Battle for Skyline Ridge
The CIA Secret War in Laos
James E. Parker Jr.
Casemate, Havertown, PA, 2019, 216 pages
Book Review published on: April 24, 2020
James E. Parker Jr.’s Battle for Skyline Ridge: The CIA Secret War in Laos provides a history of the Laotian war as an extension of the war in Vietnam. Parker does an excellent job articulating the overall context of the conflict in Laos and the strategic importance of holding it against the siege of Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap’s North Vietnamese Army. He chronicles the events that lead to the Battle of Skyline Ridge and the importance of each force that comprised the CIA-organized army under the command of the Hmong warlord Vang Pao. The base force consisted of 1,800 Loa hills tribe guerillas and was reinforced by four thousand Thai irregulars (Tahan Sua Pran) who had been recruited, armed, and trained by U.S. Special Forces in Thailand, and then rushed in to defend against the pending North Vietnamese attack.
Additionally, Parker clearly articulates the importance of U.S. airpower throughout the secret war in Laos. He provides a fascinating insight into a war tasked with stopping the spread of communism; other U.S.-supported forces fought to stop it as well, ostensibly without the knowledge of the American population.
Readers may find themselves confused when Parker describes the actions that occurred during the more than one hundred-day-long battle for Skyline Ridge, the longest in the Vietnam War. This confusion is possible because there are no apparent graphical representations (maps or sketches) of the forces involved and their relationship to other forces on the ground.
Additionally, the author never clearly defines the many acronyms throughout the book. While many of these acronyms are well known and understood by CIA operatives, they still need to be defined for a more general audience. The strength of Battle for Skyline Ridge is that Parker reveals the secret war that was fought to stop the spread of communism to all of Southeast Asia. Parker’s book is an excellent choice for both the scholar and the student who want to better understand less famous aspects of the Vietnam conflict. The reader will need to prepare himself or herself to spend additional time to understand the array of forces throughout the battle and what certain acronyms mean.
Book Review written by: Eric O. Schacht, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas