Magazine article The World and I

Their World, Not Ours - the Secret War

Magazine article The World and I

Their World, Not Ours - the Secret War

Article excerpt

Most Americans don't know who the Hmong are, much less what they sacrificed supporting the United States during the Vietnam War. The Hmong were the primary ethnic hill tribe employed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to fight in the Secret War in Laos between 1960 and 1975. "They were a fiercely independent people," says Bill Lair, CIA operative in charge of organizing Hmong forces. "The Hmong became a significant guerrilla force of about 30,000 armed men and made a great contribution fighting the North Vietnamese and rescuing downed American pilots."

"The Hmong saved thousands of American lives by diverting several divisions of North Vietnamese troops from South Vietnam to Laos," adds Brig. Gen. Harry Aderholt, now retired. Aderholt ran the air campaign in Laos, first as a CIA operative, then as an Air Force officer.

The Hmong had great success fighting a guerrilla war but suffered heavy losses when pressured by Washington to engage in more conventional battles against North Vietnamese regulars. Casualties were so severe that twelve-year-old boys were conscripted as soldiers. "I was against that from the beginning," says Lair, "because as long as we stuck to pure guerrilla tactics, we had fewer casualties and caused more problems for the enemy." About 35,000 Hmong troops and 15,000 civilians died between 1960 and 1975.

After the American withdrawal from Southeast Asia, communist Pathet Lao and Vietnamese forces, who had publicly stated that the Hmong should be exterminated, summarily executed thousands of Hmong civilians. …

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