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The CIA and the "Secret War" in Laos:
The Battle for Skyline Ridge,

William M. Leary, Ph.D.

E. Merton Coulter Professor of History (Emeritus)

University of Georgia

BETWEEN December 1971 and May 1972, one of the great battles of the Vietnam War took place in northern Laos when over twenty battalions of the North Vietnamese army assaulted positions held by some 10,000 Lao, Thai, and Hmong defenders. Yet few people have heard of the battle for Skyline Ridge. Press coverage of the engagement was slight and public interest-at least in the United States -was minimal.

 Historians of the Vietnam War also have ignored this major battle, perhaps because it had limited impact on the outcome of the war. Still, the battle for Skyline Ridge deserves to be remembered. The culmination of efforts by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to direct a major and lengthy war in Asia, it was an impressive-if temporary-victory for the anti-Communist forces in Laos .

By 1971 the no-longer-secret war in Laos had been going on for more than a decade.1 Prior to the Geneva Agreements of July 1962 on the neutrality of Laos, United States military personnel had taken the leading role in training and advising indigenous forces. Indeed, under the terms of the Geneva Agreements, which called for the removal of all foreign military personnel from Laos, the United States withdrew 666 individuals.2 The Central Intelligence Agency, by contrast, had assigned only nine paramilitary specialists, assisted by 99 Thai Special Forces-type members of the Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit (PARU), to train and support Hmong tribal forces in the northern part of Laos, which constituted the Agency's main program in the country.3

When fighting broke out again in Laosin 1963 and 1964, officials in Washington considered reintroducing a sizable number of U.S. military personnel into the country to train and advise the Royal Lao Army. Leonard Unger, the American ambassador in Vientiane, opposed the idea. "As will be recalled," he cabled the State Department in June 1964, "experience in '61-62 with MAAG [Military Assistance and Advisory Group] was not a happy one. MAAG and White Star [Special Forces] teams did a highly commendable job under difficult circumstances, but their experience demonstrated that it is almost impossible to put any real spine into FAR [Forces Armee Royale or Royal Lao Army]."4  

Acting upon Unger's recommendation, Washington decided to maintain the thin fiction of the Geneva Agreements-which the Communist Pathet Lao and their North Vietnamese backers had ignored but never formally repudiated. The ineffective Royal Lao Army would be given a minimum of support. At the same time, the Central Intelligence Agency was assigned responsibility to train, advise, and support Hmong forces in northern Laos, and to recruit, train, advise, and support volunteer Lao troops in the southern part of the country. The CIA presence in Laos was to remain small. As Unger's successor, William L. Sullivan, explained, Unger was a "most reluctant militarist and took care in establishing the paramilitary operation to be sure it was designed to be reversible. Consequently, only a small portion of it was actually present in Laos, and all its supporting elements were housed in Thailand, under a secret agreement with the Thai. 5

Although critics of U.S. policy later would portray the CIA as responsible for the "secret" war in Laos, they failed to take into account the circumstances surrounding the employment of the intelligence agency. Given the nature of the Geneva Agreements, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson once explained to a congressional committee, the CIA "is really the only other instrumentality that we have."6 G. McMurtrie Godley, U.S. ambassador to Laos, 1969-73, agreed. "These operations that the CIA are conducting in Laos," he testified in 1971, "were not initiated by them." The task, he emphasized, had been assigned by the President.7  

Between 1964 and 1967, the CIA-supported Hmong army in northern Laos, the main area of conflict, fought a highly successful guerrilla war against a mixed force of Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese troops. The high point of this phase of the war came in the summer of 1967. Royal Lao Army and Hmong units had blunted the enemy's dry season offensive of winter-spring 1966-67, causing local CIA officials to issue an optimistic appraisal of the situation in Laos. Hmong forces, a CIA Intelligence Information Cable argued, had gained the upper hand in the war: "They now have the option of attempting a permanent change in the tactical balance of power in North Laos."8

