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Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The US dropped more than 270 million bombs in Laos - One-third of the bombs failed to explode on impact and have for the past 50 years claimed an average of 500 victims a year

Laos: Thousands suffering from the deadly aftermath of US bomb campaign

Fifty years after US combat troops entered Vietnam, neighboring Laos is still dealing with unexploded bombs from fierce air attacks

Matteo Fagotto  The Guardian

Saturday 31 January 2015 16.04 EST
“If I had arrived 15 minutes later at the hospital, I would have died. I underwent 12 blood transfusions in order to survive.” Sitting in the living room of her wooden stilt house, 39-year-old Buan Kham slowly lifted her skirt to expose what remains of her right leg, amputated at the knee. “If I hadn’t gone to the capital, Vientiane, I would have lost both,” she added, caressing the deep scars running along her left thigh.

Less than a year ago Kham, from the rural village of Na Dee, became one of the 20,000 victims of unexploded ordnance (UXO). The weapons are a lethal legacy of the Vietnam war, which turned this poor, landlocked south-east Asia nation of 6 million into the most bombed country per capita in the world.

It is 50 years since the first US combat troops entered Vietnam in March 1965. During that notorious conflict, the US dropped more than 270 million bombs in Laos as part of a CIA-run, top-secret operation aimed at destroying the North Vietnamese supply routes along the Ho Chi Minh trail and wiping out its local communist allies.

One-third of the bombs failed to explode on impact and have since claimed an average of 500 victims a year, mainly children and farmers forced to work on their contaminated fields to sustain their families. Despite tens of millions of dollars spent, only 1% of Laos territory has been cleared so far.

Last April a Vietnamese metal dealer arrived in Na Dee to buy a 500lb bomb that Kham’s husband had stored under the family house. It had been found a few days earlier in a nearby forest, and he brought it home to sell as scrap metal, a common business that earns local families a few extra dollars. But the bomb exploded when the dealer began to saw off its tail in order to remove some aluminium parts. The dealer died instantly, his face blown away by the explosion. Kham and her two sons, aged 18 and 16, had been sitting nearby. Enveloped in a thick cloud of dust, Kham didn’t realise she had also been hit until she was put on a truck and saw she was covered in blood. She passed out, regaining consciousness 12 hours later at the provincial hospital in Phonsavan – her leg had already been amputated.

Kham spent the next five weeks in another clinic in Vientiane, where she was given a prosthetic leg. She still struggles to get used to it. “It is very heavy, I feel pain every time I use it,” she said. “I am not able to do anything with it and I just spend time at home.”

Her sons were both permanently injured: one lost his left eye; the other damaged his shoulder. As a result, her family are now in dire economic straits. She had to sell all her seven cows to settle the hospital bill and is afraid her husband might abandon her for another woman. “I am worried about my life,” she said in despair. “Both my sons have disabilities. Who will look after the family?”

The legacy of the Secret War, as the American operation is now known, is clearly visible in this idyllic landscape of rolling hills and lush tropical forest. Scarred by thousands of explosion craters, the contaminated area is estimated to be 87,000 sq km , more than one-third of Laos’s territory.

In Xieng Khouang, the most affected province, UXOs are found in forests and school buildings, roads and rice fields. Tim Lardner, the chief technical adviser of UXO Laos – the local company given the task of clearing the country – said: “I have been in this business for 25 years and I have worked in dozens of UXO-affected countries. When I go out on the field, my breath is taken away by the scale of the contamination. It’s like nothing anywhere else.”

According to Kingphet Phimmavong, the company’s provincial coordinator, 85% of UXOs found in Laos were left by the Americans.

For survivors of the war, such as 84-year-old Kampuang Dalaseng, memories are still vivid. “I hate Americans to this date. They bombed, burned and destroyed everything. If their president was here, I would slap him in the face.” A former professor of French, he was forced to flee the bombardments, abandoning the village of Bat Ngot Ngum in 1964 and taking shelter in a forest cave with his family and fellow villagers.

