The U.S. conventional weapons destruction program in Afghanistan aims to protect victims of conflict, provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and help provide security and safety for the Afghan people. Since 1993, the Department of State has provided more than $95,000,000 in conventional weapons destruction and humanitarian mine action assistance to Afghanistan. Direct funding to five Afghan non-governmental organizations has sustained clearance operations, developed host nation management and technical capacity and provided vocational training when a reduction in mine clearance activities increased the number of unemployed deminers.
The Conventional Weapons Problem
The widespread and indiscriminate use of mines, small arms/light weapons, ordnance and munitions since the Soviet invasion of 1979 has left Afghanistan heavily contaminated with explosive remnants of war (ERW). The United Nations Mine Action Program for Afghanistan (MAPA) estimates that 720 square kilometers of suspected hazardous areas exist, with more than 4 million Afghans living in 2,229 ERW-contaminated communities. Mines and ERW killed or injured more than 445 Afghans in 2008, an average of 37 victims per month. Additional conventional weapons and munitions hazards are reported daily. Although MAPA has cleared almost two-thirds of all suspected hazards discovered to date, vast amounts of areas remain contaminated due to on-going conflict and inaccessibility because of difficult terrain and deteriorating infrastructure.
The majority of ERW-contaminated areas are agricultural fields, irrigation canals, and grazing areas as well as roads and residential and commercial areas. Security belts of landmines also exist around major cities, airports, government installations, and power stations. An equally significant problem is the existence of large amounts of unexploded ordnance, which inflicted extensive injuries and destruction even prior to the on-going conflict. Still, mines and ERW and loosely secured or illicit conventional weapons and munitions persistently restrict access to valuable resources and important infrastructure, effectively making social and economic reconstruction in Afghanistan extremely difficult.
United States Assistance
In FY 2008, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the Department of State provided $18,000,000 for the Conventional Weapons Destruction Program in Afghanistan. These funds enabled Afghan non-governmental organizations, international non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and private and public sector partners to clear ERW-contaminated areas as well as to destroy or secure abandoned or otherwise at-risk munitions and explosive ordnance that might be used by insurgent elements to construct roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices that target coalition forces, Afghan civilians, and international aid organizations. Slight increases in programmatic funding for FY 2009 will be used to increase national capacity development and conventional weapons destruction activities throughout Afghanistan.
Since January, 2006, PM/WRA-funded projects have destroyed or secured more than 9,000 metric tons of unexploded, abandoned, or otherwise at- risk munitions and small arms/light weapons, and provided explosive ordnance safety training to more than 65,000 Afghan nationals. This assistance removes explosive hazards that threaten civilian populations, and enables critical reconstruction and development projects central to economic growth, stability, and security. Department of State funds also play a vital role in the capacity development of MAPA, which consists of 20 Afghan implementing partners and international non-governmental organizations, and the UN’s Mine Action Center in Afghanistan, the coordinating body for MAPA management and operations.
To learn more about the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement's humanitarian mine action and conventional weapons destruction programs, visit www.state.gov/t/pm/.
Recently discovered pieces of unexploded ordnance en route to a holding bunker near Jalalabad.
An Afghan explosive ordnance disposal team leader stacks munitions at a controlled demolition site in Nangarhar Province.
A variety of anti-tank landmines stacked in a holding bunker awaiting demolition.
Mine clearance machines are often used to process ground in the dry, rocky conditions of Afghanistan. This machine, funded by PM/WRA, prepares the ground in operations in Parwan Province.
Disabled Afghans play volleyball on the grounds of the Afghan Landmine Survivors Organization, an Afghan NGO funded by PM/WRA.
Photos courtesy of Anthony Morin, State Dept.