Returning Mine-Free Land to the Afghani People: Afghanistan
Mine Detection and Dog Center
|As a result
of conflicts faced over the past 23 years, Afghanistan remains
one of the most heavily landmine-afflicted countries. The Mine
Detection and Dog Center has built one of the world’s largest
mine detecting dog programs with the goal of saving lives and
returning mine-free land to the Afghani people.
by Susanna Sprinkel, MAIC
History of the Landmine Problem in
Since 1978, Afghanistan has faced
foreign occupation and civil wars, which have left the country one of
the most heavily mine-infested countries in the world. Estimates place
anywhere from five to 10 million mines from at least 38 different
origins in Afghani territory, mostly surrounding the Irani and Pakistani
borders. These landmines lead to an average of 10 to 12 injuries daily.
Although their land is no longer occupied by foreign influence, the
landmine threat prevents many Afghani people from returning to their
homeland. Afghanistan is not a society prepared to handle the severe
social, economic and environmental demands posed by the existence of
landmines/UXO in the area.
|A landmine victim being rescued by members of
a survey team.
Mine Detection and Dog Center
The Mine Action Program in Afghanistan
(MAPA) is considered one of the United Nation’s top mine action
programs, and the Mine Detection and Dog Center (MDC), based in
Peshawar, Pakistan, is an NGO responsible for all mine detecting dog
clearance and surveillance activities in the country. According to the
MDC Annual Report for 2000, prepared by program director Mohammad Shohab
Hakimi, "the [MDC], which is at the forefront of demining
operations, is using mine dogs to save the lives and return the land
free of mines and UXO to the people of Afghanistan.... In 2000, [MDC]
deployed its independent clearance teams to 14 provinces of Afghanistan
and cleared an area of 12 million square meter[s] of various types and
categories of mined areas. MDC deployed 33 Mine Dog Sets (MDSs) to
support survey operations in 16 provinces as well."
Until 1994, the United States funded
the MDC. Currently, the Center is funded by the Federal Republic of
Germany, with some assistance from the United Nations Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance for Afghanistan (UNOCHA).
The purpose of MDC is to restore
economic activity to Afghanistan so Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
can return to their native lands. The main goals of MDC are to clear
high-priority land using Mine Dog Groups (MDGs) (consisting of four dogs
with handlers and 12 deminers) and to provide MDSs to survey teams.
Additionally, the group aims to further develop a program for breeding
mine dogs and to enhance the use of dogs in mine detection, with hopes
of teaching other organizations effective mine dog training, clearance
and surveying techniques.
When implementing activities, MDC
follows the guidelines of the Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (MACA).
In most cases, the MDGs concentrate on "clearance of roads, and
mine fields containing ‘minimum metal mines’ (e.g., Type-72 mines,
TC-6 and M-19) and low ‘probability’ mine fields." MDC is
equipped to send a total of 17 MDGs (four in Central Afghanistan, four
in the East, five in the South and four in the West).
In 2000, MDC located and eliminated 80
AP mines, 379 AT mines and 1,211 UXO, clearing 10.5 million square
meters in Afghanistan. With an average of 4,000-6,000 square meters
cleared daily, MDC has maintained "the highest clearance ratio
among the Demining Agencies working for humanitarian mine clearance in
Afghanistan." A lack of funds, which halted operations for two
months, prevented the group from achieving their initial goal of 16.5
million square meters cleared. Additional financing from Germany allowed
MDC to commence demining operations.
|An MCPA survey team supported by mine
detecting dogs stands ready for field deployment. c/o MCPA.
In addition to conducting a
significant amount of mine clearance, MDC provided 33 MDSs (15 in
Central Afghanistan, four in the East and 14 in the South, which will
also support the West) to assist the survey teams of various
organizations. The purpose of the MDSs is to increase survey operations
and to decrease the number of mine fields by pinpointing a two-meter
safety zone around suspected mine fields.
Training and Breeding Activities
MDC bred 65 puppies in 2000, 20 of
which were fully trained in order to replace older mine clearance dogs.
They expect to breed 50 more in 2001. The remaining 45 puppies bred will
continue Young Dog Training before undergoing evaluation in the field.
Once a mine dog passes evaluation and is sent to a field site, it must
undergo a series of Refresher Training exercises. 45 dogs displaying
weakness in training activities were retired as a part of MDC’s Dog
Retirement Program. The dog handlers themselves must pass a series of
Qualification Courses before entering the field; 16 new trainers
qualified in 2000.