Whenever the American bombers targeted the area the group would move, in an endless cat-and-mouse game. Exhausted and demoralised, the family fled to Vietnam in 1969, embarking on a month-long walk only four days after Dalaseng’s wife had given birth to her second baby. The landscape around them was apocalyptic. “The bombs had destroyed everything,” he remembered. “There were no more animals or villages.”

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 over several hectares. The bombs were designed to explode on impact, lighting up the hills with thousands of simultaneous, deadly explosions. The bombardments were so intense (an average of one every eight minutes, for nine years) that farmers resorted to tending their fields at night. Cooking was severely restricted, because the smoke would attract the aircraft.

Despite their efforts to avoid detection, deaths were commonplace. On 24 November 1968 more than 374 people were killed when an American fighter jet bombed the Tham Piu cave. Today, with its blackened walls and the hundreds of small stone altars erected in memory of the deceased, the place still retains an eerie atmosphere.

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.

Around 40% of the victims are children, who are often attracted by the toy-like shapes of the unexploded cluster bombs. While statistics show risk education programmes carried out by the Laos authorities have contributed to a steep decline in casualties (from 300 in 2008 to 41 in 2013), many accidents in remote areas often go unreported.

In 2014 the Xieng Khouang provincial hospital alone dealt with 14 cases. “The problem will last for long. UXO-injured patients feel the consequences their whole life,” explained 55-year-old Bouanvanh Outhachack, the doctor in charge of the local surgery unit, who has treated more than 500 UXO-related cases in 31 years. Unexploded ordnance claimed the lives of both her grandparents and her mother. “I decided to become a doctor after those accidents,” she said . “Even if I am tired and close to retirement, I still want to help people get back to life.”

Although the US is now the main UXO-clearance donor in Laos, the $82m (£54m) allocated so far is only a small fraction of the $18m per day (inflation-adjusted) that Washington spent to bomb Laos.

From his leafy mansion in Vientiane, US ambassador Daniel A Clune was clearly uncomfortable when speaking about the issue. “We cannot do anything to change the past, we cannot change the history,” he said. “What we can do is to address the current situation.”

In a historic visit in 2012, the then secretary of state Hillary Clinton referred to the war as “the tragic legacies of the past”. The US acknowledged its role in the conflict only indirectly, when it inaugurated a Laos memorial dedicated to the veterans of the Secret War in Arlington National Cemetery in 1997.

Nine years after he fled from Laos, Dalaseng was finally able to return to Bat Ngot Ngum, where he now runs a restaurant with his wife. He is unable to forgive. Like many other Laotians the scars of the war are too deep to heal. “The only way the US can make amends is to clear this country, build roads, schools and hospitals,” he said. “Their bombs are still killing our people every day.”


1964 The US enters the Vietnam war, saying North Vietnamese patrol boats fired on two US Navy destroyers. US Congress authorises military action in the region. The US begins a nine-year bombing campaign in Laos. The aerial bombardment is an attempt to destroy North Vietnamese sanctuaries and rupture the supply line known as the Ho Chi Minh trail.

1965 200,000 American combat troops arrive in South Vietnam. By 1967 the number has risen to 500,000.

1968 The Tet offensive - a combined assault by Vietcong fighters and the North Vietnamese army on US positions - begins. More than 500 civilians die in the US massacre at My Lai and thousands are killed by communist forces during their occupation of the city of Hué.
1969 North Vietnam’s leader Ho Chi Minh dies. President Nixon begins to reduce US ground troops in Vietnam as public opposition to the war grows.

1973 Ceasefire agreement in Paris. US troops pullout is completed by March.


  1. American troops in My Lai acted horrible. Was it the normal policy for American troops to behave in such a manner?

    ISIS has acted with glee to behave this way.

    In Syria? Assad, with Iran and Hezbollah's help have butchered almost 300,000.

    In the Iran Iraq war? 1.2 MILLION died.

    Are you saying those that served in the American Armed forces are the SAME as ISIS?

