The Green Berets in the Land of a Million Elephants

The Green Berets in the Land of a Million Elephants

U.S. Army Special Warfare and the Secret War in Laos 1959–74

Joseph D. Celeski


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The untold story of US Special Forces in Laos, one of the longest secret wars of the Cold War—by a military historian and Special Forces veteran.

The Secret War in Laos was one of the first “long wars” fought by US Special Forces, spanning a period of about thirteen years. It was one of the largest CIA-paramilitary operations of the time, kept out of the view of the American public until now.

Between 1959 and 1974, Green Berets were covertly deployed to Laos during the Laotian Civil War to prevent the Communist Pathet Lao from taking over the country. Operators disguised as civilians and answering only to “Mister,“ were delivered to the country by Air America, where they reported to the US Ambassador. With limited resources, they faced a country in chaos. Maps had large blank areas. and essential supplies often didn’t arrive at all. In challenging tropical conditions, they trained and undertook combat advisory duties with the Royal Lao Government.

Shrouded in secrecy until the 1990s, this was one of the first major applications of special warfare doctrine. Now, the story is comprehensively told for the first time using official archival documents and interviews with veterans.