True Noval

True Noval

Opium War in Golden Triangle (1)

General Ma had his chance as mediator in early 1967 when Generals Tuan and Ly began receiving disturbing information about Chan Shee-fu's activities in the Shan States. The KMT's radio network was sending back reports that the Shan warlord's brokers were buying up unprecedented quantities of opium in the northern Shan and Wa states.
In February, Chan Shee-fu (Khun Sa) had delivered a de facto declaration of war when he demanded that KMT caravans trading in the Wa States pay him the same transit tax that his caravans had to pay the KMT whenever they crossed into Thailand or Laos. When Chan Shee-fu's caravan of three hundred mules assembled in June 1967 it was carrying sixteen tons of raw opium worth $500,000 wholesale in Chiangmai.   
With his share of the profits, Chan Shee-fu could purchase at least one thousand new carbines and expand his army from two thousand to three thousand men, a force almost equal in size to the combined thirty-two hundred troops of the KMT Third and Fifth armies. If Chan Shee-fu's caravan reached Laos, the fifteen-year dominance of the KMT would be in jeopardy. 

The point was not lost on the KMT generals, and through General Ma's mediation, the two feuding generals agreed to resolve their differences and form a combined army to destroy Chan Shee-fu.   
In June the main body of Chan Shee-fu's convoy left Ving Ngun and set out on a two-hundred-mile trek toward Ban Khwan, a small Laotian lumber town on the Mekong River which Gen. Ouane Rattikone had designated the delivery point when he placed an advance order for this enormous shipment with Chan Shee-fu's broker, a Chinese merchant from Mae Sai, Thailand. 
The caravan was to deliver the opium to the general's refinery at Ban Khwan. As the heavily loaded mules plodded south through the monsoon downpours, the convoy was joined by smaller caravans from market towns like Tang Yang, so that by the time it reached Kengtung City its single-file column of five hundred men and three hundred mules stretched along the ridgelines for over a mile.  
From the moment the caravan left Ving Ngun, it was kept under surveillance by the KMT's intelligence network, and the radio receivers at Mae Salong hummed with frequent reports from the mountains overlooking the convoy's line of march. After merging their crack units into a thousand-man expeditionary corps, Generals Tuan and Ly sent their forces into the Shan States with orders to intercept the convoy and destroy it.   
Several days later the KMT expeditionary force ambushed Chan Shee-fu's main column east of Kengtung City near the Mekong River, but his rearguard counterattacked and the opium caravan escaped.  After crossing the Mekong into Laos on July 14 and 15, Chan Shee-fu's troops hiked down the old caravan trail from Muong Mounge and reached Ban Khwan two days later.  

Shortly after they arrived, the Shan troops warned the Laotian villagers that the KMT were not far behind and that there would probably be fighting. As soon as he heard this news, the principal of Ban Khwan's elementary school raced downriver to Ton Peung, where a company of Royal Laotian Army troops had its field headquarters.
The company commander radioed news of the upcoming battle to Ban Houei Sai and urged the principal to evacuate his village. During the next ten days, while Ban Khwan's twenty families moved all their worldly possessions across the Mekong into Thailand, Chan Shee-fu's troops prepared for a confrontation.  

Ban Khwan is hardly a likely battlefield: the village consists of small clearings hacked out of a dense forest, fragile stilted houses and narrow winding lanes, which were then mired in knee-deep, monsoon-season mud. A lumber mill belonging to General Ouane sat in the only large clearing in the village, and it was here that the Shans decided to make their stand. 
In many ways it was an ideal defensive position: the mill is built on a long sand embankment extending a hundred feet into the Mekong and is separated from the surrounding forest by a lumberyard, which had become a moat like sea of mud. The Shans parked their mules along the embankment, scoured the nearby towns for boats, and used cut logs lying in the lumberyard to form a great semicircular barricade in front of the mill.
The KMT expeditionary force finally reached Ban Khwan on July 26 and fought a brief skirmish with the Shans in a small hamlet just outside the village. That same day the Laotian army's provincial commander flew up from Ban Houei Sai in an air force helicopter to deliver a personal message from General Ouane: he ordered them all to get out of Laos.
The KMT scornfully demanded $250,000 to do so, and Chan Shee-fu radioed his men from Burma, ordering them to stay put. After several hundred reinforcements arrived from Mae Salong, the KMT troops attacked the Shan barricades on July 29. Since both sides were armed with an impressive array of .50 caliber machine guns, 60 mm. mortars, and 57 mm. recoilless rifles, the firefight was intense, and the noise from it could be heard for miles.
(Colonel Thet Oo's "My Opium Operations")

Opium War in Golden Triangle (2)

However, at 12:00 noon on July 30 the staccato chatter of automatic weapons was suddenly interrupted by the droning roar of six T-28 prop fighters flying low up the Mekong River and then the deafening thunder of the five hundred pound bombs that came crashing down indiscriminately on Shans and KMT alike.
General Ouane, apparently somewhat disconcerted by the unforeseen outcome of his dealings with Chan Shee-fu, had decided to play the part of an outraged commander in chief defending his nation's territorial integrity. With Prime Minister Souvanna Phourna's full consent he had dispatched a squadron of T-28 fighters from Luang Prabang and airlifted the crack Second Paratroop Battalion (Capt. Kong Le's old unit) up to Ban Houei Sai.
General Ouane took personal command of the operation and displayed all of the tactical brilliance one would expect from a general who had just received his nation's highest state decoration, "The Grand Cross of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol".  
Once the Second Paratroop Battalion had gone upriver to Ban Khwan and taken up a blocking position just south of the battlefield, the T-28s began two solid days of bombing and strafing at the rate of four or five squadron sorties daily.
To ensure against a possible retaliatory attack on Ban Houei Sai, General Ouane ordered two marine launches to patrol the upper reaches of the Mekong near Ban Khwan. Finally, two regular Laotian infantry battalions began moving down the old caravan trail from Muong Mounge to cut off the only remaining escape route.