    What the point of the tread?

    1. The point?

      USA bad, bad, bad, always bad.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. If you could read with normal comprehension, you could draw your own conclusions or check with headquarters for an official opinion.

      Those that served had no choice as most were conscripts. It is a historic fact that there was no point to the war. I served in the US armed forces, you didn’t. I was in the military. You weren’t. I was in Viet Nam. You weren’t. Those that were actually there, knew that it was fucked up beyond all possible reason.

      There was no reason for the casualties and no reason that people should be suffering and dying for fifty years because of political hacks in Washington.

      We know that your specialty in selective indignation at who gets killed or maimed has a fairly narrow field of focus. You have made that abundantly clear.

      Your idiotic comparisons to ISIS, the Iran/Iraq war and tying everything to Israel is your usual....Your last statement , Are you saying those that served in the American Armed forces are the SAME as ISIS? shows you to be the moral runt of the litter that you are.

    4. You want to post something that you claim I said, back it up with facts.

    5. You remember that conversation.

      You put up a thread about orphans in Iraq and I found evidence the numbers in the article were way inflated, and posted it.

      It's way too far back for me to find, but I stand by my statement.

      It's not my habit to make false accusations.

      It's too easy to make true ones.

      I ask you to scratch your memory cap a bit......

      No offense intended.

    6. If you are going to make a claim directed at me, back it up with facts. Here is your link on bimbing runs over Laos. Draw your own conclusions.


  2. How hard is it to make an impact detonator that works every time?

    Can't be that difficult.

    Not sure I'm buying this story.

    And, 270 MILLION bombs in Laos?

    I'm not sure I'm buying this story.

  3. Jordan to execute IS prisoners after video released showing pilot burnt alive

    Jordan to execute al-Qaeda member Sajida al-Rishawi at dawn in response
    Anwar Tarawneh the wife of Jordanian pilot Mu'az al-Kassasbeh, who was captured by Islamic State (IS) group militants on December 24
    Alex MacDonald's picture
    Alex MacDonald
    Tuesday 3 February 2015 19:37 GMT
    Last update:
    Tuesday 3 February 2015 21:34 GMT

    A video released on Tuesday by the Islamic State (IS) group appears to show the captured Jordanian pilot Mu’az al-Kassasbeh being burnt alive in a cage, prompting the Jordanian government to move to execute IS and al-Qaeda prisoners in retaliation.

    Though the video is unverified, its release comes a week after a previous deadline set by IS for a hostage exchange with an al-Qaeda suicide bomber imprisoned in Jordan, Sajida al-Rishawi.

    However, a variety of sources, including Jordanian TV and activists from the group Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered (RIBSS) – an anti-IS organisation based in the IS ‘capital’ of Raqqa – have claimed that Kassasbeh had been killed in early January.

    Were it true that Kassesbeh was killed in January, it would make a farce of the hostage negotiations between the Jordanian government and IS, as well as question the sincerity of IS’s desire to see Rishawi released.

    Shortly after the release of the video the Jordanian information minister told Sky News Arabia that IS had been “playing games” during their negotiations.

    Another government spokesperson stated the Jordanian government response will be “seismic.”




  5. Argentina is getting interesting -

    Draft of Arrest Warrant for Argentine President Found at Dead Prosecutor's Home..........Drudge

    Does the Lady have bloody gloves......?

  6. By Matt Schudel October 4, 2014

    Fred Branfman, the first person to draw public attention to a previously unknown U.S. bombing campaign inside Laos during the Vietnam War and who later became a leading antiwar activist in Washington, died Sept. 24 at a medical facility in Budapest, where he had lived for several years. He was 72.

    The cause was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, said his wife, Zsuzsanna Berkovits Branfman.

    Mr. Branfman, who was born in New York, moved to Laos, a landlocked nation bordering Vietnam, as an education adviser in 1967. He was fluent in the Laotian language and began to hear reports from refugees who had been driven from their villages by relentless bombing attacks.

