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The twists and turns of American policy in Laos, and of the internecine strife between the rightist generals, initially backed by Washington, the neutralists, under paratroop captain Kong Le who overturned the government and only just failed to consolidate his power in Vientiane in 1960, and the centrists, under Prince Souvanna Phouma, are too complex and too far removed from the central realities of the conflict to warrant tracking. Suffice it to say that, after a less than satisfactory flirtation with semi-covert intervention, the Kennedy Administration concluded that it could do no better in Laos than sign a diplomatic settlement in Geneva which in theory removed Laos from the conflict and left Souvanna Phouma in power in Vientiane.


In the intervening years, the Pathet Lao, backed by more or less undisguised North Vietnamese military support, became increasingly active in the eastern half of Laos. That they were stopped short of total victory was largely attributable to two individuals, Laotian Army Vang Pao and Edgar "Pop" Buell. Vang Pao, a Hmong chieftain, and the only Hmong to rise to general officer rank, provided military leadership and Buell, an Indiana farmer who came to Laos as an agricultural advisor, organized the logistics and provided a link with the American Embassy in Vientiane. Eventually, the CIA, recognizing a good thing when they saw one, decided to provide the surprisingly effective partisan organization these two had put together on a shoestring with a modicum of support and they convinced the Embassy and Washington to agree to this. The Thais, who had their own strategic concerns and territorial ambitions in Laos, were happy to help. The air base at Udorn in north central Thailand became a beehive of Air America activity and the primary base of the tiny Royal Lao Air Force, whose antiquated piston-engined T-28 trainers proved surprisingly effective as ground support aircraft in the jungle-clad karst wildernesses of northern Laos. Elite volunteers from the Thai Border Patrol Police, mostly ethnic Lao so they could blend in with the local populace, were sent to north Laos as advisors to anti-communist partisan bands. Eventually, they were joined by Thai artillery men and support troops.




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