Unfortunately, the North Vietnamese recognized the danger. Beginning in January 1968, Hanoi introduced major new forces into Laos and relegated the Pathet Lao to a support role for the remainder of the war. By March, the CIA estimated that there were 35,000 North Vietnamese regular troops in Laos -and the number would continue to grow.9 

The fighting in Laos took on a more conventional nature, characterized by engagements between large units. The North Vietnamese, tied to unpaved road networks for their supplies, took the offensive during the dry season, which usually lasted from early winter to early spring. The U.S.-backed forces in Laos responded during the summer months of the rainy season, exploiting the mobility provided by the transports and helicopters of Air America, the CIA-owned airline.  

The main strategic prize in northern Laos was the Plaine des Jarres (PDJ), a circular plateau measuring five hundred square miles in area and with an average elevation of thirty-five hundred feet. The PDJ's attractive rolling grasslands and tree-studded hills saw some of the most intense fighting of the war, with control of the area passing from one side to other, depending upon the season.

Beyond the PDJ to the south lay a series of high mountain ridges that eventually gave way to the lowlands of the Mekong River valley and the administrative capital of Vientiane. The Hmong controlled these mountains. Their charismatic leader, Vang Pao, made his headquarters in the valley of Long Tieng (also known as Lima Site 20-Alternate), some twenty miles southwest of the southern edge of the PDJ. Skyline Ridge, just to the north of Long Tieng, commanded the mountain valley and led to the major refugee center of Sam Thong, five miles of narrow, twisting road to the northwest.

In January 1970, the North Vietnamese army launched a strong attack across to the PDJ, aimed at Hmong defenders who had been weakened by losses suffered during the past two years of heavy fighting. Ambassador Godley acted upon pessimistic appraisals of the Hmong ability to withstand the enemy assault and on 23 January asked Washington to authorize the use of B-52s against North Vietnamese army troop concentrations. His request caused considerable soul-searching in the highest echelons of the Nixon administration. No one wanted to disturb the fragile equilibrium in Laos . "It would not make any sense- to expand the conflict in Laos," national security adviser Henry Kissinger observed, "except for the minimum required for our own protection, while we were busy withdrawing troops from South Vietnam." Nonetheless, the situation was deemed so grave that President Richard M. Nixon approved Godley's request. On 17 February shortly after receiving a formal request from the Royal Lao government, Operation GOOD LOOK began with the first B-52 strikes on the PDJ. Over the next three years, 2,518 B-52 sorties would drop 58,374 tons of bombs in support of U.S.- backed forces in northern Laos.10  

The B-52s may have slowed the enemy offensive, but they failed to stop it. By 21 February the North Vietnamese army had overrun the entire PDJ and threatened Hmong positions at Sam Thong and Long Tieng. Edgar M. "Pop" Buell, senior official of the U.S. Agency for International Development in northern Laos, told the press that the Hmong might be making their last stand. Vang Pao's forces had lost more men in the last six months than during any comparable period during the past ten years. "It's all been running and dying," he said, "just running and dying."11  

The CIA agreed with Buell. The Hmong have fought well, an intelligence estimate observed, but "they are battle weary and their losses over the past year or so have exceeded their capability to replace them." Obviously, air power was not enough. If nothing was done to replenish the dwindling manpower resources, the situation in Laos would continue to deteriorate.12  

The prospect for fresh troops grew brighter when Thailand offered to send volunteers to fight in Laos during the current crisis if requested by the Royal Lao government. The State Department, Kissinger reported, "strenuously resisted" the proposal, while other government agencies were unenthusiastic. President Nixon, however, gave his approval. On 17 March as the North Vietnamese army occupied Sam Thong, 300 Thai troops arrived at Long Tieng.13  

The first battle for Skyline Ridge began on 20 March 1970 , when enemy troops occupied positions on the high ground overlooking Long Tieng. Thanks to the timely reinforcements, plus the employment of tactical air power, the enemy assault fell short of its objective. On 26 March the North Vietnamese relinquished their forward positions and began to retreat toward the PDJ.14  

