THE WAR CHRONICLES

Previous


THE ROYAL LAO FORCES WAR


1964–65: ESCALATION (US Air Force involvement)

On 1 April, the USAF set up Project Waterpump, which was a pilot training program in Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base to supply Lao pilots for the Royal Laotian Air Force. The RLAF also began augmenting its ranks with Thai volunteer pilots in 1964.Run by a 41-man team from Detachment 6 of the 1st Air Commando Wing, this facility was an end run around the treaty obligation that forbade training in Laos. Besides training pilots, Waterpump encouraged cooperation between the RLAF and the Royal Thai Air Force. It was also tasked, as a last resort, to augment the RLAF to counter a renewed Communist offensive in Laos.  In Laos itself, there was an effort to train Laotians as forward air guides. 

Meantime, the
Butterfly forward air control program began.Even as the air commandos established themselves in Udorn and Laos, several Lao generals attempted a coup in Vientiane. With the capital in turmoil, the Communists on the Plain of Jars attacked and overran the Royalist and Neutralist positions. The United States then released the necessary ordnance for the RLAF to bomb Communist encampments, beginning on 18 May.

On 19 May, the United States Air Force began flying mid and low-level missions over the renewed fighting, under the code name Yankee Team. They also began reconnaissance missions over the Laotian panhandle to obtain target information on men and material being moved into South Vietnam over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By this time, the footpaths on the trail had been enlarged to truck roads, with smaller paths for bicycles and walking. The Trail had become the major artery for use by North Vietnam to infiltrate South Vietnam.The Plain of Jars activities expanded by December 1964, were named Operation Barrel Roll, and were under the control of the US  ambassador to Laos, who approved all targets before they were attacked.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

1965 OPERATION BARREL ROLL
This year began with an event that showed how the commanding generals of the five military regions of Laos were essentially warlords of their own domains.  In February, Commanding General of Military Region 5 Kouprasith Abhay mounted a coup against the group of generals who had attempted a coup the previous year. Among the losers fleeing into exile were General Phoumi Nosavan.

On 3 April, the US began Operation Steel Tiger over the Laotian panhandle and the Vietnamese DMZ to locate and destroy enemy forces and materiel being moved southward at night on the Ho Chi Minh Trail into South Vietnam. However, since circumstances made it a highly complex matter in regard to the apparent neutrality of Laos, target approval had to come from the U.S. government in Washington, D.C. Additionally, the U.S. ambassadors in South Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand were involved in controlling these U.S. air operations.

Late in 1965, the communists greatly increased their infiltration along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The United States decided to concentrate airpower upon a small segment of the Trail closest to South Vietnam and used most extensively by the enemy. 

As a result, Operation Tiger Hound was initiated in December 1965, utilizing aircraft from the Air Force, the United States Navy, and U.S. Marines, the Vietnamese Air Force, and the Royal Laotian Air Force. On 11 December, B-52 heavy bombers were called in to this tactical operation, in their first use over Laos.  This photo was taken in Guam during the war.

In July, Royal Lao Government (RLG) forces seized the Nam Bac Valley. Three Infantry Regiments, one independent infantry battalion, and one artillery battalion took Nam Bac and established a defensive line north of Luang Prabang.

On the Plain of Jars, the Pathet Lao advance gradually slowed due to the destruction of its supplies by airpower, and Laotian troops then counter-attacked. By August 1966, they had advanced to within 45 miles of the DRV border. North Vietnam then sent thousands of its regular troops into the battle and once again the Laotians were forced to retreat. 

The supply line ( Ho Chi Minh, Trail) in Vietnam was over 1000 kilometers long and really consisted of a main route with smaller trails leading off  to strategic staging areas. It was a logistical system that ran from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) through the neighboring Laos and Cambodia.  It was a highway for troops and a supply route – for weapons, food and equipment.

Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 5.54.24 AM

Since most of the communist truck traffic was at night, the Air Force developed and began using special equipment to detect the nighttime traffic.

In eastern Laos, US, Royal Laotian, and VNAF aircraft continued their attacks on traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During 1967, B-52s flew 1,718 sorties in this area, almost triple their 1966 record. The major targets were trucks which had to be hunted down and destroyed one-by-one. 

