Le in 1960
|Born||6 March 1934|
|Died||17 January 2014 79) (aged|
|Allegiance||Kingdom of Laos|
|Service/||Royal Lao Army|
|Years of service||1951 – 17 October 1966|
|Rank||Captain (later self-proclaimed Major General)|
|Commands held||2ème bataillon de parachutistes (Parachute Battalion 2); Forces Armées Neutralistes (Neutralist Armed Forces)|
|Battles/wars|| Battle of Vientiane |
Battle of Lak Sao
Captain (later Major General) Kong Le (Lao: ກອງແລ; 6 March 1934– 17 January 2014 ) was a paratrooper in the Royal Lao Army. He led the premier unit of the Royal Lao Army, 2ème bataillon de parachutistes (Parachute Battalion 2), which campaigned relentlessly during 1959 and 1960. The idealistic young American-trained Lao Theung officer became known worldwide when on 10 August 1960 he and his mutinous paratroopers overthrew the Royal Lao Government in a coup d'état. He declared he aimed at an end to government corruption; to the shock of American officials, he declared U.S. policies were responsible for the ongoing fraud.
Once ousted by the U.S.-backed 14 December 1960 countercoup by General Phoumi Nosavan, Kong Le and his paras retreated to the strategic Plain of Jars, gathering recruits to the neutralist cause along the way. Once established on the Plain as the Forces Armées Neutralistes (Neutral Armed Forces), this third side in the Laotian Civil War would begin to splinter as neutralists began to favor either the Communist or Royalist forces. In April 1963, the Patriotic Neutralists broke off to ally themselves with the communist Pathet Lao, while Kong Le engineered a rapprochement with the Royalists for FAN.
Over the next couple of years, FAN's battle performance in support of the Royalists was poor; especially striking was their inability to overcome a Vietnamese communist stronghold overlooking the FAN main base at Muang Soui's all-weather airfield. As Kong Le's subordinates became increasingly dissatisfied, and FAN units began to mutiny, he was forced to leave Laos on 17 October 1966.
He would remain in exile in Indonesia, Hong Kong, the United States, and France. He died in the latter on 17 January 2014.
Kong Le was born on 6 March 1934 to Lao Theung parents and spoke Phu Tai. He stood 1.57 m (5 ft 2 in) tall and was a slender but muscular man. His ethnic origin showed in his wide cheekbones and dark skin. He acquired an excellent command of French, as well as knowing functional English.
His father died in 1940, leaving the six-year-old to farm rice. He received a little formal education at the Savannakhet Lycee before enlisting in the Royal Lao Army circa 1951. He showed enough martial promise to be included in the third Officer Candidate School class at Dong Hene. He graduated 19th in his class of 21.He was noted for his changeable temperament and rapid mood swings.
Kong Le's first assignment after OCS subordinated him to Captain Ouane Rattikone in Luang Prabang. In 1957, he underwent Scout Ranger training at Fort William McKinley, the Philippines. After back to Laos, he was trained by Kopassus. Upon his return to Laos in 1958, he joined 2ème bataillon de parachutistes (Parachute Battalion 2) as its second in command.During his early paratroop service, he befriended two other officers who would become important in Laotian history, Vang Pao and Thao Ma.
In December 1959, Captain Kong Le was approached by his uncle-in-law, General Ouane Rattikonewhile the commanding officer of BP 2 was in the United States, leaving Kong Le in charge. On 25 December 1959, the term of the National Assembly expired. General Phoumi Nosavan convinced Kong Le of the necessity to fill the political vacuum. The 25 December coup in Vientiane succeeded without harming anyone. General Phoumi became the Minister of Defense and held actual power over the Royal Lao Government thanks to the captain.
Kong Le's unit, 2ème bataillon de parachutistes (Parachute Battalion 2), was considered the cream of the Royal Lao Army. As such, they were constantly deployed for a year, went unpaid for months at a time, and lacked time to even build themselves barracks for shelter. The paratroopers became mutinous. On 10 August 1960, Kong Le led the paras in a coup that saw only six killed. The same vital points were seized as in the 1959 coup, with the addition of the arrest of General Sounthone Pathammavong, the Chief of Staff, as Kong Le seized power for the second time.
Kong Le's aims in seizing the capital became apparent in his radio broadcasts:
What leads us to carry out this revolution is our desire to stop the bloody civil war; eliminate grasping public servants and military commanders ... whose property amounts to much more than their monthly salaries can afford. ... It is the Americans who have brought government officials and army commanders, and caused war and dissension in our country.