During the wet season of 1970, the Hmong went over to the offensive, as usual, but this time their gains were limited and their losses were heavy. Lao authorities, recognizing the declining strength of the Hmong and the poor quality of their own forces, in June asked the Thai government to supply regular troops on a more permanent basis to fend off the North Vietnamese. While the Thais were anxious to stop the North Vietnamese short of the Mekong River, they were reluctant to send large numbers of regular army units into Laos and thereby take a more prominent role in the war. Instead, officials in Bangkok agreed to recruit "volunteer" battalions which would be led by regular army officers and NCOs. The cost of the units would be underwritten by the U.S. government.15  

The enemy again took the initiative with the appearance of drier weather. The North Vietnamese army offensive during the winter of 1970-71 was even stronger than the previous year's attack. Supported by new roads through Sam Neua and Xieng Khouang provinces, the North Vietnamese committed some 8,500 troops against Hmong defenses at Long Tieng. The situation became critical in mid-February 1971 as 122- mm rockets and mortar rounds began to fall into the Long Tieng valley.I6  

The U.S. Air Force, as it had in the past, made a maximum effort to stop the North Vietnamese. Due to declining resources in Southeast Asia , however, sorties averaged only sixty per day, less than half the number of the previous year. On 14 February one of these sorties produced unfortunate results when an F-4D dropped two CBU-24 cluster bombs eight hundred meters short of its target. The "friendly fire" killed one Hmong, wounded seven others, and destroyed most of the CIA compound at Long Tieng.I7  

The enemy siege continued for another two months. In mid-April, as the monsoon rains began to fall, the tide of battle changed. Reinforced by several Thai battalions and CIA-supported irregular troops from other sections of the country, Vang Pao's forces launched a counterattack that cleared Skyline Ridge by the end of the month. It had been a close call for the defenders of Long Tieng. And they knew that the future likely would bring even worse.18  


On the eve of the last and greatest battle for Skyline Ridge, 1971-72, the CIA's presence had grown far beyond Ambassador Unger's minimalist objectives due to the expanding nature of the war, but it still remained small, especially inside Laos. According to one knowledgeable CIA official, the total number of people at Udorn in Thailand and inside Laos- "including all support personnel, the contract wives, and some military detailee technicians"-never exceeded 225. This included some 50 case officers.I9  

At the top of the command structure for the conduct of the war stood Ambassador Godley. By presidential directive, the ambassador was responsible for "overall direction, coordination and supervision" of all military operations in Laos . Godley, by all accounts, brought a great deal of interest and enthusiasm to the job. He presided over daily "operations meetings" at the embassy, lasting from 9 A.M. to 10:30 A.M. (or later), at which he received detailed briefings from military and intelligence personnel on developments in the war over the preceding twenty-four hours.20  

Godley delegated responsibility for the tactical conduct of the war to his CIA station chief, B. Hugh Tovar. An experienced and respected intelligence officer who had served with the Office of Strategic Services during World War II and had been a member of a small ass team that had operated in Laos at the end of the war, Tovar preferred to exert a general supervision over military affairs and allow his subordinates to handle the operational details.21  

In conformity with Ambassador Unger's original organizational scheme, the primary CIA headquarters for the conduct of the war-in effect Tovar's "executive agent"-was not in Laos but in Thailand.22 Located in a two-story block building adjacent to an aircraft parking ramp at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, the 4802nd Joint Liaison Detachment was the CIA's command center for military operations in Laos. In charge of the 4802nd was Lloyd "Pat" Landry, a paramilitary specialist who had been involved in Laotian affairs for more than a decade. "As a boss," one junior officer recalled, "he had a reputation of being blunt and having the capability to make hard decisions and sticking to them."23  

