Tuesday, April 04, 2017

America's 'secret' war in Laos

The Americans bombed the hell out of Iraq and helped Nato bomb the hell out of Libya. Earlier, they showed their firepower in Serbia. Now, we are getting a taste of American intervention in Mosul in Iraq and in the Raqqa province of Syria.

The Americans seem to have learnt one big lesson from Vietnam: by all means get involved in savage wars elsewhere but make sure there are not too many of your own body bags. You do this by using mainly air power and forging alliances with locals  who will do the dirty work on the ground.

The Economist has an interesting review of a book the war in Laos which shows that this is an approach the Americans used way back in the 1960s, although it was not particularly effective there. The bombing was savage alright:
Hitting the Pathet Lao in the north and on the Ho Chi Minh trail in the south, the American air force unleashed an average of one attack every eight minutes for nearly ten years. By 1970 tens of thousands of American-backed fighters were involved, at an annual cost of $3.1bn in today’s dollars. By the time the campaign ended in 1973, a tenth of Laos’s population had been killed. Thousands more accidental deaths would follow from unexploded bombs left in the soil.
This was labelled a 'secret war' not because it was a secret but because US officials had perfected the art of denial. One innovation was the use, not of the US army, but that of the CIA as a paramilitary force. When you use the army, it's hard to keep things wrap; it's much easier to do so with the CIA. That way you can also ensure less media coverage.This, the Economist notes, is continuing today in Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere.

You have to grant it to the Russians: when they stepped into Syria in 2016, it was official and legal.


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