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Lao People's Army

The Pathet Lao guerrillas became the LPLA, in October 1965; in 1976 it was renamed the LPA. In the beginning, the LPLA consisted of regular forces organized under a central military command, regionally recruited units, and local forces operating on a parttime basis at the village level as a people's militia. These three levels of the armed forces were derived from the wartime structure of the main force units and regional and local guerrillas.

In December 1975, the LPA had a total strength of about 60,000 personnel, including 35,000 Pathet Lao troops and dissident Neutralists (see table 14, Appendix). In a January 20, 1976, broadcast, government authorities outlined five principal tasks for the LPA in defending the nation against Thai reactionaries and exiled Laotian counterrevolutionaries. The first task was to heighten vigilance in preserving peace and public order. The second was to raise political and ideological understanding in the armed forces, improve discipline, and implement government policy. The third and fourth tasks were to reinforce traditions of solidarity with the people and raise the quality of the army through political and military study. Finally, the army was called upon to strengthen its organization and improve internal defense.

By 1976 the LPA was organized along North Vietnamese military lines, with approximately 42,500 men in sixty-five infantry battalions, divided among four military regions. By 1979 there were as many as 50,000 Vietnamese troops in Laos, advising and working side by side with their Laotian counterparts to suppress the remaining opposition forces. In the mid-1980s, Vietnamese troops began their withdrawal; by late 1988, all operational elements had been withdrawn. It is likely, however, that a few Vietnamese military technical specialists remain in Laos.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the armed forces were reequipped with military hardware, including MiG jet fighters from the Soviet Union. Despite the influx of new equipment, however, the bleak economic situation of the country prevented the allotment of a large enough military budget for a modern fighting force. In the absence of military support from the former Soviet Union and with limited equipment purchases from China and Vietnam, the LPA had embarked on private business ventures to support itself. In the early 1990s, aging equipment and lack of funds precluded further modernization.

Dependence on direct foreign military aid ended with the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops and Soviet and Vietnamese military advisers in the mid- to late 1980s. The mutual security treaty with Vietnam, however, allows Vietnamese troops to reenter Laos in case of need.

By mid-1994 the LPA had approximately 33,000 troops, divided into four military regions. The LPA headquarters in Vientiane controls all four military regions, which in turn are responsible for LPA elements in the provinces. Military Region One is headquartered in Louangphrabang, Louangphrabang Province; Military Region Two, in Muang Phônsavan, Xiangkhoang Province; Military Region Three, in Xénô, Savannakhét Province; and Military Region Four, in Pakxé, Champasak Province.

The LPA ground component consists of five infantry divisions. The First Division is situated in the Vientiane area. The Second Division monitors the Laos-Thailand border and north-central Laos. The Third Division monitors the Laos-China border. The Fourth Division and the Fifth Division patrol southern Laos.

LPA ground equipment generally is of vintage Soviet design, with PT-76s (light tanks); T-34/85s and T-54/-55 (main battle tanks); and 122mm and 130mm artillery (see table 15, Appendix). For the most part, United States-made equipment captured from the Royal Lao Army in 1975 has been retired from active service.

By the early 1990s, because of the lack of any real external threats, the armed forces were largely responsible for internal security, support against dissidents, and border patrol against incursions from Thailand-based resistance elements. The LPA also played a significant role in combatting the armed Laotian resistance movement, especially those troops stationed along the Thai border. And, presumably, the LPA is responsible for any further border conflicts such as occurred with Thailand in 1988 (see The Confrontational Relationship with Thailand , this ch.; Bilateral Relations , ch. 4).

Data as of July 1994

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