Learn more about Secret War
|Secret War(Laotian Civil War)|
|Part of the Vietnam Conflict|
| Image:Laos usa war.jpg|
Cuban poster: "Forgotten war" showing clash of traditional Laotian weapons with U.S. bombers
| Kingdom of Laos,|
and various guerilla armies.
| Pathet Lao|
The Secret War (1962-1975) also known as the Laotian Civil War, or the Laos Civil War, was a term used to describe the Laotian front of the Vietnam War. It is generally considered one of the most important and complex components of this war, with the United States and North Vietnam fighting through proxies for strategic military and political influence in a region of Laos that was considered critical to the outcome of the Vietnam War.
After the Geneva Conference established Laotian neutrality, North Vietnam continued to operate in southeastern Laos. North Vietnam established the Ho Chi Minh trail on Laotian territory and supported a proxy army called the Pathet Lao to help secure it. The Ho Chi Minh trail was designed for North Vietnamese troops to infiltrate South Vietnam and to aid the Viet Cong.
To disrupt these operations without direct military involvement, the United States Central Intelligence Agency responded by training a force of some thirty thousand Laotians, mostly local Hmong tribesmen, led by General Vang Pao, a Hmong military leader. This Secret Army, supported by Air America, Thailand and the Royal Lao Air Force, fought the North Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and their Pathet Lao allies to a standstill, greatly aiding U.S. interests in the war. There were repeated attempts from 1954 onward to get North Vietnam out of Laos, but regardless of any agreements or concessions, the North Vietnamese had no intention of leaving the country. Beyond immediate military necessity, North Vietnam viewed Laos as a younger brother needing guidance. In 1968, North Vietnam launched a multi-division attack on the Royal Lao Army. The heavy weapons and scale of the Vietnamese attack could not be matched by the national army and it was effectively sidelined for several years.
Although the existence of the "Secret War" was sometimes reported in the U.S., details were largely unavailable due to official government denials that the war even existed. The denials were seen as necessary considering that the US had signed agreements specifying the neutrality of Laos. US involvement in Laos was considered necessary because North Vietnam had effectively conquered a large part of the country and was equally lying in public about its role in Laos. Despite these denials, however, the Secret War was actually the largest U.S. covert operation prior to the Afghan-Soviet War, with areas of Laos controlled by North Vietnam subjected to three million tons of bombing, representing the heaviest U.S.-led bombing campaign since World War II.
|Ap Bac – Binh Gia – Song Be – Dong Xoai – Ia Drang – Long Tan – Dak To – Tra Binh Dong –Ong Thanh – 1st Tet – Khe Sanh – 1st Saigon – Lang Vei – Hills 881 & 861 – 2nd Tet – Hamburger Hill – Binh Ba – Ripcord – FSB Mary Ann – Easter '72 – An Loc – Kontum – Phuoc Long – Ho Chi Minh – Buon Ma Thuot – Xuan Loc – 2nd Saigon – Barrell Roll – Rolling Thunder – Pony Express – Steel Tiger – Commando Hunt – Linebacker I – Linebacker II – Chenla I – Tiger Hound – Lima Site 85 – Tailwind – Chenla II – Cambodia|
 Chronology of the war In Laos
In May 1964, the USAF began flying reconnaissance missions over the Laotian Panhandle to obtain target information on men and materiel 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.
In the spring of 1964, Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese troops drove Laotian forces from the Plain of Jars in northern Laos. On 9 June, President Johnson ordered an F-100 strike against the enemy in retaliation for the loss of a U.S. airplane. The Plain of Jars activities expanded by December 1964, were named Operation "Barrel Roll" and were under the control of the U.S. ambassador to Laos who approved all targets before they were attacked.
The U.S. began Operation "Steel Tiger" over the Laotian Panhandle and the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone (or DMZ) on 3 April 1965 to locate and destroy enemy forces and materiel being moved southward at night into South Vietnam. However, since circumstances made it a highly complex matter in regard to the neutrality of Laos, target approval had to come from Washington. 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. It was 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 USAF, Army, Navy, Marines, the VNAF, and the Royal Laotian Air Force. On 11 December, strategic B-52s were called in to this tactical operation, their first use over Laos.
"Steel Tiger" operations continued down the length of the Panhandle in 1966, with special emphasis upon the "Tiger Hound" area. Since most of the Communist truck traffic was at night, the USAF developed and began using special equipment to detect the nighttime traffic.
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 North Vietnamese border. North Vietnam then sent thousands of its regular troops into the battle and once again the Laotians were forced to retreat.
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 Laotian AF, small as it was.
U.S., 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 their unloading from the ocean freighters that had hauled them to North Vietnam if bombing of Haiphong had been permitted.
Throughout 1968, the Communists slowly advanced across the northern part of Laos, defeating Laotian forces time and time again, and eventually the U.S base Lima Site 85 was overrun. 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", was still in full force as 1968 ended.
On 23 March, 1969, the Laotian Army launched a large attack against the Communists, supported by its own air units and the USAF. In June, the enemy launched an attack of its own and gained ground, but in August, Laotian forces attacked again and regained what had been lost. In all these operations, the USAF flew hundreds of "Barrell Roll" missions, however, many were canceled because of poor weather.
At the beginning of 1970, fresh troops from North Vietnam advanced through northern Laos. The USAF called in B-52s and on 17 February, they were used to bomb targets in northern Laos. The enemy advance was halted by Laotian reinforcements, and for the remainder of the year it was a "seesaw" military campaign.
Although Communist movements down the Ho Chi Minh Trail grew during the year, the U.S. war effort was reduced because authorities in Washington, believing the U.S. objectives in SEA were being achieved, imposed budget limits. This reduced the number of combat missions the USAF could fly.
Because of significant stockpiling by North Vietnam in the Laotian Panhandle, South Vietnam launched a military thrust on 8 February 1971. Its goals were to cross into Laos and cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail to thwart a planned North Vietnamese offensive. Aerial support by the U.S., provided by the USAF, Army, Navy, and Marines, was massive. On 25 February, North Vietnam launched a counterattack and in the face of heavy opposition, the South Vietnamese Army withdrew from Laos. However, because of its heavy losses, North Vietnam had to postpone its scheduled offensive into South Vietnam.
Later in the year, the USAF began Operation "Commando Hunt VII" into southern Laos. With new technology such as laser-guided bombs, infrared sensors, and night-vision equipment, attacks could be made day and night, under almost any weather conditions. The operation began on 1 November with strikes at several entry points from North Vietnam into Laos. The next phase was against traffic moving down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Commando Hunt VII operations ended in March 1972. When North Vietnam launched its new offensive into South Vietnam on 30 March, U.S. 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 US pulled out of Laos in 1973 as part of an overall peace and disengagement plan. As on every previous occasion, North Vietnam ignored the agreement and retained its army in Laos.
The national government was forced to accept the Pathet Lao into the government. In 1975, Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces began attacking government strongholds. A deal was eventually brokered that gave power to the Pathet Lao to save the government from total destruction.
Once in power, the Pathet Lao economically cut its ties to all its neighbors (including China) with the exception of Vietnam and signed a treaty of friendship with Vietnam. The treaty allowed Vietnam to station soldiers within Laos and to place advisors throughout the government and economy. For many years after, Laos was effectively ruled by Vietnam.