The Green Berets in the Land of a Million Elephants

U.S. Army Special Warfare and the Secret War in Laos 1959-74

Col. Joseph Celeski

The first full history of the U.S. Army Special Forces who served and fought in the Secret War in Laos.
Date Published :
January 2019
Publisher :
Illustration :
100 images, 10 maps and charts
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612006659
Pages : 400
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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The first full history of the U.S. Army Special Forces who served and fought in the Secret War in Laos.

The Secret War in Laos was one of the first “Long Wars” for special operations, spanning a period of about thirteen years. It was one of the largest CIA-paramilitary operations of the time, kept out of the view of the American public until now.

Between 1959 and 1974, Green Berets were covertly deployed to Laos to prevent a communist take-over or at least preserve the kingdom's neutrality. Operators dressed in civilian clothes, armed with cover stories and answering only to "Mister," were delivered to the country by Air America, where they answered to the U.S. Ambassador. There they were faced with the complexities of the three factions in Laos, as well as operating with limited resources – maps of the country often had large blank areas and essential supplies often didn't arrive at all. In challenging tropical conditions they trained and undertook combat advisory duties with native and tribal forces. Veterans remember Hmong guerrillas and Lao soldiers who were often shorter than the M1 rifles they carried.

The Green Berets' service in Laos was the first strategic challenge since its formation in 1952, and proved one of the first major applications of special warfare doctrine. Clouded in secrey until the 1990s, this story is comprehensively told for the first time using official archival documents and interviews with veterans.

About The Author

Joseph Celeski served for thirty years in the U.S. Army, twenty-three of them in Special Forces. He retired in 2004 after commanding the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne). He served as commander of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force for two tours in Operation Enduring Freedom. He has published several works on special forces and counterinsurgency.


Ultimately, this is a good read about a little-told part of a story that paralleled other American military actions in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. It sheds light on the operations of the Army Special Forces in that piece of geography, and on their continued world mission.

- The VVA Veteran

“A strength of this account is the many working-level veterans of service in Laos the author contacted and quoted, often from journals or letters they wrote at the time of their service, adding authenticity and color to the story.”

- ARMY Magazine

"This is a highly detailed, authoritative, and fascinating account of the special operations conducted
by the U.S. Army Special Forces – the Green Berets – who were deployed in America’s secret war
in Laos from 1959 to 1974."

- The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International

"This book is a labor of love by the author to honor the veterans of this little-known and little-studied war. His extraordinary interviews and first-person accounts tell the story but also provide lessons for the modern employment of Special Forces 'through, with, and by' indigenous forces to support the achievement of U.S. strategic objectives."

- War on the Rocks

“Joseph Celeski’s Green Berets in the Land of a Million Elephants gives us a much needed account of the U.S. Army Special Forces’ secret role in Laos before and during the far better known Vietnam War. Meticulously researched and anecdote-filled, this book provides detailed context to the political and strategic aspects of the conflict, while also bringing to light the personal stories of the men and their teams who lived and fought alongside their Laotian comrades. Celeski details how Green Berets, working with the CIA under the direction of the U.S. Ambassador(s) in Vientiane from 1959–1974, applied and refined their skills in one of the first applications of a new special warfare doctrine. This book stands with Shooting at the Moon and Shadow War as an important addition to the history of the ultimately tragic Laotian campaign.”

- James Stejskal, author of Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite and Masters of Mayhem: Lawrence of Arabia and the British Military Mission to the Hejaz

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