A Secret War in the World’s most Bombed Country

Travelling is a funny thing. No matter where you go, there you are.

And being there exposes you to issues. Some good, others disturbing.

An issue on this trip has been the many forms of religion, and its heart , FAITH- a belief in an ideology , someone or something.

And how they do or do not co-exist.

War, as an extension of an ideology supposedly shapes character, consolidates nations and along the way constitutes a principal cornerstone in the progress of civilization. Possibly an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable?

This is the story of ideologies stretched to breaking point. It is not meant to be an attack on the USA or its people, in fact the war in this story was hidden for years from the American people, their Congress and the rest of the world.

It is more than 50 years since the first US combat troops entered Vietnam in March 1965. As the Vietnam War raged, Washington noticed that communist forces had spilled over into neighboring Laos. Negotiators in Geneva agreed that Laos would remain neutral.

The United States feared the spread of communism, resulting in the C.I.A. directing a covert operation in Laos known as the Secret War. Part of this secret war involved recruiting tens of thousands of local Hmong boys and men as soldiers, as opposed to committing US troops to a neutral Laos. The other facet was an intensive carpet bombing of the country..

It has been estimated that the Hmong lost nearly 100,000 people during this secret operation.

The Hmong were later abandoned by the CIA when the US withdrew from Vietnam while Lao remains a communist state today.

Persecuted by their own government for supporting the CIA hundreds of thousands of Hmong refugees fled to Thailand seeking political asylum. Thousands of these refugees have resettled in Western countries including the US while those that remain in Laos fled deeper into the jungle, where many remain today, still hoping the United States will return to save them.

Hmong refugees collect water at Huay Nam Khao village in Thailand's northeastern province of Petchabun

Hmong refugees collect water at Huay Nam Khao village in Thailand’s northeastern province of Petchabun

 

And that was only one part of this clandestine war.

The other part was the most concentrated bombing campaign in history , aimed at destroying the communist North Vietnamese supply routes along the Ho Chi Minh trail. This trail consisted of a network of roads, paths and rivers running through Laos and Cambodia. It was used to smuggle people & equipment from North to South Vietnam. As the trail was hidden from aerial observation by natural and man made camouflage America’s strategy was to subject the trail to intensive bombing, creating thousands of deaths and displaced civilians attempting to escape the onslaught.

When people tried to escape into caves such as this, these too were bombed. In one instance alone 374 people were killed when an American fighter plane bombed the Tham Piu caven

When people tried to escape into caves such as this, these too were bombed. In one instance alone 374 people were killed when an American fighter plane bombed the Tham Piu caven

 

The US dropped more than 270 million bombs in Laos. These bombings equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in human history.

More bombs were dropped here than in the entire WW 2.

In a country the size of the UK.

The most commonly used ordnance by the Americans were cluster bombs, dropped in casings designed to open in mid-air and scatter hundreds of munitions(bombies) over several hectares.

A cluster bomb casing can contain up to 670 bombies

A cluster bomb casing can contain up to 670 bombies

 

Each cluster bomb casing could carry hundreds of Bombie derivatives , all designed, refined and produced in the free world.

Bombies came in various forms. Some bombies were designed to explode on impact, each spreading 300 steel pellets in a lethal 30M radius. Others were designed with incendiary devices to start fires.

Some had delayed fuses which would create fear on the ground via random timed explosions.

Others were designed not to explode on impact but would rather spread trip wires for unsuspecting locals and animals to trigger.

 

The following map shows the extent of the bombing. Each red dot represents one bombing sortie from an armada of aircraft , including the B52 Stratofortress capable of a payload of 32 000 kg of bombs

The following map shows the extent of the bombing. Each red dot represents one bombing sortie from squadrons of aircraft , including the B52 Stratofortress capable of a payload of 32 000 kg of bombs

 

A B52 bombers payload. The B52 remains one of the biggest bombers still in service today

A B52 Stratofortress bomber payload. The B52 remains one of the biggest bombers still in service today

 

It is estimated that 80 million cluster bombs did not explode when dropped, leaving the country massively contaminated with bombies, as dangerous now as when they fell 50 years ago. Despite the efforts of  organizations such as MAG and UXO LAO only 1% of Laos territory has been cleared so far.

These unexploded ordnance are called UXO and they  claim on average of 500 victims a year, mainly children (who are often attracted by their toy-like shapes ) ,  farmers who are forced to work on their contaminated fields and scrap metal  collectors.

Many accidents in remote areas often go unreported.

 

Yukhu (left) & Yavhu were lucky to survive by running away from a bombie their friend discovered.  Both the friend and another boy were killed.