Under the pressure of the repeated bombing attacks, the four hundred surviving Shans piled into the boats tied up along the embankment and retreated across the Mekong into Burma, leaving behind eighty-two dead, fifteen mules, and most of the opium.  
Lacking boats and unwilling to abandon their heavy equipment, the KMT troops fled north along the Mekong, but only got six miles before their retreat was cut off by the two Laotian infantry battalions moving south from Muong Mounge.
When the Shans and KMT had abandoned Ban Khwan, the Second Paratroop Battalion swept the battlefield, gathered up the opium and sent it downriver to Ban Houei Sai. Reinforcements were flown up from Vientiane, and superior numbers of Laotian army troops surrounded the KMT.   
Following two weeks of tense negotiations, the KMT finally agreed to pay General Ouane an indemnity of $7,500 for the right to return to Thailand. According to Thai police reports, some seven hundred KMT troops crossed the Mekong into Thailand on August 19, leaving behind seventy dead, twenty-four machine guns, and a number of dead mules.
Although the Thai police made a pro forma attempt at disarming the KMT, the troops clambered aboard eighteen chartered buses and drove off to Mae Salong with three hundred carbines, seventy machine guns, and two recoilless rifles.  

Gen. Ouane Rattikone was clearly the winner of this historic battle. His troops had captured most of the sixteen tons of raw opium, and only suffered a handful of casualties. Admittedly, his lumber mill was damaged and his opium refinery had been burned to the ground, but this loss was really insignificant, since General Ouane reportedly operated another five refineries between Ban Khwan and Ban Houei Sai.   
His profits from the confiscated opium were substantial, and displaying the generosity for which he is so justly famous, he shared the spoils with the men of the Second Paratroop Battalion. Each man reportedly received enough money to build a simple house on the outskirts of Vientiane.   
The village of Ban Khwan itself emerged from the conflagration relatively unscathed; when the people started moving back across the Mekong River three days after the battle, they found six burned-out houses, but other than that suffered no appreciable Loss.  
At the time it was fought, the 1967 Opium War struck most observers, even the most sober, as a curious historical anachronism that conjured up romantic memories of China's warlords in the 1920s and bandit desperadoes of bygone eras.
However, looking back on it in light of events in the Golden Triangle over the last five years-particularly the development of large-scale production of no. 4 heroin-the 1967 Opium War appears to have been a significant turning point in the growth of Southeast Asia's drug traffic.
Each group's share of Myanmar's opium exports and its subsequent role in the growth of the Golden Triangle's heroin industry were largely determined by the historic battle and its aftermath.
KMT caravans still carry the overwhelming percentage of Myanmar's opium exports, and Shan caravans have continued to pay the KMT duty when they enter Thailand. Chan Shee-fu, of course, was the big loser; he left $500,000 worth of raw opium, thousands of dollars in arms and mules, and much of his prestige lying in the mud at Ban Khwan.
Moreover, Chan Shee-fu represented the first and last challenge to KMT control over the Shan States opium trade and that challenge was decisively defeated. Since the destruction of Chan Shee-fu's convoy, Shan military leaders have played an increasingly unimportant role in their own opium trade; Shan caravans usually have less than a hundred mules, and their opium refineries are processing only a small percentage of the opium grown in the Shan States.

However, General Ouane's troops won the right to tax Myanmar opium entering Laos, a prerogative formerly enjoyed by the KMT, and the Ban Houei Sai region later emerged as the major processing center for Myanmar opium.
However, General Ouane's troops won the right to tax Myanmar opium entering Laos, a prerogative formerly enjoyed by the KMT, and the Ban Houei Sai region later emerged as the major processing center for Myanmar opium. 
(Colonel Thet Oo's "My Opium Operations")

1972 CIA Inspector General Report Confirms Heroin Complicity

Heroin Production

The CIA's policy of tolerance towards its Laotian allies did not change even when they began producing heroin to supply U.S. combat forces fighting in South Vietnam. 
In 1968-69, CIA assets opened a cluster of heroin laboratories in the Golden Triangle, the tri-border area where Myanmar(Burma), Thailand, and Laos converge. When Hmong officers loaded opium on the CIA's Air America and the Lao Army's commander opened a heroin laboratory to supply U.S. troops in Vietnam, the Agency was silent. In a secret internal report compiled in 1972, the CIA's inspector-general said the following to explain their inaction:

The past involvement of many of these officers in drugs is well known, yet their goodwill considerably facilitates the military activities of Agency-supported irregulars.

All this heroin was smuggled into South Vietnam where, by 1971, according to a White House survey, 34 percent of U.S. troops were addicted.

Instead of trying to restrain drug trafficking by its Laotian assets, the Agency engaged in concealment and cover-up. Professor McCoy recalled that when he went to Laos to investigate in 1971, the Lao army commander graciously opened his opium accounts but the U.S. mission stonewalled. In a Hmong village, where he was investigating opium shipments on Air America, CIA mercenaries ambushed his research team. A CIA operative threatened to murder his Lao interpreter unless he quit.

When his book was in press, the CIA's Deputy Director for Plans pressured his publisher to suppress it and the CIA's general counsel demanded deletions of all references to Agency complicity. After the book was published unaltered, CIA agents in Laos pressed his sources to recant and convinced investigators from the House Foreign Affairs Committee that his allegations were baseless.

Simultaneously, the CIA's inspector-general conducted a secret internal investigation that confirmed his allegations. "The war has clearly been our overriding priority in Southeast Asia and all other issues have taken second place," the inspector-general said in defense of their inaction on drugs. "It would be foolish to deny this, and we see no reason to do so."

Smack to Crack and the Outlaw Government

By 1971 the greatest threat to the 400,000 member U.S. military force that had invaded Vietnam was not Communist firepower or lack of air support, it was heroin. Ninety to ninety nine percent pure, No. 4 heroin was being sold at roadside stands by Vietnamese children, in army camps, and at sidewalk cigarette stands throughout downtown Saigon. The heroin epidemic was considered so pervasive that one U.S. authority told a Newsweek reporter that "Heroin is wrecking the U.S. Army and creating a whole new class of American addicts.

As the heroin epidemic surged through the force structure the army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID) uncovered incriminating evidence that South Vietnam Major General Ngo Dzu, commander of II Corps, was "one of the chief traffickers" in the country. The CID investigation also revealed that the Chief of the Laotian general staff, General Ouane Rathikone, was "deeply involved."

The conclusions of the army investigation were sent, through channels, to the U.S. Embassy in Saigon which ignored the findings and assembled a spirited defense of General Ngo Dzu. "There is no information available to me that in any shape, manner or fashion would substantiate the charges" declared the U.S. advisor to General Dzu.

That high officials in the South Vietnamese, Laotian, and Thai governments were controlling the heroin industry should have been as shocking as the information conveyed to the police chief in the classic movie "Casablanca" when told of gambling at Rick's American Cafe.

The Central Intelligence Agency had been in Indochina since at least l949 and formed allegiances with groups who had been trafficking in opium for centuries. The CIA facilitated the transport logistics of the opium trade among it's allies as part of it's mission, first to initiate a covert invasion of the People's Republic of China using KMT irregulars, then in it's effort's in support of the U.S. invasion of South Vietnam.

Shocking to some, unbelievable to others, and consistently denied by the U.S. government, the U.S. Government and CIA at best ignored, or as the record will show actively participated in the facilitation of the illegal drug industry, that was "wrecking the U.S. Army".

Operation PAPER, a covert CIA/KMT invasion of China supported by Civil Air Transport (CAT) a CIA proprietary airline was resoundingly crushed by Chinese soldiers in 1951. Two more invasions of China were attempted as the CIA inaccurately predicted, as they would in Cuba in 1961, that large number's of Chinese would spontaneously rise and join the fight. Each abortive invasion met the same fate at the first.

After these defeats the war lords of the KMT consolidated control of the Thai Burma border areas, expanded their tradition of opium production and shipped much of its contraband to Bangkok not only on mules but also on CAT C-47's.

After delivering arms from Bangkok many KMT reloaded the transports with opium for the return trip. This aspect of the KMT's existence was hardly covert as the New York Times reported detailed accounts of the KMT's drug trafficking as early as 1952. As the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army was repeatedly crushing the CIA/KMT incursions the French were struggling to hold their colonial possessions in Southeast Asia.

The war against the Vietnamese had become increasingly unpopular in France and the French intelligence and paramilitary operatives in Vietnam turned increasingly to the opium business for financial resources.

Dubbed OPERATION X, this covert initiative came to control most of the opium trade and incorporated Corsican gangsters for the purposes of export. Service de Documentation Extrieure et du Contre Espionage (SDECE) was the French equivalent of the CIA and it's program of using illegal drugs to finance an unwanted war was top secret, known only by a few high ranking French officials. The SDECE used its planes to transport drugs from the highlands into the urban markets and mobilized drug gangs to fight the liberation forces.

After the French defeat in 1954 the U.S. began its direct involvement to protect the Vietnamese from what President Eisenhower described as the "red ruler's godless goons". South Vietnam President Diem decided to fight the "godless goons" by resurrecting the French drug distribution network.

As opium could not be grown in Vietnam it had to be imported from Laos by air and the CIA's CAT (now called Air America) and Vietnamese First Air Transport Group, under the command of Col. Nguyen Ky (later Premiere) became the mules. 
By 1960, CIA asset and head of the South Vietnamese secret police, Ngo Dinh Nhu, working with Cholon Chinese syndicates had increased the number of opium dens to 2,500 and incorporated Corsican mobsters as part of the transport logistics. The secret police had a well developed drug infrastructure with Col. Ky's air force providing most of the transit bypassing customs and using air force bases as distribution hubs.

By 1968-69 the Golden Triangle was producing over 1,000 tons of raw opium, much of which was now being refined into heroin for shipment to Europe, the U.S., and South Vietnam.

The CIA reported in 1971 that much of the Golden Triangle increases in production "appears to be due to the sudden increase in demand by a large and relatively affluent market in South Vietnam". This, of course, was a reference to the 500,000 U.S. troops now stationed in Vietnam who could buy high grade no. 4 heroin everywhere, from road side stands to 14 year old street dealers.

In 1971 New York Congressman Seymore Halpern reported that up to sixty thousand U.S. troops in South Vietnam were either addicted or users of heroin. Other estimates placed the number as high as 15 percent prompting Newsweek to report in part ""heroin addiction among U.S. troops is reaching epidemic proportions and, in the view of many American officers, now poses a greater threat to the young soldiers in Vietnam than Communist firepower does".

The Air America fleet, another CIA proprietary which included Iran Contra Air Force officer Richard Secord as its logistics person, became a factor in solidifying the power of Hmong leader Vang Pao, who was given the authority to approve rice delivery's and opium pickups to remote villages. 
These villages had been separated by rugged mountain terrain and the introduction of air communications not only unified these tribes but provided them with advanced capabilities of marketing their opium. "By flying bundles of raw opium from remote villages to refineries, the CIA allowed the Hmong to continue their cash crop income, thus reducing the Agency's direct costs in maintaining tribal households."

Much of the opium transhipped by Air America was converted into no. 4 heroin for the GI market in South Vietnam. In 1958, after a neutralist government was elected in Laos, prohibited by John Foster Dulles in the Grand Arena, the CIA financed a right wing political coalition.

Within three months, the neutralist government was replaced by the right wing which included Cabinet Minister Phoumi a CIA asset. Phoumi had controlled the Laotian opium traffic working in collusion with Corsican and Chinese smugglers and went on to open opium dens in Vientiene, the capital city.

In 1962 Phoumi moved to consolidate his control over the opium trade by establishing links with Burmese traffickers. He appointed Laotian Army General, Ouane Rattiake, Chairman of the Laotian Opium Administration and within several months Ouane brought the first major opium caravans across the Mekong River. 
General Ouane went on to become one of the largest drug traffickers in the Golden Triangle using Laotian C-47s and helicopters to open new trading relations with KMT and Shan brokers. One of the largest shipments he is known to have organized was a winding mile long 16 ton load carried over the jagged mountain terrain on a 300 pack horse caravan, guarded by five hundred Laotian soldiers.

