Operation Lam Son 719 continues as reinforced South Vietnamese forces push into Tchepone, a major enemy supply center located on Route 9 in Laos. The base was deserted and almost completely destroyed as a result of American bombing raids.
The operation, begun on February 8, included a limited incursion by South Vietnamese forces into Laos to disrupt the communist supply and infiltration network in Laos along Route 9, adjacent to the two northern provinces of South Vietnam. The operation was supported by U.S. airpower (aviation and airlift) and artillery (firing across the border from firebases inside South Vietnam).
Observers described the drive on North Vietnam’s supply routes and depots in Laos as some of the “bloodiest fighting” of the war. Enemy resistance was light at first as a 12,000-man spearhead of the South Vietnamese army thrust its way across the border into the communists’ deepest jungle stronghold toward Tchepone. However, resistance stiffened in the second week of February as the North Vietnamese rushed reinforcements to the area. On February 23, the big push bogged down around 16 miles from the border after bloody fighting in which the communist troops overran two South Vietnamese battalions.
The fierce fighting continued into March and the South Vietnamese finally reached Tchepone. However, fighting near the Vietnam border intensified and in the second week of March, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu gave the order for his troops to withdraw as casualties soared on both sides.
However, withdrawing the ground task force under heavy North Vietnamese pressure was a difficult task. The South Vietnamese fought for two weeks to get back inside their own border and losses were heavy. The South Vietnamese suffered some 9,000 casualties, almost 50 percent of the force. In supporting the South Vietnamese, the U.S. sustained 1,462 casualties and lost 168 helicopters.