Landry's chief of operations was George C. Morton, a retired Green Beret colonel who earlier had "laid the foundations of the Special Forces effort in Vietnam ."24  Other CIA officers oversaw air operations, photographic and communications intelligence, and order-of-battle assessments, and coordinated military operations and requirements with 7/13 Air Force headquarters, also located at Udorn.25  Finally, Landry had excellent rapport with General Vitoon Yasawatdi ("Dhep"), commander of "Headquarters 333," the Thai organization in charge of their forces in Laos.26  

Lines of authority ran from Udorn to CIA regional headquarters in Laos at Pakse, Savannakhet, Long Tieng, Luang Prabang, and Nam Lieu. The most important of the five subunits was Long Tieng, the major logistical and operational base in Military Region II, and headquarters of Major General Yang Pao, Hmong tribal leader and commander of the Region.27   Joseph R. Johnson, the CIA’s chief of unit at Long Tieng, oversaw some twenty or so paramilitary and support personnel who advised Hmong and Thai units. He also directed the activities of Air America , a CIA-owned airline, and Continental Air Services, a contract air carrier. His chief of operations, Jerrold B. Daniels, who had the confidence of Yang Pao, was responsible for coordinating military activities in the Region, especially those relating to the Hmong. Major Jesse E. Scott commanded the U.S. Air Force's Air Operations Center at Long Tieng and (nominally) the ten U.S. Air Force forward air controllers, who used the radio call sign "Raven."2 8  

The United States in 1971 was in the process of accelerating its withdrawal from Vietnam. President Nixon had proclaimed in 1969 that Asian boys should fight Asian wars. By the end of 1970, U.S. troop strength was down to 280,000, and declining rapidly. With regard to Laos -where Asian boys were fighting Asian wars-the Nixon administration adopted a defensive posture. Like Kennedy before him, Nixon wanted a neutral Laos that would serve as a buffer between pro-Western Thailand and the aggressive intentions of North Vietnam and China . While willing to approve the use of B-52s and support Thai "volunteers" in Laos, it was clear by 1971 that Nixon had no intention of making a major commitment of U.S. forces to assure Laotian neutrality.  

Early in 1971, the Royal Lao government ordered General Yang Pao to seize as much territory as possible in Military Region II before congressional restraints reduced available U.S. air sorties to thirty-two per day after 1 July. Vang Pao launched a major offensive in June. Effectively using his air mobility and tactical air resources, the Hmong leader managed to drive the enemy from the PDJ for what proved to be the last time. In order to blunt the anticipated enemy dry season offensive, it was decided to establish five major artillery strong points on the PDJ.  

Manned and defended by Thai troops, these mutually supporting bases were intended to attract the enemy's attention. The North Vietnamese army, according to an optimistic scenario, would assault these fixed positions and be destroyed by artillery fire and tactical air power.29  

As the time neared for the expected enemy offensive, intelligence reports coming into the CIA operations center at Udorn grew ominous. In early November communications intelligence revealed that sixteen long-range 130-mm field guns were en route to northern Laos. Hanoi, the CIA learned, had appointed one of their senior army commanders-General Le Truong Tan-to direct the year's dry season offensive. Overhead photography revealed a growing number of troops and supplies moving along Route 6 toward the PDJ, including large covered trailers. Although B-52s and F-4 fighter bombers were targeted against the road, the traffic continued.3O  

Nonetheless, there was a general feeling of confidence that the enemy offensive could be stopped. James E. Parker, Jr., a newly arrived intelligence officer who had been assigned as desk officer for Military Region II, inspected the Thai artillery bases in early December and came away impressed. The firebases, with their 105-mm and 155-mm guns, were placed so that each base could be protected by artillery fire from two or three adjacent positions. Visiting the northernmost position, Parker received an optimistic appraisal of the situation from its Thai commander. The position, he said, was "impregnable," with its three inter-connected rings of firing positions, bunkers, well-fortified mortar pits, barbed and concertina wire, and mines. Local artillery, he boasted, was available within seconds; flareships, gunships, and tactical air support were on call.31  

