Cam Lo District, Quang Tri Province (21-08-2009)
An unexploded and partially intact assembly of cluster munitions, packed in a configuration of tube-type pods dropped from an American aircraft more than three decades ago, has been unearthed in Quang Tri Province near the DMZ.
A quick response EOD team (explosive ordnance disposal) from Project RENEW, which locates and destroys such explosive remnants of war, was alerted by a local resident who told them he knew of buried ordnance that had been in the area for many years.
The man informed team members as they were distributing safety information in Xuan Khe Commune, passing out the toll-free hotline number for residents to call and report findings of ERW (Explosive Remnants of War) so it can be disabled or removed by the team.
EOD team members followed the man along a winding dirt road about 5 km west of Highway 1-A, through rolling land planted with acacia trees, to a bomb crater about 10 meters wide. In the middle of the crater were the aluminum tubes, almost buried by soil. The team began the slow and difficult task of digging, carefully and safely removing the packed earth around the tubes, to a depth that would allow the ordnance to be removed or neutralized.
The ordnance has been identified as SU-14/A dispensers, comprised of aluminum tubes mounted in a rack and containing approximately 100 to 120 BLU-24/B sub munitions in a full assembly. After days of difficult excavation work, on the morning of Wednesday, August 19 the team managed to pull the dispenser out of the crater from a depth of 2.5 meters. Five tubes on one end of the rack were missing, indicating that the pods may have come apart before they hit the earth.
Advisors from Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), who are providing technical assistance to Project RENEW’s EOD team, said this particular type of ordnance is rarely found in Vietnam. “This was probably dropped by a low-performance aircraft which had the cluster munition tubes mounted under the wing,” said Peter Herbst, an Australian advisor working with NPA. “The plane may have received ground fire, the pilot might have aborted the mission and dropped the ordnance quickly, some of the tubes did not explode and so they were imbedded in the earth all these years.” The ordnance has now been transported to the team’s central demolition site to be destroyed.
The man who led team members to the site recalled that the “strange object” was first discovered years ago by local children herding cows, who put leaves on top of it and tried to set it afire but then fled when there was a detonation. Luckily, no one was hurt, and no one has ventured near the crater since then.
Project RENEW’s EOD team and NPA have operated in Cam Lo District since June 2008, destroying more than 1,200 ERW. One-third of that ordnance was cluster bombs.
The EOD teams depend heavily on information gathered from local people as part of Project RENEW’s Mine Risk Education community reporting network, a system now covering five communes of Cam Lo District. Cooperation between local residents and the EOD quick response team has helped reduce the threat of ERW in affected communities.
However, the clearance work is far from finished. According to Handicap International, from 1965 to 1975, the U.S dropped at least 96.9 million antipersonnel and other cluster munitions all over Vietnam. The estimated minimum failure rate of five percent means there would still be 4.9 million unexploded cluster munitions scattered throughout Vietnam. Based on other, higher estimates of a 30 percent failure rate, as many as 29.1 million cluster bombs may still be on the surface and just under the ground in Vietnam.