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Genesis of the Hmong-American alliance, 1949-1962: aspirations, expectations and commitments during an era of uncertainty.

Introducing the Kennedy Administration

On January 20, 1961 the John F. Kennedy administration was inaugurated with President Eisenhower's warning in mind that "communist control of Laos would lead to the 'loss' of all Southeast Asia. It was the 'cork in the bottle,' in Eisenhower's words" (Rust 2012: 258). During Kennedy's first cabinet meeting on January 23 the president "wondered aloud to his advisers 'how specifically we planned to save Laos'.. .and t wo days later he told the Joint Chiefs of Staff of his determination to assist the RLG but admitted that he was 'not too optimistic'" (Rust 2012: 259).

The Kennedy administration supported Phoumi's planned offensive to retake the Plain of Jars, and on January 24 the arming of the first 300 Hmong volunteers began when three C-46 cargo planes crossed the Mekong into Laos carrying weapons and equipment (Ahern 2006: 41).

Recovering the Plain was the keystone of the US policy aimed at strengthening the RLG's negotiating position in any political settlement of the civil war (Rust 2012: 259; Ahern 2006: 52). However, Washington's expectations were not realized and the offensive aimed at crushing the Pathet Lao miserably failed in March, thereby significantly weakening the military's presence between the Mekong valley and the rugged borderlands.

Consequently, it became clear that "Vang Pao's guerrillas, and the scattered regular units under his command, had now emerged as the only active opposition to communist and neutralist control of northeast Laos" (Ahern 2006: 55).

On March 9, 1961, President Kennedy signed the "National Security Action Memorandum No. 29" (NSAM-29) which "inaugurated a policy that would characterize American military activity in Laos for more than a dozen years: Extensive CIA paramilitary operations supported by Thailand-based, covert US military agencies" (Castle 1993: 30). According to John Prados, the Kennedy administration's policy on Laos was the special focus of NSAM-29, and that the memorandum was sensitive for national security reasons because the "president's decision ordered the [CIA] to spearhead important initiatives designed to strengthen pro-US Laotian forces, including both combat and supply [i.e. Air America] functions" (Prados 2011). Included was an approval to expand the CIA's Hmong guerrilla program (Conboy 1995: 51). Prados pointed out that the memorandum was not declassified and made available until 2010.

Kennedy introduced the Laos problem to Americans in a nationally televised press conference on March 23, and pointed out the "difficult and potentially dangerous problem there" and went on to say that "if in the past there has been any possible ground for misunderstanding our desire for a truly neutral Laos, there should be none now" (Rust 2012: 259; Dommen 2001: 439):

A 'peaceful solution' to the crisis, however, required an end to Soviet and North Vietnamese intervention, as well as Pathet Lao attacks against the RLG. 'If these attacks do not stop,' Kennedy warned, 'those who support a truly neutral Laos will have to consider their response.. .No one should doubt our resolution on this point' (Rust 2012: 260).

In spite of Kennedy's "public appeal for negotiations and his thinly veiled threat of intervention the military position of the RLG continued to deteriorate" (Rust 2012: 260), the single bright spot being the CIA program to arm the Hmong as they held their ground against Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese artillery barrages and occasional ground assaults (Dommen 2001: 439). Nevertheless, the main concern of the US continued to be to obtain a cease-fire, and on April 24, 1961 supported a call by the British and Soviets to convene a conference accompanied by an appeal for a cease-fire (Dommen 1971: 197; Dommen 2001: 440).

Why the CIA?

PEO, which managed the assistance flow to FAL troops, also found itself tied up supporting the CIA's relatively small, but increasingly important Hmong force. Under normal circumstances, the Agency's paramilitary activities would have been subordinated to US military command. However, in this case the reason the CIA was charged with working with the Hmong to block Communist intrusion in northeastern Laos was that US military engagement would have conflicted with the administration's commitment to restore neutrality for Laos (Ahern 2006: 56). Former CIA case officer Thomas Ahern went on to say that:

if the program [was] to serve the political purpose of expanding RLG territorial holdings before a cease-fire, the Hmong would require some formal status as part of FAR. Irregulars unilaterally supported by CIA would have no legal standing. The solution was threefold: first to acknowledge some US mission support of Col. Vang Pao, in his capacity as a FAR commander; secondly, to play down the importance of the Hmong militia as a factor in Xieng Khouang Province; and finally, to avoid confirming an Agency role (Ahern 2006: 57).

Initially, the CIA authorized the arming and training of 1,000 men as the first step (Dommen 2001: 433; Ahern 2006: 53). On February 8, 1961, President Kennedy authorized the CIA to arm as many Hmong irregulars as Vang Pao could recruit, but they capped it a 5,000 (in addition to the 2,000 who received carbines in late 1960) (Ahern 2006: 45). By August 1961, the number increased to 12,000 guerrillas (Conboy 1995: 88; Castle 1993: 42-43). (50) Based at various locations on the fringes of the Plain of Jars, the Hmong activities were mainly hit and run blows that were disruptive only and mainly concentrated in the Plain of Jars area.

It was pointed out by Timothy Castle that:

the Hmong were fighters, but they fought only in defense of their own land and lifestyle.. .[and] felt no allegiance to a country controlled by lowlanders [who they held in contempt]. Therefore, as CIA case officers and their PARU interpreters/assistants moved from village to village, their message to the tribesmen was simple: 'The Vietnamese will soon come to take your land. We [the US] will give you the means to fight and defend your homes. The response was generally favorable (Castle 1993: 38-39).

That the CIA was the principal supporter of the Hmong guerrilla forces was clarified in Edward G. Lansdale's memorandum (possibly written in July 1961) to General Maxwell D. Taylor, President Kennedy's military officer:

Political leadership of the [Hmong] is in the hands of Touby Lyfoung, who now operates out of Vientiane. The military leader is Lt. Col. Vang Pao, who is the field commander. Command control of [Hmong] operations is exercised by the Chief CIA Vientiane with the advice of Chief MAAG Laos. The same CIA paramilitary and US military teamwork is in existence for advisory activities (9 CIA operations officers, 9 LTAG/Army Special Forces personnel [White Star], in addition to the 99 Thai PARU under CIA control) and aerial resupply (Gravel 1971: 646).

In December 1961 the CIA started turning over control of the Momentum network to the Hmong, an undertaking which was to be managed by Hmong Special Operations Teams (SOT), twelve-man units trained in Thailand and modeled after the Thai PARU which were deployed to forward sites. By early 1962 Project Momentum expanded into Sam Neua Province, and at the same time a new paramilitary formation, the Special Guerrilla Unit (SGU) was created. The SGUs were designed to serve as enhanced ADCs for unconventional offensive-type operations (Conboy 1995: 89).

Guerrilla Bases Established

While direct US military intervention was still an option in early 1961, the CIA rushed to launch and implement Project Momentum in an effort to encircle the Plain of Jars with new guerrilla bases (Ahern 2006: 60). Dozens of guerrilla camps, some more or less permanent and others constructed only to support a particular operation, were to appear in succeeding years. Rudimentary airstrips, known as Lima Sites (LS), had been carved out of the mountaintops of each command post to make them accessible, and drop zones (DZ) were cleared to receive airdrops of supplies carried out by CIA-owned Air America. (51)

Beginning in April 1961, White Star advisors attempted to recruit and train Hmong in the Kiou Kacham--Phou Chia area of Luang Prabang Province (located astride Route 13 which connected Vientiane and Luang Prabang). Shortly thereafter, according to Conboy the CIA (under pressure) agreed to allow White Star into Vang Pao's Pa Dong headquarters. (52) Conboy went on to say that "the incorporation of Special Forces advisors into Momentum was awkward and redundant.. .In effect, the Special Forces assumed the training role already being performed by Thai commandos" (Conboy 1995: 65). By the fall of 1961, White Star was operating from five Momentum locations, (53) the headquarters being Pha Khao (Conboy 1995: 88). In March 1962, White Star departed from three of their training camps and relocated to Sam Thong (Conboy 1995: 89), where they remained until their departure from Laos in October 1962 in accordance with the 1962 Geneva Agreement.

