POWs Left Behind in Laos: The Nhommarath Incident. What Did The US Know In 1981?

POWs Left Behind in Laos: The Nhommarath Incident. What Did The US Know In 1981?

Above Photo: Some of the limestone scenery around Nhommarath, Khammouane Province, Laos.

{Click on all images to enlarge)

Paragraph 1 of the 1981 Memorandum

Paragraph 1 of the 1981 Memorandum

My novel, BACK drags unsuspecting modern-day Adventure backpackers in Laos into the world of the Vietnam War, when they go on a trek into the war-ravaged jungles of Laos. It also deals with the thorny issue of American POWs who were left behind in the jungles of Laos long after the Vietnam War had ended, and whether any of them may be alive today.

I did a considerable amount of research when I was writing the book, and one of the most intriguing items I came across was a Defense Intelligence Memorandum from January 1981, to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which can be viewed in full, here: http://www.nationalalliance.org/vietnam/tighe2.htm

Limestone Cliffs around Nhommarath.

Limestone Cliffs around Nhommarath.

The Memo and its Chronological Listing (which I’ll call the ‘Attachment’) makes some remarkable claims.

Paragraph 2 of the Memo states that the DIA had, since 1979, been investigating claims by a Laotian refugee that US POWs were still being held in Laos.

Para 2 of the Memo

Para 2 of the Memo

Specifically, the refugee claimed that 18 US POWs and 25 Lao POWs were detained in a cave near Nhommarath, in Khammouane Province, Laos and that they were moved there on 10 March 1979, from a location in northern Laos.

Para 1 of the Attachment

Para 1 of the Attachment

Now, as most of the controversial post-war POW red herrings and hoaxes were perpetrated by Laotian refugees intent on drumming up US support for their beleaguered fight against the victorious Communist government of Laos, any claim by a Laotian refugee has to be extremely suspect, but the DIA went out of its way to check their informant and his sources out, including polygraphing him, and it seems he passed with flying colours, although HIS source, a “resistance fighter’ was still being located to be checked.

Para 4 of the Attachment

Para 4 of the Attachment

At this stage my cynical view was that the resistance fighter had made the whole thing up, as usual, but apparently not.

The refugee told the DIA investigators that not only were the above prisoners being held, but that another two US POWs, one Australian and one Japanese soldier were also being held in a place called Kham Keut, 70Km from Nhommarath, and he drew them a sketch of the area.

Para 2 of the Attachment

Para 2 of the Attachment

Intent on obtaining corroborative evidence, US spy satellites checked out the area and came up with some geographical confirmations of what the refugee had claimed.

Para 3 of the Attachment.

Para 3 of the Attachment.

More limestone near Nhommarath.

More limestone near Nhommarath.

Later that year, the CIA received credible reports, from a reliable Thai source, that 30 US POWs were being held in Nhommarath (but he got it from an untested Lao source – which sets the alarm bells ringing again.)

When the CIA got on the case, the ‘untested’ Lao source said the POWs had suddenly (and conveniently for him) been moved to Kontum, Vietnam, which again would make me think this was all made up.

Para 5 of the Attachment

Para 5 of the Attachment

However, surveillance continued at the Nhommarath locations by satellite and some remarkable developments were observed to suggest this wasn’t just another bullshit Laotian refugee story.

For example, a detention facility had recently been built, and on two occasions people were detected within the facility, 25 people in December 1980 and 9 people in January 1981. Further, at one stage the number “52” was seen to have been stamped into the dirt among crops, “in a location not apparently observable from either of the two guard towers…”.

Para 6 of the Attachment

Para 6 of the Attachment

Of course the sign, and the people in the facility, might have had nothing whatsoever to do with POWs and the Vietnam War, but some of the most senior military figures in the US clearly believed they might be connected.

The Memo concluded by requesting the CIA be tasked with investigating whether the prisoners were US POWs, and, from the tone of the memo, it seemed this might have been possible, as a topographical model of the site and surrounding area was also requested, presumably to assist in rescue mission-planning, and a contingency plan was also requested “in the event this important undertaking proves successful.”

Para 3 of the Memo

Para 3 of the Memo

And after that?

Silence.

Conclusions

Clearly the DIA took these reports of POWs being held in Nhommarath seriously enough in 1981 to ask for topographical models and contingency planning, and a lot of time and money was spent on satellite surveillance and image analysis. They wouldn’t have done this on a hunch.

So what happened after the Memo was sent, and when the CIA got involved, I wonder?

The big question for me, in all this POW controversy, is why the US government weren’t more open about what they were doing and what they knew, either at the time, or, if operational reasons precluded that, why not subsequently?

It’s hard not to believe they made the Conspiracy Theory rod for their own back with all the intrigue and lack of communication.

And one final question – what was the result of the CIA’s analysis of this information? Did they conclude it was all an elaborate hoax? And, if so, on what basis? Did they do any investigating on the ground in Laos?

Did US Administrations ever raise any of these issues with the government of Laos? And were they satisfactorily answered?

All questions we’ll probably never know the answer to.

For a modern-day take on the Vietnam War and Adventure Backpackers trekking into the war-ravaged jungles of Asia, see news of our latest film, MIA A Greater Evil: http://peteralanlloyd.com/mia-a-greater-evil-an-exclusive-introduction-to-our-forthcoming-film/

For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:

 

Also: http://peteralanlloyd.com/back-part-2/pows-left-behind-in-laos-and-vietnam-what-happened-to-these-people/

And: http://peteralanlloyd.com/back-part-2/are-there-any-vietnam-war-era-pows-still-alive-in-laos-a-trip-to-sam-neua-and-vieng-xai-caves/

Approximate Location of Nhommarath, Khammouane Province, in red circle.

Approximate Location of Nhommarath, Khammouane Province, in red circle.

© Peter Alan Lloyd

BACK Parts 1 and 2:

Reviews: Amazon.co.uk: Customer Reviews 

UK: Amazon.co.uk: BACK Parts 1 and 2 

US: Amazon: Back Parts 1 and 2

Smashwords: Back Parts 1 and 2

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peter.lloyd.94064?fref=ts

Website: www.peteralanlloyd.com

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1 Comment

  1. mark scot

    if these people have kept our warriors this long we need to teach them a lesson they dont soon forget

    Reply

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