Outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower cautions incoming President John F. Kennedy that Laos is “the key to the entire area of Southeast Asia,” and might even require the direct intervention of U.S. combat troops.
Fearing that the fall of Laos to the communist Pathet Lao forces might have a domino effect in Southeast Asia, President Kennedy sent a carrier task force to the Gulf of Siam in April 1961. However, he decided not to intervene in Laos with U.S. troops and in June 1961, he sent representatives to Geneva to work out a solution to the crisis. In 1962, an agreement was signed that called for the neutrality of Laos and set up a coalition government to run the country. By this time, Kennedy had turned his attention to South Vietnam, where a growing insurgency threatened to topple the pro-western government of Ngo Dinh Diem.
Kennedy had already sent combat advisers to the South Vietnamese army and this commitment expanded over time. By the time Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, he had overseen the assignment of over 17,000 U.S. advisers to South Vietnam.