Obama Puts A Price On America’s Decades Old Shadow War: $90 Million

REUTERS/Jorge Silva

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The U.S. will spend tens of millions to help Laos recover from the effects of covert American bombing operations during the Vietnam War, the president announced Tuesday.

Arguing that the U.S. has an obligation to help Laos, President Barack Obama has promised to significantly increase its aid to provide $90 million over three years. Officials would use the aid to remove unexploded bombs leftover from America’s shadow war in Laos.

“Given our history here, I believe that the United States has a moral obligation to help Laos heal,” said Obama.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. and other foreign countries interfered in a civil war in Laos. America’s involvement in this conflict was kept secret for a long time. The U.S. reportedly conducted 580,000 bombing raids along the Vietnam-Laos border. North Vietnamese supply lines and the Laos’ communist movement, the ‘Pathet Lao’ were the primary targets.

“Over nine years – from 1964 to 1973 – the United States dropped more than two million tons of bombs here in Laos – more than we dropped on Germany and Japan combined during all of WWII, Obama explained, speaking at Lao National Cultural Hall.

More than 270 million cluster bombs dropped on Laos. Roughly 30 percent malfunctioned and never exploded. There are still tens of millions of unexploded bombs scattered about Laos.

“The remnants of war continue to shatter lives here in Laos. Thousands of Laotians have been killed or injured – farmers tending their fields, children playing. The wounds – a missing leg or arm – last a lifetime,” Obama said.

Only about 1 percent of all unexploded ordnance in Laos has been cleared. Some estimates suggest that over 10,000 Laotians have been injured by bombs leftover from the war.

U.S. funding to Laos for ordnance clearance has been on the rise since 2010, when Congress agreed to offer $5 million in assistance. Congress set aside $19.5 million this year for unexploded bomb removal activities in Laos, reports CNN.

“That conflict was another reminder that, whatever the cause, whatever our intentions, war inflicts a terrible toll, especially on innocent men, women, and children,” said the president.

As part of the joint three-year project that the U.S. and Laos are preparing to undertake, Laos will help locate Americans who went missing in action.

Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos. He will spend three days in Laos for the ASEAN and East Asia summits.

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