Operation Commando Hunt was an air bombing campaign conducted undercover by the US 7th Air Force and US Navy Task Force 77, in southeastern Laos, from November 15, 1968, to March 29, 1972, during the Vietnam War. Operation Commando Hunt objective was the interdiction of men and supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, through Laos into South Vietnam.
Although American and South Vietnamese forces had routed the communist forces that had massively attacked South Vietnam and Saigon during the Tet Offensive, the American press made a completely distorted and negative report of the military actions. So, the American public were stunned by the apparent size and ferocity of the offensive, but they did not see the failure of such offensive. For them the light at the end of the tunnel had been extinguished. As a result, President Lyndon B Johnson, in an attempt to nudge Hanoi to the negotiating table, decreed an end to bombing operations in North Vietnam north of the 20th parallel, effectively ending Rolling Thunder on November 11, 1968. Nevertheless, the Johnson Administration secretly shifted the bombing campaign southwestward to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, in Southeastern Laos, authorizing a new bombing campaign, Operation Commando Hunt.
Summary of Operation Commando Hunt
The freeing of aircraft, which had previously been taking part in Rolling Thunder, promised to create an interdiction campaign of unprecedented scale. The new effort would see, for the first time, continuous round-the-clock bombing of the communist logistical system. During daylight, the missions would be performed by propeller-driven and jet fighter-bombers and B-52s. At night, fixed-wing gunships would prowl for prey. The new effort would also be supported by aerial defoliation missions (Operation Ranch Hand).
Operation Commando Hunt was carried out in numerically designated phases which reflected the seasonal weather patterns in southern Laos. Even numbered campaigns took place during the more dormant wet season (June-October). These phases were to have two objectives: first, to reduce the enemy’s logistical flow by substantially increasing the time needed to move supplies from North Vietnam to the south; second, to destroy trucks and supply caches along the roads, pathways, and streams and in the truck parks and storage areas along the Trail.
By the end of the operation, 3 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos, considerably slowing, yet not totally disrupting the flow of communist men and logistical supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.