December 15 and 16 saw only light ground activity on the PDJ. On .17 December smoke enveloped the area during the daylight hours, cutting short resupply flights to the Thai strong points. At 1835 hours that evening, the long-anticipated enemy offensive began. Using for the first time in Laos Soviet-made long-range 130-mm guns that far outranged the Thai artillery (sixteen miles versus nine miles), the North Vietnamese hit all Thai positions simultaneously. Tank-supported infantry then broke through the defensive rings around the bases. By the next morning, the northernmost position had fallen, and the other bases were under heavy pressure.3 2

As the enemy attack continued during 18 and 19 December, tactical air support-upon which the entire defensive scheme had been premised-was noticeable by its absence. With Vang Pao and the Thais pleading for air support, the CIA urged 7/13 Air Force at Udorn to sup- ply the desperately needed sorties-all to no avail. Finally, Ambassador Godley contacted 7th Air Force headquarters in Saigon . He was told that all available U.S. aircraft were involved in search-and-rescue operations.33  

On the afternoon of 18 December, an F-4 supporting the Thai positions on the PDJ was shot down by a MIG-21, the first air-to-air loss in Laos. Two other F-4s engaged the MIG as it fled toward the North Vietnamese border. Caught up in the chase, the F-4s ran out of fuel, and the four crew members ejected. The following day, another F-4 was brought down east of the PDJ by antiaircraft fire. The Air Force had launched a massive search and rescue operation for these downed crew members, which drew off the tactical air resources that otherwise would have gone into the battle on the PDJ .34  

Time ran out for the Thai defenders. By the morning of 20 December, all artillery strong points had fallen. The surviving Thai troops headed south in disarray, pursued by the North Vietnamese army. Continental Air Services pilot Edward Dearborn, who had been airdropping supplies to the Thai positions, reported the scene: "By 1300 local, our efforts were confined to picking up the wounded and survivors of the fire bases. Most of them were working their way to LS-15 [Ban Nai]. A pitiful sight from two weeks before. The majority were shell shocked and most were suffering from wounds, exposure, or shock in one form or another."35  

The North Vietnamese pushed into the mountainous terrain south of the PDJ and headed toward Long Tieng. While Hmong and Thai defenders strengthened their positions along Skyline Ridge, tactical airstrikes-once again available-slowed but could not stop the enemy advance.36 At 1530 hours on 31 December 1971, North Vietnamese gunners opened fire on Long Tieng. The shelling, which included rounds from the dreaded 130-mm guns, continued intermittently throughout the night, causing heavy damage to installations in the valley.  

The ground assault against Skyline began a few days later. An estimated 19,000 North Vietnamese troops were thrown into the battle. They were opposed by a mixed force of some 10,000 Hmong, Thai, and Lao defenders. The North Vietnamese four-pronged offensive went well at first. The major attack came from the north, aimed at Skyline Ridge. In hard fighting, the enemy captured several key positions along the two- mile-long ridge, then moved antiaircraft batteries into position to restrict the flow of air supplies to the hard-pressed defenders. A prong from the south, preceded by sapper attacks, targeted a radio station and POL storage facilities in the valley, while attacks from the east and west completed the encirclement of Long Tieng. At the same time, North Vietnamese units took control of Sam Thong, the former headquarters of the USAID mission in northern Laos . 

On 12 January 1972 , Radio Pathet Lao announced that Long Tieng had fallen to "Lao Patriotic armed forces." Two days later, Hanoi 's official military newspaper, Quan Goi Nhan Dan, published a detailed account of the "great victory." Nearly 1,000 enemy troops had been killed, it claimed; ten aircraft had been wrecked; and hundreds of weapons, including ten large guns, had been captured or destroyed. The loss of Long Tieng, Quan Goi Nhan Dan concluded, represented a turning point in the war: "Confusion now exists between Laos and U.S. authorities in Vientiane ."37  

