A sign that says "Dangerous" stands in an area of Bien Hoa air base in Vietnam where Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was being briefed nearby on U.S. efforts, set to begin by December, to decontaminate soil poisoned with dioxin from Agent Orange, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. The sign stands in an area of the base where Agent Orange contaminated the soil. U.S. forces stored the Agent Orange at this base during the Vietnam War. (AP Photo/Robert Burns)

US defense secretary sees the enduring costs of Vietnam War

October 17, 2018 - 5:15 am

BIEN HOA, Vietnam (AP) — 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 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.