US defense secretary sees the enduring costs of Vietnam War

A Vietnamese soldier, center, stands guard near U.S. soldiers at the dioxin contaminated area when U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, unseen, visited Bien Hoa airbase, where the U.S. army stored the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, in Bien Hoa city, outside Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (Kham/Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, second from right, is guided by Vietnam's Air Force Deputy Commander Gen. Bui Anh Chung, third from right, during his visit to Bien Hoa airbase, where the U.S. army stored the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, in Bien Hoa city, outside Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (Kham/Pool Photo via AP)
A Vietnamese soldier runs past the dioxin contaminated area when U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis visited Bien Hoa airbase, where the U.S. army stored the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, in Bien Hoa city, outside Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (Kham/Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, right, is greeted by Vietnam's Air Force Deputy Commander Gen. Bui Anh Chung, second from right, as he visits Bien Hoa airbase, where the U.S. army stored the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, in Bien Hoa city, outside Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (Kham/Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, right, shakes hands with Vietnam's Air Force Deputy Commander Gen. Bui Anh Chung as he visits Bien Hoa airbase, where the U.S. army stored the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, in Bien Hoa city, outside Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (Kham/Pool Photo via AP)

BIEN HOA, Vietnam — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is getting a firsthand look at the enduring costs of fighting the Vietnam War.

Mattis visited an air base north of Ho Chi Minh City that was heavily contaminated in the late 1960s and early 1970s by American forces through storage and spillage of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange.

Four years ago the U.S. pledged to clean and restore the parts of Bien Hoa (bee-yen WAH') air base that were contaminated.

The U.S. Agency for International Development soon will begin a soil restoration project at the base estimated to take several years and cost $390 million.

Reporters who traveled to Vietnam with the defense secretary were forbidden to attend an outdoor briefing for Mattis by USAID officials and others. And the USAID officials who spoke to reporters prior to the briefing refused to be quoted by name, saying they were not authorized to do so.

The officials said soil excavation at the base is scheduled to start next year, with contractors arriving at Bien Hoa by December.

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