This seemed to be irrational thinking to many Americans flying these combat missions for these trucks could have been destroyed en masse before, during, or after being unloaded from the freighters that had hauled them to North Vietnam if bombing of Haiphong had been permitted. 

The presence of Soviet, British, Greek and Panamanian neutral ships in Haiphong prevented any United States bombing for the duration of the war.

In northern Laos, the Communists continued their slow advance across the Plain of Jars in 1967. Laotian victories were few and far between, and by the end of the year, the situation had become critical even with the air support which had been provided by the Royal Lao Air Force.

Laotian tribal irregulars were operating out of Nam Bac, under CIA direction from Luang Prabang, some 60 miles south of the guerrilla base. In midyear, over the objections of Lao colonels, American advisors pressured Royal Lao troops into forming their smaller units into combat battalions. 

Despite the poor training of the Lao soldiers, some of whom had never fired a weapon, these raw new units were moved northward out of Luang Prabang over a several month period to garrison Nam Bac. By mid-October, some 4,500 government troops held the valley to secure the air strip for their resupply, a la Dien Bien Phu. The American intent was the establishment of Nam Bac as the keystone of an "iron arc" of defensive positions across northern Laos.

In response, the PAVN 316th Infantry Division was dispatched to Laos to assault Nam Bac. The Royalist garrison was soon surrounded. They had American-supplied 105 mm howitzers for artillery support. They could also call on Royal Lao Air Force T-28s for close air support. U.S. Air Force fighter-bombers struck the Communist supply lines. Communist gunfire closed the Nam Bac airstrip to fixed wing resupply. Air America copters flew in supplies and evacuated the wounded; American C-123s parachuted supplies ferried from Udorn RTAFB to the beleaguered government troops. The Royalist troops would not launch a clearing attack to regain use of the runway for resupply. On 25 December, a Vietnamese artillery barrage kicked off their offensive

A Royal Lao Air Force (RLAF) North American T-28D-5 Trojan armed trainer loaded with bombs at a facility in Laos, September 1972.

On 13 January the North Vietnamese launched a multi-division attack on the Royal Lao Army at Nam Bac, Laos. Some of the government troops began withdrawing from the valley. After about a third of the defenders had retreated, the final assault on the Royalist garrison came out of a heavy mist and hit the Royalist command post. Its communications with the defenders was cut; the rout was on. The heavy weapons and scale of the PAVN attack could not be matched by the national army and it was effectively sidelined for several years.

Most of the government soldiers scattered into the surrounding hills; about 200 of the defenders were killed in action. Of the 3,278 Royalist soldiers, only about a third returned to government service. The Royalists had suffered such a staggering defeat that their army never recovered; the government was left with only tribal irregulars using guerrilla tactics fighting on its side.

Throughout 1968, the communists slowly advanced across the northern part of Laos, defeating Laotian forces time and time again. An important U.S. navigation aids site fell in the Battle of Lima Site 85 on 10 March 1968. This success was achieved despite U.S. military advice and assistance. In November, the U.S. launched an air campaign against the Ho Chi Minh Trail because North Vietnam was sending more troops and supplies than ever along this route to South Vietnam. This new operation, named Operation Commando Hunt, continued until 1972, with little success.

1969 –1972  
On 23 March 1969, the Royal Lao Army launched a large attack against the communists in the Plain of Jars/Xieng Khoang areas, supported by its own air units and the US Air Force. In June, Pathet Lao and PAVN launched an attack of its own and gained ground, but by August, Royal Laotian forces attacked again and regained what had been lost. In all these operations, the U.S. Air Force flew hundreds of Barrel Roll missions; however, many were canceled because of poor weather.
Pathet Lao forces were supported by PAVN's 174th Vietnamese Volunteer Regiment. By September, the 174th had to fall back to regroup. In mid-September, they launched a counterattack and recovered the Plain of Jars. Forces participating in the campaign included the 316th and 312th Infantry Divisions, the 866th Infantry Regiment, the 16th Artillery Regiment, one tank company, six sapper and engineer battalions, one Nghệ An Province local force battalion, and ten PL battalions.

On 11 February, the offensive opened. By the 20th, control of the Plain of Jars was secure. RLG forces withdrew to Muong Xui. On 25 February, the RLG abandoned Xieng Khoang city. Xam Thong fell on 18 March and Long Tieng was threatened. On 25 April, the campaign ended. After the end of the campaign, the "316th Division, the 866th Regiment, and a number of specialty branch units were ordered to stay behind to work with our Lao friends."