This caravan provoked a battle that came to be known in the media as the 1967 Opium War. The confrontation, between KMT drug units and the Shan warlords who were delivering the drugs, was a fight to control the traffic in this region. General Ouane entered the fight with Laotian jets and a paratroop battalion decisively defeating the opposing forces and retrieved the 16 tons of opium.

The drug war between the KMT's 1,400 troops and Ouanes 1,800 paratroopers was reported in the U.S. media, however, it's deeper implications and the connections with heroin sales to U.S. GI's were overlooked. General Ouane consolidated this victory by displacing the KMT forces from the Burmese border and using the Laotian army to tax opium shipments.

Ouane operated five heroin refinery's producing no.4 and his operation became the lead processor for Burmese opium. This massive heroin operation was widely know to be operating including a Time magazine article that reported "the kingpin of the Laotian opium trade is General Ouane. He is reputed to own one of Laos's two major opium refineries, and five smaller refineries scattered along the Mekong".

Ouane, the Laotian Chief of Staff, whose army was largely funded by the U.S., held a press conference with U.S. reporters in 1971 where he was quoted as saying "the opium traffic was a good thing, since it provided the Meo (Hmong) tribesmen with a livelihood and kept them out of the hand of the Communist Pathet Lao." Ouanes candor was apparently too much for the CIA as he was reportedly forced to resign his army position several weeks later, but not from his drug operations.

Heroin and Black Ghettos

Ouane, in the finest traditions of free market entrepreneurship, responded to the GI demand for No.4 by marketing his own brand name "Double U-O Globe" heroin and increasing production to 10 kilos per day. Double U_O Globe was following U.S. troop home as 8 kilos were seized in New Jersey and 16 kilos in New York in November 1971. 
These large seizures, the GI problem and increasing media attention led to President Nixon's "war on drugs". Announced in June of 1971 Time magazine reported that the problem had become exacerbated since it (heroin addiction) had been traditionally "confined to black urban ghettos" and now it appeared the "disease has come to invade the heartland of white, middle class America."

Fearing that heroin was moving beyond the politically and racially segregated ghettos, Nixon declared a "national emergency" and using rhetoric future politicians would borrow and build upon pronounced that "America's Public Enemy No. l is drug abuse". Part of Nixon's "War on Drugs" included cooperation between U.S. drug enforcement personnel and police of other nations.

In 1971, the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics (DEA) sent a team of agents to Laos to investigate the problem. Upon their arrival they were prevented from conducting investigations by the U.S. Embassy, the CIA, and the Laotian government.

The U.S. Embassy, apparently unaware of "America's Pubic Enemy No. 1", defended this action by claiming that U.S. narcotics agents would be violating Laotian sovereignty as Laos had no legal prohibitions against drugs. The State Department, which was then demonstrating its respect for the principle of sovereignty in neighboring Vietnam, was concerned that any pressure on the drug traffickers might damage the war effort.

The CIA and U.S. government role in the Southeast Asian drug trade was considered logical and pragmatic in a region where opium had been a primary cash commodity for centuries. Opium was and is a mammoth agro-business in this area just as coca in the Andean nations of South America. Covert aggression required alliances with "powerful warlords who necessarily deal in drugs" in the U.S. war against Communist's who did not, as the experience in post revolutionary China demonstrated.

The CIA in 1972 denied any involvement in the drug trade while expressing "some concern that local officials with whom we are in contact... have been or may be still involved in the drug business". The CIA went to explain that alliances with Laotian military officers whose drug connections were well known while their "goodwill facilitates Agency military irregulars".

The report concluded with the observation that the war had been the "overiding priority" and all other issue "have taken second place. It would be foolish to deny this, and we see no reason to do so".
Excerpt of comments by: Alfred W. McCoy, professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of Wisconsin; author of "The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade" (Lawrence Hill, 1991) and "The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia" (1971).
At "Drugs, Impunity and the CIA" A seminar sponsored by the Center for International Policy's Intelligence Reform Project Dirksen Senate Office Building, November 26, 1996. 
(Colonel Thet Oo's "My Opium Operations")

Opium War in Golden Triangle

Before I continued on to write about my personal involvements in the 1978 army operations against opium–trafficking ethnic insurgent armies in Shan State I would like to explain a bit about the long history of opium.
Opium (Bain in Myanmar) originally was not the product of Myanmar nor the infamous word a Myanmar word. Opium reached Myanmar via sea routes across India and also land routes across China from the Europe and the Mediterranean regions and the Asia Minor.
Opium was originally called Ee-Phon in its native regions and E-pha-na in Pali language the ancient and the religious language of Indian Sub-continent. Later in India it is called Ah-Phain or Phain and it became Bain in Mon-Myanmar language.
Thousands of years ago Indians and Chinese didn’t even know the existence of Opium let alone use it and become addicts. Opium propagated from Greece and Mesopotamia towards Asia. Opium was widely used in Asia Minor since the pre-historic ages.
In the stone-ages opium naturally grew on the hills around the Mediterranean Sea and there were written records of opium usage as a medicine by the European physicians a thousand years before Jesus Christ. Greeks and Romans also widely used opium as a common medicine.
Within a thousand years after Jesus Christ the opium spread into East India and China. It was said that from the neighboring Yunan Province of China the opium eventually reached the Golden Triangle region of our Myanmar.

