Lao People's Armed Forces
Lao People's Army
Various communist and otherwise left-leaning guerrillas in Laos, known commonly as the Pathet Lao, formally adopted the title of Lao People's Liberation Army in October 1965. 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 3 levels of the armed forces were derived from the wartime structure of the main force units and regional and local guerrillas.
The Lao People's Army (LPA) transitioned from a guerrilla army to a conventional military organization following the communist takeover of the country in 1975. The Lao People's Liberation Army, which experienced a restructuring in 1976, becoming the Lao People's Army, eventually came to consist of 3 branches of service, ground, air (Lao People's Air Force), and water (Lao People's Navy).
In a 20 January 1976, broadcast, government authorities outlined 5 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.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the armed forces were reequipped with new 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 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. A mutual security treaty with Vietnam, signed in 1977, however, allowed Vietnamese troops to reenter Laos in case of need.
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. Presumably, the LPA was responsible for any further border conflicts such as occurred with Thailand in 1987-1988.
As of mid-1994, the most powerful military officer in Laos was concurrently Minister of National Defense (and head of the Ministry of National Defense) and Commander in Chief of the LPA. In addition to this military position, at that time, the specific individual, Lieutenant General Choummali Saignason, was also the seventh highest ranking member of the ruling LPRP Political Bureau (Politburo). As a ranking member of the Politburo, Choummali was responsible for formulating both government and military policy. As commander in chief, he had absolute power over all internal and external security matters. All state security personnel, commanders of the air and naval forces, and police officials reported to Choummali.
By mid-1994, the LPA had approximately 33,000 troops, divided into 4 military regions. The LPA headquarters in Vientiane controled all 4 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.
By 2010, the LPA had changed names to the Lao People's Armed Forces (LPAF), though the basic structure remained the same. The ground component remained named the Lao People's Army. The LPAF's active force was reported to be approximately 30,000 troops, divided between the 3 services deployed in the country's 4 military regions.
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