Deminers Face Nightmare in Afghanistan

Via Reuters
November 20, 2001

LONDON (Reuters) - Demining teams face a nightmare task returning to work in Afghanistan with front lines fluid, more land mines likely to have been laid and rogue groups roaming the country, experts said Tuesday.

``This is a mammoth task. But people must not panic,'' Tim Carstairs of the anti-land mine charity the Mines Advisory Group told Reuters.

But with Afghanistan's former rulers, the Taliban, seemingly routed in most parts of the country and little apparent cohesion among the lose grouping of the victorious Northern Alliance, the country is fraught with danger.

Proof came Monday with the ambush and murder of four reporters on the road from Pakistan to Kabul. Some reports suggested the killers were Taliban fighters who had taken to the hills. Others suggested they were simply opportunistic bandits.

``The situation is very fluid and therefore quite dangerous,'' Nick Nobbs of mine clearance group The HALO Trust told Reuters.

Estimates of the number of land mines and unexploded bombs and shells littering the country after more than two decades of war range from 600,000 to 10 million.

The truth is no one actually knows.

But experts agree that despite a decade of intensive mine clearance some 11 percent of the country -- or 724 million square meters -- is still contaminated making the country among the worst affected in the world along with Angola and Cambodia.


U.N. teams and other expert groups remained hard at work up until the U.S. bombing campaign became too intense. Even the Kabul headquarters of the U.N. mine clearance teams was bombed.

Before the latest outbreak of hostilities the United Nations calculated that it would take up to another decade to clear just half of the known minefields -- with more being discovered on a daily basis.

During their decade of occupation, the Russians sowed hundreds of thousands of defensive mines -- although most were mapped. But they also dropped thousands more by air while the Mujahideen also scattered mines more or less indiscriminately.

Experts said the U.S. bombing of Taliban positions will have had little effect on the anti-personnel mines, most of which are designed not to respond to sudden shock wave pressure but are carefully calibrated to explode only when trodden on.

While many minefields had been surveyed, and more than quarter of a million mines destroyed in the past 10 years, no one knows how many more were laid since the September 11 suicide attacks on New York and Washington.

``Without doubt the Taliban will have laid mines, the question is how many and where,'' HALO Trust's Nobbs said.

And Taliban booby traps attached to some mines and ordnance left behind will slow up the clearance work, he said.

Nobbs said HALO teams had already gone back into the field to begin emergency mine clearance work.

The United Nations is trying to organize a broad-based administration to fill the dangerous political power vacuum left by the departing Taliban, but it will be a long struggle given the country's history of bloody ethnic rivalries.

Even assuming the fighting does not evolve into guerrilla warfare, it will still take years for mine clearance experts to complete their task.

In the meantime the sad fact remains that much mine discovery will be by men, women and children stepping on them and losing limbs and frequently their lives in the process.

Afghan Deminers Shocked By UN Operations Cut

via Agence France-Presse
September 6, 2000

KABUL, Afghanistan- Deminers in Afghanistan are shocked at a drastic cut in their UN-funded operations and warn the move will cost lives and delay years of painstaking effort to rebuild the shattered country.

The mostly Afghan De-Miners said the United Nations' decision last week to scale back their efforts by 50 percent would inevitably add to the ranks of amputees, beggars and widows in the world's most mined country.

"The decision is an injustice against our people," said Mohammad Ismail Yosufzai, Mine Dog Centre (MDC) operations manager in Kabul. "Demining is the biggest humanitarian project here -- it should be supported not curtailed." He said the funding cut meant agricultural land, irrigation canals, roads, schools and other facilities would remain off limits as Afghanistan struggles to cope with severe drought and the ongoing ravages of civil war.

The UN last week expressed regret that its Mine Action Programme (MAP), which funds most of the roughly half a dozen demining agencies here, had been forced to slash its operations by 50 percent. Demining teams will be sent on two months unpaid leave while other salaries will be reduced or frozen, the UN Coordinator for Afghanistan said.

Meanwhile, new mines are being laid every day as the ruling Taliban militia, which seized Kabul in 1996, continue to battle opposition forces in various parts of the country. "We have been shocked by this funding cut. Our operations do not deserve cuts. We are saving lives," said Mohammad Daud, 30, during a break from work at a former battlefield in Chehelsitoon precinct, south of Kabul. "Who is going to save these people?" he asked, pointing to a cluster of tents at the bottom of a barren mountain where nomad farming families were using cleared fields to graze their animals.

Local villagers echoed his concern. Abdul Khaleq, an elderly local resident working in a nearby quarry, said at least a dozen people aswell as livestock had been killed by mines in his tight-knit community." It is a big loss. At least they should clean the valley, we do not need the hilltops," he said.

Senior UN officials privately speak of serious "donor fatigue" as Afghanistan's civil war drags on despite repeated international efforts to bring both sides into a meaningful dialogue.

They complain of a "slow response" to a recent 67-million-dollar drought relief appeal, while the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) last week said it desperately needed funds for its voluntary repatriation programme.

For the demining effort, UN officials said there was a gap of 10.4million dollars in the current annual budget estimated at 26.3 million dollars.

Abdul Latif Matin, MAP Operations Officer, said the much-publicized global effort to rid the world of mines by 2010 was destined to fail ifthe funding shortfall continued.

"No, if there are budget cuts. Yes, if we are given more funds," Matin said of the chances of reaching the ambitious target.

Afghanistan's northern Juzjan and central Oruzgan provinces are mine-free, but there are 31 other provinces with 338 million square meters (3.6 billion square feet) of high priority and 380 million square meters of low priority areas still to be cleared.

