Project Phongsali: Clearance continues. Every day we find and destroy mortars, rockets and cluster bombs.

March 26, 2010

To destroy this pile of mortars we will set off a controlled explosion of TNT.

Day 53

We were back out to Mr. Khambao’s rice field today.  We’ve nicknamed him “Mr. Magnet” for his propensity for attracting ordnance.  We’re finding numerous American rockets and cluster bombs on the hills above his farm, but also a few Vietnamese weapons.  Obviously his farm was a hot spot during the war — perhaps it was a Phathet Lao or North Vietnamese encampment.

Mr. Khambao has been working on an irrigation ditch that will enable him to flood his rice field with water from a nearby stream.  He’s got a plan that doesn’t require him to lift water from the river: he will simply dig a channel and divert part of the stream.  We’ve been helping him by conducting our demolitions on the path of his new canal; our explosions are breaking up rocks that are too big for him to move and are loosening soil to make his digging easier.  If we keep finding ordnance near his farm, Mr. Khambao should have his irrigation ditch flowing with water this rainy season.

We did three more demolitions today, all mortars and cluster bombs.  Tomorrow we give notice to the village of our intent to destroy the 750-pound bomb that we found last week.  That demolition will require us to close off roads and manage movement of people over a much larger area than we control when doing a smaller item.  (An exploding 750 can throw shrapnel almost a mile!)  Therefore, we need to give the village and road construction crews two days’ notice.

Monitoring the roads will be the easy part; we also have to stop motorcycle and foot traffic on every path cutting through the area, as well as boats puttering up the river and people walking in the streambed.  And, there are the farm animals to consider.  The going rate for a large dog is 40,000 kip or about five dollars; a small pig forty bucks.  I don’t want to think what a water buffalo would cost me!

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