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Lao People's Democratic Republic
WHERE WE WORK
While almost all of the 20 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed in southern Vietnam, the U.S. war effort (and herbicide spraying) spilled over into avowedly neutral Laos. Little is known about the present-day consequences of the spraying there.
We are still learning about the extent of the spraying of herbicides in Laos. Flight records taken from the HERBS database show that 209 missions between 1965 and 1970 sprayed a total of at least 537,495 gallons of tactical herbicides. The heaviest spraying began in early 1966 and continued at a steady rate until February 1967, after which the rate of spraying became intermittent until October 1970. For over five years, these spray runs were coordinated out of Bien Hoa air base, with some also out of Ton San Nhat and Da Nang, in Vietnam.
Lao provinces bordering Vietnam like Savannakhet, Salavan, Sekong and Attapeu were the most heavily sprayed, as the U.S. tried to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Khammouane province, to the north of Savannakhet, and Champasak province, bordering Cambodia, were also sprayed, but comparatively less so.
As in Vietnam, the herbicides were used not only to defoliate forests, but also to destroy crops. Records from Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) show that 64 crop destruction missions (an area a total of 32 square miles along the Ho Chi Minh Trail) took place between September 1966 and September 1969. The spraying and heavy bombing forced villagers to flee to the hills for up to 10 years. The food supply chain was inevitably upended as a result, triggering an immense loss of crops and livestock that was followed by malnutrition lasting for decades after the war.
According to William Buckingham’s history of Operation Ranch Hand, the U.S. Air Force sprayed 419,850 gallons—of which 75 percent were Agent Orange, 15 percent Agent Blue, and 10 percent Agent White—over 255 square miles of Laos, up until September 1969.
Like the bombing of Laos during the war, the use of herbicides in Laos was secretive until 1982, when a draft of Buckingham’s study of Operation Ranch Hand was made public. Much about the U.S. war effort in Laos remains classified.
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense released a list of where herbicides were used outside of Vietnam. It states that Agent Orange was stored and loaded onto planes at Udorn Air base in Thailand between October 1968 and September 1969 and used for “missions flown in northern Laos.” Only three spraying missions conducted over an area approximately 60 miles northeast of the Lao capital of Vientiane show up on the HERBS database—a vast understatement of the true magnitude of the U.S.’s herbicide campaigns.
While there is no complete account of the use of herbicides in Laos, we have begun a survey to determine the impact of aerial herbicide spraying in Laos, and are working toward capturing the full picture.
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