Concurrently, through April 1961 the CIA advisors, which numbered seven by the end of March, completed the formation of a loose ring around the Plain of Jars by established training posts at Pa Dong, Pha Kha, Ban Na, Phou Fa, Tha Lin Noi, San Tiau, Muang Ngat, and Houei Sa An, several of which were former GCMA bases (Conboy 1995: 62-64). The establishment of bases by White Star and the CIA could only have been accomplished with support from the network of clan leaders and elders, many of whom had ties with Touby during the GCMA days.

Of the nine zones (54) that surrounded the Plain of Jars, four were commanded by their traditional Hmong leaders who were fully loyal to Vang Pao. Since traditional leaders were not present at the other five zones, Vang Pao selected Hmong officers to command the irregulars in these locations. Nevertheless, the CIA was concerned that there might be insufficient alternative leadership to survive the loss of Vang Pao, whose presence was a "charismatic one-man show." By October 1961, Lair was confident that influential local leaders had been identified who might supplement or replace the outsiders (Ahern 2006: 101-102).

Mobilization Incentives

Touby's first generation of recruits became the foundation for Vang Pao's army (Lee 2005: 331). Subsequently, paramilitary soldiers were usually recruited by a local leader who would assemble a group of men and submit a list to Vang Pao for approval. Once they were recruited, platoon leaders and squad leaders were usually picked by their political position or relationship to the chief and not by their leadership ability (Wing 1964: C104-C105). In addition to benefits for their families, recruits received generous monetary compensation. While regular FAL soldier's monthly pay was 900 kip per month plus 30 kip per day allowance provided by his commander to pay for the soldiers' rations, Vang Pao's soldiers were paid 8,000 kip per month plus a 200 kip per day ration allowance while they were on operations (Sananikone 1984: 138139). (55) There was also a schedule of bounties available to encourage contact with the enemy (Castle 1979: 60-61). Furthermore, of considerable importance was the supply of rice to their families.

According to FAL General Oudone Sananikone, Vang Pao's troops, which were part of the FAL, "received special treatment from the Americans because they operated in this strategic zone in the highlands along the North Vietnamese frontier." He went on to say that unbeknownst to the FAL, White Star teams organized and trained Hmong units outside the structure of the FAL using troops pulled from the FAL. Sananikone claims that although troops in the original FAL Hmong battalions were drawn down considerably, the FAL headquarters continued to pay the battalions according to their original strength reports. As a result, the Hmong irregulars were receiving double pay (Sananikone 1984: 77-78).

Asked how he avoided clan division while seeking to garner the support of different clans during his command of the CIA's secret army, Vang Pao said he did it by distributing bounties obtained from the Lao authorities to clan leaders. He then called upon these clan leaders to mobilize members within their own clans to support his cause. Elaborating on this point Vang Pao stated that "later, when I was in charge I tossed leadership titles to everyone. Whatever [title] they wanted, I would make recommendations to the king who would just sign [giving his seal of approval]. Whatever Hmong wanted they got so it was not hard [to maintain their loyalty] at all" (Lee 2005: 349).

In other words, Vang Pao's ability to obtain from the Lao king whatever titles these clan leaders desired was essential to securing and maintaining their loyalty. It was the king who legitimized these titles and the CIA who provided their salaries. The bottom line was that it could be said that it was the king of Laos and the CIA who "fashioned Vang Pao's legitimacy as a supreme Hmong leader from 1960-1975" (Lee 2015: 42).

To meet Vang Pao's needs to exploit his status as both military commander and political leader of a clan alliance, the departure from conventional funding and accounting procedures were required, and to this end a "slush fund indispensable to his tribal leadership was essential" (Ahern 2006: 101-102). Furthermore, Bill Lair provided a subsidy that enabled Vang Pao to provide financial relief to the needy which was essential to Vang Pao's ability to maintain and extend his authority (Ahern 2006: 179). From the beginning, it was recognized that support to Hmong civil society was essential to its survival.

Nevertheless, Vang Pao's authority "rested on constant negotiation and mediation on things like clan politics, personal disputes, official misconduct, and petty trade. Like any governor dependent on the consent of the governed, Vang Pao made the necessary compromises.. .with important families to which he lacked close ties..." (Ahern 2006: 179).

Did the Hmong Seek Integration?

It has been said that the "key to understanding the contemporary history of the [Hmong] in Southeast Asia is their love of independence and their desire to derive full benefits from their cash crop of opium. These two factors, rather than any ideological convictions, appear to determine in many instances whether the [Hmong] will fight for or against groups and established governments in Southeast Asia" (Schrock 1972: 227).

With this in mind, from the beginning one of Bill Lair's challenges was to avoid provoking RLG suspicion of US partisanship on behalf of the Hmong; furthermore, both Lair and Vang Pao were determined not only to avoid the appearance of supporting Hmong autonomy but to encourage and promote the tribe's assimilation into the Lao nation (Ahern 2006: 46). Vint Lawrence, who served as the CIA's liaison officer with General Vang Pao and was "his constant companion" for three years (1962-1965), pointed out that:

one of the things that I did constantly was to help, was to push Vang Pao into making his allegiance to the king absolutely clear and absolutely undeniable and he understood that. In fact, he understood that perhaps better than I did. But I supported him in that. Because if the king would, as he did historically, put the minority peoples under his wing it made it more difficult for the political factions in Vientiane to attack them. And so we tried very hard to keep any talk of political autonomy for the Hmong completely out of the question (Lawrence 1981).

A major challenge for the Hmong's mediator was "to balance Hmong aspirations to be free and the state's desire to extract goods and services as well as impose assimilation. When a conflict arises between these opposing objectives, the political broker faces a dilemma" (Lee 2015: 33).

From a social-economic point of view, integration of Hmong village economies into a progressive regional economy, which began in Xieng Khouang province after World War II and spread from there to other parts of the kingdom (Yang Dao 1993: 90), was a catalyst for social integration, the latter being enhanced by the extension of education opportunities (Yang Dao 1993: 97). Nevertheless, the challenge faced by the Hmong seeking to completely integrate into the Kingdom of Laos was the way in which the Lao elite viewed their own society (see Halpern 1964: 84-95). While the Hmong may have fought to preserve their traditional sense of national identity and out of resentment to previous Communist depredations, it is questionable about whether their motivation arose from "a sense of 'love of royalty' or even clearly defined loyalty to the royal government generally" (Halpern 1994: 90).

In reality, it seems that all the Hmong wanted was equality with their Lao compatriots in a free, independent Laos. The unification under Vang Pao's leadership of so many clans in Xieng Khouang and Sam Neua Provinces offered an unparalleled opportunity to achieve this. But success depended on continued, direct American assistance; in effect, an American guarantee of Hmong social advancement. The Hmong position was summarized as follows: 'Their only hope of an honorable existence in Laos is to remain a strong enough group so that any Laotian government will be forced to treat [Hmong] with respect" (Ahern 2006: 144).

To this end, it was proposed in April 1961 that newly recruited Hmong paramilitary forces would be integrated into the FAL. Not only would this establish the RLG's future control of the Hmong, thereby dispelling the apprehensions of the RLG with respect to arming the Hmong, the supply of, and overt (as opposed to covert) relations with the Hmong forces would be legalized. Furthermore, this would enable the RLG to claim occupation and therefore control of large areas of Xieng Khouang Province (United States 1961b: 11-12).

In all likelihood Vang Pao, Touby, and the Americans anticipated that the recovery of the Plain by the FAL would be a short-term affair thereby enabling the Hmong villagers to return to their homes and resume their normal lives (Blaufarb 1977: 142; USAID 1961). In the meantime, they would support General Phoumi by harassing the enemy and diverting their attention from thwarting Phoumi's campaign to recover the Plain of Jars. Most probably, none of the concerned parties envisioned this operation as the first year of a thirteen-year war between the Hmong and other tribal groups, and the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao (Blaufarb 1977: 143).

