Over 40 years of conflict from World War II through the Indochina Wars have left much of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam contaminated with landmines, unexploded ordnance (UXO), and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). These explosive hazards still cause injuries and deaths and prevent the safe and productive use of land. To combat this lingering threat, promote increased economic activity, and remediate the effects of U.S. munitions from the Vietnam War, U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) programs in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam have contributed over $533 million since 1993. These funds support ERW remediation efforts, which include survey and clearance operations, information management support, risk education, survivors’ assistance, and national mine action capacity development.
Over three decades of armed conflict has left Cambodia seriously affected by landmines and UXO, and kept poor communities impoverished by limiting their access to farmland. The Khmer Rouge, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), Vietnamese, and Thai militaries laid extensive minefields during the Indochina Wars, Vietnamese occupation, and factional fighting that ended in 1999. The 2019 Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor reports that clearance of Cambodia’s anti-personnel mines has been challenged by “un-demarcated border areas, inaccessible areas, [and] competing development priorities and demands,” among other factors. Additionally, U.S. air and artillery strikes during the Vietnam War left behind heavy concentrations of UXO in the eastern and northeastern areas of the country along Cambodia’s border with Vietnam. The Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority has worked with international partners to develop the National Mine Action Strategy 2018–2025 with the goal of ensuring that “Cambodia is mine free and the threat of explosive remnants of war is minimized, and human and socioeconomic development takes place safely.” Cambodia continues to have the right technical tools in place to meet this goal, but declining international contributions could jeopardize it. Furthermore, despite assistance from the United States and other donors, Cambodia announced on January 28, 2020, that casualties from landmines and UXO increased by 35 percent from 2018 to 2019.
From 1993 to 2019, the U.S. government invested more than $154 million for CWD programs in Cambodia to clear mines and UXO, provide MRE, and assist the RCAF with destruction and PSSM of SA/LW and ammunition. In 2019, the Department of State supported the following implementing partners:
- Golden West Humanitarian Foundation (Golden West), in partnership with the RCAF, supported an explosive harvesting system. Golden West also continued a global engineering initiative to develop cutting-edge demining tools in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States) and Singapore University.
- The Halo Trust (HALO) deployed 10 clearance teams in some of the densest anti-personnel and anti-tank minefields in the K-5 mine belt in northwestern Cambodia.
- Landmine Relief Fund continued to support two Cambodia Self Help Demining EOD teams and one MRE team conducting clearance of small villages in northwestern Cambodia. Funding supported two clearance teams to demine 650,000 square meters (160 acres) and conduct 150 MRE classes.
- Mines Advisory Group (MAG) continued to provide survey and clearance assets in western Cambodia and cluster munition clearance assets in eastern Cambodia. Under these projects, MAG deployed 27 teams across the country that released over 4.7 million square meters (1,161 acres) of land. MAG also continued its partnership with the HD R&D to perform technology testing through survey and clearance in Ratanakiri Province.
- Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) continued its work with the Cambodian Mine Action Center on survey and clearance in eastern Cambodia and in Ratanakiri Province on Cluster Munitions Remnants Survey (CMRS) work. Under these projects, 35 teams cleared over 16.8 million square meters (4,151 acres) of contaminated land.
- Spirit of Soccer (SOS) delivered MRE to primary school children by training of youth soccer coaches, distributing MRE materials, and holding soccer tournaments to engage local populations. During this project, over 4,800 children will receive MRE, and 80 teachers will graduate from SOS’s MRE/soccer training program.
With funding from the Department of Defense, HD R&D technologies were used to clear 33.2 million square meters (8,204 acres) of land and 44,147 mines and UXO to date. Evaluation of 20 technologies continued. HALO, MAG, and Golden West continued evaluating the Armored Remote-Control Chase Vehicle, Badger tracked excavator, Bearcat vegetation clearance system, HSTAMIDS, Mini MineWolf tilling system, Nemesis and Rex tools, Piranha minefield area reduction and TS skid steer, Rambo demining team support vehicles, Scorpion UXO detection systems, Traxx remote area preparation platforms, VMX10 UXO detector, and wet soil sifting excavator attachments.
U.S. Marine Corp Forces Pacific (USMARFORPAC) in partnership with the Cambodian Mine Action Center conducted three iterations of EOD train-the-trainer missions. The three iterations consisted of two EOD Level 1 courses and one EOD Level 2 course.
Contamination from the Indochina Wars of the 1960s and 1970s left Laos with the world’s highest level of unexploded submunitions, according to the 2018 Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor. Cluster munitions account for the bulk of UXO contamination in Laos; however, landmines and other ERW also contributed to contamination during the wars. Most of the country’s 17 provinces are contaminated with UXO, a majority of which is of U.S. origin. Population growth in rural areas and other socioeconomic factors have increased pressure to return UXO-contaminated land to productive use, which leads to greater risk of death and injury. In September 2016, the United States committed to invest $90 million over a three-year period. This commitment was met in 2019 after the third tranche was delivered and likely will continue. Additional funds will support the first-ever comprehensive national UXO contamination survey focused on identifying cluster munition strike footprints. Ongoing clearance, MRE, and survivor assistance efforts proceed at sustained historic levels.
From 1995 to 2019, the United States invested more than $230 million in CWD programs in Laos that supported survey and clearance activities, risk education, survivor assistance, and capacity development. In 2019, the Department of State supported the following implementing partners:
- The Halo Trust (HALO) continued to support large-scale survey in Savannakhet Province through the deployment of 20 teams throughout the province.
- Health Leadership International continued to provide portable ultrasounds, trauma care, post-traumatic stress disorder medical training, and suicide-prevention training for healthcare providers. This medical education and training improved diagnostic capabilities and elevated the overall competency of district-level medical personnel in UXO-affected districts.
