March 5

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Mar 5, 1964:

U.S.A.F. advisory team sent to Laos

The Joint Chiefs of Staff order a U.S. Air Force air commando training advisory team to Thailand to train Lao pilots in counterinsurgency tactics. Laos had won its independence from French control in July 1949 but the country quickly became a battleground as various factions vied for control of the government. One of the factions was the Neo Lao Hak Sat (Lao Liberation Front), communist insurgents more popularly known as the Pathet Lao. President Dwight Eisenhower believed that Laos was "the key to the entire area of Southeast Asia" and was concerned that the government would fall to the communists. The situation was defused somewhat when a conference in Geneva in July 1952 set up a coalition government for Laos and officially proclaimed the neutrality of the country. This eventually proved to be a farce when the North Vietnamese Army moved 80,000 soldiers into Laos to assist the Pathet Lao. The United States then increased its support to the Royal Lao government.

The mission of the American air commandos was to train the Laotian pilots in the conduct of close air support for the Royal Lao ground forces. Since Laos was officially neutral, the training efforts were conducted in Thailand with that government's permission. The training did not result in sufficient numbers of trained Laotian pilots, so in December 1964, U.S. pilots in American planes began flying support missions for the Laotian ground troops as part of Operation Barrel Roll. The mission continued until February 1973.

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