Operation Tailwind

Operation Tailwind was a covert incursion into southeastern Laos during the Vietnam War, conducted between 11–14 September 1970. The purpose of the operation was to create a diversion for a Royal Lao Army offensive and to exert pressure on the occupation forces of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN). It involved a company-sized element of US Army Special Forces and Montagnard commando (Hatchet Force) of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG or SOG).

Nearly 30 years later, Peter Arnett narrated a CNN/Time magazine investigative report about Operation Tailwind produced by April Oliver, Jack Smith, Pam Hill, and others. The report Valley of Death claimed sarin nerve gas had been used, and other war crimes had been committed by US forces during Tailwind. The reaction to the controversial assertions prompted an internal investigation that ended in retraction of those claims by both news organizations, the firing of the producers responsible for the report, and the reprimand, followed by the resignation, of Arnett.


During late 1970 the overall US-supported military effort in the covert war in the Kingdom of Laos was floundering. Operation Gauntlet, a multi-battalion Royal Lao Army offensive that was to determine the fate of Paksong and the strategic Bolovens Plateau, was failing.[1] A call went out to SOG's Saigon headquarters asking if the highly classified unit could insert an element near Chavane and disrupt PAVN defenses. Colonel John Sadler, SOG's commander agreed to undertake the mission, even though none of his cross-border reconnaissance teams had ever operated so deep in Laos and the target area was 20 miles (30 km) beyond the unit's authorized area of operations.

The mission was launched by three platoons of Command and Control Central's (Kontum) Hatchet Company B and two United States Air Force Pathfinder Teams. The 16 Americans and 110 Montagnards, under the command of Captain Eugene McCarley, were heli-lifted from a launch site at Dak To to a landing zone (LZ) in a valley 60 miles (100 km) to the west, near Chavane. The distance to the target was so great that the men were lifted by three United States Marine Corps (USMC) Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters from HMH-463,[2] escorted by 12 USMC and Army Bell AH-1 Cobra gunships.

McCarley then called down airstrikes on enemy troop dispositions and equipment caches. The North Vietnamese responded by trying to concentrate their forces, but the US troops kept on the move, even at night.

On the morning of the third day the Americans overran a PAVN bivouac and killed 54 troops. Why the Vietnamese had not fled was a quandary until members of the Hatchet Force discovered a bunker buried beneath 12 feet of earth. Inside they found a huge cache of maps and documents. They had overrun the PAVN logistical headquarters that controlled all of Laotian Route 165. Two footlockers were quickly filled with the intelligence haul, and the Hatchet Force then began to look for a way out. The North Vietnamese were closing in, but McCarley, instead of moving toward an LZ large enough for the extraction of the entire force, dropped off elements at three separate (and smaller) landing zones, catching the PAVN unprepared.

Casualties incurred during the operation amounted to three Montagnards killed in action and 33 wounded while all 16 Americans were wounded. Two CH-53s were shot down during the operation.[2] Many more men of the Hatchet Force would have died had it not been for the efforts of SOG medic Sergeant Gary Michael Rose, who was recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions.[3] He was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.[4] His DSC would later be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. President Donald Trump presented Rose with the Medal of Honor on October 23, 2017.[5]

Actions taken during the extraction operations later came under fierce dispute. Allegations were made that US aircraft, in an unprecedented reversal of policy and breach of international treaties, had utilized sarin nerve gas ("GB" in US/NATO nomenclature) when North Vietnamese ground troops began to attack the landing zones. It has not been disputed that some chemical agent was utilized, nor that both North Vietnamese and American soldiers struggled against its effects. However, most witnesses, sworn and unsworn, stated categorically that only a potent tear gas (most likely a CN/CS mixture) was used. Others, according to two members of the US media, insisted it was sarin, or a combination of tear gas and sarin.[6]

False reporting accusations

On 7 June 1998 a controversial version of the above events was broadcast during the premiere of the Cable News Network's NewsStand CNN & Time in a report entitled "Valley of Death". The segment alleged that Operation Tailwind had been devised simply to eliminate a group of Americans who had defected to the enemy and were holed up in a Laotian village. The broadcast went on to claim that sarin had been used during the operation. According to "Valley of Death", the agent had been sprayed from aircraft twice—once to prep the village and once during the extraction. It also claimed that over 100 men, women, and children had been killed during the attack on the village.