Phoumi Nosavan did not acquiesce. On 10 August, he flew to Bangkok. He solicited support from his first cousin, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, the dictator of the Kingdom of Thailand. Phoumi flew to Savannakhet to establish a headquarters and pull together a resistance movement in Savannakhet.
On 11 August, the Pathet Lao pledged their cooperation with Kong Le.The next four months of turmoil saw Kong Le struggle to maintain control over the Kingdom of Laos in the face of a burgeoning resistance. Kong Le convinced Souvanna Phouma to become Prime Minister in the new government; in turn, Souvanna appointed General Ouane commander in chief of the RLA. Lao commanding officers such as Generals Amkha Soukhavong, Kouprasith Abhay, Oudone Sananikone, and Sing Rattanasamy backed Kong Le with various levels of enthusiasm.
In early October, Vang Pao declared that Military Region 2's forces backed Phoumi. After the internecine struggle, Military Region 1 also remained in Phoumi's control. On 16 November, General Ouane flew to Savannakhet to join Phoumi.With Central Intelligence Agency financial backing, and aided by CIA-trained commandos, Phoumi's troops set forth at 0800 hours on 21 November 1960 to reclaim Vientiane.
On 13 December 1960, Phoumi's counter-coup column began his assault on Kong Le's paratroopers occupying Vientiane. For four days, the two sides shot it with crew-served weapons without closing for near-range combat. Although the two sides caused little harm to one another, about 600 homes burned, an estimated 600 civilians were killed, and downtown Vientiane was destroyed. On 16 December, Kong Le's forces withdrew northward toward the strategic Plain of Jars, leaving Phoumi once again in charge of Laos.
By 4 January 1961, Kong Le's forces—by now dubbed Forces Armées Neutralistes (Neutralist Armed Forces)—held the Plain of Jars from Muang Soui eastward along Route 7 to the Vietnamese border. The Soviet supply airlift that had begun just before the fighting began in Vientiane continued to supply FAN. The People's Army of Vietnam supplied advisers to FAN; they also supplied advisers to beef up the Pathet Lao units supporting FAN. In the meantime, Phoumi's American backers struggled to find a covert source of airpower to oppose Kong Le, as the RLA ground forces proved incapable of dealing with FAN. Eventually, the Americans settled on supplying the Royal Lao Air Force with its first strike aircraft, four T-6 Texans, as well as forming the abortive Operation Millpond.
On 12 April 1962, Kong Le reached a rapprochement with Vang Pao; the guerrilla leader agreed to loan Kong Le security forces for guard duty.On 1 May 1962, the Pathet Lao proposed a truce. Fighting halted two days later. On 6 May, the International Control Commission originally established under the 1954 Geneva Agreements was revived to oversee peace efforts.
By the time the International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos agreed upon on 23 July 1962 came into effect, FAN had ramped up to a strength of 8,000 troops. Three battalions under Brigadier General Khoumane Boupha were occupying far northern Phongsali Province. There were two new infantry battalions outposted in Vang Vieng on Route 13, threatening Vientiane from the north. Three battalions moved southward into the panhandle to occupy Tchepone, Nhommarath, and Mahaxay. FAN's center of gravity on the Plain of Jars was four paratroop battalions and two artillery battalions. The new artillery battalions were not the only heavy weapons units added to FAN. An armored company of amphibious tanks formed from the 45 PT-76s passed on to FAN by the PAVN. There was also a small air arm, consisting of two C-47s and two Beavers flown north from Vientiane during the retreat to the Plain; in December 1962, they would be augmented by three Li-2s from the Soviet Union. To command all this, Kong Le promoted himself to Major General.
Meanwhile, Kong Le mended fences with the Royalists he had been opposing. In turn, on 6 April 1963, the Pathet Lao launched several simultaneous surprise attacks on Kong Le's forces on the Plain of Jars. Although FAN was driven from its positions, it evacuated most of its tanks and heavy weaponry to Muong Phanh. On 10 April 1963, President John F. Kennedy approved U.S. military aid supply drops to bolster FAN.On 12 April. Kong Le met with Vang Pao at Sam Thong. They agreed on cooperation between their forces; a contingent of Vang Pao's troops would don Neutralist uniforms and guard FAN headquarters, freeing Neutralists for combat duty. Hmong Royalist military irregulars also cratered Route 7, thus closing the main communist supply line. Then too, Hmong units would ambush Route 4 traffic behind communist lines, as well as harassing various of their units with hit-and-run raids. However, Kong Le's forces would suffer 85 killed, while the communists lost 71 dead.