Opium’s Arrival in Asia from the West

Since the Mongol-dominated era in 13th and 14th centuries the traders and merchants from all over the world started coming to China because of her globally famous wealth. At the beginning the trade was done through land routes the famous Silk Road. But by the end of 15th Century most merchandise from China were transported by the sailing ships.
Due to the basic fact that compared with the enormous size and massive population of China most European countries are much smaller and thus their trading with China in the popular merchandises like silk, cotton, sugar, and various spices were extremely profitable to the Europeans.
Portuguese were the top merchants back then and their main interest solely was trading but their rivals English were interested in both trading and the colonization of new territories.
Both Portugal and England then had a worsening problem of massive trade deficit with China as Chinese didn’t really need European products as much as the European desires for Chinese goods and so the Europeans had to use their precious gold and silver to pay for the goods from China. 
Wicked English merchants soon noticed the hidden problem of opium addiction in China and started giving them chests of opium as payments for Chinese goods. As the demand for Opium grew in China many folds the British East India Company started establishing poppy plantations in Bengal in 1773 by introducing the European poppy seeds and European agricultural technology into India.
Within a few years India was producing commercial quantity of opium since the country had a vast amount of suitable land for poppy plantations and cheap labor for profitable high-yield production of opium. But it also escalated the already devastating opium addiction problem among the Chinese.
In 1729 Chinese Emperor Yung Cheng (1723-1735) tried to prohibit opium in China and again in 1796 Emperor Chia Ching prohibited opium in China. Despite the official prohibition the massive amount of British opium from India was still smuggled into China.
Early in 1729 the opium imports into China was only just over 200 Chests. But the imports grew five folds to over 1,000 Chests in 1767 and in 1820 it grew another ten folds to over 10,000 Chests. By 1838 over 40,000 Chests of opium was imported into China illegally despite the prohibition.
Major exporters of opium into China then were America, England, France, Portugal, and Dutch. Those western nations took unfair advantage over the hapless Chinese by taking their tea, silk, and other valuable commodities out of China in return for socially devastating opium cheaply produced in India.
The results were the infamous Opium Wars between China and England in the years 1839 and 1842. The Second Opium War known as the Arrow War broke out in 1856 and 1860 between China on one side and France and England on the other side.
China lost all those opium wars and the victors ruthlessly raised the yearly opium imports to China up to massive 60,000 Chests. Realizing the military and economic benefits of opium the colonial powers even expanded opium productions into the Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador in South America during the period between the First World War and the Second World War.

Opium’s Arrival inMyanmar

According to the historical records opium was brought into and distributed in Myanmar since 16th Century by the Dutch and Italian traders.  In 1515 during the Taungoo Reign many Portuguese came to Myanmar and permanently settled in Martaban (Moat-ta-ma) and they brought opium along.
There were written records describing the visit of an Italian Venetian named Ceaser Fredrick who also bought and sold opium in then the seaport town of Bago in Myanmar.
According to the 1613 records of a Dutch trading company 200 pounds of opium was purchased in Malacca and transported to Bago in Myanmar through Siam (Thailand) and sold there at a huge profit.
In 1824 British colonial administration started legally permitting licensed-opium-dens in Arakan and Tenasserim divisions they had captured from the Kingdom of Myanmar after First English-Myanmar War.
Because of widespread use of opium in Colonial Myanmar the opium production rooted in the remote border region and the devastating effects of opium would be bitterly felt by the whole country for more than 100 years since. But the worst had come with America’s War in Vietnam and the notorious CIA (Central Intelligence Agency).

This was what Tin Maung Yin (MA) described of America’s involvement in opium and heroin trade from the Golden Triangle of Myanmar in his translation of Alfred W. Macoy’s “Heroin Politics in South east Asia”.
“American foreign policy had basically encouraged a large scale opium growing and massive heroin production in South East Asia. Since 1950s America had supported KMT exile forces in Myanmar.
But militarily-incompetent and cowardice KMT white-Chinese had rather wanted to run a very profitable heroin operation than fighting the superior red-Chinese communist forces inside China.
So KMT put all their efforts into expanding the opium growing in the Shan State, which was a virtually-lawless land back then, and attaining the almost monopoly of opium and heroin trade in the Golden Triangle. KMT even helped the CIA in recruiting the opium-smuggling war lords of Laos to form mercenary armies against the Communists rivals in Lao.
CIA had also supported the massive heroin-smuggling syndicates comprising the Ministers and senior Government officials from the right-wing Governments of South Vietnam and Laos and Thailand.
CIA also heavily relied on the Shan Insurgents in their clandestine operations against China in the neighboring Yunan Province while blindly ignoring Shan’s opium smuggling activities or even encouraging the Shans.
Shan insurgents sent their opium to the CIA-supported Laotian Army officers on the border and received the CIA guns from corrupt Laotians. And the Laotian Army converted the Shan opium into pure heroin for the GI market in South Vietnam and then the whole world.
One damaging result for our country from the opium and heroin trade had been the prolonging of Shan insurgency in Myanmar while CIA personnel had frequently entered Shan State for their spy operations in Yunan. The insurgency and the lawlessness in turn had increased the opium growing and heroin production many folds in the Shan State.
By 1969 not just the poppy fields but also the heroin labs were mushrooming in the so-called Golden Triangle region where Myanmar and Laos and Thailand meets. Limitless production of heroin had begun.
CIA also supported corrupt South Vietnamese and Laotian and Thai officials deeply involving in the international heroin smuggling operations by providing them with airplanes for heroin transportation.
CIA cold war strategy was thus mainly responsible for the spread of heroin menace in S.E. Asia especially our Burma.” 
Above was my short explanation of how the opium fields in Burma grew massively during those 20 years between 1950 and 1970.
Thus in our country the military operations against opium were mainly done in the Shan State. Almost every year the opium offensives have been launched by our army in the Lashio region and Eastern-Kengtung region of Northern Shan State.
Most poppy fields are in the Northern Shan State while the opium routes to Laos and Thailand are in the Eastern and Southern Shan State. The Kengtung area basically has common borders with China, Laos, and Thailand.
Centering on the course of Mekong River originated from China the Golden Triangle of Burma and Thailand and Laos once produced more than 10,000 tons of opium every year. That amounted to about 70% of world’s total illegal opium production.
But nowadays the biggest opium producer is said to be Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgents there grew opium large scale and smuggled heroin to America and Europe. They used the money from the heroin trade to buy the weapons used in attacking the American and her allies now occupying Afghanistan.
Now the notorious country producing about 70% of world illegal opium is Afghanistan.
Almost all the opium in this world comes from nearly 4,500 mile long mountainous strip of hilly lands from the Turkish-Anatolia Plateau in the West to Northern Laos in the East. People from the eight countries in that strip produce about 14,000 tons opium every year and supplied raw opium and heroin both legally and illegally to the consumers worldwide.
Only few tons of opium is supplied to the pharmaceutical manufacturers in Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and India for producing legal opiate-based medicines while the majority is converted into heroin and smuggled all over the world.

