The Widening War
The Soviet airlift, which continued despite United States protests to Moscow, transformed the Plain of Jars into a vast armed camp, fully resupplying Kong Le. For the first time, the Pathet Lao were equipped with heavy weapons allowing them to play a major role in their military alliance with Kong Le's troops in support of Souvanna Phouma's government. There was, moreover, another and more important factor: the commitment of significant numbers of North Vietnamese troops to the fighting, exactly what Souvanna Phouma and Brown had feared. Kong Le requested four battalions of North Vietnamese troops on January 7. Two of these linked up with his forces on Route 7 and down Route 13. The third was engaged in military action at Tha Thom, a key defense point south of the Plain of Jars. The fourth took up position north of the plain.
In Xiangkhoang, the Hmong once again blew up the bridges on Route 7 in a desperate effort to interfere with North Vietnamese truck convoys rolling westward. The Royal Lao Army had been quietly supplying arms to the Hmong since at least March 1957 to enable them to resist the Pathet Lao, but the North Vietnamese influx created a sudden need for arms far in excess of what the Laotians could supply, even with the help of Thailand. The Hmong, under their military leader Vang Pao, had taken up positions in the mountains surrounding the Plain of Jars and asked to talk to United States officials. Vang Pao requested quick delivery of arms, but United States officials were concerned that the Hmong would not fight, and the arms might fall into communist hands. Vang Pao said all 7,000 volunteers would fight, but they needed the arms in three days or they would have to fall back to less exposed positions. United States airdrops of arms from stocks in Okinawa began three days later, signaling the beginning of a heroic Hmong resistance.
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