Flag of the Pathet Lao
|Leaders||Prince Souphanouvong |
|Dates of operation||1950 – 2 December 1975|
|Ideology|| Communism |
|Battles and wars|| Indochina War |
Laotian Civil War
Communist insurgency in Thailand
Part of a series on the
|History of Laos|
|Muang city-stats Era|
|Lan Xang Era|
|Regional Kingdoms Era|
The Pathet Lao (Lao: ປະເທດລາວ pa thēt lāo, "Lao Nation"), officially the Lao People's Liberation Army, was a communist political movement and organization in Laos, formed in the mid-20th century. The group was ultimately successful in assuming political power in 1975, after the Laotian Civil War. The Pathet Lao were always closely associated with Vietnamese communists. During the civil war, it was effectively organized, equipped and even led by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). They fought against the anti-communist forces in the Vietnam War. Eventually, the term became the generic name for Laotian communists.
The most important source of military aid to the movement (as was also the case for the Vietnamese communists) was China; under orders from Mao Zedong, the People's Liberation Army provided 115,000 guns, 920,000 grenades and 170 million bullets, and trained more than 700 of its military officers.
The political movement of the Pathet Lao was called first the "Lao People's Party" (1955–1972) and later the "Lao People's Revolutionary Party" (1972–present).
Key Pathet Lao leaders include Prince Souphanouvong, Kaysone Phomvihane, Phoumi Vongvichit, Nouhak Phoumsavanh and Khamtay Siphandone.
The political wing of the Pathet Lao, called the "Lao Patriotic Front" (Lao : Neo Lao Hak Xat) served in multiple coalition governments, starting in 1956. Through the 1960s and 1970s the Pathet Lao battled the Royal Lao government during the Laotian Civil War, gaining control of the north and east of Laos. The Pathet Lao gained power throughout the country by the spring of 1975. In December, the US-backed Vientiane government fell and the Lao People's Revolutionary Party formed a new government.
The organization can trace its roots from the Second World War, similar to the Khmer Issarak in Cambodia and the Viet Minh in Vietnam. Originally the Lao Issara, an anti-French, non-communist nationalist movement formed on October 12, 1945, it was renamed the "Pathet Lao" in 1950, when it was adopted by Lao forces under Souphanouvong, who joined the Viet Minh's revolt against the colonial French authorities in Indochina during the First Indochina War. 12–3:
Souphanouvong, who had spent seven years in Nha Trang 7 during his sixteen years in Vietnam, met Ho Chi Minh, married a Vietnamese woman while in Vietnam, and solicited Viet Minh aid in founding a guerrilla force.:
In August 1950, Souphanouvong joined the Viet Minh in their headquarters north of Hanoi, Vietnam, and became the head of the Pathet Lao, along with its political arm dubbed "Neo Lao Issara" (Free Lao Front). 142–3 The Pathet Lao founded resistance government with members: Souphanouvong (prime minister, minister of the foreign), Kaysone Phomvihane (minister of the defence), Nouhak Phoumsavanh (minister of the economy), Phoumi Vongvichit (deputy prime minister, minister of the interior), Souk Vongsak, Sithon Kommadam, and Faydang Lobliayao. This was an attempt to give a false front of authority to the Lao communist movement by claiming to represent a united non-partisan effort. Two of its most important founders were members of the Indochinese Communist Party, which advocated an overthrow of the monarchy as well as expulsion of the French.:
In 1953, Pathet Lao fighters accompanied an invasion of Laos from Vietnam led by Viet Minh forces; they established a government at Viengxay in Houaphan province in northeast Laos. 71–2 The communists began to make incursions into central Laos with the support of the Viet Minh, and a civil war erupted; the Pathet Lao quickly occupied substantial sections of the country.:
The 1954 Geneva Conference agreements required the withdrawal of foreign forces, and allowed the Pathet Lao to establish itself as a regime in Laos's two northern provinces. 73–8 The Viet Minh and North Vietnamese, in spite of the agreement, never really withdrew from the border areas of Laos and the Pathet Lao continued to operate almost as a branch organization of the Viet Minh. Two months after the conference, the North Vietnamese formed the unit Group 100 with headquarters at Ban Nameo. :84–5 The unit effectively controlled and directed the Pathet Lao movement.:
It was formed into an official party, the Lao Patriotic Front (Neo Lao Hak Sat (NLHS)), in 1956. 46 Its stated goal was to wage the communist struggle against capitalism and Western colonialism and imperialism. Unstated was its subordination to the Communist Party of Vietnam.:
A coalition government was established in 1957 between the monarchists and communists. In May 1959 two Pathet Lao battalions which had been selected for integration into the Royal Lao Army (RLA) were surrounded by RLA troops who attempted to disarm them, part of one battalion was captured but the remainder fled to North Vietnam. Then in July 1959 Lao police arrested 16 Neo Lao Hak Sat members, including seven who had been elected to the National Assembly, on charges of treason. These actions brought about a resumption of fighting. 85–9:
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In late 1959, North Vietnam had reoccupied areas of eastern Laos. 90–3 The area was used as a transit route for men and supplies destined for the Viet Cong insurgency in South Vietnam which became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In September 1959, North Vietnam formed Group 959 in Laos with the aim of securing the supply route to South Vietnam and building the Pathet Lao into a stronger counterforce against the Lao Royal government. :95–6 Group 959 openly supplied, trained and militarily supported the Pathet Lao. :141–4 The typical strategy during this era was for PAVN regulars to attack first but then send in the Pathet Lao at the end of the battle to claim victory. :181:
In the early 1960s, more attempts at neutrality agreements and coalition government were attempted, principally the International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos signed in Geneva on 23 July 1962, but as North Vietnam had no intention of withdrawing from Laos, these agreements all failed. The Pathet Lao entered into another coalition government in June 1962 but by April 1963 the Pathet Lao abandoned the coalition and resumed fighting. 113–5:
By the mid-1960s, the country had fallen into proxy warfare between pro-US and pro-North Vietnamese irregular military groups. The PAVN/Pathet Lao battled the RLA, US irregular forces (including Air America and other contract employees and Hmong commandos) and Thai volunteer forces in Laos winning effective control in the north and east. The government itself was effectively powerless. Until 1968 military operations were conducted by small units, usually of company or at most Battalion size. Typically the RLA would be dominant in the wet season from May through October when the PAVN/Pathet Lao were immobilized by the rains and the PAVN/Pathet Lao would dominate during the dry season from November through April. 138–9 PAVN forces in Laos were primarily focused on supporting and defending the Ho Chi Minh Trail, with support for the Pathet Lao revolution as a secondary role. In 1968 of the estimated 40,000 PAVN troops in Laos, 25,000 were engaged in supporting the Trail, 700 as advisers to the Pathet Lao and the remainder in mobile units supporting Pathet Lao operations. :171–2 Publicly the North Vietnamese maintained that they did not have any troops in Laos and were respecting the Geneva Agreement, while the United States and its allies were violating it; the United States asserted the exact opposite. :188–9:
The Pathet Lao supreme headquarters or center was located in the Viengxay caves near Xam Neua manned by approximately 500 personnel. 50 NLHS membership was estimated as being 11,000 in 1965 and 14,000 in 1978. :30:
In October 1965 the armed forces were renamed the Lao People's Liberation Army (LPLA). LPLA estimated strength was 25,000 in June 1965, 33,000 in April 1967, 48,000+ in 1970 and 35,000 in late 1972. 69–70 The LPLA was divided into regular, regional/popular and militia/guerilla forces. LPLA forces had PAVN advisers assigned to them but were not mixed with PAVN forces. :75–6 Recruitment into the LPLA was based on appeals to the patriotism of young Laotians who were told that their country was rich in natural resources but the people were poor because of capitalism and US imperialism. :78 If volunteers were not forthcoming then youth would be drafted, with the draft age of 15, but in many cases conscripts were as young as 12. :78 Training was rudimentary with a greater emphasis placed on political indoctrination than on military skills as the "fighting will" was deemed to be the most important source of military strength. :83–5 Military units had Political commissars down to company level. :86 The LPLA were entirely dependent on the PAVN for the supply of weapons and munitions and were generally outgunned by the RLA. :92:
In May 1968, the PAVN launched a multi-division invasion of Laos. The Pathet Lao effectively served as an auxiliary force to the PAVN. 72–3 In June 1969 the PAVN/Pathet Lao launched Campaign Toan Thang, their first wet season offensive. Unable to match the heavy Soviet and Chinese weapons in addition to the numerical strength of the PAVN/Pathet Lao forces, the RLA took heavy losses. :73 In September 1969 the RLA attacked PAVN/Pathet Lao positions on the Plain of Jars and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, while initially successful the RLA forces were pushed back by the PAVN/Pathet Lao Campaign 139.:
On 2 February 1971 the PAVN/Pathet Lao launched Campaign 74B temporarily capturing the Plain of Jars and shelling Long Tieng, the base of Vang Pao's RLA aligned army before withdrawing. 295–300 On 28 October 1972 the PAVN/Pathet Lao launched Campaign 972 scoring a series of victories over the war-weary RLA forces. :394–5:
With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on 27 January 1973 all U.S. prisoners were to be released under Operation Homecoming. The United States Department of Defense (DOD) listed 311 Americans as missing in Laos, however on 1 February 1973 the North Vietnamese handed the Americans a list of prisoners of war in Laos which included only nine Americans: seven servicemen and two civilians.U.S. agencies believe that as many as 41 Americans may have been held prisoner by the Pathet Lao. Charles Shelton who was captured on 29 April 1965 was listed as a prisoner by the DOD until September 1994. As at 26 July 2019 the DOD's Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency listed 286 Americans as missing in Laos of which 263 were classified as further pursuit, 12 deferred and 11 non-recoverable.
Shortly after the Paris Peace Accords ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the Pathet Lao and the government of Laos signed a cease-fire agreement, the Vientiane Treaty, on 21 February 1973.
On 4 April 1974 the Provisional Government of National Union (PGNU) was formed in Laos.
In December 1974, the Pathet Lao were responsible for the killing of Charles Dean and Neil Sharman, backpackers who were captured near Vientiane.
The peace envisaged by the treaty lasted only two years. The Pathet Lao refused to disarm and the PAVN did not leave the country. In late February 1975, the Pathet Lao with PAVN assistance, began attacking government strongholds on the Plain of Jars. With the fall of the Cambodian government to the Khmer Rouge on 17 April and the fall of the South Vietnamese government to the PAVN on 30 April 1975 the non-communist elements of the national government decided that allowing the Pathet Lao to enter power would be better than to have them take it by force. Long Tieng was evacuated in mid-May. On 23 August 1975, Pathet Lao forces quietly entered the capital Vientiane.
On 2 December 1975, the Pathet Lao firmly took over the government, abolishing the monarchy and establishing the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Shortly thereafter, the Pathet Lao signed an agreement with Vietnam that allowed Vietnam to station part of its army in the country and to send political and economic advisors into Laos. Vietnam afterward forced Laos to cut any remaining economic ties to its other neighbours, including Thailand and Cambodia.
After the Pathet Lao took over the country in 1975, the conflict continued in isolated pockets. In 1977, a communist newspaper promised the party would hunt down the "American collaborators" and their families "to the last root". With the demise of the Soviet Union, control of Laos by Vietnam waned at the end of the 1980s. Today, "Pathet Lao" is often invoked as a general term signifying Lao nationalism.
The People's Army of Vietnam, also known as the Vietnamese People's Army (VPA), is the military force of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The PAVN is a part of the Vietnam People's Armed Forces and includes: Ground Force, Navy, Air Force, Border Guard, Coast Guard, Cyberspace Operations, and Mausoleum Defence Force. However, Vietnam does not have a separate Ground Force or Army branch. All ground troops, army corps, military districts and specialised arms belong to the Ministry of Defence, directly under the command of the Central Military Commission, the Minister of Defence, and the General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army. The military flag of the PAVN is the flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with the words Quyết thắng added in yellow at the top left.