In addition to preparing the dogs for
clearance and surveying activities, the Center has continued exploring
mine dog technology advancements by conducting Mine Dog Trials with 74
dogs. These trials involve testing the dogs’ effectiveness in soft
land, sandy land, grassy land and hard land. The results of these
studies showed the dogs to be least effective in hard land areas and
most effective in sandy land areas (see Table 1 below); however, a
significant difference between sandy lands and soft and grassy lands was
not observed until tested with landmines residing 70 cm below the
Result in Different Field
The MDC staff includes a veterinary
department responsible for breeding and treating the puppies and mine
dogs by shampooing them, vaccinating them, de-worming them and providing
them with medical care. In 2000, 25 dogs were put to sleep and 10
surgeries were performed. The Center also includes a medical support
staff to care for the dog handlers and deminers. Six MDC personnel were
killed in demining accidents, and 26 were injured in non-demining
incidents (two of them died). This medical team also assists other local
deminers and Afghani people. In 2000, the medical staff treated 27,500
patients (2,500 from demining organizations and 25,000 locals and IDPs).
Problems Faced in 2000
The biggest problem that MDC faced in
2000 was the budget constraints that led to personnel waiting three
months to be paid for their services from June through September. When
the donor country (Germany) received this news, they supplied the proper
funds, and MDC operations resumed. Another problem the Center faced was
the condition of the dog gear, which was supposed to be replaced but was
not received immediately. Once the teams received their gear, many
pieces were absent. Additionally, three personnel (two dog handlers and
one dog instructor) did not return from an Explore 2000 Exhibition in
Germany, thus decreasing the Training Department staff.
This Year’s Accomplishments
So far this year (as of September
2001), MDC operations have been successful. Seventeen clearance teams in
13 Afghani provinces have cleared 4,594,523 m2
destroying at least 688 mines of diverse origins. As a result, MDC has
already reached 70 percent of the goal set by MACA for 2001, and they
expect to meet this goal by the end of the year. Additionally, 31 MDSs
have surveyed 272,114 m2 and
cleared 379,279 m2 of land
(261,350 m2 boundary
clearance and 117,909 m2
special task clearance). Most importantly, no mine-related accidents
have occurred during MDC demining operations so far this year.
Mine Detection and Dog Center Annual Conference
MDC held its annual seminar at their
training camp in Kabul in January 2001. At this seminar, Program
Director Mohammad Shohab Hakimi presented conference attendees with an
overview of the previous years’ accomplishments pointing out many
improvements that will be made to the program as a result of newfound
weaknesses. Hakimi also spoke to the workers, reminding them how
significant their contributions are and commending them for the risks
they take to save the lives of those around them. He also reminded MDG
team leaders that they should always follow the standard demining
operation procedures laid out by MACA in order to ensure their safety as
well as the safety of local civilians. Finally, Hakimi announced the
company’s goal for 2001 and the overall plan for obtaining this goal.
Once Hakimi had finished addressing
the crowd, UNOCHA program manager Richard Kelly recognized the MDC as
the largest mine dog clearance program, which makes up nearly 50 percent
of the 350 dogs serving landmine-infested countries around the world.
Kelly also announced a proposal by the United Nations for a two-year
study of mine dog clearance teams in Geneva and his hopes that the MDC
will contribute to the study. Finally, the conference closed as Kelly
distributed the certificates of program completion to new dog
instructors and handlers.
As a result of continued disputes in
the region, MDC has been unable to provide services in northern
Afghanistan. Recently, however, MDC provided a regional office in
Mazar-e-Sharif, a city in the northern region, in order to implement a
demining program in the area using MDC survey and clearance teams.
|So far this year, MDC has sent out 17 mine
dog clearance teams and 33 mine dog survey sets. c/o MDC
Additionally, an MDC team consisting
of nine workers has been sent to conduct mine detection dog field tests
in Yemen. The purpose of these studies is to find out if mine detection
dogs are compatible with field conditions in Yemen. If these tests yield
positive results, the Yemen National Mine Action Program will implement
a mine dog program in their lands as well.
Mohammad Shohab Hakimi
Mine Detection and Dog Center
Box 1324 GPO-G.T. Road
Pabbi Station-Peshawar Post
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