Issue 6.1, April 2002

 

Update: The Mine Action Situation in Afghanistan

 

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Mine action operations in Afghanistan were halted after September 11th as security conditions in the area worsened. Now that stability has been restored, all 15 of the NGOs operating in Afghanistan have returned to the country, in order to resume activities and continue expanding the mine action capacity.

by Susanna Sprinkel, MAIC

An injured Marine is assisted to a waiting helicopter at the Kandahar International Airport after a landmine exploded during a building clearance operation. c/o AP

Introduction

September 11th, 2001 is a date that most who lived through will never be able to erase from their minds. Unfortunately, forgetting these times will be much more difficult for those living and working in Afghanistan, a land that already suffers from drought, famine and other economical hardships. As Afghani refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) return to their native lands, landmines and UXO continue to be one of the most prevalent hindrances they face in resuming a normal life.

After the September 11th terrorist attacks, all mine action operations in Afghanistan ceased as a result of various military threats, including air strikes and Taliban attacks on mine action personnel in the area. Since the last issue of the Journal, Landmines in the Middle East Issue 5.3, security conditions in Afghanistan have increased significantly (see the article, "Current Mine Action Situation in Afghanistan," on p 80). As a result, all mine action programs are working to retrain personnel and fully resume operations as quickly as possible.

Impact and Losses

Now that airstrikes and Taliban raids no longer threaten the lives of mine action workers, the mine action community has begun to realize exactly how much the halt in operations has set back the mine action program. Afghanistan already contained anywhere from seven to 10 million landmines prior to September 11th. Now workers face the challenge of removing newly deposited munitions (namely cluster bombs) and pieces of UXO. New surveys are being conducted to assess the full extent of these additional artilleries. Furthermore, all mine action personnel will need to be retrained in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) operations, in order to prepare for these new types of munitions. Fortunately, most of the NGOs anticipated this obstacle and have been conducting training courses while waiting for conditions to improve.

In addition to the time that has been lost as a result of the war on terrorism, a significant amount of communications equipment, company vehicles and other necessary supplies were lost during Taliban raids on many of the NGO offices. This shortage of supplies has presented yet another impediment for mine action NGOs resuming operations in Afghanistan. Many workers have been forced to use outdated protective equipment and demining supplies, which makes operations less reliable and efficient than before. Fortunately, this equipment is being quickly replaced as international donors continue to dedicate funds.

Finally, the entire mine action community (both locally and globally) has been forced to cope with the lives lost in these recent months. The first blow to the community occurred when a stray missile struck the Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC) office in Kabul killing four UN security guards and injuring four others. In addition, the Mine Dog Center (MDC) lost two Mine Detection Dogs (MDDs) when a bomb struck an MDC training area, destroying one of the kennels and other parts of the location. Despite these devastating losses, the Mine Action Program for Afghanistan (MAPA) affiliates are still fully dedicated to helping Afghani civilians by ridding their land of mines.

Donor Support

MAPA has received a significant amount of donor support, in order to replenish lost supplies and further build its programs to handle newly posed threats in the area. As reported in mid-January, the anticipated budget for fully restoring the mine action programs in Afghanistan totaled $47 million (U.S.), with a little less than $9 million still outstanding. All programs are being developed as funds are received and directed to specific programs based on donor request.

Seated in a circle on the ground, boys play an educational board-game that includes landmine awareness features, part of a UNICEF-assisted landmine Education Project in Kabul.

Many of the necessary funds were secured in response to the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan, held in Tokyo, Japan, on January 21 and 22. Japan donated $15.4 million to replenishing equipment and staff and $2.8 million to coordinating programs. The European Commission designated 10 million towards survey, clearance and training efforts. The United States budgeted $7 million for deploying EOD experts and replacing equipment as well as for implementing training, mine awareness and NGO clearance operations. Additional funds were appropriated from Austria, Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Resuming Operations

After looking over the events of the past six months and considering the impact they have left on Afghani territory, mine action officials plan to restore and further expand all mine action programs over the course of this year, continuing to make MAPA one of the most efficient and cost-effective mine action programs in the world. As of January 15, 2002, all 15 NGOs working in conjunction with MAPA have returned to the country, resuming up to 90 percent of mine action activities.

Currently, the priorities of mine action are being re-evaluated to address the latest needs. These priorities include:

  • Recovering lost equipment from air strikes and Taliban attacks on NGO offices.