Ahern stated that "from the beginning, the [CIA] station had seen support to Hmong civil society as essential to the tribe's survival," and that "problems only indirectly connected with the war effort [came to be seen] as part of the same project: To preserve the Hmong way of life and to improve material conditions while encouraging political and economic integration into the Laotian polity" (56) (Ahern, 181).

Grant Evans correctly pointed out that "while social and cultural change among the Hmong accelerated.. .growing Hmong interaction with lowland Lao demanded adjustment on both sides, and it occurred slowly" (Evans 2002: 139).

Cease-Fire and the 1962 Geneva Conference

Following the April 24, 1961 call for a conference and cease-fire, during the early stages of negotiations between the opposing factions on May 3, 1961 in Ban Namone (Dommen 2001: 443), the Pathet Lao agreed to a cease-fire. Nine days later the fourteen-nation "International Conference on the Settlement of the Laotian Question" convened in Geneva and negotiations lingered on for a year until July 1962. The overarching US goal at Geneva was to establish a "neutral, politically independent Laos with a firm international guarantee against external aggression" (Rust 2014: 26).

On the other hand, it was observed that "strategic planning by the Pathet Lao was a 'joint enterprise' with party and Foreign Ministry leaders in Hanoi.. .The Vietnamese saw their effort in Laos as a part of the protracted struggle for liberation of the unified strategic area of Indochina" (Brown and Zasloff 1986: 81). The Pathet Lao sought an independent and neutral Laos without any international guarantees (Brown and Zasloff 1986: 82). In a sense, the Pathet Lao relationship with North Vietnam was ironic insofar as their desire was to eliminate foreign domination.

By May 1961, the basic structure of the Hmong guerrilla movement, headquartered in Pa Dong, was in place. There were numerous violations of the cease-fire during the course of the Geneva negotiations, and at some point in time following the cease-fire--which was not accompanied by a delineation of the boundaries controlled by the two sides--a decision was made jointly by the concerned parties to continue the resistance movement.

An emerging commitment to the Hmong became evident as early as on May 17 and 18 when a US Embassy delegation, including two USAID personnel and IVS's Pop Buell, visited the Pa Dong area to investigate the needs of the Hmong refugees and the possibility of providing aid. Embassy political officer George Roberts reported that Vang Pao "spoke for the [Hmong], stating that they would certainly welcome what aid the United States could give them since the [Hmong] were now completely dependent on America for their continued existence" (Roberts 1961: 3; Dommen 2001: 439). They also learned about similar problems in other refugee centers around the Plain.

Roberts went on to say:

It was evident to me that the [Hmong] depended on the West, thoroughly detested the Communists, and needed our help. Without American support, they would have to flee or come to some sort of accommodation, but the loyal support they have given the West in resisting the advance of Communism in Southeast Asia clearly entitles them to a more favorable fate. Whether that fate can be found in Laos through fighting the Communists to a standstill at Ban Pa Dong, through re-establishing the [Hmong] further from the Plaine des Jarres, or through such a drastic move as a transfer to Thailand, is not yet known (Roberts 1961: 7).

It became clear by late May 1961 that the Hmong had become the principal instrument of a continued RLG presence in northeastern Laos (Ahern 2006: 81). However, shortly thereafter on June 6 the cease-fire was violated by the Communists who overran Vang Pao's headquarters at Pa Dong. One week later on June 13, the Pathet Lao and Viet Minh attacked and captured Muang Ngat, one of the Hmong training bases located six miles from the North Vietnamese border (Dommen 2001: 444; Ahern 2006: 78). The Communist's aim may have been to strengthen their hand by converting "the cease-fire into a test of intent, and exerted pressure to speed up political negotiations" (Marek 1973: 139). In so doing, it has been reported that the Hanoi-backed Pathet Lao had a need to "wipe out enemy nests in the rear of the liberated areas" (Thee 1973: 131).

With the fall of Pa Dong, once again thousands of refugees were displaced, many of whom retreated (with the irregulars) to Pha Khao. (57) Faced with a new dilemma, the primary objective of the Hmong leaders was to convince their followers that with continued assistance from the Americans and Thai their original homes could be re-secured and held.

Up until the loss of Pa Dong there were no tactical units above company level under Vang Pao's command (58) and steps were taken to organize the Hmong companies into GM-B, an unofficial regiment comprised of units in Xieng Khouang and Sam Neua (Sananikone 1984: 101; Conboy 1995: 95). The Xieng Khouang area was subdivided into ten sectors under the responsibility of GM-B (Wing 1964: C30). As of July 1962 there was a combined total of 170 units of Momentum's paramilitary and FAR's ADC in Xieng Khouang and Sam Neua which, in 1965, were incorporated into Vang Pao's GM-B and formed its core guerrilla force (Conboy 1989: 13).

Going forward from mid-1961, operations in Xieng Khouang consisted almost entirely of guerrilla actions by Hmong teams against the Pathet Lao and Viet Minh forces. As Thomas Ahern pointed out, the Hmong "were now also a [US] client whose dependence on continued US support constituted the single greatest impediment to a settlement at Geneva" (Ahern 2006: 81).

America's Policy Dilemma

It could be argued that a key interest in the Geneva negotiations was to preserve Vang Pao's paramilitary units (Prados 2010). However, to the extent that the dependence of the Hmong on continued US support became a significant impediment to a Geneva settlement, some State Department personnel began to regret the American commitment to the Hmong, but as a whole the Department accepted that the US had both the "moral obligation and practical need" to protect the Hmong with material support and diplomatic efforts on their behalf at Geneva (Ahern 1977: 81). On May 9, 1961, the Acting Secretary of State noted in a message to Ambassador Winthrop Brown that "the US would seek to have the Geneva Conference provide for the protection of Laotian minorities, including the [Hmong]" (United States 1961b: 83).

The military option retained by the US, albeit one which was preferably not through direct intervention, was to continue supporting the resistance movement if the negotiating terms of the Geneva Conference were deemed unacceptable (Blaufarb 1967: 145; FRUS 1994, June 28, 1961: Doc. 125; FRUS 1997, August 10, 1961: Doc. 194). Whatever was to be done on the ground in Laos would have to be done by surrogates, even though the superiority of the North Vietnamese army would always outweigh the military capacity of the surrogates (Ahern 2006: 90; Blaufarb 1977: 147).

One of the conditions of the cease-fire was to halt any further supply of armaments. To this end, the CIA indicated as an option that "the [Hmong] could be instructed under this contingency to make a show of disarming and being pacified. The actual arms that they would turn in, however, should be only a small percentage of their total armaments, as they would probably still be under attack" (CIA Project Paper: 3).

Under these circumstances, in a Project Paper the CIA stated that the US should argue that armed actions by the Hmong would be defensive in nature (CIA Project Paper: 3). It is believed the Project Paper was written by the CIA's station chief in Vientiane, Charles S. Whitehurst (Prados 2010: 331), who stated in the heavily redacted document that "if the [Hmong] are to be aided in their own self-defense, the United States Government must commit full support of the [Hmong] position at Geneva... and [the] resupply of [Hmong] units and their families... The alternative is the abandonment of an entire nation of individuals to bear the full fury of Communist suppression" (CIA Project Paper: 4).

In retrospect, Douglas S. Blaufarb, surmised that:

the foresight which might have suggested that, regardless of the extent of US aid, [Hmong] forces could not be equalized with those of North Vietnam did not exist. Also lacking was an appreciation of the importance attached by the Vietnamese to keeping Xieng Khouang province out of the hands of a powerful enemy. Seeing the [Hmong] as surrogates for the US, they appear--judging by their actions over the next ten years--to have concluded that it was a matter of vital national importance to defeat the [Hmong] resistance. No other reasoning justifies the price they eventually paid to seize and hold the depopulated Plain of Jars and the hills around it (Blaufarb 1977: 147).