On 1 May, elements of South Vietnamese AVN units joined with North Vietnamese Army and Pathet Lao to seize Attapeu.
Although communist movements down the Ho Chi Minh Trail grew during the year, the US war effort was reduced because authorities in Washington, believing the U.S. objectives in Southeast Asia were being achieved, imposed budget limits, which reduced the number of combat missions the USAF could fly.  Lesson learned politicians count dollars , warriors count victories.

Because of significant logistical stockpiling by PAVN in the Laotian Panhandle, South Vietnam launched Operation Lam Son 719, a military thrust on 8 February 1971. Its goals were to cross into Laos toward the city of Tchepone and cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, hopefully thwarting a planned North Vietnamese offensive. Aerial support by the US was massive since no American ground units could participate in the operation. On 25 February, PAVN launched a counterattack, and in the face of heavy opposition, the South Vietnamese force withdrew from Laos after losing approximately a third of its men.

Combined offensive to take Plain of Jars. On 18 December, PAVN and Pathet Lao forces launched counteroffensive to recover the Plain. Volunteer forces included the 312th and 316th Divisions, the 335th and 866th Infantry Regiments, and six artillery and tank battalions. Xam Thong fell and the push continued toward Long Tieng.   The 968th Infantry Regiment and Pathet Lao forces reclaimed the Tha Teng and Lao Nam areas, and captured the Bolaven Plateau.[

During the dry season 1971–72, PL/PAVN forces dug into defensive positions and fought for permanent control of the Plain of Jars. Units participating included the 316th Infantry Division, the 866th, 335th, and 88th Regiments, and nine specialty branch battalions under the command of Senior Colonel Le Linh. Seven PL battalions also participated.

On 21 May, RLG forces attempted to seize the Plain. The battle lasted 170 days until 15 November 1972. The communists claimed to have killed 1,200 troops and captured 80.  When PAVN launched the Nguyễn Huệ Offensive into South Vietnam on 30 March, massive US air support was required inside South Vietnam and its air strikes in Laos dropped to their lowest point since 1965.

In northern Laos, the communists made additional gains during the year but failed to overwhelm government forces. In November, the Pathet Lao agreed to meet with Laotian government representatives to discuss a cease-fire.  The war had resulted in a large number of refugees with a peak number of 378,800 internally displaced persons under government control in October 1973.

1973 – 74  PARIS PEACE ACCORD - 
The US pulled out of Laos in 1973, as stipulated by the Paris Peace Accord. North Vietnam was not required to remove its forces under the terms of the treaty.  The national government was forced to accept the Pathet Lao into the government. During 1974 and 1975 the balance of power in Laos shifted steadily in favor of the Pathēt Lao as the U.S. disengaged itself from Indochina. 

Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma was tired and demoralized  and following a heart attack in mid-1974 he spent some months recuperating in France, after which he announced that he would retire from politics following the elections scheduled for early 1976.

The anti-communist forces were thus leaderless, and also divided and deeply mired in corruption. Souphanouvong, by contrast, was confident and a master political tactician, and had behind him the disciplined cadres of the communist party and the Pathēt Lao forces and the North Vietnamese army. The end of American aid also meant the mass demobilization of most of the non-Pathēt Lao military forces in the country. The Pathēt Lao on the other hand continued to be both funded and equipped by North Vietnam.

In May 1974 Souphanouvong put forward an 18-point plan for "National Reconstruction", which was unanimously adopted – a sign of his increasing dominance. The plan was mostly uncontroversial, with renewed promises of free elections, democratic rights and respect for religion, as well as constructive economic policies. But press censorship was introduced in the name of "national unity", making it more difficult for non-communist forces to organise politically in response to the creeping Pathēt Lao takeover. In January 1975 all public meetings and demonstrations were banned. Recognising the trend of events, influential business and political figures began to move their assets, and in some cases themselves, to Thailand, France or the U.S.

