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The untold story of how America’s secret war in Laos in the 1960s transformed the CIA from a loose collection of spies into a military operation and a key player in American foreign policy.
January, 1961: Laos, a tiny nation few Americans have heard of, is at risk of falling to communism and triggering a domino effect throughout Southeast Asia. This is what President Eisenhower believed when he approved the CIA’s Operation Momentum, creating an army of ethnic Hmong to fight communist forces there. Largely hidden from the American public—and most of Congress—Momentum became the largest CIA paramilitary operation in the history of the United States. The brutal war lasted more than a decade, left the ground littered with thousands of unexploded bombs, and changed the nature of the CIA forever.
With “revelatory reporting” and “lucid prose” (The Economist), Kurlantzick provides the definitive account of the Laos war, focusing on the four key people who led the operation: the CIA operative whose idea it was, the Hmong general who led the proxy army in the field, the paramilitary specialist who trained the Hmong forces, and the State Department careerist who took control over the war as it grew.
Using recently declassified records and extensive interviews, Kurlantzick shows for the first time how the CIA’s clandestine adventures in one small, Southeast Asian country became the template for how the United States has conducted war ever since—all the way to today’s war on terrorism.