Contingency Plans

During this period of policy dilemma, the Communists accelerated their military pressure. To the CIA it seemed that the North Vietnamese could and would eventually "eliminate organized armed [Hmong]...although at great cost" (Ahern 2006: 83). Bill Lair had pointed out that "the [Hmong] would fight well in small-scale actions.. .but if the [Vietnamese] kept on pushing them, they would probably lose, whether the Americans helped them or not" (Dommen 2001: 432). Indeed, it was said that "Touby had urged Vang Pao to maintain small guerrilla units and not engage the much larger North Vietnamese army in a conventional war that would place the Hmong at a disadvantage (Lee 2015: 308).

Accordingly, the US ambassador foresaw an eventual Hmong migration as perhaps the only escape from extermination, and several options were reviewed within Laos--one of which was to resettle Hmong to highland areas of South Laos on the Vietnam border (FRUS 1994, October 14, 1961: Doc. 166)--and in Sayaboury Province, as well as in neighboring Thailand (Ahern 2006: 83-84; United States 1962a: 153; Dommen 2001: 432). The CIA's position, however, was that such an evacuation would "hurt Hmong morale, and unless confronted with the immediate threat of being overrun, the tribesmen would surely look at migration with a 'very jaundiced eye'" (Ahern 2006: 84).

As early as July 1961, Brigadier General Edward Lansdale, the Pentagon's expert on guerrilla warfare, observed that "[Hmong] village[s] are over-run by Communist forces and as men leave foodraising duties to serve as guerillas, a problem is growing over the care and feeding of non-combat [Hmong]. CIA has to be given some rice and clothing to relieve this problem. Consideration needs to be given to organized relief." (Gravel 1977: 646). In this regard, one of the options considered, but not pursued, was the "internationalizing of this aid program by requesting the League of Red Cross Societies to undertake it" (Department of State 1961).

In mid-August 1961 the US Country Team (59) in Laos submitted its recommendations for future Hmong operations under five possible conditions (United States 1962a: 126-127). The bottom line was that in the worst case scenario "the US should continue whatever assistance was necessary for the evacuation of those [Hmong] who wished to leave Laos," with another alternative being to "support the [Hmong] in their present locations or to resettle them in southern Laos." However, the US delegation at Geneva warned that "the US should be careful... [and] that by maintaining the military organization of the [Hmong] it did not endanger long-range US interests in a stable, genuinely neutral Laos" (United States 1962a: 127).

Shortly thereafter, during an August 29, 1961 White House meeting, President Kennedy enquired what would happen to the Hmong in the event of a peaceful settlement and Ambassador at Large W. Averell Harriman responded that "the stronger the [Hmong] are the better able they are to harass the Communists, the better off we shall be." Kennedy proceeded to give the green light to equip an addition 2,000 Hmong, thereby bringing the total to 11,000 Hmong paramilitary recruits (FRUS 1994, August 29, 1961: Docs. 171 and 172).

Although there were indications that frictions existed between Neutralist Kong Le and the Pathet Lao (FRUS 1994, June 28, 1961: Doc. 125), (60) in September Neutralist Souvanna Phouma asked Ambassador Brown to "urge Vientiane to cease rousing [Hmong] against Lao, to moderate [Hmong] guerrilla action, and to stop parachuting men behind his lines. While Souvanna had no objection to [the] airdrop of supplies" (FRUS 1994, September 18, 1961: Document 184; Brown and Zasloff 1986: 88-89), Brown assured him that it was desirable to hold down minor clashes so they didn't erupt into major ones. In compliance, CIA operations officer Vint Lawrence pointed out that "it was very clear that our role to those of us who were running that operation had to be one which never allowed the Hmong to get into an untenable political or military position" (Lawrence 1981).

Nevertheless, the Hmong dilemma lingered, and a paper was presented on the lines of action that the US administration might take if the decision is made to support a Souvanna Phouma Neutralist government:

The primary objective of our policy toward a Souvanna Phouma Laos is to prevent Laos from being used as a base for Communist infiltration and subversion against Thailand and South Viet-Nam. Our secondary objective is to prevent Laos from becoming too easy a passageway for Communist infiltration and guerrilla movement from North Viet-Nam into South Viet-Nam. The first of these can probably be achieved if we can succeed in preserving the non-Communist character of a formally neutral Laos. The second will depend in large part upon the settlement at Geneva.

We are faced with the problem of the disposition of the [Hmong] whom we have armed and who are the most effective anti-Communist fighters in Laos. [Neutralist] Souvanna Phouma has indicated that he wishes to eliminate them as an armed force and no doubt he wishes to punish them as well. We have the choice of: a. Abandoning them. This would be a hard decision to take not only because of our moral commitment to them but also because of their effectiveness as fighters and their possible future utility. b. Shifting them to other areas where they would not be a threat to Souvanna Phouma and his government but might be useful against Pathet Lao concentrations or in harassing Viet Minh movements. This would be physically difficult to accomplish and would imply a modus vivendi with Souvanna Phouma which might be hard to work out (FRUS 1997, October 25, 1961: Document 232).

In February 1962, Ambassador Brown proposed that "our relief and refugee operations continue (most of [the USAID] personnel (61) are now busy in this field) and that we continue to supply airlift for food to FAR, particularly ADCs in isolated areas, including [Hmong], not only for humanitarian reasons and because of our moral obligation to these loyal supporters, but because it will provide us with a basis upon which [General] Phoumi might permit continuance of some American airlift which we would then have available for use of American personnel if necessary" (FRUS 1997, February 25, 1962: Note 1219).

While basic support for the Hmong continued during the course of the Geneva Convention, as neutralization approached recruiting was terminated, ammunition stockpiles were reduced, and most American advisors were withdrawn. Indeed, the United States took steps to close down Momentum insofar as no weapons were issued to the Hmong beginning June 27, and ammunition drops were suspended on July 21. By the time the Geneva Accords went into effect, the Hmong were left with short-term defense capabilities (Blaufarb 1977: 147; Conboy 1995: 90).

Outcomes of the 1962 Geneva Conference

The outcome of the Geneva Conference on July 23, 1962 was the "Declaration of the Neutrality of Laos" which called for the formation of the second coalition government, and shortly thereafter a tripartite government was formed representing the Pathet Lao, the Neutralists, and the Rightists, with Neutralist Souvanna Phouma as prime minister. One of the key elements specified by the Accords was the "withdrawal from Laos of all foreign troops and military personnel" by October 7 (Rust 2014: 254). (62)

William Rust wrote that while "the 1962 Geneva declaration helped avoid a direct superpower confrontation over Laos, the kingdom that emerged from the conference was far less stable than the wobbly state shaped by the 1954 accords. When the earlier agreement was signed, the Pathet Lao was a small, weak presence confined to two northern provinces. In 1962, it controlled about one-half the country, including the border area with Vietnam" (Rust 2012: 265).

On October 5, two days before the Geneva Accords were to take effect, Harriman said during a conversation with the Deputy Director of the United States Information Agency that:

the press have blown this up, and also the CIA and the Pentagon--that this is a great event: October 7. They are going to make a lot of accusations we cannot prove wrong and we are going to make a lot of accusations we can't prove right. Point is, we haven't got any combat troops there. There's been a lot of good news--we've been asked [by the RLG] to continue to supply Phoumi, to supply the [Hmong]. But the point is we don't want to blow up domestically that October 7 is something of importance. The conflict is political now--not military. What I have said privately is 'It's going just about as badly as I expected but with some better news than I expected' (FRUS, October 5, 1962: Document 427).

Concerns arose regarding the future of the Hmong resistance. On the one hand, it could be argued that continued US support would be advisable in the event the neutralization effort failed. On the other, the proposed terms of the Geneva Accords made it difficult for the US to continue support for the resistance. As the various obstacles to neutralization were overcome, some at the policy level questioned the wisdom of ever having undertaken such a far-reaching commitment and one that was so difficult to dissolve. It was a critical moment for the resistance and a time when a decision to extricate the US was probably considered (Blaufarb 1977: 146).