Hanoi's victory announcement proved premature. In mid-January, " the CIA brought in Thai reinforcements, together with several 1,200-man units of irregular troops from southern Laos, considered to be the government's elite force. By late January, the CIA-led Lao troops, in bitter, often hand-to-hand-fighting, had retaken Skyline from the North Vietnamese, at a cost of one-third to one-half of their effective strength. - Thanks to their efforts, Long Tieng was placed at least temporarily out of the danger-if not out of range of the 130-mm guns.38  

While the Air Force hunted the well camouflaged artillery pieces- and found several-the defenders of Long Tieng dug in deeper and waited for the next assault. It took nearly two months for the North Vietnamese-their supply lines harassed by B-52s, tactical air strikes, and Hmong ambushes-to accumulate sufficient material to stage the expected attack.  

In mid-March 1972, the North Vietnamese army once again tried to . push the defenders off Skyline. This time, the enemy planned to use heavy T-34 tanks, bringing them in along the road from Sam Thong. Michael E. Ingham, CIA officer in change of Thai forces in Military Region II, had learned of the enemy's intentions from a North Vietnamese prisoner. He had his men place antitank mines along the road in front of their main defensive position. As it turned out, North Vietnamese sappers removed most of the mines, except for the two closest to the Thai position. On 30 March two T-34 lead tanks hit these mines and were immobilized, effectively blocking the road to Long Tieng.39  

Heavy fighting along Skyline Ridge continued into the last days of April, with key positions changing hands several times. Unable to obtain their objective, the North Vietnamese finally removed a division from the area and sent it to support the Easter offensive against South Vietnam. On 19 May President Nixon congratulated Ambassador Godley: "The Communist dry season [offensive] in Laos has been blunted this year, largely through the tireless efforts of your mission. You have done a tremendous job under difficult conditions."4O  

Ambassador Godley certainly deserved President Nixon's accolades. His CIA-led forces had scored an impressive victory over a capable and determined enemy. For a time, U.S. officials believed that this military success might contribute to the creation of a neutral Laos. For example, CIA Director William Colby, in awarding an Intelligence Star to one of the case officers who directed the Lao irregular forces, commented in February 1974: "I think you made a major contribution not only to the battle, but also to the successful outcome in Laos. That was a very sticky period. And the situation at Long Tieng was considered a critical one." The recent conclusion of a ceasefire agreement and "steps toward achieving some kind of coalition government," Colby concluded, "is in good part a credit to your work."41 Unfortunately, the coalition government proved only a brief interlude. The Communists soon took control of the country.

The CIA, nonetheless, remained proud of its efforts in Laos. As CIA Director Richard Helms later observed: "This was a major operation for the agency. ...It took manpower, it took specially-qualified manpower, it was dangerous, it was difficult." The CIA, he contended, "did a superb job."42

Helms had a point. Criticized following the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 for its inability to conduct large-scale military operations, the CIA directed the war in Laos for more than a decade-and fought the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao to a standstill. The cost-at least in American lives-had been small: eight CIA case officers were killed during the war, four in aircraft accidents and four as a result of enemy fire.43

Lao, Thai, and Hmong losses, of course, were much higher. The Hmong suffered most, both during and after the war. As Douglas S. Blaufarb, CIA station chief in Vientiane , 1964-66, has observed, whatever the Hmong gained by associating with the United States, "it certainly was not worth the high price they paid." But, Blaufarb wisely adds, criticism of the U.S. alliance with the Hmong involves the application of "a lavish hindsight without regard to the realities of the time it was under taken."44  

In any event, the anticommunist forces in Laos won the battle for Skyline Ridge. As in Vietnam, however, victory on the battlefield did not mean much in the end. It merely delayed the final outcome of the war.  

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1. The best general accounts of the war are Charles A. Stevenson, The End of Nowhere: American Policy toward Laos since 1954 (Boston, 1972), and Arthur J. Dommen, Conflict in Laos: The Politics of Neutralization, rev. ed. (New York, 1971).

