As a result of the worst military setbacks of the Laotian drive, the U. S. has assembled the largest air armada of the war in an attempt to bolster the stalled U. S.-South Vietnamese offensive.
South Vietnam suffered its worst defeat of the drive Sunday as an elite ranger battalion was forced to retreat by heavy North Vietnamese attacks. The battalion had almost 300 of its 450 men killed or wounded. Over 60 of the wounded were left behind in the retreat.
The entire 16,000-man South Vietnamese push into southern Laos was stalled for the fourth straight day by the North Vietnamese attacks on ranger bases six miles inside Laos.
The U. S. has assembled the air armada as a quick reaction force designed to keep South Vietnamese troops from bogging down in Laos and to deter North Vietnamese troops from pushing across the demilitarized zone. As many as 2000 combat aircraft have been committed to the operation.
The air armada makes it possible to resume full-scale bombing of North Vietnam should these North Vietnamese troops move across the demilitarized zone to attack U. S. troops acting as a blocking force on the Vietnamese side of the border.
President Nixon indicated during a news conference last week that he would resume the bombing of North Vietnam if these U. S. troops are threatened. "I am not going to place any limitations upon the use of air power," he said.
The U. S. air attacks on Laos contin-
ued at a high level. The American command in Saigon said that during the first two weeks of the drive into Laos, U. S. helicopters had flown more than 10,000 missions across the border. U. S. tactical combat planes are flying more than 500 combat missions into Laos each day, South Vietnam has approximately ten helicopters involved in the drive.