During the first-ever visit to Laos by a U.S. president, Barack Obama announced Tuesday that America will put $90 million toward removing unexploded bombs from the Southeast Asian country.
In a nine-year-long bombing campaign ending in 1973, the U.S. dropped 2 million tons of explosives on Laos President Obama said in his speech (read the whole thing here).
That’s more bombs than the U.S. dropped on Germany or Japan during World War II, Obama noted, and it makes Laos – a country about the same size as Minnesota – the most heavily bombed country per capita in history, he said.
One non-profit group estimates about one-third of those bombs did not explode when they were dropped. The government of Laos says more than 40 years after the bombings ended about 300 people per year are still injured by the “unexploded ordnance” or UXO.
Bombs dropped during the ‘secret war’
While the U.S. action in the Vietnam War was well known, the American campaign against communist troops in neighboring Laos was led by the CIA and is often called the secret war.
Obama said Tuesday it’s important to acknowledge the secret war and “the suffering and sacrifices on all sides of that conflict” especially among innocent men, women, and children.
While U.S. planes dropped a steady stream of bombs during the secret war, the troops fighting on the ground were Laotian recruits. Many of them were ethnic Hmong, thousands of whom would resettle in the U.S. after the fight in Laos was lost.
Minnesota and Wisconsin were among the most common destinations for those who fled Laos.
A leader of the Hmong American Center in Wausau tells Wisconsin Public Radio many of the soldiers who came to the U.S. had risked their lives in Laos to save downed American pilots, but the secrecy of the war meant their efforts were unknown to their new neighbors.
Obama says as part of the partnership to clean up unexploded bombs, Laos has agreed to step up efforts to recover remains and account for Americans missing since the war.
He is in Laos to speak to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ABC News says Obama will meet Wednesday with some of the survivors of the bombings during the secret war.