50 Years After U.S. Bombing of Laos, Explosives Still a Threat

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In October 1966, an item the size of an apple changed Phet Latxabout’s life forever. “I was walking with three friends when my foot hit an unexploded cluster munition,” said Phet, now 68. “It exploded instantly, shattering the bones in my left leg and peppering my whole body with metal fragments. Two of my friends were also injured, and one died.”

She had stepped on a U.S. munition dropped on her country, Laos, during the Vietnam War. Laos was not fighting in the war, but the U.S. conducted about 600,000 bombing missions over the country, with an aim to cut supply lines to North Vietnam. More than 270 million cluster munitions rained on Laos over nine years. An estimated 80 million cluster munitions did not explode on impact.

Fifty years after the start of the bombing campaign, millions of bombs still lay hidden in fields, waterways, and forests. Since 1964, these explosive remnants of war (ERW) have killed or injured more than 50,000 Laotians. It was only in 2000, during the presidency of Bill Clinton, that the U.S. government recognized the extent of its Laos bombing campaigns.

However, current U.S. funding to support ERW clearance in Laos falls far short. For 2014, Congress committed $12 million for clearance operations. By comparison, the U.S. spent an estimated $17 million per day on bombing missions during the war.2 After the explosion, Phet’s friends brought her to a doctor who amputated her left leg.

 “I gradually learned to live without my leg,” she said. Today, Phet has six children and six grandchildren. In 2008, Handicap International found Phet and fit her with her very first prosthetic leg.

 Thanks to donors like you, Handicap International has helped victims of ERW in Laos since 1983, and our deminers have destroyed more than 17,000 bombs since 2006. 

Phet also works alongside Handicap International as a member of Ban Advocates, a group of cluster munition survivors who advocate internationally for a ban on cluster munitions and landmines. Phet’s testimony has helped convince numerous countries to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of these weapons.