2. North Vietnam, in contrast, formally withdrew only forty of its estimated six thousand troops in Laos at the time of the cease-fire. Statement of Ambassador G. McMurtrie Godley, 22 July 1971, in U.S. Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Hearings on Fiscal Year 1972 Authorization for Military Procurement, 92d Congress, -. 1st Session (Washington, 1971),4270. See also Norman B. Hannah, The Key to Failure: Laos and the Vietnam War (Lanham, Md., 1987),59.  

3. Edward G. Lansdale to Maxwell D. Taylor, "Resources for Unconventional War- fare, S.E. Asia," n.d. [July 1961], The Pentagon Papers (New York Times ed., New York, 1971), 130-38.  

4. Unger to the Secretary of State, 15 June 1964 , Declassified Documents Reference System (DDRS), 1989: 2100. The U.S. military assistance program is detailed in Timothy N. Castle, At War in the Shadow of Vietnam: U.S. Military Aid to the Royal Lao Government, 1955-1975 (New York, 1993).

5. William L. Sullivan, Obbligato (New York, 1984),210.

6. Johnson testimony on 22 July 1971 , U.S. Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Hearings on S. 939 (H.R. 8687), 92d Congress, 1st session (Washington, 1971), 4293.  

7. Godley testimony, 22 July 1971, ibid., 4278.  

8. Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Information Cable IN 19395, 29 July 1967 , DDRS, 1992: 3089. For a passionate discussion of the Hmong role in the war, see Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992 ( Bloomington, 1993).  

9. Central Intelligence Agency, Special National Intelligence Estimate 58-68, 21 March 1968 , DDRS, 1989: 1865.

10. Henry Kissinger, White House Years (Boston, 1979),448-57; Department of Defense, "Report on Selected Air and Ground Operations in Cambodia and Laos," 10 September 1973.  

11. Hugh D. S. Greenway, "The Pendulum of War Swings Wider in Laos," Life 68 (April 1970): 32-36.  

12. Central Intelligence Agency, Office of National Estimates, "Stocktaking in Indochina ," 17 April 1970 , DDRS, 1977: 270C. The Hmong continued to suffer severe casualties. In 1971 losses totaled 2,259 killed and 5,775 wounded. See Arnold R Isaacs, Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia ( Baltimore, 1983), 169.  

13. Kissinger, White House Years, 448-57; Washington Evening Star, 18 March 1970. 

14. Harry D. Blout, "Air Operations in Northern Laos , 1 April-l November 1970," U.S. Air Force CHECO Report, 15 January 1971, U.S. Air Force Historical Research Center (USAFHRC), Maxwell AFB, Ala.  

15. Theodore Shackley, The Third Option (New York, 1981), 122-24.  

16. Harry D. Blout and Melvin F. Porter, "Air Operations in Northern Laos, 1 November 70-1 April 71," U.S. Air Force CHECO Report, 3 May 1971 , USAFHRC.  

17. Frank J. Adamcik, "Short Rounds" U.S. Air Force CHECO Report, 15 July 1972 USAFHRC.

18. William W. Lofgren and Richard R Sexton, "Air War in Northern Laos, 1 April-30 November 1971," U.S. Air Force Project CHECO Report, 22 June 1973 , USAFHRC.  

19. Information from a retired intelligence officer who was in a position to have an accurate count of CIA personnel in Thailand and Laos. ("Contract wives" refers to the practice of hiring the wives of CIA personnel to perform clerical and other duties.) William Colby, Lost Victory (Chicago, 1989), 198, states: "The total number of CIA personnel who supported this effort was between 300 and 400." This number seems too high.

20. A profile of Godley appeared in the New York Times, 12 July 1973 . See also the informative staff report of a visit to Laos by James G. Lowenstein and Richard M. Moose: U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on U.S. Security Agreements and Commitments , Abroad of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Laos: April 1971, 92d Congress, 1st Session (Washington, 1971)

21. Interview with B. Hugh Tovar, 13 March 1992 ; Arthur J. Dommen and George W. Dalley, "The OSS in Laos: The 1945 Raven Mission," Journal of Southeast Asian Studies.