  • Retraining personnel.

  • Resuming the survey and verification of infected territory.

  • Assisting emergency response teams throughout the country.

Although the full extent is unknown at the time, landmine/UXO-related injuries have increased drastically since September as a result of these new hazards and an increase in movement throughout the country. Until this threat is removed, the country cannot be fully rehabilitated. Consequently, clearing landmines, in order to assist relief organizations, has become a top priority in Afghanistan.

Most mine action workers have been briefed and trained on the new hazards presented by recent conflicts. Additional mine action programs are being restructured to continue preparing mine action personnel for the latest threats. A Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) will be conducted in order to assess the full economical impact of the current landmine/UXO situation, in order to establish up-to-date priorities and project plans.

In order to further build the mine action capacity, the main offices of the Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (MACA) and many of the other NGOs and UN affiliates working with MAPA are being relocated into Afghanistan from Pakistan. As a result, these organizations will be able to better establish a program by working within the country, instead of operating from the outside. Relocating major headquarters is one of the many ways that the mine action community is able to excel in Afghanistan now that the threat of Taliban forces no longer exists. Additionally, workers will be able to implement programs in the Northern region of the country, where they were previously prohibited from working.

Providing Awareness

As always, providing awareness to Afghani civilians, especially refugees and IDPs migrating back to their homes, is a key component of the mine action program. As a result of the newly laid munitions and the influx of movement throughout the country, mine awareness programs have also had to be restructured. Once an area has been surveyed, cleared and verified, refugees and IDPs have to be directed to safe settlement areas and equipped with the capability to find food, water and other necessities in the area. Many of the relief organizations have provided mine awareness programs in refugee camps so these civilians will be prepared long before they return home.

Cluster bombs have been one of the key concerns for mine awareness officials over the past few months. Since these cluster bombs resemble the relief packages that were also being dropped in the area, they pose a significant threat to civilians who are desperate for food. As a result, UNICEF, Save the Children and various other organizations have worked to make the Afghani people well aware of this threat. Their efforts have included working with British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) to spread awareness by radio broadcast throughout Afghanistan during the week of November 7, 2001. These broadcasts informed civilians of the cluster bomb problem and provided them with the necessary information for distinguishing between the cluster bombs and relief packages.

Outside Assistance

In order to fully implement the necessary mine action programs, a number of international advisors and expert NGO teams have arrived in Afghanistan. These teams include HELP, INTERSOS, RONCO and the Swiss Federation for Mine Action. They have already begun assisting clearance activities, delivering necessary equipment and conducting EOD training of Afghani mine action personnel. Additionally, the United Nations is still looking for two or three experienced mine action workers to join MAPA headquarters and help coordinate operations.

Soldiers have also played a key role in supporting mine action operations. Their activities have included clearing a number of mines surrounding the Kandahar Airfield. Clearing this airfield has been an integral part of providing relief to the Afghanistan community as it opened transportation in and out of the country. In addition to clearing the Airfield, a number of EOD experts have been removing unexploded munitions that they encounter in their search for Taliban officials. One group of experts came across a community who wanted to keep the rocket they had discovered. These soldiers struggled with whether or not they should allow them to keep this souvenir even though it presented a potential hazard.

Unfortunately, a number of soldiers have fallen victim to landmines and UXO during their operations. An Australian soldier was killed driving over a landmine in early February. Additionally, three U.S. marines were wounded by landmines near the Kandahar Airfield in early December, and other landmines blocked the path for those attempting to rescue the soldiers. Another soldier lost his foot conducting demining operations at the Bagram air base located outside Kabul in December. These and other landmine-related casualties are always ill fated when workers are attempting to rid the lands of this threat.

Conclusion

The United Nations Office for Coordination Assistance (UNOCHA) estimates that over $550 million dollars in economic revenue has been lost due to landmine/UXO hindrances in the past 12 years, prior to September 2001. Fortunately, Afghanistan hosts one of the most efficient and cost-effective mine action programs in the world, returning an average of $4.60 for every dollar spent. Now that security conditions have been restored and operations are almost back in full swing, the aiding bodies of Afghanistan can begin rehabilitating the country once more.

Contact Information

Susanna Sprinkel
Mine Action Information Center
James Madison University
MSC 8504
One Court Square
Harrisonburg, VA 22807
Tel: (540) 568-2810
Fax: (540) 568-8176
E-mail: sprinksl@jmu.edu

 

 
 
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