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U.S. Bombs: Scars of Covert War Still Raw in Laos

For nine years, the U.S. conducted a covert campaign in Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in history.

A woman stands outside her house at a gate made from bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War in the village of Ban Napia, Laos, on Sept. 3.

From 1964 to 1973, U.S. warplanes dropped more than 270 million cluster munitions on the communist country, one-third of which did not explode, the Lao National Regulatory Authority for UXO says.

America's "secret war" left Laos with the unfortunate distinction of being the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in history.

JORGE SILVA / Reuters

Toui Bounmy Sidavong, 43, holds a bomb dropped by the U.S. Air Force in Ban Napia, Laos, on Sept. 3.

Druing his first visit to Laos, President Obama announced Tuesday that the U.S. would provide an additional $90 million over the next three years to help Laos clear unexploded ordnance that has killed or injured more than 20,000 people.

The U.S. bombardment dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance on the small nation, more than "we dropped on Germany and Japan, combined, in all of World War II," Obama said.

JORGE SILVA / Reuters

The remnants of a U.S. bomb are used as a planter in Ban Napia on Sept. 3.

The U.S. bombings were part of a CIA-run, secret operation aimed at destroying the North Vietnamese supply routes along the Ho Chi Minh trail and wiping out its communist allies.

They also left a trail of devastation in Laos, which U.S. planes used as a dumping ground for bombs when their original target was unavailable and planes couldn't land with explosives.

JORGE SILVA / Reuters

Kek, 28, who lost his hands five years ago to an unexploded U.S. bomb while scavenging for metal, poses in his house in Kakho, Laos, on Sept. 3.

While overall casualties have come down - in 2008 recorded casualties were just over 300 compared to 42 in 2015 - the percentage of children hurt or killed has gone up.

JORGE SILVA / Reuters

A Buddhist monk poses next to U.S. bombs in Xieng Khouang province on Sept. 3.

JORGE SILVA / Reuters

A boy stands in front of house where U.S. bombs are being used as supports in Ban Napia on Sept. 3.

JORGE SILVA / Reuters

Prosthetic legs hangs from the ceiling of a local organization that provides prosthetic devices to the those injured by unexploded ordnance in Vientiane, Laos, on Sept. 5.

MAST IRHAM / EPA

Soud sits in his house in Kakho, Laos, on Sept. 3.

Now 40 years old, Soud was 10 when, out farming with his family, his spade hit a bomb triggering an explosion that blinded and maimed him.

His mother, Thongsy, now 75, remembers the day vividly.

"I heard an explosion and then I saw my child lying there. The villagers helped carry him to the nearest hospital by foot. They had to cut off his hand. I was crying," she said.

JORGE SILVA / Reuters

A dog stands next to a fence made of U.S. bombs in Ban Napia on Sept. 3.

JORGE SILVA / Reuters

A technician from the NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG) searches a field for unexploded ordnance in Xieng Khouang province on Sept. 2.

About 80 percent of the people of landlocked Laos rely on agriculture, but some of it is simply too dangerous to farm.

JORGE SILVA / Reuters

U.S. bombs are stored in a courtyard in Xieng Khouang, Laos, on Sept. 1.

JORGE SILVA / Reuters