Yukhu (left) & Yavhu were lucky to survive by running away from a bombie their friend discovered. The friend and another boy unfortunately died from the explosion.

 

The scars left by the UXO's are more than skin deep

The scars left by the UXO’s are more than skin deep

 

This is the story of 4 children and the effect UXO has had on their lives. Our thanks to UNICEF & UXO LAO for the footage

 

People living in UXO contaminated areas have to learn to accommodate, to some degree, these deadly objects in their lives. Bombs and other war hardware are used as fences , house foundations and even boats.

8.

 

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9.
UXOs affect not only the daily life of millions of people but the long-term development of the country by delaying the construction of clinics, schools and factories. At the current pace, it will take more than two millennia to clear the country.

Despite a goverment ban, UXO scrap metal has become a booming trade in Lao PDR. For many of the impoverished , supplementing their low incomes by collecting and selling the metal outweighs the considerable risk of death and injury. Depending on its quality , metal can fetch between 1500 & 5000 kip a kilogram (Us$ 0.17- $0.58); a 700 pound bomb will sell for around 17 million kip ($200)-up to two-thirds of a rural farmer’s or teachers yearly income.

The human cost is immeasurable. Because the trade is outlawed , people are reluctant to report incidents. The influx of cheap metal detectors has not helped matters either. For $12 a metal detector can be bought at local markets or on hire purchase from scrap metal dealers. These detectors have become a common household item in many rural homes, with adults and children alike hunting for the remains of bombs and submunitions.

 

10.

Metal detectors are common place

 

A  Bombie and other bombs in a scrap yard

A Bombie and other ordnance in a scrap yard

 

12.
The impact of UXO extends far beyond those directly effected by a single accident. The fear of UXO in villages, fields, forests-a community’s entire environment- can stop people using land for agriculture, reducing their ability to feed their families and earn a living.

Going to school can become a deadly exercise. Planting crops runs the risk of hitting a UXO- farmers and their oxen reduce the the depth they till as a result. Economic development such as roads are hampered. The list goes on and on…

It is estimated that it will take more than 200 years to clear Lao of these UXO.

Organizations such as  UXO LAO and MAG working tirelessly in what seems like and insurmountable eradication task.

Agricultural land is cleared to a depth of 25 cm. This is based on the tilling depth of a typical buffalo drawn plough. Deeper clearance is  performed as land use demands

Agricultural land is cleared to a depth of 25 cm. This is based on the tilling depth of a typical buffalo drawn plough. Deeper clearance is performed as land use demands

 

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15.

A live BLU 26 Bombie. One can clearly see the steel balls oozing out the corroded bottom half

 

Removing a bigger UXO

Removing a bigger UXO

 

18.

This is the Bomb clearing “bible” used by the clearing organizations. It is a catalog of the many different types of explosives that could be encountered.

 

17.

Each page has a description of the type explosive and how to deal with it.

 

19.

This is a breakdown of clearance activities undertaken by UXO Lao in the province of Luang Prabang, Northern Lao. Luang Prabang was one of the least bombed provinces

 

Given the amount of UXO we decide to follow  the main road south ( according to the The Reise Know-How Verlag GmbH Laos map , 2014 edition).

Somebody in this organization needs to check their product  as the main road on their map turns out to be a 190 km track through the jungle.

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We avoid signs like this

 

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And this . Left of the white segment areas have been cleared of explosives   Right of the Red marker no clearance has been effected .

 

Even in the jungle one can get fuel from hand pumps

Even in the jungle one can get fuel from hand pumps

 

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Thankfully the only mishap was a bit of slippery wet clay

Thankfully the only mishap was a bit of slippery wet clay

 

The following video gives an oversight of the Secret war, its consequences and the reality that there is always someone less fortunate than oneself.

Our daily issues pale by comparison.

Our Thanks to UXO Lao for the footage

He who conquers many thousand men in battle
Is not the noblest victor,
But he who conquers himself
Is, indeed, the noblest victor

Buddhist Proverb

 

7 Responses to A Secret War in the World’s most Bombed Country

  1. Jeff Botha

    Brought to you courtesy of the leader of the “free world”….

  2. Philna

    Oh no! How terrible. I knew nothing about this.

  3. Peter Joost

    The US also used chemical warfare( agent orange) in Laos well as dropping booze along the trial in the hope that smugglers would be too drunk to carry onwards!

  4. Jan and Gail

    horrific Gail

  5. Mad Rider

    And to think we all live on the same planet and call ourselves a human race

  6. Jan and Gail

    One of the most shocking thing I was totally unaware off_ Jan

  7. mark

    This is one of the craziest stories I have ever read. How can people do such things ? Anyway enjoy your trip I am sure Zuma will still be here when you get back.

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