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More than 10 years after helping
develop its demining capability, RONCO returns to Afghanistan, renewing
old partnerships to tackle new problems.
by JJ Scott, MAIC
As part of their Integrated Mine Action Support (IMAS) contract with the
U.S. State Department, demining company RONCO has returned to Afghanistan to
carry out two new task orders. Ten years ago, RONCO helped develop
Afghanistan’s indigenous demining capacity. This time around, with only
two-dozen employees in the country, RONCO is taking more of a
management/support role rather than conducting heavy-duty demining with
their own resources. Mr. Dave Lundberg, a RONCO Vice President, says,
“There’s real talent, real capability over there. We’re just helping the
Afghans do what they do in a more effective, updated manner.” This attitude
of cooperation instead of domination allows RONCO to work much more
efficiently with the Afghan people to complete the State Department’s new
Tasks. One of the tasks is purely humanitarian while the other involves
joint international military objectives. Both are outlined below.
Task Order 1
Under the first task order, RONCO is providing commodities, training, advice
and assistance to Regional Mine Action Centers (RMACs) throughout
Afghanistan. Mr. Lundberg reports that “since the bombing campaign, there is
a lot of new UXO there that they don’t know how to handle,” so RONCO will
conduct several training sessions to educate the Afghans on the new threats
facing their country. RONCO is working closely with the UN and the UN Office
for Coordination of Humanitarian Aid to Afghanistan (UNOCHA), but is
responsible to the State Department. This arrangement allows maximum
efficiency while ensuring that State Department objectives are achieved.
Team members arrived in Afghanistan on January 20 and are scheduled to
remain for 6 months in compliance with the task order.
RONCO deployed 11 people under Task Order 1, including one task leader and
RMAC Advisor and EOD/demining technicians. Another EOD technician will
alternate RONCO deployed one senior dog manager to Afghanistan to check up
on the dog center (which RONCO founded in the early 1990’s with U.S.
government funds). “These are all highly trained individuals. Seven of the
11 people are EOD certified specialists,” Mr. Lundberg informed me. Another
large segment of Task Order 1 is delivery of over $1 million in equipment to
the UN’s general Mine Action Program (MAP). Needed commodities include
ambulances and other transport equipment, magnetic detectors and other
Task Order 2
While Task Order 1 focuses primarily on humanitarian demining, Task Order 2
leans more toward military demining alongside the International Coalition.
This Task is significantly smaller in scale than Task Order 1, though just
as vital. The State Department, in conjunction with U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM),
tasked RONCO to provide quality assurance around the two major airports used
by Coalition forces in Afghanistan. In response to State Department desires,
RONCO brought eight of their own mine detecting dogs (MDDs) along with their
handlers into Afghanistan to execute this Task. The dogs will search for
landmines and provide quality assurance around the airports in hopes that
they can prevent more mine accidents from claiming Coalition victims. A
senior RONCO manager and experienced dog trainer accompanied the team to
oversee all work done under Task Order 2.
Mr. Lundberg explained that RONCO has enjoyed such a warm reception from the
Afghans because the company is intimately familiar with the country and its
demining organizations. Some of the RONCO personnel sent to complete these
new Task Orders are veterans of the Afghanistan MAP, so they are renewing
old friendships with their Afghan compatriots while they work. “Instead of
taking over, we like to form a partnership with the Afghan demining
community. We trained a lot of the demining players in Afghanistan, so there
is almost a homecoming feeling to our return,” Mr. Lundberg says.
By building on the unique relationship that RONCO and Afghanistan have
forged over the years, RONCO hopes to quickly upgrade Afghan planning and
demining capabilities, rapidly clear UXO and landmines, and help the country
bring land back into agricultural production. Once again, RONCO will help
the stoic Afghan people reclaim their land,
leading to a safer and more prosperous nation.