However, this strength would soon be vitiated in April 1963,as a schism split the newly named Forces Armées Neutralistes (Neutral Armed Forces). As neutralists began to favor either communists or royalists, there were several political assassinations among officers favoring either persuasion. Colonel Deuane Sunnalath and Brigadier General Khamouane Boupha tolled away four neutralist infantry battalions, as well as an artillery battalion, to form the Patriotic Neutralists. The Patriotic Neutralists allied themselves with the Pathet Lao. In the southern panhandle, the majority of 4ème bataillon d'infanterie (Infantry Battalion 4) defected to the new movement. As the breakaway Patriotic Neutralists had allied themselves with the communists, Route 9 from Khe Sanh, Vietnam to Xepon, Laos was now open for North Vietnamese invaders.
May 1963 saw Kong Le in a quandary. The answer to dissent in his ranks could be a renewed offensive; to remain quiescent would risk dissolution of FAN. However, a new assault on the communists might evoke an overwhelming counterattack by PAVN. As it turned out, his newly acquired American advisor counseled against aggression, and a planned FAN attack never came off. Meanwhile, Hmong forces continued to interdict communist supply lines as a means of relieving communist pressure on FAN.
Nor were heavy casualties and the Patriotic Neutralist desertion the only diminutions of Kong Le's forces. FAN's dismal performance in the Battle of Lak Sao ended in January 1964 with whipped FAN units giving up their presence in Military Region 3 when they were withdrawn to the Plain of Jars.Further defeats in early 1964, followed by the April coup in Vientiane sparked further discontent within FAN's ranks; there were further defections to the pro-communist Patriotic Neutralists. By the time Operation Triangle came around, FAN had to be reinforced by Thai mercenary artillerymen. The fighting in Operation Triangle ended in late July 1964 with FAN's failure to conquer the Vietnamese stronghold overlooking the FAN base at Muang Soui. In December 1964, another FAN offensive on the communist-held high ground planned to take advantage of the morale boost elicited by Kong Le's leadership. During this attack, communist tanks killed 12 FAN troopers and wounded 68. By the 10th, the repelled Neutralists were back at their starting point of Muang Soui. Kong Le, who had sat out the assault by serving as a Buddhist monk, fired the attack's commander for embezzling 1.5 million Lao kips.
By February 1965, Kong Le was locked in conflict with his battalion commanders over the unsuccessful operations against Phou Khout and squabbles about promotions and money.Nearby FAN 5ème bataillon d'infanterie (Infantry Battalion 5) at Moung Hiem, commanded by Souvanna Phouma's nephew, co-existed pacifically with nearby PAVN units. However, on 11 March 1965, the Vietnamese unexpectedly overran the battalion and executed its three senior officers.
In April 1965, Kong Le flew to Jakarta, Indonesia seeking additional military aid for his army. As a result, on 21 August 1965, an Indonesian C-130 landed at Wattay International Airport with seven tons of uniforms and other military equipment for FAN. It departed, carrying 68 of FAN's lower-ranking officers for extended training in Indonesia. A second flight followed suit two days later. This arrangement perturbed the Americans, who were suspicious of the Indonesian government's left-leaning politics. Their supply efforts to date had maintained FAN at a static level. They now upgraded FAN weaponry and improved the runway at Muang Soui. In October, Kong Le toured the United States for a month, receiving military honors at Fort Myer, Virginia. Upon returning to Laos, FAN made another unsuccessful assault on the communist ridgeline strongpoint overlooking Muang Soui. Kong Le sat out the action while serving as a Buddhist monk.
In January 1966, 14ème bataillon d'infanterie (Infantry Battalion 14) mutinied in protest against Kong Le's lack of leadership.Kong Le's reply was another attack on Phou Khout on 20 February. Lacking air support, it failed. Ongoing attacks throughout March, although supported by air raids using napalm, did no better. 8ème bataillon d'infanterie (Infantry Battalion 8) then mutinied on 30 March 1966, walking off the battlefield. 2ème bataillon spécial de commandos (Special Commando Battalion 2) nearly joined them. On 1 April, during a Royalist General Staff meeting, Kong Le gave a lengthy lecture on the necessity of requesting mercenary troops from Indonesia. In turn, he was told by Souvanna Phouma that his FAN battalions would be sequentially withdrawn for retraining in Lop Buri, Thailand, before being placed under the command of Royalist Military Region commanders. In August 1966, BI 8's new commanding officer launched them in another unsuccessful assault against his foe's overwatch positions. By now, Kong Le had lost the support of most of his subordinate officers. His interest in a French intelligence officer's daughters did not help matters. Three of his subordinates divided up command of FAN and forced him into exile. Kong Le sought asylum in the Indonesian embassy in Vientiane. On 17 October 1966, he left Laos.
