relations with Laos Steadily

VZCZCXRO4818
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHVN #0410/01 2060701
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 240701Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2113
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHMFIUU/CDR JPAC HICKAM AFB HI
RHHMUND/COMMARFORPAC
RUEHBK/USDAO BANGKOK TH
RUEHBK/CHJUSMAGTHAI BANGKOK TH

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 VIENTIANE 000410

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS
PACOM FOR J52 (LACY, MA)
PACOM FOR POLAD (MCADEN)
PACOM FOR J45 (NICHOLLS, SCHULER)
PACOM FOR PACAF/SGZ (CINCO, OH, PALMER)
DOD FOR OSD-POLICY (LAI, STERN)
DOD FOR DSCA
JPAC FOR MUNIPALLI
PHNOM PENH ALSO FOR DATT
HANOI ALSO FOR DATT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: MARR MASS MOPS PREL LA

SUBJECT: MILITARY-TO-MILITARY RELATIONS WITH LAOS STEADILY
EXPANDING

REFS: A. 07 VIENTIANE 00725
B. 07 VIENTIANE 00092
C. 07 VIENTIANE 00625
D. 07 VIENTIANE 00790
E. 08 VIENTIANE 00061
F. 07 VIENTIANE 00914
G. 08 VIENTIANE 00094

1. (U) SUMMARY: In the past two years, military-to-military
relations with Laos have progressed quickly, including a long-sought
agreement to exchange defense attaches (DATTs) and the
implementation of an International Military Education and Training
(IMET) program. The IMET program began with a Distinguished
Visitors Orientation Tour (DVOT), the first time a high-level Lao
military official visited Washington, D.C. since 1975; during the
visit the senior Lao official announced approval for the DATT
exchange. Another first was senior Lao military attendance at the
Chiefs of Defense (CHODs) Conference hosted by Pacific Command
(PACOM) Commander Admiral Keating in Honolulu in October 2007. The
Lao Ministry of National Defense (MND) has participated in two major
avian influenza training programs in Vientiane during the past year,
accepted invitations to a range of PACOM-funded regional programs,
and sent two military officers to the Defense Language Institute
(DLI) in San Antonio, Texas, to study English. These and other
developments illustrate steadily improving relations with what has
traditionally been a very isolated branch of the Lao government.
END SUMMARY.

Defense Attach Exchange
------------------------
2. (SBU) In June 2007, Colonel (now General) Sisophonh Bang-One
Sengdet went to the United States on a Distinguished Visitors
Program that kicked off our newly activated International Military
Exchange and Training (IMET) program. During his visit, he proposed
that Laos and the U.S. exchange defense attaches in 2008. This
announcement came as a surprise, since Lao government officials had
consistently stated that they were not ready even to discuss an
exchange of attaches. Both sides are making preparations to open
defense attach offices later this year. Two Lao military officers
began English language training at DLI in San Antonio in early June,
and we believe they will join the DATT Office in Washington (ref A)
when it opens. Embassy Vientiane's DATT office is scheduled to open
by the end of 2008.

JPAC Cooperation
----------------
3. (U) Although the United States did not break relations with Laos
after the change of government in 1975, our relations were very
limited for some time. The Embassy's Defense Attach Office closed
after 1975. In the 1980s, U.S.-Lao cooperation on accounting for
the missing from the pre-1975 war years was a first step toward
improving relations. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC)
and its predecessors have laid a basis for resumed cooperation that
over the years expanded into new areas including counter-narcotics,
unexploded ordnance clearance, and health. However, all contacts
with MND, even on the MIA issue, remained very structured and
limited. This began to change in 2007.

SMEEs Begin...
--------------
4. (SBU) Following our first expanded bilateral defense dialogues
with MFA and MND in January 2007 (ref B), the GOL accepted U.S.
proposals for training programs -- Subject Matter Expert Exchanges
(SMEEs) -- including a MARFORPAC-funded August 2007 avian influenza
(AI) tabletop exercise for 130 people, including 70 military
officers (ref C), and a PACAF-funded medical SMEE in September 2007
involving nursing, CPR, and cleft lip surgery training attended by
100 medical specialists from both the civilian and military sectors.
(Note: the Lao like the term "SMEE" because of the implied equality
of those involved in the training, and thus we use this terminology

VIENTIANE 00000410 002 OF 003


for all of our programs here.)