At the same time, this was a period of intense administration interest in guerrilla warfare. The CIA's Cold War global military strategy was based on the Office of Strategic Service's (OSS, CIA's predecessor) support of partisan warfare strategy during World War II, which centered on small, mobile units designed to operate in enemy-held territory, in challenging Communist control and organizing civilian resistance. Furthermore, withdrawal of support would effectively mean abandoning people to Communist rule (Ahern 2006: 5; Blaufarb 1977: 145).

Roger Hilsman, a former OSS jungle warfare officer in Burma during World War II and a Kennedy foreign policy advisor, wrote some years later that "arming the tribesmen engineered an obligation not only to feed them when they were driven from their traditional homeland, but also to protect them from vengeance. This was an obligation.. .that might come to be a hindrance to implementing the Geneva Accords and achieving a truly neutral Laos" (Hilsman 1967: 115).

Aware of the potential consequences of the Accords, when Vang Pao met with clan elders on the usual egalitarian basis which prevailed during such gatherings one of the senior leaders questioned the wisdom of accepting people who had long been enemies. He said that joining the Communists in a coalition "was like going to bed with a tiger.. .everyone would have to stay awake all night." The Hmong were accustomed to life at the mercy of external forces, and the leaders recognized the paucity of choices. They voted to stick with Vang Pao and substitute intelligence collection and harassment forays for aggressive military activity (Ahern 2006: 126).

Airdrop Supply Issues

The day before a July 28, 1962 meeting in Washington with Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma, who travelled there following the Geneva agreement, Ambassador Harriman recommended the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency to:

discuss frankly with Souvanna, but not reveal our first alternative to hold [Hmong] intact with arms hidden. Harriman stated that [Pathet Lao leader Souphanouvong] considers [Hmong] armed bandits; Right Wing considers them minority tribe that needs help and loyal to Souvanna and the King and therefore should be considered an asset to the new government. We should discuss with Souvanna [the] logistic problem of feeding the [Hmong] as [the] use of planes would be criticized by [Souphanouvong]. However supply of food [is] essential and can only be done by air (FRUS July 27, 1962: Document 412). (63)

Accordingly, during the course of the meeting both Harriman and the Director of Central Intelligence:

urged the importance of the [Hmong] to Souvanna and admitted [their] feeling of responsibility toward them. [They] urged that Souvanna make a public declaration of confidence in the [Hmong]... Souvanna agreed to the continued air supply and was not concerned by possible [Pathet Lao] static. He would establish mixed inspection teams to insure no arms or ammunition went on the air drops. He would take up the [Hmong] question immediately on his return but was prone to view it from a long term viewpoint of their resettlement in the Plains rather than in terms of the immediate problem. He was unworried about the Meo problem because Touby, the Chief of the [Hmong], was loyal to him, indeed had been brought up by him (64) (FRUS 1994, July 28, 1962: Doc. 415).

As early as August 1962, the Pathet Lao protested Air America flights to sustain the Hmong refugees and soldiers in RLG-controlled territory claimed by the Pathet Lao, an issue that Geneva had failed to address by not delineating territorial boundaries (Brown and Zasloff 1986: 88-89).

During an August 28 meeting in the Cabinet Room, President Kennedy asked what was being done to supply the [Hmong], and "Mr. Harriman responded that we had an agreement with Souvanna that permitted us to get food supplies to the [Hmong]. [1-1/2 lines redacted] They indicated that there were still US advisers with the [Hmong], and that their presence would not constitute violation of the Geneva Accords until after October 6." The President went on to ask "whether we had more requests for arms and whether we should accede to them if the other side were not in fact withdrawing their troops. Secretary Rusk thought that if we get no assurance from Souvanna of a genuine cut-off of help from the North, we should reserve freedom of action for ourselves" (FRUS, August 29, 1962: Document 422).

Of particular concern was the ability of the US to continue critical airdrops to the Hmong people scattered over a widespread area of outposts and refugee centers. "Having failed to 'mop up' right-wing [Hmong] guerrilla units, [the Pathet Lao] apparently [hoped] to compel these forces to disband by choking off their supplies" (Central Intelligence Bulletin 1962, October 2, 1962). The Communists hoped to accomplish this by insisting that the US-chartered air supply flights to the Hmong must cease by October 7. (65)

Long Tieng, Sam Thong, and Refugee Relief

In August 1962 Vang Pao and the CIA selected Long Tieng, a "pristine and absolutely beautiful" (Lawrence 1981) mountain valley, as a more suitable headquarters and would remain there until 1975 (Wing et al. 1964: D35; Conboy 1995: 90-91; Ahern 2006: 88-89). Shortly thereafter in October 1962 neighboring Sam Thong (a former White Star base) became the headquarters for USAID's northeastern Laos refugee relief and related programs (Conboy 1995: 90-91; Benson 2015: 34). As of October 1962, 140,000 refugees and military families (many of them Hmong) were being supported with rice requirements totaling forty tons per day delivered mainly by airdrops (USAID 1962b: 1-4).

On October 1, Souvanna Phouma wrote a letter to US Ambassador Unger requesting him to continue aid to the Hmong because of concerns that if it was not done the Hmong would conclude that the government was ineffective and might turn against it. In an earlier letter, Souvanna told the ambassador that the delivery of food and medicine to refugees should be carried out under the RLG's administration and that the Americans should make it clear to the Hmong and other minorities that their loyalty was to the government (Dommen 2001: 485).

Under a new formal agreement with the Lao Ministry of Social Welfare, beginning October 7, 1962, USAID embarked on a mission to provide assistance to refugees--many of whom were dependents of Hmong military--as long as there was a need (Benson 2015: 36-37). They could not have realized that in the years to come attempts to seek peace would be shattered and there would be seasonal increases in the refugee population in northern Laos and an inexorable displacement of population gradually retreating through the mountains toward RLG-controlled areas along the country's vital artery, the Mekong valley.

Vang Pao's Concerns

During the period after the Geneva Agreement took effect in October 1962 Americans restricted material support for the Hmong, and Vang Pao duly bombarded their passivity in the face of Neutralist and Communist violations. However, for Vang Pao the critical issue was that:

his objection to a perceived American emphasis on support to [Neutralist Prime Minister] Souvanna [Phouma] at the expense of the Hmong rested on two political calculations, the first having to do with the tribe's place in Laotian society. Vang Pao insisted that all the Hmong wanted was equality with their Lao compatriots in a free, independent Laos. The unification under his leadership of so many clans in Xieng Khouang and Sam Neua Provinces offered an unparalleled opportunity to achieve this. But success depended on continued, direct American assistance; in effect, an American guarantee of Hmong social advancement. [redacted] summarized the Hmong position: 'Their only hope of an honorable existence in Laos is to remain a strong enough group so that any Laotian government will be forced to treat [Hmong] with respect' (Ahern 2006: 144).

In reality, during this difficult period (and thereafter) Vang Pao was unable to unite all of the Hmong, especially those who lived outside Xieng Khouang Province who chose to keep their distance from both Vang Pao and the Pathet Lao, while others chose to support Faydang. (66) Deep clan divisions were also a factor. (67)

Vang Pao was also concerned about the impact reduced American support would have on his political standing with the Hmong people. Indeed, he carried out American support under his name (he also made it clear to everyone that he was a loyal agent of the Lao government and the king), and he made full use of his ability to command American support as a means of strengthening his own appeal and his hold on his people (Blaufarb 1977: 153):

[Vang Pao] explicitly acknowledged that direct US aid had to continue if he was to 'demonstrate to all [Hmong] that their only salvation' was to follow him. Without him--and there was no one who could replace him--they would 'break up into uncontrollable bands' and their military position would dissolve. [Redacted] thought it essential to get more ammunition and spare parts, both to bolster Vang Pao's standing with his troops and to meet genuine tactical needs. [Redacted] emphasized the strategic aspect in explaining Vang Pao's low spirits: Vientiane might fear the extermination of the neutralists in a shootout with the communists, but Vang Pao had a different concern. If Kong Le tacitly ceded the Plain of Jars to the communists, they would consolidate their control, and the Hmong under Vang Pao would never recover this sacred ground (Ahern 2006: 144).

