Cambodia and Laos: the Widening War

May 6, 1970

Report Outline
Spreading Conflict in SouthEast Asia
Legacy of Strife in Laos and Cambodia
Outlook for Settlement in Indochina
Special Focus

Spreading Conflict in SouthEast Asia

Movement of Viet Nam Fighting into Cambodia

Southeast asian experts have looked upon Cambodia for years as “our next Viet Nam.” Their prophecy has been so long in fulfillment that it was almost forgotten until President Nixon sent American troops into Cambodia to clear out areas used by Communists to stage attacks across the borders of South Viet Nam. In announcing his decision April 30, the President told a national television audience that plans he disclosed 10 days earlier for the withdrawal of an additional 150.000 Americans from Vietnam we're imperiled by increased activity of Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese regulars in Cambodia. A joint U.S.-South Vietnamese military campaign inside Cambodia would require six weeks to two months to dislodge the Communists, White House officials told newsmen. Upon finishing their task, the allied troops would leave Cambodian territory and hence their presence there was “not an invasion.” Military operations on a mass scale will be hard to sustain after early June when the monsoon season arrives in Cambodia and Laos.

Regardless of the length of the campaign in Cambodia, it has become clear that the war in Viet Nam has spilled into neighboring Cambodia and Laos. The “hidden wars” in those two countries have been exposed to view in different, though related, ways in recent weeks. The fragile and sometimes fictitious neutrality of those two countries has been shattered. The crisis in Cambodia began on March 18, 1970, with the ouster of Prince Norodom Sihanouk as head of state. A bloodless coup was engineered by Lt. Gen. Lon Nol, the premier and defense minister, and Prince Siso-wath Sirik Matak, first deputy premier and cousin of Prince Sihanouk. Upon taking control of the government and army, they undertook what some Western observers considered the first serious military effort by that country to expel North Vietnamese forces—currentIv estimated at 40,000—that have dominated border areas for years. One of the first acts of the new-regime was to close the port of Sihanoukville to Communist supplies. The port-closing, combined with outbursts of fighting between Cambodian soldiers and Communist units, added to the importance of Laos as a supply route for Hanoi. The Ho Chi Minh Trail, a series of jungle paths in Laos along its Viet Nam frontiers, is a main supply corridor for North Vietnamese troops in South Viet Nam and Cambodia.

Crisis Over Communist Spring Offensive in Laos

Laos also has been an unwilling host to North Vietnamese troops. Together with native Pathet Lao guerrillas, they dominate vast areas of the country and for a while in February and March 1970 threatened to seize all of Laos. For years this twilight war followed a seasonal course. During the dry season of November to June, when the country's rivers and few roads were passable, the Communists mounted an offensive and took command of new territory. Then with the coming of the monsoon rains, the initiative went back to Royal Laotian soldiers, aided by helicopters and protective American air cover. In reporting on this type of fighting. Arthur J. Dommen has noted that words like “advance,” “front.” and “offensive” cannot be applied in a conventional military sense. In jungle fighting. a siege has been defined facetiously as a “concentrated attack lasting more than five minutes.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Vietnam War
Feb. 18, 2000  Legacy of the Vietnam War
Dec. 03, 1993  U.S.-Vietnam Relations
Mar. 18, 1988  Vietnam: Unified, Independent and Poor
Jul. 06, 1984  Agent Orange: The Continuing Debate
Nov. 04, 1983  MIAs: Decade of Frustration
Mar. 11, 1983  Vietnam War Reconsidered
Oct. 21, 1977  Vietnam Veterans: Continuing Readjustment
Jan. 18, 1974  Vietnam Aftermath
Feb. 21, 1973  Vietnam Veterans
Jun. 09, 1971  Prospects for Democracy in South Vietnam
May 06, 1970  Cambodia and Laos: the Widening War
Jan. 07, 1970  War Atrocities and the Law
Jul. 02, 1969  Resolution of Conflicts
Apr. 17, 1968  Reconstruction in South Vietnam
Aug. 23, 1967  Political Evolution in South Viet Nam
Jan. 11, 1967  Rural Pacification in South Viet Nam
May 26, 1965  Political Instability in South Viet Nam
Mar. 25, 1964  Neutralization in Southeast Asia
Apr. 17, 1963  Task in South Viet Nam
Jun. 14, 1961  Guerrilla Warfare
May 17, 1961  Threatened Viet Nam
Sep. 23, 1959  Menaced Laos
Cold War
Conflicts in Asia
U.S. at War: Vietnam
War and Conflict