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CWIHP e-Dossier No. 28 

In addition to providing weapons and ammunition to foreign “revolutionary” forces during the Cold War (see CWIHP eDossier No. 25), official People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) military publications have now revealed that during the period from the 1970s through the early 1990s, PAVN’s sappers (dac cong) -- the Vietnamese army’s elite commando/special forces troops -- also covertly provided specialized commando training to foreign forces. This training was conducted at the PAVN Sapper Training School in Vietnam, by Vietnamese sapper advisors assigned to the Cuban Army’s Sapper School in Cuba, and, during the 1980s, by a secret Vietnamese sapper training team stationed in Nicaragua.  In addition to training Cambodian, Laotian, Soviet, and Cuban military personnel, the publications reveal that among the foreign revolutionary forces that received training in sapper tactics, bomb-making, and the use of weapons and explosives, were members of the Marxist El Salvadoran FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front), the Chilean MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) fighting against the dictatorial regime of General Pinochet, as well as the Colombian FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) movement, a Marxist guerilla group that was also heavily involved in narcotics trafficking.  This training, like the covert Vietnamese supply of weapons and ammunition to these guerrilla movements, was probably requested by and coordinated through the Cuban government.

Merle L. Pribbenow, a native of the Pacific Northwest, graduated from the University of Washington in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in political science.  After serving in the CIA for 27 years, he retired in 1995 and is now an independent researcher/author specializing in the Vietnam War.

Document #1 - Excerpts from official Vietnamese "Sapper Handbook"  

"Sapper Handbook," [Sổ tay tư liệu đặc công]." Published by Sapper Command, Hanoi, 1992. Obtained and translated for CWIHP by Merle Pribbenow.

[Click to view document in the CWIHP Digital Archive]

Translated excerpts from an official People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) handbook for the elite "Sapper" forces, Vietnamese army’s commando/special forces troops. These excerpts discuss the Sapper's training of foreign commando forces from countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, and the Soviet Union.

Document #2 - Excerpts from "Calendar of Events in the History of the Sapper Branch of the People's Army of Vietnam (1967-1997)" 

"Calendar of Events in the History of the Sapper Branch of the People's Army of Vietnam (1967-1997)," [Biên niên sự kiện lịch sử binh chủng đặc công Quân đội nhân dân Việt Nam (1967-1997)]. Published by Sapper Command, Hanoi, 1992. Obtained and translated for CWIHP by Merle Pribbenow.

[Click to view document in the CWIHP Digital Archive]

Translated excerpts from an official People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) handbook for the elite "Sapper" forces, Vietnamese army’s commando/special forces troops. These excerpts discuss the Sapper's training of foreign commando forces from countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, and the Soviet Union.

About the Author

Merle Pribbenow

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Cold War International History Project

The Cold War International History Project supports the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War. Through an award winning Digital Archive, the Project allows scholars, journalists, students, and the interested public to reassess the Cold War and its many contemporary legacies. It is part of the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program.  Read more

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