Poppy Plants to Opium to Heroin

Every year in September and October the opium growers all over the world carefully spread poppy seeds on the prepared-land. The mature plant can grow up to 3 to 4 foot tall. In about three months the poppy plants bear beautiful flowers white or purple colored. Egg-shaped poppy fruit emerged once the petals are shed and inside the fruit is full of white latex.
And that milky latex sap is opium. Poppy farmers collect the sap by slitting the pods with specially curved knife and then scraping off the sap slowly oozing out of the slits. Once out of the pods the white latex sap transform into a brownish gum-like substance and it is raw opium.
Normally the opium traffickers refine their raw opium into morphine base first for the transportation as compact morphine bricks are much easier to handle than smelly and bulky opium bundles. Usually the rickety morphine refineries can be found near the poppy fields. Morphine refining method is the same for all the producers from both S.E. Asia and Middle-East even though they are separated by thousands of miles.
First step is boiling the sufficiently clean water in a cut-down oil-drum by firewood or charcoal fire. Once water is boiled raw opium is dropped into the boiling water and stirred continuously till the opium is dissolved. Then a sufficient quantity of lime is poured into the boiling opium solution.
A precipitate of wastes then sinks to the bottom and a white band of opium concentrate forms on the surface. The opium concentrate is drawn off and filtered through a piece of flannel cloth. The concentrate is heated again in another cut-down drum and Ammonia is added and stirred till dissolved. After a short period morphine crystallized and settled at the bottom.
Then the morphine solution is poured and squeezed though another piece of flannel cloth and the white and nearly solid morphine paste is left on the cloth. Once cooled down and dried the original 10 kilo of raw opium would become one kilo of morphine base. Morphine base is then sent to advance heroin laboratories to refine further into Number-4 heroin.

There are five steps in refining the morphine base to fluffy-white heroin powder.
First Step: To produce 10 kilo heroin ten kilo of morphine base and ten kilo Acetic Anhydrite are mixed in either a glass or ceramic container and heated. After six hours of heating at 185 deg Fahrenheit the morphine and the acetic combine and produce Diacetyl Morphine or impure heroin compound. (Most clandestine heroin lab in Burma can produce only 10 kilo of heroin a day.)
Second Step: Water and chloroform are added to the solution to precipitate the impurities. The solution after a draining is high grade Diacetyl Morphine.
Third Step: After adding Sodium Carbonate to the solution and rigorous stirring the heroin compounds solidify and sink to the bottom.
Fourth Step: Heroin compound is filtered out of the Sodium Carbonate solution and then mixed with pure alcohol and heated by charcoal fire. Once the alcohol is evaporated only the small solid pieces of heroin are left in the container.
Fifth Step: This step is the final step to produce the fluffy white heroin powder the traffickers and the addicts all over the world highly value as the number-4 heroin. In this step heroin pieces are dissolved in pure alcohol in glass containers. The solution is then mixed with Ether and Hydrochloric Acid. The resulting chemical reaction produces crystallized heroin compound. The crystals are filtered out and chemically dried to become the fluffy white powder of 80% to 90% pure heroin. (This step also requires not just a skillful but also absolutely-careful chemist as the volatile Ether gas can ignite and produce a violent explosion that can demolish a clandestine heroin lab.)
(Colonel Thet Oo's "My Opium Operations")

Opium War in Golden Triangle

Above is the step by step description of refining opium to heroin the illicit drug that could destroy the human race with its devastating effects to the addicts and their families and their society at large.
Over the years to eradicate the opium and heroin totally out of Myanmar our army has sacrificed many thousands of lives of our soldiers in the operations against opium producers and heroin traffickers and many more thousands became cripples as they lost one or more of their limbs in those military operations.
But these operations are necessary as we as a nation needs to stop the growth of opium cultivation and heroin addicts. An addict becomes basically a useless person for him or herself and also for the people around him or her. An addict is a danger to the society and the opium must be totally eradicated.
I myself have had a very dear friend who has two sons and two daughters. He used to be very wealthy but his family became destitute within a six years period as his two teenage sons became heroin addicts.
If they couldn’t get the money for heroin from their parents they stole from them. They even threatened their parents whenever they became desperate. My friend tried to cure his sons so many times but they always came back to their drug habit. Only many years later they managed to kick their drug habits for good after becoming Buddhist monks in a very strict monastery.
In addition to large scale military operations against opium growers and traffickers our Government has also drawn out a 15 year long-term plan from 1999 to 2014 to totally eradicate the illicit drugs in the country.
So now is time to continue on to write about my personal involvements in the 1978 army operations against opium–trafficking ethnic insurgent armies in Shan State.
The last days of July 1978. I was on my way back to IB-67 in Maing-yae from Ba Htoo Infantry School after attending the 47th Infantry Company Commander Training Class.
I had already served nearly ten years in South Eastern Command (Ya-ta-kha) and during that time I’d been to Ba Htoo Military Town only once. I was then attending the Army Corporal Training School to learn about Infantry-Small-Arms.
I was originally a bad shot back in the OTS (Officer Training School). Thus I was sent to the Small Arms training by my first ever battalion IB-17 in Pharpun. Then was the first time I’d been to Ba Htoo Town.
Ba Htoo cantonment town was established in the honor of Colonel Ba Htoo who was killed during the Japanese Revolution in 1945. The town was right next to the Yat Sout Town in Southern Shan State. And so many people called the town Yat Sout Ba Htoo.
To get to Ba Htoo we had to take the Thazi-Shwenyaung Train. From Shwenyaung to Ba Htoo was another 36 miles by car. Rural Ba Htoo is surrounded by the mountains and during the summer and winter the town is most pleasant and pretty.
During the three months training there we just shot guns, all sorts of gun. The accommodation was good and most classes were done inside and undercover. Food was good and we didn’t need to go far at all. So I was really very happy in Ba Htoo that first time.
But the second time in Ba Htoo I couldn’t be happy at all. It was during the raining season and the training was for the infantry company commanders. Thus we had to travel a lot on foot and the red mud of Ba Htoo got me real bad as we had had Outdoor Exercise every bloody week. And there were too many forty or fifty mile long L.R.Ps (Long Range Patrols) too.
After that second stay at Ba Htoo Town I got back to IB-67 at Maing-yae and I had to prepare my company for coming operations. My only platoon commander was Lt. Kyaw Htay. He was from Prome and a graduate of OTS Intake 49. He was a boxer and he loved to brawl and got into trouble so many times.
Our Battalion CO called him Mohammad Ali while his men called him Shwe Ba the most famous action actor then in Burma.
After a whole week of intensive training and preparations my Company was battle-ready for Aung Kyaw Moe Operation against the opium trafficking Shan-Chinese insurgent army (MTA).

