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The War That Never Happened Continues in Laos

The Diplomat recently published the story of the Hmong, a Laotian ethnic minority group recruited by the CIA to counter the influence of communism in Laos. This compelling article chronicles not only the role of the Hmong during the American War but their current struggle for survival in the dense jungles of northern Laos.

As the American War escalated, Noth Vietnamese forces spilled into Laos, using the “neutral” country as cover for their supply routes. In response, the CIA, fearing a new communist front, preyed on existing ethnic tensions within Laos to recruit the Hmong. Beyond the typical colonial “divide and conquer” strategy, according to CIA Agent, Bill Lair, who ran the agency’s paramilitary operations in Laos, the Hmong were also chosen for their exceptional athleticism. “They were better than anyone else around, every step they took was up or down so they could move a lot faster than the enemy.”

With help from the CIA, the group’s leader, Vang Pao, quickly trained more than 60,000 troops and began operations to disrupt communist supply lines and rescue downed American pilots. By the end of the war, the Hmong ranks had been decimated, suffering more than 100,000 casualties.

When the war ended, a few Hmong were given safe passage to the US (many escaped to Thailand but face deportation), including the group’s leader, Vang Pao. But for those who were left behind, they still, to this day, face the constant fear of being killed by the Laotian Army who has been hunting them for nearly 40 years:

‘The Americans gave us weapons and told us to shoot the enemy,’ says Chor Her, waving a battered CIA-issued M79 in the air. ‘Then they left us and we’ve been slowly dying here ever since…When the Lao Army kills one of our men, they feel as though they’ve killed an American in revenge for us helping them during the war.’

For more details about the role of the Hmong during the American War and their current struggles, read the full article from The Diplomat here.

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