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Celeski, Joseph - Special Air Warfare and the Secret War in Laos - Air Commandos 1964–1975

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Special Air Warfare and the Secret War in Laos - Air Commandos 1964–1975

Joseph D. Celeski, Colonel, US Army, Retired

Air University Press , Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama


As with all applications of air power, there are different ways to apply force, depending on the characteristics of the enemy, the geography, and the objectives.
From assisting and training Royal Lao forces to fight the Pathet Lao to actual combat missions, USAF Special Forces have conducted sustained operations for over a decade in Laos. In a totally covert manner.
Soon, the USAF felt the need to deploy a full combat unit, capable of operating as a stand-alone fighting force in the counter-insurgency environment of a foreign country. Furthermore, the entire unit, not just the aircraft, had to be prepared to operate under 'plausible deniability' cover. Operation Jungle Jim was born. It helped build Laotian air power and its forward controllers.
In 1964, in total disregard of the cease-fire agreement, the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) committed numerous violations. One of the responses chosen was to place additional US military advisors in the five regional commands of the Lao army to improve the combat readiness of the Lao forces. Project 404 was the designated name for a variety of personnel programmes to strengthen the military attaché offices in Vientiane and to provide support for the administration of the US Military Assistance Programme (MAP) and other advisory projects. Project 404 circumvented the prohibition on US military personnel serving directly in Laos by seconding service personnel as "assistant attachés" within the embassy staffing structure. The author also refers to Operation 404 Palace Dog. In order to improve the efficiency of the Laotian Air Force, Air Operations Centres (AOCs) were created when each Laotian T-28 squadron started to work at its operation site. The 56th Special Operations Wing - created in Thailand - was called upon to operate intensively in Laos, among other things to monitor the traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Its helicopters and light aircraft deployed a network of several hundred seismic sensors to monitor movements as part of Operation Igloo White and Operation Dump Truck. The intelligence obtained played an important role in the defence of Khe Sanh.
The author explains, however, that efforts to infiltrate South Vietnamese special forces and hill tribes into the Plain of Jars to monitor North Vietnamese activities were not successful.
A highly detailed account of dozens of complex and covert operations.
518 pages - in English