Việt Minh was a national independence coalition formed at Pác Bó by Hồ Chí Minh on May 19, 1941. The Việt Nam Độc Lập Đồng Minh Hội had previously formed in Nanjing, China, at some point between August 1935 and early 1936 when Vietnamese nationalist parties formed an anti-imperialist united front. This organization soon lapsed into inactivity, only to be revived by the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) and Hồ Chí Minh in 1941. The Việt Minh established itself as the only organized anti-French and anti-Japanese resistance group. The Việt Minh initially formed to seek independence for Vietnam from the French Empire. The United States supported France. When the Japanese occupation began, the Việt Minh opposed Japan with support from the United States and the Republic of China. After World War II, the Việt Minh opposed the re-occupation of Vietnam by France, resulting in the Indochina War, and later opposed South Vietnam and the United States in the Vietnam War. The political leader and founder of Việt Minh was Hồ Chí Minh. The military leadership was under the command of Võ Nguyên Giáp. Other founders were Lê Duẩn and Phạm Văn Đồng.
Kaysone Phomvihane was the first leader of the Communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party from 1955 until his death in 1992. After the Communists seized power in the wake of the Laotian Civil War, he was the de facto leader of Laos from 1975 until his death. He served as the first Prime Minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic from 1975 to 1991 and then as the second President from 1991 to 1992.
The Kingdom of Laos was a constitutional monarchy that served Laos beginning with its independence on 9 November 1953. The monarchy survived until December 1975, when its last king, Savang Vatthana, surrendered the throne to the Pathet Lao, who abolished the monarchy in favor of a Marxist–Leninist state called the Lao People's Democratic Republic, which has controlled Laos ever since.
Phoumi Vongvichit was a leading figure of the Pathet Lao and an elder statesman of the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
The Laotian Civil War (1959–1975) was a civil war in Laos fought between the Communist Pathet Lao and the Royal Lao Government from 23 May 1959 to 2 December 1975. It is associated with the Cambodian Civil War and the Vietnam War, with both sides receiving heavy external support in a proxy war between the global Cold War superpowers. It is called the Secret War among the CIA Special Activities Center and Hmong veterans of the conflict.
The Indochina Wars were a series of wars fought in Southeast Asia from 1945 to 1991, between communist Indochinese forces against mainly French, South Vietnamese, American, Cambodian, Laotian and Chinese forces. The term "Indochina" originally referred to French Indochina, which included the current states of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In current usage, it applies largely to a geographic region, rather than to a political area. The wars included:
This article details the history of Laos since 1945.
The International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos is an international agreement signed in Geneva on July 23, 1962 between 14 states including Laos. It was a result of the International Conference on the Settlement of the Laotian Question which lasted from May 16, 1961 to July 23, 1962.
Operation Barrel Roll was a covert U.S. Air Force 2nd Air Division and U.S. Navy Task Force 77, interdiction and close air support campaign conducted in the Kingdom of Laos between 14 December 1964 and 29 March 1973 concurrent with the Vietnam War.
North Vietnam supported the Pathet Lao to fight against the Kingdom of Laos between 1958–1959. Control over Laos allowed for the eventual construction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that would serve as the main supply route (MSR) for enhanced NLF and NVA activities in the Republic of Vietnam. As such, the support for Pathet Lao to fight against Kingdom of Laos by North Vietnam would prove decisive in the eventual communist victory over South Vietnam in 1975 as the South Vietnamese and American forces could have prevented any NVA and NLF deployment and resupply if these only happened over the 17th Parallel, also known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a narrow strip of land between North and South Vietnam that was closely guarded by both sides. It also helped the Pathet Lao win the Kingdom of Laos, although the Kingdom of Laos had American support.
The Military history of Laos has been dominated by struggles against stronger neighbours, primarily Thailand and Vietnam, from at least the 18th century.