In March 1967, Kong Le left Indonesia to Hong Kong. In June, he left there for France. Once in France, he began plotting a return to Laos.
In the mid-1980s, Kong Le spent two years in Meng La, China in a futile attempt to spark an invasion of his native country.
In the late 1980s and part of the 1990s, Kong Le lived in the United States. He then lived in exile in Paris until he died in January 2014.
Major General Phoumi Nosavan was a military strongman who was prominent in the history of the Kingdom of Laos; at times, he dominated its political life to the point of being a virtual dictator. He was born in Savannakhet, the French Protectorate of Laos, on 27 January 1920. Originally a civil servant in the French colonial administration of Laos, during the last year of World War II he joined the resistance movement against the Japanese occupiers. Exiled from 1946 to early 1949 for his opposition to French return to colonizing Laos, he returned to his native soil to begin a military career in 1950 after the collapse of the anti-French Lao Issara government. By 1955, he was Chief of Staff of the brand-new Royal Lao Army. While in that position, he was largely responsible for appointing senior officers into command positions in the Military Regions of Laos. Following that, in 1957 he was the first Lao officer to be schooled in France at the École de Guerre. While in France, he became acquainted with Central Intelligence Agency operative John F. "Jack" Hasey. Phoumi returned to Laos to become a founding member of the Committee for the Defence of National Interests on 17 June 1958. On 25 December 1959, he took control of the capital of Vientiane and of the nation in a bloodless coup.
Major-General Kouprasith Abhay was a prominent military leader of the Kingdom of Laos during the Laotian Civil War. Scion of a socially prominent family, his military career was considerably aided by their influence. In early 1960, he was appointed to command of Military Region 5, which included Laos' capital city, Vientiane. Removed from that command on 14 December for duplicitous participation in the Battle of Vientiane, he was reappointed in October 1962. He would hold the post until 1 July 1971, thus controlling the troops in and around the capital. Over the years, he would be involved in one way or another in the coups of 1960, 1964, 1965, 1966, and 1973. His service was marked by a deadly feud with another Laotian general, Thao Ma; the feud was largely responsible for the latter two coup attempts against the government.
The Battle of Luang Namtha, fought between January 1962 and May 1963, was an important engagement of the Laotian Civil War. It came about as a result of the turmoil following Laotian independence as a result of the First Indochina War with France. The Kingdom of Laos had foreign soldiers upon its soil, and a political struggle in progress concerning those outside troops. Following a coup and counter-coup that left General Phoumi Nosavan in charge, the general decided on military action to settle the political issue of interlopers in Laos.
Operation Triangle was a military operation of the Laotian Civil War staged from 19—29 July 1964. Although planned by the General Staff of the Royal Lao Army, it was subject to American approval because the RLA depended on the Americans for finances, supplies, and munitions. Operation Triangle was an ambitious undertaking dependent on martial skills unfamiliar to the Lao. It not only called for coordination of infantry, artillery, and tactical air strikes among forces of three different nationalities; as a covert operation, it also had to have plausible deniability.
Operation Raindance was a military operation of the Laotian Civil War, staged from 17 March to 7 April 1969. It was launched by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in support of Hmong guerrillas raised by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). As the guerrillas were being pressured by enemy troops pushing to within ten kilometers of their main bases, the aerial campaign was planned to cause a pullback by the pressing communists.
Campaign Toan Thang was the first communist wet season offensive of the Laotian Civil War. Launched on 18 June 1969 and successful by the 27th, the assault by People's Army of Vietnam troops from the 312th Division and sappers of the 13th Dac Cong Battalion captured Muang Soui. Although the defenders outnumbered the assailants by three to one, the only hard surfaced airfield near the Plain of Jars would fall to the communists, depriving the defending Royal Lao Government of its only forward fighter-bomber base.
Operation Off Balance was a hastily planned offensive operation of the Laotian Civil War; it happened between 1 and 15 July 1969 on the Plain of Jars in the Kingdom of Laos. The Royal Lao Government forces in Military Region 1 of Laos had just been evicted from the crucial all-weather airfield at Muang Soui, as well as most of the Plain, on 28 June 1969. Hmong General Vang Pao planned a quick counter-offensive to recapture the airfield from his communist foe; it would kick off on 1 July, supported by 60 sorties per day of tactical air strikes from Operation Barrel Roll.
The Battle of Vientiane was the decisive action of the 1960 Laotian coups. Fought between 13 and 16 December 1960, the battle ended with General Phoumi Nosavan winning control of the Kingdom of Laos with the aid of the Royal Thai Government and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Vientiane was left devastated by the fighting, with about 600 civilian dead, about the same number of homes destroyed, and 7,000 left homeless. The losing Forces Armées Neutralistes under Captain Kong Le retreated onto the strategic Plain of Jars, to begin an uneasy coexistence with the Pathet Lao and the invading People's Army of Vietnam.