By November Souvanna's fragile coalition began to disintegrate when the Pathet Lao began to take action to weaken Kong Le's Neutralist forces. However, during the early stages of the conflict the CIA cautioned Vang Pao that he should do no more than "encourage friendly contact" with Kong Le promoting the line that all were working for a neutral, independent Laos. CIA Station Chief Whitehurst wanted Vang Pao to avoid any suggestion of support for the Neutralists in open conflict with the communists (Ahern 2006: 141-142).

Vang Pao did take note of the fact that American support had a positive impact insofar as the Hmong were stronger and more united than ever before. At the same time, Thomas Ahern stated that "Vang Pao had been warned that a political settlement would mean changes, including a return to greater agricultural self-sufficiency. But the US Mission was 'still running [a] large airlift of food to [the Hmong] who, as far as [redacted] concerned, have not really adjusted to [the] fact that we cannot keep shoving tons of rice out of airplanes indefinitely'" (Ahern 2006: 144).


During the course of an era of hope, uncertainty, and ultimately despair, the tortuous road of retreat from the Hmong political center of Nong Het to their new Long Tieng headquarters was a long and treacherous one. At the end of the day, the Hmong inter-clan leaders, in search for autonomy and political recognition, were to pay heavy prices for making commitments to both the French and the Americans, although trade-offs were mutually beneficial in some respects. Unbeknownst to all concerned parties at the time, the stage was being set for greater political and military complexities and challenges that were yet to come as the Geneva Agreements unraveled and the war escalated (Benson 2014).

Thomas Ahern argued that "at the beginning of 1963, continued American support of the Hmong resistance...reflected as much a sense of obligation to loyal clients as it did a conviction of their military or political value" (Ahern 2006: 147). However, Michael Forrestal from the White House and Roger Hilsman from State visited Laos from January 9-14, 1963 and observed that "the [Hmong] remain one of the most difficult residual problems we face in Laos. Even if we could assure support for them in the future, the question would remain whether such support is worth their value as a source of intelligence or their value as a military asset in the event of a breakdown of the Geneva Accords. It is becoming evident that our capability to supply the [Hmong] is being increasingly jeopardized."

They went on to inquire into the "extent of our moral obligation to these people, is it enough to set them on the path to self-sufficiency, or are we required to help them withdraw to military secure zones?" In the event, would it be in the best interest of the Hmong from a survival standpoint to relocate them in some areas around the Plain? They concluded that "if the situation in Laos is to remain.. .in an uneasy balance, a constant counteroffensive will have to be waged by Ambassador [Leonard] Unger and his country team" (FRUS 1994, Undated, ca. January 1963: Document 440).

The first clear and unmistakable violation of Geneva's cease-fire on a large scale took place in April 1963. The Pathet Lao, with the support of North Vietnam, turned on Neutralist Kong Le and overran the Plain, and in response, with Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma's knowledge, high level decisions were made in Washington on April 10 by President Kennedy that permitted limited expansion of the Hmong guerrillas in support of Kong Le (Benson 2014: 232-233; Conboy 1995: 99). By late summer, Vang Pao took steps to reactivate ADC units located across Sam Neua Province; furthermore, FAR began to mobilize battalions in Sam Neua (Conboy 1995: 100). It can be said that this marked the beginning of the so-called "Secret War," so named because "all sides preferred to pretend that the 1962 Geneva Protocol remained in force, pristine, and unsullied" (68) (Prados 2010: 327).

In retrospect, Douglas Blaufarb viewed American involvement in the conflict from beginning to end as being a largely "unplanned and improvised" undertaking "which changed character several times from a limited and provisional action related to internal Lao affairs to an open-ended campaign tied to the US's general objectives in Indochina" (Blaufarb 1977: 166167).

At the same time, the Hmong resistance may be seen as a popular counterinsurgency movement which, in the context of a war of large dimensions, could not prevail against its enemies without greater help than their patron, the United States, was prepared to offer (Blaufarb 1977: 167-168). What was the ultimate objective of the Hmong people? Vint Lawrence, who served as General Vang Pao's CIA case officer for three years, reminisced about conversations during the frequent gatherings of Vang Pao and all the local leaders:

Again long, long talks, memories of old times, memories of the times up on the plateau of Xieng Khouang where they all wished to return. An incredibly fierce desire to go back to the farms that they had and dreaming of the day--knowing probably full well that day would never come--of what their life had been like. And today it happens the same. I mean today talk to these people and they still are dreaming about that place they left.

So there was a lot of memory talk, where their spirits were, where they had grown up, where they wanted to return to" (Lawrence 1981).

Likewise, Touby Lyfoung hoped that "if one day the country will [be] at peace again.. .I will take all my children to develop and rebuild once more my father's villages of Nam Kuang and Phak Khe [in the Nong Het area] and on that day how happy and proud will I feel?" (Lyfoung 1996: 185)

Years after the war ended in 1975, Nhiavu Lobliayao, Faydang's half-brother and a Communist party member, confided shortly before his death in Nong Het in 1999 that "we all, the left and the right, have made mistakes and many people have lost their lives from these mistakes. No one really wins, everyone suffers from the war" (Say Khao 2005).

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(1) As described by Bernard Fall, "Laos is neither a geographical nor an ethnic or social entity, but merely a political convenience ... wherein [the country's] physical chaos alone accounts for much of Laos' present trouble" (Fall 1969: 23).

(2) Xieng Khouang's population density was estimated to be 4.4 inhabitants per [km.sup.2] in 1943 and 6.7 in 1958 (Halpern, Laos Paper 3: 4).

(3) A brief history of Xieng Khouang can be found in Simms 1999: 184-203. See also Lee 2015: 80-88.

(4) By about 1900 two generations of warfare probably reduced the Phuan population of the plateau by more than three-quarters (Smuckarn and Breazeale 1988: 3).

(5) For more information about the Chinese Haw (also referred to as Ho) raids see Smuckarn and Breazeale 1988.

(6) See Nong Het area map in Lee 2015 page 154.

(7) One source identifies 19 clans in Laos: Chang, Cheng, Chu, Fang, Hang, Her, Khang, Kong, Kue, Lor or Lo, Ly or Lee, Moua, Phang, Tang, Thao, Vue, Xiong, Vang, and Yang (Yang Dao 1992: 23).

(8) For detailed accounts of the causes and impact of the Pa Chay rebellion see Gunn 2003: 215-215; Quincy 2000: 31-49; Lee 2015: 103-120.

(9) Kaitong was the official title bestowed by the Phuan upon the heads of the great Hmong families in the Nong Het area; namely, the Lo, Ly, Yang, Vang, and Moua clans. The Kaitongs were obliged to pay tribute to the Phuan authorities (Yang Dao 1993: 25).

(10) "In the 1920s a French road-building project, linking Luang Prabang and Vinh, Vietnam, to be called Colonial Route 7, went directly through Xieng Khouang province. This contact with the French, who hired many of the Hmong as laborers, was an important step toward ending Hmong isolation" (Castle 1979: 130).

(11) A biographical sketch of Faydang can be found in Burchett 1959: 228-233.

(12) The League for the Independence of Vietnam, or Viet Minh, was set up by the Indochinese Communist Party in May 1941 to serve as a broad front organization for Communist-directed independence and reform movement in Vietnam (Stuart-Fox and Kooyman 1992: 164).

(13) For more information about elements of the Thao clan see Quincy 2000: 250-251.

(14) Faydang claimed 40,000 followers (Burchett 1959: 233]; the Lao Ministry of Interior recorded a total of 37,347 Hmong in Xieng Khouang in 1953. The latter was a sample population figure (out of a recorded figure of 86,728 people) who resided in 940 villages (Halpern 1961: 20).

