Major General Kouprasith Abhay (nicknamed 'Fat K') was a prominent military leader of the Kingdom of Laos during the Laotian Civil War. Scion of a socially prominent family, his military career was considerably aided by their influence. In early 1960, he was appointed to command of Military Region 5, which surrounded and included the capital of Vientiane. Removed from that command on 14 December for duplicitous participation in the Battle of Vientiane, he was reappointed in October 1962. He would hold the post until 1 July 1971, thus controlling the troops in and around the capital. Over the years, he would be involved in one way or another in coups in 1960, 1964, 1965, 1966, and 1973. His service was marked by a deadly feud with another Lao general, Thao Ma; the feud was largely responsible for the latter two coup attempts against the government.
After the Royal Lao Government fell to the communists in 1975, Kouprasith retired to France.
Rise to power
Major General Kouprasith Abhay (1926–1999?) (Order of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol) was the son of Kou Abhay. The Abhays were an aristocratic family of Chinese-Lao heritage from extreme southern Laos, on Khong Island, which is sited in the Mekong River near the Cambodian border. Siho Lamphouthacoul, who was younger than Kouprasith, was raised as a protege of the Abhay household. For unknown reasons, Siho resented this. Kouprasith Abhay was also related to the influential Sananikone family. His mother was a Sananikone. Kouprasith would also marry into the Sananikone family.
Kouprasith followed Colonel Phoumi Nosavan and his aide de camp Siho Lamphouthacoul to France for military training in the French Staff School, followed by a posting as the Royal Lao Government's first military attaché to France. While in that post, Kouprasith procured two Aérospatiale Alouette II helicopters for Laos. He returned to Laos early in 1960 and took command of the Royal Lao Army troops in Military Region 5, headquartered in Vientiane.
When Captain Kong Le seized power in his August 1960 coup, Kouprasith made a weak offer of support to the new satrap. He retained the command in Military Region 5, which included Vientiane. However, his sympathies actually lay with the deposed General, Phoumi Nosavan. When Phoumi's counter-coup attacked Vientiane, Kouprasith sided with him. At one point during the counter-coup, Kouprasith made his own bid at taking charge. Though he actually held the city for a short while, and announced a change in regime, he named neither Phoumi nor himself as the new head of the nation. However, a distrustful Phoumi removed Kouprasith from command of MR 5 on 14 December 1960, and subordinated him to a Phoumi loyalist. Kouprasith's cause was not aided when he took to his sick bed upon relief from the command.
During the ensuing standoff between Kouprasith and Phoumi, Kong Le and his Forces Armee Neutraliste (FAN) escaped to the Plain of Jars on 16 December to establish an independent force within the Laotian Civil War. A makeshift regiment, Groupement Mobile Vientiane (Mobile Group Vientiane) was formed to pursue Kong Le northward on Route 13. Kouprasith was named to command it; between 7 and 17 January 1961, he would follow FAN as far as Vang Viang. There he called in the first combat sorties of the Royal Lao Air Force before giving over his command and hastening back to the capitol to safeguard his interests. When the new commander was unable to ward off counterattacks, Kouprasith was restored to his command on 27 January. He settled his troops in south of Muang Kasi on Route 13. In his absence, on 22 April 1961, the regiment advanced northward into an ambush at Vang Viang. U.S. Special Forces Team Moon was accompanying the move. Captain Walter Moon and Sergeant Orville Ballenger were captured; Moon was later executed. Colonel Kouprasith helicoptered in and removed the two surviving team members.
After the International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos had been effectuated in October 1962, Kouprasith was once again in command of Military Region 5. Although MR 5 did not see much fighting, under his command he had a regiment of regulars in Groupement Mobile 17 (GM 17), four battalions of volunteers, the Directorate of National Coordination (DNC) paramilitary police regiment, and nine militia companies. His foster brother, Siho Lamphouthacoul, commanded the DNC regiment—which was regarded as the nation's premier unit. GM 17 was also commanded by a Kouprasith protege.
During the first half of April 1964, two Royal Lao Government missions flew to Saigon to secretly coordinate joint operations in southern Laos. GM 17 was posted away from Vientiane to the Plain of Jars in MR 2. At about the same time, Siho approached Kouprasith about using the DNC police for taking over the kingdom. Kouprasith agreed. On 18 April 1964, Siho seized the national government when he took over Vientiane. The "Revolutionary Committee of the National Army" took charge, with Kouprasith as its head and Siho as deputy. Kouprasith withdrew GM 17 from the Plain of Jars to reinforce the coup, abandoning a defensive line on the Plain to the communists. On 23 April, U.S. Ambassador Leonard Unger ended the coup and restored the government. Amid speculation about the early April missions, Kouprasith would subsequently claim to have patterned his coup after that of Nguyễn Khánh.
Operation Triangle and the coups
Operation Triangle, staged in July 1964, was the first combined arms operation of the Laotian Civil War. Commanded by Kouprasith, it was a three-pronged offensive against an isolated communist garrison at the intersection of Routes 7 and 13. The assault troops were a mixture of Royal Lao Army regulars, neutralist paratroopers, and hill tribes guerrillas, working in conjunction with a close air support effort. By 30 July, Kouprasith was a victor, as the columns converged on the objective.
On 4 August 1964, Phoumi attempted a coup using his training battalion. The trainees erected roadblocks throughout Vientiane, but they were promptly supplanted by Kouprasith's troops. The training battalion was disbanded. An antsy Phoumi was left with no troops under his command.