22 (September 1991): 327-46. 22. As noted by Senate staffers Lowenstein and Moose, following a visit to Southeast Asia in January 1972, Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base was "the most important operational military nerve center in Thailand ." U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on U.S. Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Thailand , Laos, and Cambodia: January 1972, 92d Congress, 2d Session ( Washington, 1972), 12. My portrait of CIA activities is drawn from interviews and correspondence with several retired intelligence officers.  

23. James E. Parker, Jr., to the author, December 1992.

24. Shelby L. Stanton, Green Berets at War: U.S. Army Special Forces in Southeast Asia, 1956-1975 (Novato, Calif., 1985),48,52-53,62.  

25. On U.S. Air Force activities in Laos, see Earl H. Tilford, Jr., Crosswinds: The Air Force's Setup in Vietnam (College Station, Texas, 1993).  

2 6. General Vitoon Yasawatdi's activities are discussed in Rueng Yote Chantrakiri, The Thoughts and Memories of the Man Known as Dhep ( Bangkok, 1992). I am indebted to the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Georgia for a grant to have this volume translated from the Thai by Kris Petcharawises.  

27. On Vang Pao's background, see Keith Quincy, Hmong: History of a People (Cheney, Wash, 1988), 160-94.  

28. V. H. Gallacher and Hugh N. Ahmann interview with Jesse E. Scott, 6 April 1973, USAFHRC. See also Christopher Robbins, The Ravens (New York, 1987).  

29. William W. Lofgren and Richard R. Sexton, "Air War in Northern Laos , 1 April-3D November 1971," U.S. Air Force CHECO Report, 22 June 1973 , USAFHRC; Hamilton Merritt, Tragic Mountains, 266-76.  

30. Teletype report, "The 1971/1972 Communist Dry Season Offensive in Northern Laos" n.d. This document, most likely generated by the CIA in Laos ca. May 1972, is in the author's collection. See also Kenneth J. Conboy, " Vietnam and Laos: A Recent History of Military Cooperation," Indochina Report, 19 (April-June 1989): 1-15.  

31. Parker to the author, December 1992.  

32. The progress of the battle can be followed in the daily situation reports by Air America operations managers Thomas H. Sullivan and Jerome S. Connor, located in the Sullivan collection, Air America Archives, University of Texas at Dallas.  

33. Tovar interview, 13 March 1992 . 

34. New York Times, 21 and 22 December 1971.  

35. Edwin B. Dearborn, "Notes on PDJ Battle, December 17-20," 23 December 1971 Copy courtesy of Edwin B. Dearborn.

36. Major General Alton D. Slay, chief of staff for operations at 7th Air Force, End- of-Tour Report, USAFHRC, is more optimistic in appraising the important role of the Air Force.  

37. Quan Goi Nhan Dan, 14 January 1972 . The author is indebted to Lloyd Landry for a photocopy of the newspaper and translation.  

38. Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia: January 1972, 18  

39. Michael E. Ingham to the author, 7 January 1993 ; Pacific Stars and Stripes, 2 April 1972 .  

40. A copy of Nixon's message is in the microfilm collection of Air America records in the author's possession.  

41. Colby presentation to Elias P. Chavez, 8 February 1974 . Copy of presentation courtesy of Elias P. Chavez.

42. Ted Gittinger interview with Richard Helms, 16 September 1981 , Oral History Program, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, Austin , Texas.  

43. Two of the four intelligence officers who were killed in aircraft accidents- Louis O'Jibway and Edward Johnson-died when an Air America helicopter flew into the Mekong River on 20 August 1965, while en route from Nam Lieu, Laos, to Udorn, Thailand. In addition to the eight case officers, three CIA employees, serving as Air America crew members, were killed in the crash of a C-46 on 13 August 1961, and are memorialized by three stars, without names, in the "Book of Honor" in the lobby of CIA Headquarters.  

44. Douglas Blaufarb, Counterinsurgency Era (New York, 1977), 168.


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