The Leaders of the Vietnam War listed below comprise the important political and military figures of the Vietnam War.
The Battle of Lak Sao, fought between November 1963 and January 1964, was a major engagement of the Laotian Civil War. In November 1963, General Phoumi Nosavan, who held the reins of military power in the Kingdom of Laos, launched a military offensive against North Vietnamese invaders that cut across the northern panhandle of the nation. Although unsupported in this proxy action by his backers in the U.S. Embassy, he went ahead with his plan to push northwards from Nhommarath, then veer eastwards to the Vietnamese border. Phoumi's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) advisors warned him that the North Vietnamese would retaliate, but he disregarded them.
Forces Armées Neutralistes was an armed political movement of the Laotian Civil War.
The 1964 Laotian coups were two attempted coup d'etats against the Royal Lao Government. The 18 April 1964 coup was notable for being committed by the policemen of the Directorate of National Coordination. Although successful, it was overturned five days later by U.S. Ambassador Leonard Unger. In its wake, Neutralist Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma forged a fragile coalition with the Pathet Lao communists. On 4 August 1964, Defense Minister Phoumi Nosavan attempted to take over Vientiane with a training battalion. This coup was quickly crushed by the local Royal Lao Army troops, as the police sat out the conflict.
The Tchepone Operation was an interdiction campaign by the Royal Lao Armed Forces aimed at disrupting the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) supply line, the Ho Chi Minh trail. The pair of three-battalion Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored Royalist irregular columns aimed at a communist garrison at Moung Phine, and the vital transshipment point of Tchepone. The Muang Phine thrust was fruitless. The Tchepone column stalled on Route 9 only 13 kilometers from the logistics center on 31 October. Between 1 and 10 November, the PAVN fiercely attacked while reinforced with nine antiaircraft guns and six mortars. The Royalist guerrillas retreated to base under cover of tactical air strikes by the Royal Lao Air Force and U.S. Air Force that inflicted heavy casualties on the PAVN, including close air support delivered within 20 meters of the Royalists. Analysis of the results of the Tchepone Operation convinced the CIA that regimental operations should replace multi-battalion ones.
Operation Xieng Dong was a successful defensive strike by the Royal Lao Army (RLA) against an invasion by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). In early February 1971, PAVN forces swept RLA defenders from a line of hilltop positions guarding the royal capital of Luang Prabang. The city's perceived invulnerability to attack was shattered. King Sisavang Vatthana refused to leave his capital. Other Military Regions of Laos hastily forwarded to Luang Prabang's Military Region 1 any troops that could be spared from the rest of the Laotian Civil War. On 7 April, the resulting patchwork force of RLA battalions, Forces Armee Neutraliste half regiment, and Central Intelligence Agency-backed Special Guerrilla Units managed a three-pronged offensive supported by tactical aviation that surrounded and defeated the invading PAVN 335th Independent Regiment, which had gotten within eight kilometers of Luang Prabang. By 5 June 1971, the 335th was in full retreat.
Campaign 972 was the final offensive in the south of the Kingdom of Laos by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). After fending off a score of Royal Lao Government attacks against the Ho Chi Minh Trail between June 1969 and late 1972, the PAVN attacked and essentially cut Laos in two at Khong Sedone by November 1972. Sporadic ongoing fighting, especially for control of Paksong, continued until 8 February 1973. Although a ceasefire officially ended the Laotian Civil War at noon on 23 February with Salavan, Thakhek, and Lao Ngam in Communist hands, the PAVN launched another successful assault on Paksong 15 minutes later.
Kou Voravong was a Laotian politician. He was part of the anti-Japanese resistance leading group during the Second World War and after then anti-Lao Issara (ລາວອິດສລະ) in the post-war period. Throughout his career, from 1941 to 1954, he has been District Chief, Province Governor, member of the Lao National Assembly, and Royal Lao Government Minister.
.... The basic stance of this front's propaganda was the united struggle against the French without reference to political parties or ideology. Illustrative of this stance was the use henceforth of the name Pathet Lao (Lao Nation).CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)