The broadcast (and the ensuing 15 June Time magazine article) seemed to have reliable credentials. Admiral Thomas Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of Tailwind, appeared to state that nerve agents had been used, and not just during this operation. However, Admiral Moorer later told investigators he "never confirmed anything" to CNN regarding Operation Tailwind, that he had no knowledge of the use of Sarin or the targeting of defectors, and he felt that April Oliver had asked him "trick" questions.[7] Later in sworn deposition testimony, Admiral Moorer reviewed April Oliver's notes of her interviews of him, including his responses to her questions, and he did not make any significant objections to their accuracy.[8] Former SOG Lieutenant Robert Van Buskirk (one of the three platoon leaders) and three of the participating SOG sergeants allegedly lent testimony to support the allegations as edited and presented in the televised and published investigative report.

Van Buskirk stated that the Hatchet Force was exposed on the landing zone ("LZ") when the teargas agent was deployed to drive the enemy back. He also stated that he saw his men (who were not equipped with gas masks) convulsing when the wind blew the agent back upon the LZ.

The reports, which indicated that war crimes had been committed, caused the Pentagon to launch its own investigation. It concluded the claims made in the program were flawed.[9]


CNN and Time magazine then undertook an internal investigation which, after three weeks, concluded that the journalism was "flawed" and the report should be publicly retracted and apologies made. Two key CNN producers of the report, April Oliver and Jack Smith, were fired outright. Senior producer Pam Hill resigned. Reporter Peter Arnett was reprimanded and soon left for HDNet and then NBC.

In early July 1998, CNN News Group Chairman, President and CEO Tom Johnson issued a statement describing the findings of the internal investigation. He pledged acceptance of the findings and reiterated that the allegations in Valley of Death and related reports "cannot be supported." He said there was insufficient evidence that sarin or any other deadly gas was used, nor could CNN confirm that American deserters were targeted or even at the camp in Laos.

As a supplement to CNN's retraction, on July 2 and July 5, 1998, after firing Oliver and Smith, CNN aired retraction broadcasts which sought to portray some of the sources for the Tailwind reports as unreliable.[10]

New York attorney Floyd Abrams had urged CNN/Time Warner to retract the report, while acknowledging that it may have had truth to it, saying, "It doesn't necessarily mean that the story isn't true. … Who knows? Someday we might find other information. And, you know, maybe someday I'll be back here again, having done another report saying that, 'You know what? It was all true.'"[11]

The producers, Oliver and Smith, were chastised but unrepentant. They put together a 77-page document[12] supporting their side of the story, with testimony from military personnel apparently confirming the use of sarin. Active and retired military personnel consulted by the media, including CNN's own military analyst, USAF Major General Perry Smith (ret), noted that a particularly strong non-lethal formulation of "CS" teargas was indeed used during Tailwind, but that it should not be confused with sarin, which is categorized as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.[13]

As well as compiling the report, Oliver and Smith both challenged their dismissal by filling suit against CNN. Oliver was the first to settle out of court for a reputed $1 million.[14] Smith fought longer but also eventually settled for an unknown amount.[14] By June 2000, less than two years later, none of the executives responsible for hiring and firing the two, including Johnson, remained with CNN.

Several individuals who were sources for the reports, whose images were shown in the reports or who were otherwise involved in the reports brought legal actions against CNN and Time Warner. These actions were combined by the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation and were assigned to the United States District Court in the Northern District of California and became collectively known as the "Operation Tailwind" litigation.[15]

In these legal actions, CNN and Time Warner defended its reports from claims of defamation and most of these actions were dismissed.[16] In none of these cases did a court find that the original Tailwind reports had defamed anyone.

A decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in one of the cases states that the Tailwind reports did not defame the plaintiff who was a source for the reports because the plaintiff, in his interviews with CNN, "admitted the truth of each of the three facts he now challenges."[17] The Ninth Circuit went on to state that CNN may have subsequently defamed this source in its retraction broadcast's statement seeking to portray the source as unreliable and that the question of whether the source was defamed by CNN in that retraction broadcast "merits further development" and remanded "this issue to the district court for further proceedings."[18]

In popular culture

The second season of the HBO series The Newsroom featured a major storyline involving the fictional ACN's coverage of "Operation Genoa," which was based loosely on the fallout surrounding CNN's coverage of Tailwind.[19]


  1. ^ Conboy, Kenneth and James Morrison (1995). Shadow War: The CIA's Secret War in Laos. Paladin Press. pp. 276 - 280, ISBN 978-1-58160-535-8.
  2. ^ a b Cosmas, Graham (1988). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: Vietnamization and Redeployment 1970–1971. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. pp. 295–6. ISBN 978-1-4823-8412-3.
  3. ^ Plaster, John L. "The True Story of Operation Tailwind" (PDF). Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  4. ^ "Valor awards for Gary M. Rose". Military Times Hall of Valor. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  5. ^ "Captain Gary Michael Rose". www.army.mil. United States Army. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  6. ^ "DoD News Briefing, Operation TAILWIND, Tuesday, July 21, 1998". DefenseLink. Archived from the original on 2 October 2006. Retrieved 9 May 2007.
  7. ^ "Department of Defense review of allegations concerning "Operation Tailwind"". CNN. Department of Defense. 21 July 1998. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  8. ^ Admiral Moorer Deposition, Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  9. ^ "CNN - Report on CNN Broadcast - July 2, 1998". www.cnn.com. Retrieved 2016-04-18.
  10. ^ CNN Talkback Live on July 2, 1998 and Newstand: CNN & Time on July 5, 1998.
  11. ^ Phillips, Peter M, editor. Censored 1999: The News That Didn't Make the News (Seven Stories Press, 1999), p. 28.
  12. ^ “TAILWIND” Rebuttal to the Abrams/Kohler Report Oliver, Smith (July 22, 1998).
  13. ^ Smith, Perry. "The Lessons of Tailwind: CNN’s former military adviser sifts through the wreckage of the ill-fated 'Valley of Death' report." American Journalism Review (Dec. 1998).
  14. ^ a b Blowing in the "Tailwind" | Center for Media and Democracy
  15. ^ In re Cable News Network and Time Magazine "Operation Tailwind" Litigation, 106 F. Supp. 2d 1000 (2000) http://www.leagle.com/decision?q=20001106106FSupp2d1000_1999.xml/IN%20RE%20CABLE%20NEWS%20NETWORK retrieved November 16, 2013.
  16. ^ In re Cable News Network and Time Magazine "Operation Tailwind" Litigation, 106 F. Supp. 2d 1000 (2000) http://www.leagle.com/decision?q=20001106106FSupp2d1000_1999.xml/IN%20RE%20CABLE%20NEWS%20NETWORK , retrieved November 16, 2013; September 21, 2006 Judgment of the United District Court for the Northern District of California San Jose Division, in Case No. C 99-20137 JF (RS), Lead Case No. C 98-20946 JF RS MDL Case No. 1257.
  17. ^ 284 F.3d 977, page 4571-4572.
  18. ^ 284 F.3d 977, page 4575-4578.
  19. ^ Ashley Fetters (18 August 2013). "The News vs. The Newsroom: Was There a Real 'Genoa' Report? Yes—in 1998 – Ashley Fetters – The Atlantic". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2013-08-26.

External links

1970 in Laos

The following lists events that happened during 1970 in Laos.



was a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar, the 1998th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 998th year of the 2nd millennium, the 98th year of the 20th century, and the 9th year of the 1990s decade.