(15) The Lao Issara seized power following the Japanese surrender in August 1945. By April 1946, members of the movement, which opposed the return of Laos to French jurisdiction, were forced to flee to Thailand with the French reoccupation of Laos. Early in 1949, the Lao Issara split over the question of relations with the Viet Minh. Negotiations with the French authorities led to abolition of the Lao Issara government-in-exile in October 1949 and the return of most members to Laos. Those remaining formed the communist Pathet Lao and continued the armed struggle in alliance with the Viet Minh (Stuart-Fox and Kooyman 1992: 73-74).

(16) A "Muang" is an administrative district, and the "Chao Muang" is a member of the civil service appointed by the governor. A "Tasseng" is a sub-district that was introduced by the French (Stuart-Fox and Kooyman 1992: 89, 152).

(17) An autobiographical sketch of Chao Saykham with references to his relationship with Touby can be found in Evans 2009: 256-265.

(18) Touby's younger brother, Colonel Nao Kao, maintains that as Chao Muang of the Hmong the king extended to Touby authority over all Hmong in the land of the Lao (including Sam Neua, Luang Prabang and Sayaboury Provinces) (Lee 2015: 279).

(19) The Lao Issara Government was dissolved following the signing of the Franco-Lao Convention that recognized Laos as an independent state (although the French retained control of various functions, including defense). After signing a mutual-defense treaty in October 22, 1953, Laos was recognized by the French as a "fully independent and sovereign" state (Stuart-Fox and Kooyman 1992: 74, 44).

(20) For a biographical sketch of Prince Souphanouvong please refer to Stuart-Fox and Kooyman 1992: 142.

(21) The International Control Commission (ICC) was formed in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Agreements and comprised representatives of India, Canada and Poland. Its attempts to ensure implementation of the Agreements were frustrated by a lack of cooperation from the Pathet Lao, the lack of transportation, and internal disagreements between the members (Stuart-Fox and Kooyman 1992: 57).

(22) Created in 1952, the Armee Nationale de Laos (ANL) was an outgrowth of the French colonial forces, the French officers of which were withdrawn in 1954. In mid-1959, ANL was renamed Forces Armees du Laos (FAL), and in September 1961 Forces Armees du Royaume (FAR) (Conboy 1995: 21; Conboy 1989: 12; Conboy 1994).

(23) Lao government officials refused to permit missionaries to teach Hmong as a written language on the grounds that languages in Laos should be written in Lao script (Halpern 1964: 90; Smalley 1990: 152).

(24) Quincy points out that the Hmong took pride in their oral tradition but in their hearts knew writing was power (Quincy 2000: 25).

(25) Beginning in 1963 Operation Brotherhood was funded by USAID. Before that it was largely CIA financed (Central Intelligence Agency Memorandum, July 14, 1960).

(26) Operation Brotherhood was based initially in Xieng Khouang town (February-June 1957) and later in Ban Ban (June 1957-October 1960), which is situated between Nong Het and Phonesavanh (Bernad 2015 : 52).

(27) See Edgar (Pop) Buell's field reports (Buell 1962-1999: 1-219; Jacobs 2012: 194-208; Schanche 1970).

(28) American envoys to Laos between 1950 and 1964 were Donald R. Heath (December 29, 1950-November 1, 1954) and Charles W. Yost (November 1, 1954-August 19, 1955); American ambassadors to Laos between 1955 and 1962 were: Charles W. Yost (August 19, 1955-April 27, 1956), J. Graham Parsons (October 12, 1956-February 8, 1958), Horace H. Smith (April 9, 1958-June 21, 1960), Winthrop G. Brown (July 25,1960-June 28, 1962), and Leonard S. Unger (July 25, 1962-December 1, 1964).

(29) PEO was a civilian alternative to a Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG). On April 19, 1961, PEO Laos was renamed MAAG Laos (Conboy 1994: 33). MAAG subsequently left Laos in October 1962 in accordance with the 1962 Geneva Agreement.

(30) From 1953 to 1974 air transportation service (provided initially by Civil Air Transport, known as CAT, and later by its direct descendent, CIA-owned Air America, by Bird and Sons, and by Continental Air Services, Inc.) were to become key players in providing essential air drops and air support services (Leary 1999; Leeker 2013).

(31) Beginning with Milton Clark, CIA station chiefs in Laos included: Henry Hecksher replaced Clark in mid-1957, Gordon L. Jorgensen replaced Hecksher in March 1960, Charles S. Whitehurst replaced Jorgensen in July 1962, Douglas S. Blaufarb replaced Whitehurst in May 1964, Theodore Shackley replaced Blaufarb in July 1966, Larry Devlin replaced Shackley in August 1968, Hugh Tovar replaced Devlin in September 1970, and Daniel Arnold replaced Tovar May 1973.

(32) Prime ministers between 1950 and 1975 were: Phoui Sananikone (February 24, 1950-October 15, 1951), Savang Vatthana (October 15, 1951-November 21, 1951), Souvanna Phouma (November 21, 1951-October 25, 1954), Katay Don Sasorith (October 25, 1954-March 21, 1956), Souvanna Phouma (March 21, 1956-August 17, 1958), Phoui Sananikone (August 17, 1959-December 31, 1959), Sounthone Pathammavong (December 31, 1959 January 7, 1960), Kou Abhay (January 7, 1960-June 3, 1960), Somsanith Vongkotrattana (June 3, 1960-August 15, 1960), Souvanna Phouma (August 30, 1960-December 13, 1960), Quinim Pholsena (December 11, 1960 December 13, 1960), Boun Oum (December 13, 1960-June 23, 1962), and Souvanna Phouma (June 23, 1962 December 2, 1975), Minister of Laos, last accessed November 13, 2015.

(33) Thao Tou Yang was Vang Pao's childhood friend and he later tried to persuade Thao Tou to defect when he was encamped on the Plain. Thao Tou was later killed in a jeep accident on January 13, 1961 near Xieng Khouang allegedly following a Hmong guerrilla ambush (Conboy 1995: 28 footnote). His Vietnamese driver survived the accident (Lee 2015: 301-302; Vang 2012: 163-164). Thao Tou's successor in 1963 as commander of Pathet Lao troops was Foung Tongsee Yang, also known by his Lao name General Paseut (Lee 1982: 202, 219 footnote).

(34) Thomas L. Ahern, Jr. was a CIA Operations Officer in Xieng Khouang in the early 1960s and Douglas S. Blaufarb was the CIA's Station Chief in Laos from May 1964-July 1966.

(35) An American Catholic priest, Father Bouchard spoke Hmong and worked and lived with the Hmong in Luang Prabang, Sam Neua and Xieng Khouang Provinces throughout most of his time in Laos from 1956-1975 (Bouchard 2014).

(36) It should be noted that four Military Regions (MRs) were formed in Laos in 1955, two of which encompassed northern Laos: MR 2 covered Xieng Khouang, Pathet-Lao held Sam Neua, Borikhane, and Vientiane Provinces, and MR 1 included Luang Prabang, Sayaboury, Houa Khong, and Pathet-Lao held Phong Saly Provinces (Conboy 1995: 14). In July 1959, FAR concluded that MR 2 was too large for a single command and split off Vientiane Province which became MR 5. The headquarters for MR 2 shifted to Xieng Khouang town (Conboy 1995: 22).

(37) Touby Lyfoung's successors as Chao Muang of Muang Meo were Chia Xa Moua (assassinated in 1958), and, subsequently, Tong Pao Ly. In about 1967-68 Muang Meo, was divided into five Muangs (Muang Vang Xay, Muang Vieng Fa, Muang Nong Het, Muang Xieng Hung, and Muang Ngat) (Email from Yang Dao dated January 23, 2015; Administrative Structure: 1-13). Regarding the assassination, see Vang 2012: 46 who said that it took place in May 1959).

(38) Although the Hmong repeatedly affirmed their loyalty to the king, it has been surmised that the close correlation of the Buddhist religion and the Lao monarchy, and therefore the royal government, may have served as an obstacle in their dealings with minorities who were not of the Buddhist faith and tradition (Halpern 1964: 115).

