In August 1960 Captain Kong Le, a U.S.-trained parachute battalion commander, led a coup d'état against the two-month-old Somsanith government and denounced foreign intervention in Lao affairs. The quick capitulation of Somsanith and his cabinet led to the return of Souvanna Phouma as prime minister. U.S officials, who had failed to anticipate the coup, faced the unappealing choice of backing either the neutralist Souvanna or General Phoumi, who lacked political legitimacy and was opposed by the U.K. and French governments. The State Department, which still sought the longstanding, but never realized, goal of uniting the kingdom's non-communist leaders, was unwilling to take a chance on either Souvanna's policy of reconciliation with the Pathet Lao or Phoumi's unconstitutional takeover of the government. As U.S. policy drifted, Pentagon officials, led by Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates, became more assertive in urging all-out support for the Lao general.
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