The 1960 Laotian coups brought about a pivotal change of government in the Kingdom of Laos. General Phoumi Nosavan established himself as the strongman running Laos in a bloodless coup on 25 December 1959. He would be himself overthrown on 10 August 1960 by the young paratrooper captain who had backed him in the 1959 coup. When Captain Kong Le impressed the American officials underwriting Laos as a potential communist, they backed Phoumi's return to power in November and December 1960. In turn, the Soviets backed Kong Le as their proxy in this Cold War standoff. After the Battle of Vientiane ended in his defeat, Kong Le withdrew northward to the strategic Plain of Jars on 16 December 1960.
Forces Armées Neutralistes was an armed political movement of the Laotian Civil War.
Lieutenant Deuane Sunnalath (1927–1978) led a schism within neutralist forces fighting in the Laotian Civil War. After following Captain Kong Le through his 1960 coup that established a third side in the war, Deuane led a walkout from Kong Le's Forces Armee Neutraliste in April 1963. Deuane would lead his disaffected Patriotic Neutralists into an alliance with the Communists, while the remaining Neutralists in FAN would favor the Royalists. Deuane would eventually become the Deputy Minister of Education in the Provisional Government for National Union on 9 April 1974.
The Patriotic Neutralists were an armed political movement of the Laotian Civil War. Founded in April 1963 by a schism from Forces Armee Neutraliste (FAN) when the latter favored alliance with the Royal Lao Army, the Patriotic Neutralists allied themselves with the opposing Communist forces in the war. The most notable military action that involved them was a devastating air raid on 13 October 1969 that killed all its officers except commanding officer Colonel Deuane Sunnalath. Although retaining a nominally separate identity from the Pathet Lao, Patriotic Neutralist leaders Deuane Sunnalath and Khamouane Boupha would succeed to ministerial posts in the communist-dominated Provisional Government of National Union on 9 April 1974.
Kham Ouane Boupha is a Laotian soldier and politician. Appointed to command Phongsali Province in the Kingdom of Laos in 1957 or 1958 while he was in his mid-twenties, he would maintain that base throughout the impending Laotian Civil War. During that war, in April 1963, he would defect from government service to head the pro-communist Patriotic Neutralists movement. At the end of the war, as the Communists succeeded to power through the Provisional Government of National Union, Kham Ouane Boupha was appointed Deputy Minister of Defense on 9 April 1974. He was promoted to become Minister of Defense on 12 May 1975 and served as such for many years, even while he was also Minister of Justice. He retired from cabinet rank in 2006, becoming a Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister.
Siho Lanphouthacoul was a Laotian paramilitary police officer. He used his powers as the National Director of Coordination to build Laotian police forces into a national power. Appointed as Director prior to the August 1960 coup by Kong Le, Siho gathered and trained two special battalions of paramilitary police during the latter part of 1960. When his patron, General Phoumi Nosavan, seized power in December 1960, Siho's new battalions helped carry the day at the Battle of Vientiane. Acquiring the National Police from the Ministry of the Interior, and co-opting local military police, Siho consolidated the Lao police into the Directorate of National Coordination. Attaining a strength of 6,500 men, the DNC would be Siho's instrument for his short-lived 18 April 1964 coup.
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Campaign 139 was a major military offensive of the People's Army of Vietnam, launched against its Royalist enemies during the Laotian Civil War. Larger than previous invading forces, Campaign 139 was also a combined arms expedition containing tanks, artillery, engineers, and Dac Cong sappers. As such, it was a decided escalation in the war. It was also an exceptional rainy season offensive by PAVN, which usually withdrew during the wet season.
Operation Counterpunch, waged 26 September 1970 to 7 January 1971, was a military offensive of the Laotian Civil War. Royalist General Vang Pao's guerrilla army regained the vital all-weather forward fighter base at Muang Soui on the Plain of Jars from the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). The preemptive Counterpunch was credited with delaying an imminent PAVN wet season offensive for a month. The guerrilla army survived, though still heavily outnumbered by the PAVN.
Phou Khao Kham, was a Royal Lao Government military offensive operation of the Laotian Civil War designed to clear Communist forces off Routes 13 and 7 north of the administrative capital of Vientiane. Its end objective was the capture of the forward fighter base at Muang Soui on the Plain of Jars. Although it succeeded in taking the air base, it failed to remove a concentration of Communist troops at the Sala Phou Khoun intersection of Routes 7 and 13.