Aung Kyaw Moe Operation

One day in the August of 1978. Heavy rain was coming down non-stop. That day was a day before the D-day of Aung Kyaw Moe Operation.
All the commanding officers participating in the Operation had to gather inside the Battalion Meeting Hall of our IB-67 in Maing-yae for the briefing given by the CO of Tangh-yang Tactical Command Colonel Myint Aung. 
“Okay, all the battalion commanders and the company commanders, listen. We’re going to smash the opium insurgents. You guys already have detail instructions. All the assigned targets are to be attacked simultaneously at the same time.
I want a clear victory. Do it aggressive and do it brave. The opium insurgents are nothing but the ruthless business operators. This operation is an important national task in ridding our country of opium and heroin. Try to reach your targets at appointed times. All the columns have been given secret names.
Okay, if you guys have any question, ask me now?”
The GSO-3 (General Staff Officer 3) Captain Nyi Shin then explained the Operation to us by pointing out at the huge area map on the board with his long pointing stick. The Tactical Command Chief also answered all our questions.
“Okay, if no more question, you all are dismissed. Go back to your troops,” he then dismissed us and we came back.
Two infantry battalions from the LIDs (Light Infantry Divisions) and our Maing-yae Company and Tangh-yang Company under the Tangh-yang Tactical Command had been assigned for the Operation. Since a LID battalion had five companies the whole operation involved all together 12 infantry companies.
Back then the opium-insurgent bases were mainly in the sector east of Lashio City. But the season then was rainy season and not yet the poppy harvesting time and thus the insurgents were not really active. They were sheltering in their bases waiting for the opium harvest and it was a right time to attack them hard at their bases.
So the participating companies were given individual targets to strike simultaneously as part of the army-operation Aung Kyaw Moe.
The assigned task for my company was to leave Maing-yae by trucks to Mang-kurt on one day before D-day and clear the area of Kone-zone near Mone-mah at the north of Mang-kurt. The Kone-zone sector was the main base of the well-known opium-buyer and insurgent-organizer named Khun Yee and we were to capture him alive if we could or kill him otherwise.
As soon as the briefing was over the Tactical Command Chief and his party left for Tangh-yang and the LID battalion commanders returned to their temporary camps on the Lashio- Tangh-yang Strategic Road.
That afternoon my company left Maing-yae by three trucks for our garrison at Mang-kurt. We were primed and ready for the battle.

Our March to Kone-zone

We reached Mang-kurt just before the sunset as none of our trucks broke down on that trip.
The camp commander in Mang-kurt was Lt. Kyaw Ngwe and I had to explain him our operation quietly as it was a secret operation. I also kept the whole company inside the camp that night so that the people of little town Mang-kurt would not notice our arrival or departure.
“Okay, listen, the whole company, you men cook and eat now. And cook again for the trip. CSM Khan Kyin Khaing, prepare to continue the trip tonight. Do not let the men out of the camp at all.”
I and Lt. Kyaw Htay then paid a visit to the house of Khun Maha the Town-Lord and leader of the town’s pro-Government militia Tha-ka-tha-pha.
The Town-Lord Khun Maha once was one of the leaders of Shan opium insurgent army (MTA). But he became an addict himself while trafficking opium. His health deteriorating he conveniently surrendered to the Government with his men and became the town’s militia leader.
“Oh, my captains, come on, come inside,” he greeted us and invited us in after seeing us.
“I thought I heard the trucks earlier. So, coming from where and going to where?”
“No, we aren’t going anywhere. Just replacing the men here. So any news here, U Khun Maha?”
“Not really, Captain. Did you hear anything?”
“No, not really. But you know, no news and no news and then suddenly our Naung-laing camp was attacked, just recently. So I’m worried!
“Don’t worry Captain. If I hear anything I’ll tell you.”
He was a close relative of MTA leader Khun Sa and also a distant relative of Kone-zone’s Khun Yee our main target.
“How about North Mang-kurt, do you hear any news there?”
“No, nothing at all. The place is quiet like before.”
We came back to the Camp after a short chat with him.
“Ko Kyaw Htay, I think Khun Yee is in his village. But Khun Maha didn’t say anything. What do you think?”
“I think he is, brother.”
“Okay, let’s eat first and then we go on once dark!”
Rain was heavily pouring down non-stop. It was August and torrential rain was normal in the region. In the rainy dark night we quietly marched from Mang-kurt to Mone-mah. The unsealed dirt road was quite wide but the wet road was slippery and men kept on slipping and falling.
My aim was to hit Kone-zone on 6 am at the daybreak.
“Okay, Lt. Kyaw Htay, speed up your men, we need to get there in time.”
“Captain, it’s so dark, we can’t see at all. All my men have never been this area before too. To speed up is impossible.”
He was right as I couldn’t see ahead at all in the darkness and the heavy rain.
“Okay, let the point use the torchlight. Just cover the light. I don’t want the light seen from distance.”
Once the torchlight was allowed our trip went faster. The road was straight but a bit hilly and nearly 20 miles long. The first village on the Road was Taung-lun a Chinese only village. Time was midnight and the whole village was asleep. Not even a single light was seen and we just quietly walked past the village.
“Lt. Kyaw Htay, go faster. We are competing with other units and we must reach our target on the H-hour.”
Rain was still heavy. But it was good for us as the enemy would be caught off-guard. Surprise attack is a prerequisite of victory in warfare. We hit Mone-mah Village just after four in the early morning. It was a big village with at least 100 households.
“This is Mone-mah, Captain,” Lt. Kyaw Htay quietly reported.
“Just get us to Kone-zone. Mone-mah is other units’ target. Seems so quiet, I think other units haven’t reached here yet. Good. We got here first and no one knows we are on the road.”
(Colonel Thet Oo's "My Opium Operations")