1975 - TAKING OF VIENTIANE
In March 1975 the North Vietnamese began their final military offensive in South Vietnam, which by the end of April carried them to victory with the fall of Saigon. Thirteen days earlier the Khmer Rouge army had captured Phnom Penh. The Pathēt Lao now knew that victory was within reach, and with the Vietnam War over the North Vietnamese authorised the seizure of power in Laos. Pathēt Lao forces on the Plain of Jars supported by North Vietnamese heavy artillery and other units began advancing westward.

In late April, the Pathēt Lao took the government outpost at Sala Phou Khoum crossroads which opened up Route 13 to a Pathēt Lao advance toward Muang Kassy. For the non-Pathēt Lao elements in the government, compromise seemed better than allowing what had happened in Cambodia and South Vietnam to happen in Laos. A surrender was thought to be better than a change of power by force.

Demonstrations broke out in Vientiane, denouncing the rightists and demanding political change. Rightist ministers resigned from the government and fled the country, followed by senior Royal Lao Army commanders. A Pathēt Lao minister took over the defence portfolio, removing any chance of the Army resisting the Pathēt Lao takeover. Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma, dreading further conflict and apparently trusting Souphanouvong's promises of a moderate policy, gave instructions that the Pathēt Lao were not to be resisted, and the U.S. began to withdraw its diplomatic personnel.

The Pathēt Lao army entered the major towns of southern Laos during May, and in early June occupied Luang Phrabāng. Panic broke out in Vientiane as most of the business class and many officials, officers and others who had collaborated with the US scrambled to get their families and property across the Mekong to Thailand. 

Recognizing that the cause was lost, Vang Pao led thousands of his Hmong fighters and their families into exile – eventually about a third of all the Lao Hmong left the country. Pathēt Lao forces captured Vientiane in August.

For a few months the Pathēt Lao appeared to honour their promises of moderation. The shell of the coalition government was preserved, there were no arrests or show-trials, and private property was respected. 

Diplomatic relations with the US were maintained, despite an immediate cut-off of all US aid.   Other western countries continued to offer aid, and Soviet and eastern European technicians began to arrive to replace the departed Americans.

But in December there was a sharp change in policy. A joint meeting of the government and the Consultative Council was held, at which Souphanouvong demanded immediate change. There was no resistance.

On December 2 when Vientiane fell to the Pathet Lao King Savang Vatthana agreed to abdicate, and Souvanna Phouma resigned. The Lao People's Democratic Republic was proclaimed, with Souphanouvong as President. Kaisôn Phomvihān emerged from the shadows to become Prime Minister and the real ruler of the country. 

No more was heard of elections or political freedoms: non-communist newspapers were closed, and a large-scale purge of the civil service, army and police was launched. Thousands were dispatched for “ e-education" in remote parts of the country, where many died and many more were kept for up to ten years. 

This prompted a renewed flight from the country. Many of the professional and intellectual class, who had initially been willing to work for the new regime, changed their minds and left – a much easier thing to do from Laos than from either Vietnam or Cambodia. By 1977 ten percent of the population had left the country, including most of the business and educated classes.

Once in power, the Pathet Lao economically cut its ties to all its neighbors (including China) with the exception of the DRV and signed a treaty of friendship with Hanoi. The treaty allowed the Vietnamese to station soldiers within Laos and to place advisers throughout the government and economy. This is considered by most historians and journalists to be the end of the Second Indochina War.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

_________________________-------

EVACUATION OF THE HMONG
A dramatic event during the takeover of Laos by the communists was the evacuation of Vang Pao and other Hmong leaders by air from Long Tieng. The end came for Vang Pao on 5 May 1975 when he was called before Souvanna Phouma, the Prime Minister of Laos, and ordered to cooperate with the communist Pathet Lao. Vang Pao took the general's stars off his collar, threw them on the desk of Souvanna Phouma, and stalked out of the room. Four days later the official Pathet Lao newspaper warned that the Hmong people would be exterminated “to the last root."

Jerry Daniels, Vang Pao's CIA case officer, was the only American remaining in Long Tieng and he began to plan an evacuation of the Hmong. However, he had only one airplane to evacuate the 3,500 Hmong leaders and families he judged to be at risk of execution by the Pathet Lao then advancing on Long Tieng. 

Brigadier General Heinie Aderholt in Bangkok helped to find additional planes and sent three pilots flying two C-46 and one C-130 transport aircraft to Long Tieng. The planes were "sheep-dipped" to remove any US markings as the operation was carried out in secret. The pilots were American civilians: Les Strouse, Matt Hoff, and Al Rich.