    He visited the refu­gee camps himself and learned that thousands of Laotians had been killed. The picturesque Plain of Jars, a region dotted with giant, hollowed-out stone receptacles, had been reduced to ruins.

    “I interviewed over 2,000 people,” Mr. Branfman said in “The Most Secret Place on Earth,” a 2008 documentary, “and every single one told the same story.”

    Refugees made drawings of the destruction, which depicted U.S. warplanes flying overhead and dropping munitions from the sky. The toll on local residents, animals and vegetation was immense.

    Investigations by Mr. Branfman and others revealed that a secret CIA-built air base in Laos was, in effect, the busiest airport in the world. Bombing missions were carried out over Vietnam, but much of the ordnance was dropped on Laos in an effort to disrupt Viet Cong supply routes.

    The Ho Chi Minh Trail, used by North Vietnam to supply Viet Cong fighters in South Vietnam, ran through the area, which was also roamed by communist guerrillas known as the Pathet Lao.

    To Mr. Branfman, however, nothing could justify the human cost. He first made his discoveries in 1969 and was deported from Laos in 1971 “under pressure from the United States Embassy,” according to a Harper’s magazine article by journalist Christopher Hitchens.


    1. {...}

      At a Senate hearing in April 1971, Mr. Branfman said, “There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that the United States has been carrying out the most protracted bombing of civilian targets in history.”

      A subsequent Washington Post investigation concluded: “By the admission of American officials closely associated with the war there, Laos has been the most heavily bombed country in the history of aerial warfare.”

      It was later determined that the United States dropped more bombs on Laos in the 1960s and 1970s than on Germany and Japan combined during World War II. Mr. Branfman edited a collection of writings and artworks by Laotian refugees, “Voices from the Plain of Jars” (1972), which highlighted the devastation of the air war in Laos.

      In Washington, Mr. Branfman founded the Indochina Resource Center, an information service that was allied with the antiwar movement.

      “He made no secret,” journalist Les Whitten wrote in The Post in 1974, “of where his heart was: on his left sleeve, armband high.”

      In 1972, he organized a star-studded antiwar demonstration at the U.S. Capitol. Those arrested included singer Judy Collins, Dr. Benjamin Spock, leftist scholar Noam Chomsky, painter Larry Rivers, theatrical producer Joseph Papp and writer Garry Wills.

      “Fred was brilliant,” said William Goodfellow, executive director of the Center for International Policy, who worked with Mr. Branfman in the 1970s. “He was one of the intellectual lights of the antiwar movement.”

      Fredrick Robert Branfman was born March 18, 1942, in New York City. His father was a textile executive.

      Mr. Branfman received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago in 1964 and a master’s degree in education from Harvard University in 1965.

      He spent time on an Israeli kibbutz as an undergraduate and, from 1965 to 1967, worked as a teacher in Tanzania. He received a draft deferment to teach and advise educators in Laos, beginning in 1967.


    2. {...}

      Mr. Branfman was a research director for California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) from 1979 to 1983 and helped coordinate the state’s outreach to the early high-tech pioneers of Silicon Valley.

      He returned to Washington in the mid-1980s to work on the presidential campaign of Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), then directed a nonprofit organization called Rebuild America, which promoted U.S. manufacturing and domestic job creation.

      In 1990, after the death of his father, Mr. Branfman abruptly changed the direction of his life. He embarked on a prolonged spiritual exploration that led him to study various religious traditions around the world and to become an advocate for “death with dignity.”

      He was known for having almost no possessions beyond a laptop computer and a cellphone. He settled in Budapest about five years ago.

      His first marriage, to Nguyen Thoa, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 16 years, Zsuzsanna Berkovits Branfman of Budapest; and three brothers.

      In recent years, Mr. Branfman was a frequent contributor to Salon.com, Huffington Post and other publications. He returned several times to Laos, where he spoke with survivors of the bombings and walked among the craters that now mark the Plain of Jars.

    3. Take a shot at Fred Branfman.