... and Expand
--------------
5. (U) Following our second, larger-scale Bilateral Defense Dialogue
in October 2007 (ref D), PACAF funded a January 2008 AI training for
trainers SMEE for 70 specialists including 35 military officers (ref
E). PACAF returned to Vientiane for a three-week Emergency
Responder SMEE beginning July 7. The PACOM Surgeon's Office sent a
needs assessment team to visit July 14-17 to assess possible
HIV/AIDS cooperation with the Lao military as a next step. The
Embassy is also discussing cooperation with the Lao military on
clearance of unexploded ordnance. Our third Bilateral Defense
Dialogue has been proposed for mid-August in Honolulu.

Humanitarian Assistance Programs Increase
-------------------------------------------
6. (U) As these Vientiane-based SMEEs become more complex and
longer, other areas of cooperation are expanding as well. PACOM has
provided more than two million dollars in funding for humanitarian
assistance (HA) projects during the past decade in support of the
JPAC mission in Laos. These 19 projects have included medical
clinics, schools, and water projects in provincial areas where JPAC
requires cooperation from the local population to carry out its
excavation and investigation activities. In the past two years our
HA cooperation has increased. In 2007 PACOM funded construction of
two medical clinics in southern Laos' Sekong Province valued in
excess of $300,000. In 2008 PACOM plans to construct two clinics and
one school in three other provinces. In addition, PACAF has
supplemented humanitarian assistance through the donation of medical
supplies worth more than $100,000 during the past twelve months.

MND Regional Exposure
---------------------
7. (U) We have seen similar breakthroughs in military exchanges.
General Sisophonh attended the PACOM-sponsored Chiefs of Defense
Conference in Honolulu in October 2007, the first time Laos has sent
a participant to the conference. Admiral Keating, who visited
Vientiane in December 2007 (ref F), received a significantly warmer
welcome than General Fallon had in 2006. In addition, senior Lao
military personnel are increasingly allowed to participate with
PACOM in major regional meetings. Two senior medical officers
attended the Asia-Pacific Military Medicine Conference (APMMC) in
Singapore in April 2008. Two others are scheduled to attend the
32nd Pacific Armies Management Seminar (PAMS XXXII) in Jakarta in
August. The Lao have also been invited to attend the 2nd
Asia-Pacific Military Nursing Conference in Seoul in September,
co-hosted by the U.S. Pacific Air Force. In addition, Lao military,
foreign ministry, and even public security officers have attended
programs such as PACOM's Symposium on East Asia Security (SEAS) in
2007 and 2008 and a Peacekeeping Operations Seminar sponsored by
PACOM and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in Kuala
Lumpur in June 2008.

Increasing APCSS and COE Participation
--------------------------------------
8. (U) Lao civilian and military officers have attended the
Executive Course at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies
(APCSS) in Honolulu regularly for more than 10 years. This year
however, Laos sent its first participant, Assistant Foreign Minister
Alounkeo Kittikhoun, to APCSS's Senior Executive Course, a major
step forward. Lao officials are also attending the APCSS
"Comprehensive Crisis Management" and "Comprehensive Security
Responses to Terrorism" courses for the first time.

9. (U) The Lao have also been enthusiastic attendees at a range of
regional training courses hosted by the Center for Excellence in
Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (COE), including
laboratory workshops on influenza viruses, rapid response training
on pandemic influenza, and joint regional military HIV/AIDS

VIENTIANE 00000410 003 OF 003


technical training workshops. In addition, a Lao oral surgeon who
had participated in PACAF's September 2007 medical SMEE joined the
USNS Mercy in Vietnam in June, 2008, to participate in Operation
Smile, a program in which medical volunteers repair childhood facial
deformities.

COMMENT
-------
10. (SBU) The vast array of substantive interaction now underway
with the Lao military - and the rapidity with which this has been
achieved -- is the most dramatic and positive development in our
improving bilateral relationship. At training programs in the past
year, American military personnel have appeared in uniform in public
in Laos, another first since 1975. The participation of high-level
Lao officials in PACOM-hosted meetings and the keen attendance of
Lao military personnel in various training programs, including at
APCSS and those organized by COE, demonstrate significant progress
in an expanding military-to-military relationship. Since members of
the Lao military continue to dominate the upper ranks of the
Politburo and party central committee, improvements in the
military-to-military relationship have important implications for
the bilateral relationship as a whole. The successful military
engagement since early 2007 has been possible due to the
quarter-century of relationship-building by Joint POW/MIA Accounting
Command (JPAC) and its predecessors and close cooperation with the
GOL on humanitarian issues for more than a decade. Embassy
Vientiane greatly appreciates the efforts of our colleagues at DOD
and PACOM, whose efforts have played a crucial role in our improving
bilateral relationship.

HUSO

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