With the three American planes, the evacuation began in earnest on 13 May with each transport aircraft making four flights each that day from Long Tieng to Udorn, Thailand and transporting more than 65 people per airplane on each trip – far more than the 35 maximum passengers dictated by safety conditions at mountain-ringed Long Tieng. Thousands of Hmong clustered around the airstrip at Long Tieng awaiting evacuation and the situation became increasingly ugly. On 14 May, Vang Pao and Jerry Daniels were evacuated secretly by helicopter to Thailand and the air evacuation came to an end. 

The next day the Pathet Lao marched into Long Tieng unopposed. Daniels accompanied Vang Pao to exile in Montana and then returned to Thailand to help the Hmong refugees there. What nobody had anticipated was the tens of thousands of Hmong left behind in Long Tieng and Laos would follow Vang Pao and other Hmong leaders to Thailand. 

By the end of 1975 about 40,000 Hmong had succeeded to reaching Thailand, traveling on foot through the mountains and floating across the Mekong River.   How many died or were killed in the attempt to escape Laos is not known, but the flight of Hmong and other Laotian highland peoples into Thailand would continue for many more years. They faced repression at home from the communist government as the price of their collaboration with the Americans. 

Most of the Hmong in Thailand would eventually be resettled in the United States and other countries. Between 1975 and 1982, 53,700 Hmong and other highland Laotian refugees were resettled in the United States and thousands more in other countries.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


EPITAPH
Due to the Vietnam War, the Laotian War had been almost forgotten by majority of people in around the world, even in the United States and Vietnam.

Twenty-two years following the end of the Laotian War, on 15 May 1997, the U.S. officially acknowledged its role in the Secret War.  

A memorial to honor of American and Hmong contributions to U.S. air and ground combat efforts during the conflict was established by the Lao Veterans of America, the Center for Public Policy Analysis, in cooperation with the US Congress and others. The Laos Memorial is located on the grounds of the Arlington National Cemetery between the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Many former ethnic Hmong and Laotian veterans and their families, led by Colonel Wangyee Vang of the Lao Veterans of America Institute and Lao Veterans of America worked to establish a non-profit organization and advocate for honorary U.S. citizenship for the Secret Army veterans. In 2000, the Hmong Veterans' Naturalization Act of 2000 was passed by the Republican-controlled US Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Many of the Hmong people have come down from the mountains and surrendered to the Lao government, while others found their way to refugee camps in Thailand. In 2008, however, a repatriation agreement between the Thai and Lao governments resulted in a mass forced deportation of the people in these camps, and reports of atrocities committed against them by the Lao military spurred activist groups to try and persuade the Thai government to keep granting asylum to the refugees, but to no avail.

In 2004, following several years of pressure from a coalition of U.S. conservatives and liberal human rights activists, the US government reversed a policy of denying immigration to Hmong who had fled Laos in the 1990s for refugee camps in Thailand. In a major victory for the Hmong, the US government recognized some 15,000 Hmong as political refugees and afforded them expedited US immigration rights.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 7.01.26 AM

There are continuing casualties from unexploded ordnance (UXO) dropped by the U.S. and Laotian Air Forces from 1964 to 1973. It has been reported that, between 1964 and 1973, areas controlled by the invading communist North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao were hit by an average of one B‑52 bomb-load every eight minutes, 24 hours a day. More than 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos, particularly on Xiang Khouang Province, 30 percent of which failed to explode immediately. 

US aircraft dropped more ordnance on Laos than on all countries during World War II, leaving Laos with about 78 million pieces of UXO by the end of the war.  UXO remains dangerous to persons coming in contact, purposefully or accidentally, with bombs. Casualties in Laos from UXO are estimated at 12,000 since 1973. 

Thirty-three years after the last bomb was dropped and after decades of UXO clearance programs, 59 people were known to have been killed or injured by UXO in 2006.  So abundant are the remnants of bombs on the Plain of Jars that the collection and sale of scrap metal from bombs has been a major industry since the Civil War. About 300 Laotians are killed or injured per year by UXO.

THE REFUGEES

Storyline©Copyright 07-2017 aljacobsladder.com