Project Phongsali: We find a big bomb in the center of the village but have to leave it for now. The demands of that job exceed our resources.

March 27, 2010

The bomb we found in the center of the village, probably 500 pounds or more, was not the kind of job we could tackle with just our small team. Hopefully, in the near future, we can return with a larger staff and eliminate the danger.

Day 54

Yai and I woke up this morning with the clearance team breathing down our necks.  They have caught up with us, and unless we come up with more ordnance, they’ll be standing idle, waiting for an assignment.  Then, after breakfast, Mr. Deng walked into camp and asked us to deal with a bombie along a walking trail.

We left the village prepared for a long hike, but Mr. Deng stopped just ten minutes from camp to point out the device, an M-83 cluster bomb.  It sat alongside a well-worn footpath used frequently by villagers hiking to their fields.  The bomblet sat hidden from passersby, behind a large boulder, I’m certain that the bomb was just recently placed there by someone looking for a safe place to park it, perhaps by Mr. Deng himself.  I was uncomfortable hanging around the device, because it sat under overhanging rocks that looked ready to slide out of place and drop on the bomblet.

An hour later, we destroyed the bomblet.  To everyone’s surprise, the explosion dislodged the boulder and rolled it onto the trail.  Mr. Deng stood dumbfounded at the sight, and finally blurted out, “It’s going to take ten men to move that rock!”  Later, he was heard muttering to no one in particular, “Maybe I can find another bombie to explode and move that rock off the trail.”  Made me think of that old joke about frequently told lies: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”  We’d destroyed one bomblet, but created a barrier to every passing villager.

Before returning to camp from that demolition, we were led to one more cluster bomb in a rice field.  So…on a day that started with us without work, we chalked up two dems by 9:30 AM.

We then turned our attention to the rumor of a big bomb near the center of the village.  We got a strong reading on our “large loop,” a device that checks for ordnance deep under ground; the guys grabbed shovels and started digging — and digging, and digging.

Then, a middle-aged villager showed up who knew the site well; he’d tried to unearth a big bomb in that spot a couple of years back, pursuing a distant memory from his teenage years of a bomb, longer than he was tall, in the bottom of a deep crater.  The man was absolutely certain that the bomb was still there, nose down in the ground, but very, very deep.  During his dig, he was down well over twelve feet before he struck tailfins.  At that point, realizing that he’d have to dig down another eight or ten feet to completely free the casing, the man gave up and filled in the hole.

That’s probably the same decision we’ll make after the team rests, eats lunch and thinks it over.  This project has the talent to handle the job; Vilasack, our team leader, is one of the most highly trained bomb technicians in the country, with over 400 big-bomb demolitions to his credit.  But taking on the task of excavating a bomb so deep, and then rendering it safe while it sits near houses, will create challenges that I know our seven-person team can’t handle.

When we worked on a big bomb in a similar setting in Nakai, we had to close every road into and out of the town, as well as every footpath and walking trail.  Then we had to evacuate the entire village and control the movement of over a thousand people for a full day.  Acknowledging the possibility that the bomb might explode while the team was working to remove its fuses, we had to take the precaution of trucking to safety the entire contents of several nearby houses.   Ultimately, to accomplish all those tasks, we had to enlist the support soldiers from a nearby Lao military camp.

Leave a Reply