Every day 10 to 12 Afghans fall victim to landmines laid during the1978-1988 Soviet occupation and the ensuing internecine fighting between Afghan factions.

Fatalities have dropped by half since 1995, thanks to mine sweeping and an awareness Programme that has reached around seven million people.

U.N. To Reduce Mine Clearing Plans

via Associated Press
September 1, 2000

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Saying that donations have dried up, the United Nations announced Friday it would cut by half its land mine-clearing operations in Afghanistan - one of the heaviest mined countries in the world.

This is certain to mean more land mine victims in a country where at least 300 people are hurt by land mines every month, Polly Brennan, U.N. Mine Awareness Advisor, said a statement issued in the Pakistani capital.

The program asked for $25 million in donations, but received only $14 million, said Stephanie Bunker, a U.N. spokeswoman in Pakistan. The lack of funds is being blamed on ``donor fatigue,'' a term used by the U.N. to mean that people have gotten tired of giving.

Estimates of the number of land mines in Afghanistan vary from five million to 10 million. The U.N. has predicted it would take 30 years to clear the land mines in Afghanistan. Millions of the buried explosives were laid by invading Soviet soldiers during the 1980s and millions more by Islamic rebels who took power when communist rule in Afghanistan ended in 1992.

So far the U.N. has cleared 1.2 million explosives from former battlefields, agricultural lands, roads and residential areas, the statement said. The program reached more than a million Afghans last year - particularly young people - and taught them how to identify a land mine. Despite international protests, land mines continue to be laid in Afghanistan.

Opposition spokesman Mohammed Abil said that an offensive by the country's ruling Taliban in northern Afghanistan was repulsed because of the freshly laid mines laid by opposition soldiers.

Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is one of the world's heaviest mined cities. The mines were laid by warring Islamic factions who ruled the country from 1992 to 1996 when they were thrown out by the hardline Taliban rulers.

Many of the land mine victims are young children who scavenge through the war ruins searching for scrap metal to sell.

Afghanistan to be cleared of mines by 2009:
UN 700 square km area yet to be cleared of landmines

via Reuters
June 25, 1999

Islamabad, Pakistan: The United Nations hopes that the war-ravaged Afghanistan would be cleared of deadly land mines by 2009 if funds for the de-mining campaign is received without any hindrance. According to the UN estimates, there have been 866 square kilometers contaminated areas with land mines in Afghanistan. A total of 477 square kilometer area was considered as high priority area that include grazing land, residential places, roads and agriculture land. Some 166 square kilometer area of 477-kilometer high priority area has been cleared of mines and campaign is continuing to clear the rest.

The Afghan Campaign to Ban Landmines (ACBL) is promoting awareness of the international community regarding the mine problem faced by the Afghan people, a senior official in the Mine Clearance Planning Agency (MCPA) Qadeem Tariq said. The ACBL is persuading the warring factions to stop using landmines and assisting in fund-raising for mine action activities and victims' assistance programs in Afghanistan. The ACBL was established in 1995 as a non-political, non-governmental and national forum struggling for a total ban on anti-personnel landmines.

Besides, working for mine clearing drive in the war-shattered Afghanistan, the ACBL is extending support to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). The Coordinating Office of the ACBL is the Mine Clearance Planning Agency (MCPA). ACBL started with a very limited number of NGOs as members. However, the number of member agencies has now reached around 40. These NGOs are actively operative in Afghanistan.

Despite being at its preliminary stage, ACBL is playing an important role in achieving a total ban on the production, stockpiling, trade and use of antipersonnel landmines at national and international level. The achievements of the ACBL, so far, are highly promising. ACBL has collected about 300'000 petitions from Afghan refugees now in camps in Pakistan as well as those in various provinces inside Afghanistan. The petitions are aimed at obtaining support of the common people for mine ban campaign and have been used at national and international level to demonstrate that common people are against landmines and demand a total and comprehensive ban on landmines.

The chair of ACBL has met almost all political and military leaders in different parts of the country in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 in order to encourage them not to use landmines in their factional war. All the leaders have declared their support to ACBL and its objectives. In 1997, four mine awareness and advocacy workshops were convened by ACBL in various cities of Afghanistan. In 1998, a national Seminar was held in Kabul, where many NGO staff, Community/religious leaders, government authorities, scholars and mine victims attended. The workshops and seminars proved to be an effective means of projecting the problem of landmines at national and international level, as the proceedings were extensively echoed by the Kabul Radio, as well.

In order to mobilize Afghans to be directly involved in the campaign against landmines and to attract attention of the international community and media to the problem of landmines in Afghanistan, the ACBL successfully observed the Afghan Mine Action and Awareness Month (AMAAM) in 1996, 1997 and 1998. During this period, ACBL successfully carried out a wide range of activities in Kabul, Nangarhar, Ghazni, Paktika, Paktia, Kandahar and Herat provinces in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan. In 1998, a two-bus caravan of mine victims traveled from Jalalabad, and passing through many small and large towns, it reached Kandahar. One of the major achievements of ACBL in 1998 was the anti-landmine statement given by the Supreme Leader of Taliban government in Afghanistan, Mulla Mohammed Omar Mujahid.

In addition to two bimonthly newsletters, one in Dari and Pashto and the other in English, the ACBL has published many posters, pamphlets, and several hundred banners and slogans calling for a total ban on landmines. As an active member of ICBL, the ACBL took part in all the international efforts aiming at a total ban on anti-personnel landmines. ACBL has been represented at all the international conferences that were held in connection with the Ottawa landmine ban treaty, Nobel Peace Prize 1997 and other events that were considered important either for the ban campaign or the mine action activities and victim assistance programs.