In January 1965, Souvanna Phouma convened a meeting of the RLA generals in Luang Prabang. He made it clear that he backed Kouprasith and Ouane rather than Siho and Phoumi. The latter remained sidelined, with no troops. On 27 January, Phoumi convinced the Military Region 2 commander that troops in Vientiane were about to take over; a rescue mission was launched from MR 2. Even without troops, Phoumi was managing to try a coup.
On 31 January, while Phoumi's begged troops were still inbound, Colonel Bounleut Saycocie also tried his own coup. He used three companies of Groupement Mobile 17 (Mobile Group 17); he was on the air long enough to broadcast five radio communiques. In that time, Kouprasith turned out the remainder of GM 17; the dissidents promptly rejoined the ranks as Bounleut made peace with Kouprasith. However, even though Siho was not involved in the coup, Kouprasith distrusted him. He attacked the Directorate of National Coordination with tanks and artillery. After the assault, the police units were disbanded. Kouprasith then dealt with the troops incoming to Phoumi's aid, attacking and dispersing them. By 4 February, the coups were ended. Phoumi and Siho escaped into exile in nearby Thailand, their careers ended. A purge of officers loyal to Phoumi or Siho began. Over March and April 1965, many promising young officers were murdered, imprisoned, or forced into exile, further weakening the Royal Lao Army.
One pro-Phoumi officer was too necessary to the war effort be purged—Vang Pao. The resulting poor relationship between Kouprasith and Vang Pao was worsened by a homicidal incident that autumn. A Hmong soldier killed a Royalist trooper in a fit of anger; the Hmong then hid in Vang Pao's Vientiane villa. When Kouprasith's Royalist soldiers surrounded the villa, Vang Pao objected. The two generals became even more estranged because of the incident. On 11 November 1965, they were finally reconciled by an intermediary.
General Thao Ma, commander of the Royal Lao Air Force, was another Phoumi loyalist bereft of his support. By July 1965, Kouprasith began gossiping that Thao Ma was planning a coup. General Ouane floated a scheme to split the transports and fighter-bombers into separate contingents, allowing Thao Ma to concentrate upon the latter. Thao Ma protested to Ambassador William H. Sullivan, claiming that the other generals wanted control of the C-47 transports so they could use them for smuggling gold and opium, and for carrying paying passengers. Souvanna Phouma scotched the reorganization.
At a 2 April 1966 strategy meeting of the American Embassy staff and the Royal Lao Army's General Staff, Kouprasith and Ouane protested Operation Barrel Roll's schedule of air strikes that allotted a majority of the U.S. Air Force raids to bomb the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos. They wanted more air power used to support the troops in the Plain of Jars in northern Laos. Meanwhile, during Summer 1966, RLAF operations slowly ground to a near standstill as Thao Ma was pressured into moving his headquarters to the vicinity of the General Staff.
Kouprasith wanted Royalist control of Kong Le's Neutralists. Some of Kong Le's subordinate officers, with the connivance of the RLA General Staff, deposed him on 17 October 1966, sending him into exile. Four days later, in a separate action, Thao Ma and Bounleut Saycocie launched an unsuccessful airborne coup against the government. After failing to kill Kouprasith with an air strike on the General Staff headquarters the Royal Lao Air Force general led ten of his T-28 fighter pilots in a flight into exile in Thailand.
On 24 November 1966, Pathet Lao troops captured government positions at Tha Thom in Military Region 2. However, since Kouprasith's MR 5 troops were closer to the scene, he flew in Royalist reinforcements while the RLAF bombed the enemy. Tha Thom was retaken on the 28th.
When the General Staff shuffled officers' assignments in July 1968, Kouprasith retained command of Military Region 5. In early March 1970, Kouprasith was charged with holding the vital Route 7/13 intersection with a four battalion force. At about the same time, the March 1970 change of government in Cambodia led to increased communist activity in the vicinity of Kouprasith's native Khong Island. By 18 July, the North Vietnamese had captured the eastern ferry landing on the mainland. The Military Region 4 commander was overwhelmed dealing with the communist offensive roaring forth from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. On the 20th, Kouprasith hastily forwarded two battalions and a pair of 105mm howitzers to defend the island. A third battalion was supplied from Military Region 3. A makeshift fourth battalion was thrown together from personnel drafted from all the MR 5 battalions; it too went to Khong Island.
Prince Sisouk na Champassak became the Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in August 1970. He began to revamp the Lao military. First, he engineered the retirements of Generals Ouane and Oudone from their posts as commander and deputy commander of the RLA in March 1971. He also placed constraints on Kouprasith's command of MR 5. When the high command was reorganized on 1 July 1971, Kouprasith was transferred to administration, becoming the deputy commander in chief of the Royal Lao Army.
When Khong Island was once again threatened by the communists in October 1972, Kouprasith took charge of the relief expedition. With little opposition, he defeated the Vietnamese in three weeks.
On 20 August 1973, Thao Ma again tried to kill Kouprasith with a bombing raid. Thao Ma returned from exile in a motorized column containing 60 adherents. Once they captured Wattay Airbase, Thao Ma returned to the sky in a commandeered T-28. Thao Ma and his wingman tried to kill Kouprasith by dive bombing; they demolished Kouprasith's brick villa, killing his nephew. However, the airfield was retaken from the coup force while the air strike was in progress. When they returned, a truck-mounted machine gun manned by a government soldier brought Thao Ma down. He was hauled wounded from his crash-landed plane and taken to Kouprasith's headquarters. There Thao Ma was executed on Kouprasith's order.
Fall from power
When the final communist offensive drove into Vientiane in May 1975, Kouprasith resigned on the 11th. In October 1978, he joined the Lao government in exile in France, but retired shortly thereafter. He reportedly died in 1999.
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