Opium War in Golden Triangle

We just walked past the sleeping village and after less than an hour on the road we hit the village of Kone-zone two miles away from Mone-mah Village. It was a small village with only about 25 households. Everyone in the village was asleep but immediately woken up by our surrounding and entering of their little village.
And the villagers were fearful and really scared of us as they didn’t expect Myanmar soldiers that early at dawn inside their opium growing village.
“Don’t be scared. We’re not gonna do any harm. Just show us Khun Yee’s house.”
We found Khun Yee’s prominent house right in the middle of small poor village. Only his house was on the fenced-block. All other houses were thatch-roofed and split-bamboo-walled but his was corrugated-iron- sheet-roofed and pine-timber-plank-walled.
Khun Yee wasn’t there and nor his wife. Only Khun Yee’s old parents were there. The wife was in Tangh-yang and Khun Yee was also on a trip. We searched the house but didn’t find anything suspicious.
“Yeah, Lt. Kyaw Htay, what do you think of the situation?”
“I can’t say much, Captain. According to our intelligence he already had Opium bought and accumulated here. He supposed to have at least 10 mules and horses and also nearly 40-50 men with him here.”
“So, we just have to continue clearing the area.”
While I was discussing with Lt. Kyaw Htay Lance Corporal Nyi Kurt and his men from a guard patrol came back in.
“Captain, here we caught a Shan boy with a Carbine and a horse!”
“Wow, how did you catch him?”
“He came in from the North with Carbine across his shoulder and leading the horse. I called out to him in Shan to come in. So he thought we were his men and came in and so we grabbed him.”
Lance Corporal Nyi Kurt was a Lwela man and also fluent in Shan Language. He was originally from Ving-ngun Shan Militia (KKY) led by Maha Pyinnyar. When Ving-ngun Militia was disbanded and absorbed into our army he was made a lance corporal and a section leader in my company.
He was literate and a respected leader in his old militia and he could speak and read both Shan and Chinese fluently. Battalion had already promised him a promotion to a corporal very soon and then to a sergeant.
“That’s real good, Corporal. A prisoner in the early morning. Can you ask him where his boss Khun Yee is?
The little boy soldier was in a half uniform/half mufti of camouflage shirt and Levis Jean. He looked like only thirteen or fourteen years old. He was just a child soldier. Lance Nyi Kurt asked him in Shan. Being a child he didn’t dare to lie and he immediately answered.
“Captian, boy said Khun Yee doesn’t live in the big house. Only when his wife is here he comes back. Rest of the time he lives in his camp.”
“Oh, so where is his camp? Ask him again. That’s important.”
Nyi Kurt asked the boy again and the Shan boy quickly answered.
“Just over a mile ahead. Khun Yee is there too.”
“Hey, let’s go get them. Lt. Kyaw Htay, you come along with two platoons. CSM and a platoon stay here and guard the village,” I rapidly ordered the battle plan.
“Okay, Nyi Kurt, ask the boy to guide us there. Let’s get there quick.”
WE left all our heavy backpacks and equipment in the village and almost ran with just guns and light equipment on us. Day was already broken and in the morning light we reached the opium camp in less than half an hour.
There we found five large thatch-roofed and thatch-walled huts just beside the wide road. But not a single soul was there as the insurgents had already left the camp in hurry. The largest hut was used as the stable for horses and mules and three smaller ones were the living quarters.
The last hut was their opium refinery. Inside were about 50 of one kilo raw opium bundles they couldn’t carry along with them. They seemed to be refining the raw opium not just into morphine base but also into heroin too as we found the chemicals, glass containers, and the plastic containers of acids used in producing heroin in the makeshift lab.
“I think they are cooking heroin here,” I thought aloud.
Soon one of our patrols caught a villager coming from the northeast and he said he just came back from his farm.
“Have you seen Khun Yee and his men on the way?” we asked him and he said he saw Khun Yee and his men with 10 horses and mules packed with opium bundles rushing towards Naung-lai.
“Are we chasing Khun Yee now, Captain?” Lt. Kyaw Htay asked.
“No, too many of our troops in this area. If we go out of our grids and get into others’ grids we can be mistaken as enemy. I already got into serious troubles two three times with deadly friendly-fires. Let’s go back to Kone-zone.”
At 6 in the morning I reported our actions by radio to Tactical Command at Tangh-yang. Tactical Command ordered us to backtrack along our way and clear the Mone-mah Village. So we carried all the stuff we captured and rushed back to Mone-mah.
It was too late when we got there as all the insurgents previously there had fled and we found only the villagers. No traces of our columns supposed to be there too.
“What happened with our columns?” I called and asked the Tactical Command and the Command simply replied that because of heavy rain all other columns except mine couldn’t reach their targets in time. Especially those columns had to carry heavy-weapons and the shells unlike us so they couldn’t travel as fast as us.
The GSO-3 Captain Nyi Shin said in his radio message, “Captain Thet Oo, so far only your Galone Company has reached the target. All other columns missed their targets and the insurgents had fled.”

“That’s great. Lt. Kyaw Htay, only us the Galones reached the target in time. The rest didn’t make their targets at all,” I had to tell him that we beat other columns.

The Galone (Garuda) Column was the secret code name given to our company by the Tangh-yang Tactical Command.
(Colonel Thet Oo's "My Opium Operations")

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