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The Second Indochina War (1964-1973) or, The Vietnam War, as its more commonly referred to drew in many other Southeast Asian countries into the conflict including Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, China, Korea, and even the Philippines.
Laos was subject to attention from the US military primarily on account of A: it neighbored Vietnam and the North Vietnamese Army (The People’s Army of Vietnam/PAVN) had established a fruitful supply corridor along the border of the two countries, the so-called ‘Ho Chi Minh Trail, which resourced communist insurgency forces in Southern Vietnam. B: a domestic struggle between the Royal Lao Government, and the communist movement, known as the ‘Pathet Lao', was taking place and the US did not want another Asian nation becoming a communist state.
The ground conflict between multiple sets of forces was a complex and tragic affair, which saw Laos drawn ever deeper into the wider Vietnamese conflict. However, the real and lasting damage to Laos came from a massive aerial bombardment campaign known in part as 'Operation Barrel Roll'. Ultimately, this operation would see more than:
- 580,000 bombing missions conducted, a bombing mission every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years
Operations in the Lao PDR
On May 19, 1964 the United States Air Force began reconnaissance missions over the Lao panhandle to obtain target information on men and material being moved into South Vietnam over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By this time, the footpaths on the trail had been enlarged to truck roads, with smaller paths for bicycles and walking. The trail had become the major artery for use by North Vietnam to infiltrate South Vietnam.
In December 1964, 'Operation Barrel Roll; was launched. This was a covert U.S. Air Force 2nd Air Division (later the Seventh Air Force) and U.S. Navy Task Force 77, interdiction and close air support campaign conducted in the Kingdom of Laos between 14 December 1964 and 29 March 1973, concurrent with the Vietnam War.
The purpose of the operation was to disrupt the North Vietnam actions in South Vietnam. This action was taken within Laos due to North Vietnam's expanding Ho Chi Minh Trail, which ran from southwestern North Vietnam, through southeastern Laos, and into South Vietnam. The campaign focused on bombing in an attempt to disrupt/destroy that logistical track. The operation also increasingly evolved into providing close air support missions for Royal Lao Armed Forces, and other allied forces, in a covert ground war in northern and northeastern Laos. Barrel Roll and the combined ground forces attempted to stem an increasing tide of PAVN and Pathet Lao offensives.
Barrel Roll was one of the most closely-held secrets and one of the most unknown components of the American military commitment in Southeast Asia. Due to the neutrality of Laos, guaranteed by the Geneva Conference of 1954 and 1962, both the U.S. and North Vietnam strove to maintain the secrecy of their operations and only slowly escalated military actions there. Nonetheless, by the end of the conflict in 1973, Laos emerged from nine years of war as devastated as any of the other surrounding Asian nation sucked into the Vietnam War, and with a tragic legacy of huge amounts of remaining UXO.
*Referenced and paraphrased from primarily Wikipedia, and its associated sources.