1998 was designated as the International Year of the Ocean.

CNN NewsStand

CNN NewsStand is a project to create CNN programming associated with publications owned by Time Warner, shortly after CNN owner Turner Broadcasting System had been bought by Time Warner. The second "S" in "NewsStand" was not capitalized consistently even within Time Warner. In its original concept, NewsStand would feature an in-depth program each weeknight, assuming a report was available, branded as combining CNN with a Time Warner magazine.

CNN controversies

Cable News Network (CNN), an American basic cable and satellite television channel, has been the subject of several controversies. This article recounts controversies and allegations relating to both the domestic version of CNN, and its sister channels CNN International and CNN-News18.

Eugene Peyton Deatrick

Eugene Peyton Deatrick Jr. (born November 17, 1924) is a retired United States Air Force colonel, test pilot, and combat veteran. He is best recognized for his role in the rescue of United States Navy Lieutenant Dieter Dengler during the Vietnam War. The rescue was recounted in the Werner Herzog films Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Rescue Dawn and the national bestseller Hero Found: The Greatest POW Escape of the Vietnam War by author Bruce Henderson.

Gary M. Rose

Gary Michael Rose (born 17 October 1947) is a retired United States Army officer and a Vietnam War veteran. For his actions during the war, Rose was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but this was downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross due to the classified nature of the mission in Laos. He was finally presented the Medal of Honor on 23 October 2017.

After enlisting the United States Army in 1967, Rose became a Special Forces combat medic, and in September 1970 distinguished himself in fighting in Laos at Chavane during Operation Tailwind, in which he treated the wounded while fighting NVA forces. Despite being wounded multiple times during the battle, he treated 60–70 personnel. Rose continued his career in the Army and graduated from Officer Candidate School, becoming a Field Artillery officer and reaching the rank of captain before retiring, after which he worked in the manufacturing industry.

Hatchet Force

A Hatchet Force or Hatchet Team was a special operations team of American and South Vietnamese members of MACV-SOG during the Vietnam War, who operated in small covert operations along the Ho Chi Minh trail from 1966. The units specialized in search and destroy missions and in locating missing American servicemen in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam.

Jack Clapper

An F-100 fighter jet pilot, Jack Clapper flew sorties as part of the Misty FAC (forward air controller) program in the Vietnam War. Misty's primary mission was to fly F-100s at low altitudes and locate enemy targets along the

Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos. There were 155 pilots assigned to fly the Misty between June 1967 and May 1970. Of the 155 Mistys, 34 were shot down. Clapper was shot down during an early morning Misty sortie and was at the center of a daring and dangerous day-long rescue mission, after which he received a Purple Heart. He is also a leading attorney in litigation concerning mesothelioma.

James R. Moriarty

James R. Moriarty (born September 10, 1946) is an American lawyer noted for mass torts against major corporations, including Tenet Healthcare Corporation, Shell Chemicals, DuPont, and Prudential Securities. His legal cases have been described in the books Serpent on the Rock by Kurt Eichenwald, Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much by Maggie Mahar, and Coronary by Stephen Klaidman. Moriarty is a former Marine and Gold Star father.

Kroll Inc.

Kroll is a corporate investigations and risk consulting firm based in New York City. It was established in 1972.

List of allied military operations of the Vietnam War (1970)

This article is a list of known military operations of the Vietnam War in 1970, conducted by the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam, the Khmer Republic, the United States and their allies.

Nicole Seligman

Nicole Seligman (born 1957) is an American attorney and corporate director.

She received national attention in the United States for her representation of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North during the Iran–Contra hearings, and of President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial.

Seligman is a former Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Sony Corporation and former President of Sony Corporation of America.

Operation Honorable Dragon

Operation Honorable Dragon was an offensive of the Second Indochina War. The Central Intelligence Agency, which equipped and trained the needed troops, aimed at disruption of the North Vietnamese communist supply line, the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Launched by six battalions of Royal Lao Army military irregulars on 31 August 1970, the operation achieved only limited success. Although the planned objective was captured on 25 September, the offensive was plagued by desertions and combat refusals, including a battalion that ran from "ghosts". After the conquest of Pakse Site 26, troops of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) harassed the Lao occupiers through mid-December 1970.

