By Josh Lederman and Kathleen Hennessey, Associated Press
Half a century ago, the United States turned Laos into history’s most heavily bombed country, raining down some 2 million tons of ordnance in a covert, nine-year chapter of the Vietnam War. Obama, the first president to set foot in Laos while in office, lamented that many Americans remain unaware of the “painful legacy” left behind by a bombardment that claims lives and limbs to this day.
“The remnants of war continue to shatter lives here in Laos,” Obama said before an audience of students, businessmen and orange-robed Buddhist monks who held up cellphones to snap photos of the American president. “Even as we continue to deal with the past, our new partnership is focused on the future,” he said.
To that end, Obama announced the U.S. would double its spending on bomb-clearing efforts to $90 million over three years — a relatively small sum for the U.S. but a significant investment for a small country in one of the poorer corners of the world. Obama plans to put a human face on the issue when he meets Wednesday in Vientiane with survivors of bombs that America dropped.
The president did not come to apologize. Instead, he called the conflict a reminder that “whatever the cause, whatever our intentions, war inflicts a terrible toll — especially on innocent men, women and children.”
Thanks to global cleanup efforts, casualties from tennis ball-sized “bombies” that still litter the Laotian countryside have plummeted from hundreds to dozens per year. But aid groups say far more help is needed. Of all the provinces in landlocked Laos, only one has a comprehensive system to care for bomb survivors.
“We’re incredibly proud of the progress the sector has made over the last five years in terms of …