- Tetra Tech partnered with UXO Laos on UXO survey and clearance efforts, and provided managerial and technical support to the National Regulatory Authority, which oversees all UXO-related activity in Laos.
- Mines Advisory Group (MAG) continued to deploy 20 teams to support survey and clearance teams in Xieng Khouang Province that completed technical survey of 482 million square meters (119,105 acres) and cleared over 5.6 million square meters (1,384 acres).
- Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) continued its Cluster Munitions Remnants Survey (CMRS) work in Champasak, Sekong, Salavan, and Attapeu Provinces through the deployment of 24 teams expected to complete CMRS in 270 villages and clear more than 2.4 million square meters (593 acres) of land.
- Spirit of Soccer (SOS) continued to provide risk education for schoolchildren through soccer activities in the Xieng Khouang and Salavan Provinces. During this project, 24,000 at-risk children will receive MRE, and 50 teachers will graduate from SOS’s MRE/coaching workshop.
- World Education, Inc. continued to support integrating risk education into the primary-school curriculum and development of a comprehensive case management system for UXO survivors in Xieng Khouang Province.
USAID’s Leahy War Victims Fund continued to support World Education, Inc. to improve and sustain the ability of people with disabilities to live and function independently. This assistance has benefitted UXO survivors, survivors of war, and people with disabilities who have mobility limitations.
For further information on U.S.-Laos cooperation, visit: https://www.state.gov/special-report-u-s-conventional-weapons-destruction-in-laos/
Thirty years of conflict from World War II through the Vietnam War left much of Vietnam contaminated with UXO. The majority of this UXO is concentrated along the former Demilitarized Zone, including Quang Tri, Quang Binh, Ha Tinh, and Quang Nam Provinces. Parts of southern Vietnam and the country’s northern border with China also remain contaminated with UXO and some landmines. U.S. support for the Vietnam National Mine Action Center (VNMAC), the host government’s lead for issues related to UXO and landmines, continued in 2019 with the provision of a technical advisor, support for the information management unit within VNMAC headquarters, and a technical survey pilot project in Hue Province. Supporting VNMAC’s development will ensure Vietnam maintains the capacity to deal with residual UXO and landmine threats independent of U.S. assistance. PM/WRA continued to fund large-scale survey and clearance work in Quang Tri in support of the provincial government’s goal to become UXO-impact free by 2025.
From 1993 to 2019, the United States invested more than $148 million for CWD programs in Vietnam that cleared mines and UXO, provided MRE and survivor assistance, and supported national capacity development. While UXO remains a threat, no more landmines have been found in those areas where the United States has supported clearance since at least 2012.
In 2019, the Department of State supported the following implementing partners:
- Catholic Relief Services (CRS) continued to focus on MRE in primary and secondary schools, MRE in teacher training colleges, integrating MRE in the official curriculum in four targeted provinces, and scaling education messaging through a play-based educational computer application. In 2019 alone, the project educated 554,693 students in 1,160 primary and secondary schools in four provinces, provided teacher training on MRE to 580 students in three teacher training colleges/ universities, and piloted the app in 26 primary schools across three central provinces. The launch of the app is a particularly promising approach with a total of 6,457 downloads and over 40,000 games played, and is an innovative approach to spreading MRE messaging with a wide-reaching impact.
- Golden West Humanitarian Foundation (Golden West), continued expanding the capacity of the Quang Binh and Quang Tri provincial demining units, to ensure that they were certified to International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) and equipped to deal with UXO contamination in their respective provinces. Five training sessions as well as mentorship were provided.
- The International Center-Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation continued to help develop the capacity of VNMAC and the executive office of the National Mine Action Program to plan, coordinate, and manage the program in Vietnam.
- Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) continued to provide the survey component for a comprehensive survey and clearance project aimed at making Quang Tri safe from known UXO hazards through the deployment of 39 teams. In 2019, these teams surveyed 78 million square meters (19,274 acres) of land.NPA continued to support capacity development of VNMAC through provision of a technical advisor and establishment of an information management unit. Additionally, NPA supported VNMAC’s development of technical skills through the adoption of evidenced-based survey procedures through a field pilot in Hue Province. Under this support, NPA trained 30 individuals and non-technical survey was completed in six communes.
- Mines Advisory Group (MAG) also continued to provide the survey clearance component for the comprehensive survey and clearance project aimed at making Quang Tri safe from known UXO hazards. They did this by deploying 32 teams who released over 19.6 A battle area clearance team in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam. Photo courtesy of PeaceTrees Vietnam. million square meters (4,843 acres) of land. Additionally, funding enabled MAG to deploy 11 teams in Quang Binh Province who surveyed over 8.7 million square meters (2,150 acres) and released over 3 million square meters (741 acres).
- PeaceTrees Vietnam continued to field EOD response teams and fund clearance operations along the heavily-contaminated Quang Tri provincial border with Laos.
With funding from the Department of Defense, HD R&D technologies have been used in the clearance of 5,545 mines and UXO from 912,565 square meters (225 acres) of land to date. Five technologies, including a new Scorpion UXO detection system and a new Bearcat vegetation clearance system, were evaluated in partnership with NPA and MAG.
- U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) and the government of Vietnam conducted the 4th phase of an underwater HMA plan in September 2019. U.S. EOD Mobile Unit Five personnel and Golden West trainers conducted IMAS Level 1 certification for 13 participants from the government of Vietnam. USINDOPACOM also conducted one IMAS Level 2 training for 12 VNMAC personnel, one Blast Injury training for 15 Vietnamese military medics, and one Certification Mentorship where 10 students received the IMAS Level I certification.
For further information, please contact the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at PM-CPA@state.gov, and follow the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs on Twitter, @StateDeptPM.