(39) While maintaining loyalty to the king, Kong Le's aims were to end the civil war, resist foreign pressures, remove foreign troops from Laos, and suppress rampant corruption in Vientiane (Toye 1967: 141).

(40) For a brief description of the relationship between General Phoumi and Kong Le see Dommen 2001: 389 and Rust 2012: 177-178. An overview of Phoumi Nosavan's background can be found in Toye 1968: 145-1947.

(41) Soviet military activity had been limited to providing an airlift, via North Vietnam, of weapons and supplies to the Pathet Lao and Neutralist forces beginning in December 1960. Their small mission on the Plain was withdrawn and the airlift discontinued by December 1962. Thereafter, North Vietnamese were trained to fly the planes and deliver food and ammunition to the Pathet Lao.

(42) Neither soldiers nor families were prepared to separate in situations where villagers were left behind under enemy control; accordingly, in threatened locations the population base was relocated to secure areas outside the enemy's reach (Blaufarb 1977: 142).

(43) Linwood Barney indicated that Chao Saykham met with Touby together with all district chiefs, both Hmong and Lao, and requested their support in breaking away from Vientiane (date unspecified). Barney stated that "the probable reason for this was that Touby and the Governor feared a Communist take-over of the Laotian government and the Governor saw a chance to reassert a claim to Xieng Khouang autonomy" (Barney 1967: 274-275). An alliance was made with Phoumi who proceeded to supply Chao Saykham and Touby with arms.

(44) It was reported that at the request of Touby, the Xieng Khouang military commander had Vang Pao arrested in August 1960 because of his loyalty to the Souvanna Phouma regime. While other references to the arrest incident have not been found, by December Vang Pao had become more-pro-Phoumi (US Department of Defense 1962: 299300).

(45) A biographical sketch of General Amkha can be found in Stuart-Fox and Kooyman 1992: 4-5.

(46) As per Hmong scholar Mai Na Lee during conversation on April 10, 2015.

(47) Based on Hmong scholar Mai Na Lee's interview with Vang Pao as conveyed to the author on April 11, 2015.

(48) Since early 1961, the Thai Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit (PARU) served as guerrilla operations advisors to CIA-organized paramilitary forces in Laos (Conboy 1995: 59). Thailand had been motivated since the nineteenth century to prevent Vietnamese control of the left bank of the Mekong. Thai nationals were actively engaged in fighting in Laos on the side of the government since at least the summer of 1964 (Dommen 1971: 283). For more information about the Thai involvement in Laos, see Sutayut Osornprasop's Thailand and the Secret War in Laos, 1960-74.

(49) For more information about Project Momentum see Conboy 1995: 59.

(50) By October 7, 1962 when the Geneva agreement went into effect a total of 19,500 guerrillas had been recruited (Rust 2014: 138).

(51) For detailed information about Lima Sites see Air America 1967-1973: 1-478.

(52) The pressure placed on the CIA may have been prompted by their Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco which took place in April 1961.

(53) The five locations were Pha Khao, the Sala Phou Khoun area, Muang Phun, Muang Oum, and Muang Moc (Conboy 1995: 88)

(54) Another source indicates there were ten sectors (Wing 1964: C30).

(55) The date paramilitary pay was at this level is unknown.

(56) In July 1964 Vang Pao and Chao Saykham (with assistance from Vint Lawrence), started the Union of Lao Races (ULR)--Lao Huam Lao--radio station that, with approval from the king, broadcasted in Lao, Hmong, and Lao Theung (Khmu), the most effective themes being the king as father of the Lao action and the unity of Laos. The radio station remained in operation until May 1975 (Shackley 2005: 42; Lyblong 2015: 147-148; Colonel Vang Geu email to author dated May 20, 2015).

(57) One year later, on April 20, 1962, Pop Buell wrote: "About 10:30 Col. Vang Pao and myself left for Pha Khao (LS-14). It is hard to believe, less than 10 months ago I was the first American in here. All there was the old Pha Khao village, which consisted of about 20 houses. Now we have some 800 houses and over 7,000 people" (Buell 1962: 84).

(58) Since 1959, the military commander of Military Region 2 (Xieng Khouang and Sam Neua Provinces), to whom Vang Pao reported, was General Khamkhong Bouddavong (his predecessor was Major Sang Kittirath). General Vang Pao replaced Khamkhong as MR 2 commander on February 28, 1965 (Conboy 1995: 14, 19, 125).

(59) Coordinated by the US ambassador, Country Team members included the chiefs of USAID, USIS (United States Information Service), CIA, PEO/MAAG, and the Military Attache.

(60) By late 1962, the Pathet Lao were making an effort to split the Neutralists and create a dissident "Patriotic Neutralist" faction under the leadership of Kong Le's turncoat Lieutenant (later Colonel) Deuan Sounnalath. The Americans began providing supplies to Kong Le at the request of Souvanna Phouma after they were shortchanged by the Pathet Lao. By early 1963, discreet contact was established between Kong Le and Vang Pao (Dommen 2001: 488, 490).

(61) As noted earlier, many of USAID's refugee relief field personnel were former IVS/Laos and Peace Corps volunteers (the latter with experience in other Southeast Asian countries) who spoke Lao, were sensitive to the cultural environments in which they worked, accepted operational risks, and were dedicated to their mission (Benson 2015: 40).

(62) It was estimated that North Vietnam withdrew only a small fraction of its estimated 6,000-9,000 troops in Laos. All but two of the CIA officers, Vint Lawrence and Tony Poe, and 100 Thai PARU personnel, all of whom were engaged in training and supporting the Hmong, were withdrawn to Thailand (Rust 2012: 265; Warner 1995: 85).

(63) The logistics issue is reviewed in some detail in Dommen 2001: 485-486; Leary 1999; Department of State, September 29, 1962: Vientiane 508; Department of State, September 30, 1962: NIACT 378; Department of State, October 1, 1962: Vientiane 521; Department of State, October 3, 1962: Vientiane 530; Department of State, October 5, 1962: Vientiane 541.

(64) According to Touby, he stayed at Souvanna Phouma's house for three months when he was a student at Lycee Pavie (Lyfoung 1996: 85).

(65) The Communists' point of view can be reviewed in a section entitled "The Meo Clandestine Army" that was written by Thee 1973: 307-312. Marek Thee was Poland's delegate to the International Commission for Supervision and Control (ICC) in Laos and had close contacts with the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese. Information about ICC can be found in Stuart-Fox and Kooyman 1992: 57.

(66) Paul Hillmer points out that "in piercing the mythology that often surrounds Vang Pao, one must be careful not to overreach ... For those who try to accurately describe Vang Pao, striking a proper balance between hero worship and character assassination remains a daunting task" (Hillmer 2010: 78).

(67) Examples of complex clan relationships are exemplified in Lyblong 2015 and Benson 1971.

(68) As Grant Evans noted, "the spotlight of critical commentary has fallen on the so-called American 'secret army,' mainly because more information is available" (Evans 2002: 143).

Frederic Benson (MBA, MLIS) went to Laos in 1968 with International Voluntary Services (IVS) and subsequently worked for USAID's Office of Refugee Affairs from 1970-1974. After leaving Laos he pursued a career in international business which included years of engagement throughout Asia. He is presently an independent researcher in Greensboro, North Carolina and focuses on pre-1975 Laos. His publications include Indochina War Refugee Movements in Laos, 1954-1975: A Chronological Overview Citing New Primary Sources and The Unravelling of the 1962 Geneva Accords: Laos, 1962-1964. He also compiled an extensive collection of documents entitled Indochina War Refugees in Laos, 1954-1975: Documents and Reports which can be accessed on the University of Wisconsin's "Southeast Asia Images and Texts Digital Collection," together with the Frederic C. Benson Laotian Slide Collection.
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Title Annotation:p. 34-62
Author:Benson, Frederic C.
Publication:Hmong Studies Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9LAOS
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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