Cleaning Up the Bombs From the Secret U.S. War in Laos

President Obama pledged $90 million to remove unexploded ordnance dropped during the Vietnam War.

Smoke billows from bomb blasts along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos on Feb. 11, 1971 as U.S. bombers pounded the area while supporting South Vietnamese.
The U.S. bombs the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. (AP)

NEWS BRIEF President Barack Obama pledged $90 million on Tuesday to help Laos clean up millions of unexploded bombs the U.S. dropped on the country in a secretive nine-year bombing campaign during the Vietnam War.

Obama flew to Laos as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, and his trip marks the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited the country. The U.S. already spends millions to help clean up the unexploded bombs, but this new announcement would double what the U.S. spends over three years. In his speech to a roomful of students and politicians Tuesday, Obama said, “Given our history here, I believe that the United States has a moral obligation to help Laos heal.”

The CIA led the bombing campaign, which dropped more than 270 million cluster bombs, or around 2 million tons of explosives, on villages and suspected supply routes from 1964 to 1973. That was more bombs than dropped on Germany and Japan combined during World War II. During the Vietnam War, Laos had officially remained neutral. But the U.S. believed communist groups in the country were helping to supply the North Vietnamese, particularly along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This is why the CIA carried out their missions in secret, without congressional approval. Of all those bombs, it’s estimated 80 million never went off, and dozens of Laotians die each year from unexploded ordnance.

Here’s a video by Agence France-Presse that talks about the danger these bombs still pose for Laotians.

Although Obama promised to send Laos more money to clear unexploded bombs, the president did not offer an apology for the secret war. Instead, Obama said, “Whatever the cause, whatever our intentions, war inflicts a terrible toll."