Peter Arnett

Peter Gregg Arnett, ONZM (born 13 November 1934) is a New Zealand-born journalist holding both New Zealand and US citizenship.Arnett worked for National Geographic magazine, and later for various television networks, most notably CNN. He is known for his coverage of the Vietnam War and the Gulf War. He was awarded the 1966 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for his work in Vietnam from 1962 to 1965, mostly reporting for the Associated Press. In 1994, Arnett's book Live from the Battlefield: From Vietnam to Baghdad, 35 Years in the World's War Zones was published. In March 1997, Arnett interviewed Osama bin Laden. The journalism school at the Southern Institute of Technology that was named after him closed in 2015.

Riot control

Riot control refers to the measures used by police, military, or other security forces to control, disperse, and arrest people who are involved in a riot, demonstration, or protest. If a riot is spontaneous and irrational, actions which cause people to stop and think for a moment (e.g. loud noises or issuing instructions in a calm tone) can be enough to stop it. However, these methods usually fail when there is severe anger with a legitimate cause, or the riot was planned or organized. Law enforcement officers or military personnel have long used less lethal weapons such as batons and whips to disperse crowds and detain rioters. Since the 1980s, riot control officers have also used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and electric tasers. In some cases, riot squads may also use Long Range Acoustic Devices, water cannons, armoured fighting vehicles, aerial surveillance, police dogs or mounted police on horses. Officers performing riot control typically wear protective equipment such as riot helmets, face visors, body armor (vests, neck protectors, knee pads, etc.), gas masks and riot shields. However, there are also cases where lethal weapons are used to violently suppress a protest or riot, as in the Boston Massacre, Haymarket Massacre, Banana Massacre, Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Kent State Massacre, Soweto Uprising, Mendiola Massacre, Bloody Sunday (1905) , Ponce massacre, Bloody Sunday (1972), Venezuelan Protest(2017), Tuticorin Massacre (2018)

Tailwind (disambiguation)

Tailwind is a wind that blows in the direction of travel of an object.

Tailwind may also refer to:

Wittman Tailwind, a light aircraft

Operation Tailwind, a military/media controversy

Tailwind Sports, see Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team, a professional cycling team

Tailwind (Transformers), a Transformers character

Tailwind Airlines, an airline

Tailwind (album), album by Harmony James

The Newsroom (U.S. TV series)

The Newsroom is an American television political drama series created and principally written by Aaron Sorkin that premiered on HBO on June 24, 2012, and concluded on December 14, 2014, consisting of 25 episodes over three seasons, with 52 to 73 minute long episodes.

The series chronicles the behind-the-scenes events at the fictional Atlantis Cable News (ACN) channel. It features an ensemble cast including Jeff Daniels as anchor Will McAvoy who, together with his staff, sets out to put on a news show "in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles and their own personal entanglements". Other cast members include Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski, Dev Patel, Olivia Munn, and Sam Waterston.

Sorkin, who created the Emmy Award–winning political drama The West Wing, had reportedly been developing a cable-news-centered TV drama since 2009. After months of negotiations, premium cable network HBO ordered a pilot in January 2011 and then a full series in September that year. Sorkin did his research for the series by observing several real-world cable news programs first-hand. He served as executive producer, along with Scott Rudin and Alan Poul.

Valley of Death

Valley of Death may refer to:

Death Valley (disambiguation)

Valley of Death (Bydgoszcz), the site of a 1939 Nazi mass murder and mass grave site in northern Poland

Valley of Death (Crimea), the site of the Charge of the Light Brigade in the 1854 Battle of Balaclava

Valley of Death (Gettysburg), the 1863 Gettysburg Battlefield landform of Plum Run

Military engagements of the Laotian Civil War

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