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Review: THE GREEN BERETS IN THE LAND OF A MILLION ELEPHANTS

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THE GREEN BERETS IN THE LAND OF A MILLION ELEPHANTS, US Army Special Warfare and the Secret War in Laos 1959-74. Joseph Celeski. Casemate 2019. ISBN 978 1 61200 665 9

This book is a million miles from the 1968 John Wayne film. Originating in the WW2 OSS, US Special Forces continued the mission of promoting US military and political strategy and its links with the CIA. As a subversion force a principal task was training foreign unconventional warfare armies toward this end. Alarmed by spreading communist insurgencies in Indochina, the US positioned covert SF teams in Laos under diplomatic ID and civilian guise to arm and train the Laotian Government Army. These Operation Hotfoot teams established military training bases, schools and Psyops units, initially working with French forces. Poor Government Army performance escalated larger US deployments in Operation Whitestar. Training of Hmong people as guerrilla reinforcements began as Operation Momentum in the north, and later, in Operation Pincushion for southern Kha. Continuing gains by the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese NVA led to the 1962 Geneva Agreement, granting Laos neutrality and removing foreign troops. Consequently US anti-communist strategy shifted to secret operations in Thailand, clandestinely returning to Laos in 1964 as Project 404, a veiled diplomatic mission with SF teams designated as embassy military assistant attachés. As advisors and observers SF teams supported counterinsurgency and disrupting the Ho Chi Min Trail NVA supply lines. Later battles engaged more weaponry – PT-76 tanks by the NVA, gunships and B-52s by the US. Communist armies occupied Laos and US forces withdrew in 1974. Written in regimental history style, this account records the experiences of SF teams with numerous personal recollections and photos.

Thanks to Casemate for the review sample.

John Ham, November 2019.

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