Mine action is comprised of four major components: mine awareness, mine detection, mine clearance, and survivor assistance. Depending upon the needs of a given country, the United States may assist with one, some, or all four of these mine action activities. In most cases, the affected nation will establish a Mine Action Center (MAC), or National Demining Office (NDO), to coordinate demining priorities and mine action activities.
Teaching people how to recognize, avoid, and inform demining authorities of the presence of landmines significantly reduces the number of casualties. Mine awareness utilizes a variety of materials and media to convey important messages. The materials, and the manner in which mine awareness is presented, must be sensitive to the cultural mores of the local populations. For example, in Afghanistan, women instead of men, teach mine awareness to other women.
Mine awareness attempts to educate whole populations, allowing them to incorporate safety procedures into their daily lives, not just during a single event. Often, young children are a targeted audience for mine awareness. Mine awareness teachers must discourage children from picking up and playing with mines and UXO. In many instances, educating children of the dangers of landmines and UXO is difficult because they are often fascinated by the toy-like metal and plastic objects. Still, the majority of mine casualties is among young men. Informing adolescents and adults of types of mines and the injuries they inflict and teaching them the proper procedures to follow if a mine is found, saves lives.
The U.S. Department of Defense's Special Operations Forces (SOF) provides mine awareness training. SOF personnel are fluent in the languages of mine-affected countries, and are also aware of the cultural sensitivities of their audiences.
A Level One Survey helps determine the nature and extent of a landmine problem in a specific country. Conducting this Survey entails identifying the broad areas within a country where mines exist and roughly estimating the extent of the problem. Areas where mines do not exist are also recorded in the Survey. Next, a Level Two Survey is conducted to obtain more detail on the landmine problem. Mined areas are demarcated in addition to the number and types of mines found within the area. There is no single technology to employ in all circumstances, in all terrain and weather conditions, and against all types of mines. Metal detectors and probes remain the primary ways to find many individual mines. The technology of these devices is essentially 60 years old. Increasingly, however, deminers are recognizing the feasibility of mine detection dogs (MDD). These dogs are able to detect the chemical explosives in mines. MDDs are becoming increasingly important as their success rates increase and their reputation for safe and efficient mine detection spreads.
Even with advanced mine detection methods, the locations of the majority of landmines in the ground today are unknown. International law requires that persons laying mines identify the type of landmines planted and make maps of the location they are left, so that they may be removed at the conclusion of hostilities. Whether they are combatants in a war between nation-states or factions in a civil war, hostile parties increasingly ignore international law, by placing mines indiscriminately, without marking or recording their use or emplacement. Even when maps and other records are available, natural events may, over time, make them useless. Mines migrate from their original location as a result of shifting sands, as in the desert of the Middle East, or as a result of rain washing away topsoil in tropical areas, as in Central America or Africa.
Clearing mines is slow, laborious, tedious, and highly dangerous. U.S. law states that "as a matter of policy, U.S. Forces shall not engage in physically detecting, lifting, or destroying landmines, unless it does so for the concurrent purpose of supporting a U.S. military operation; or provides such assistance as part of a military operation that does not involve the armed forces." Therefore, SOF contingents use a train-the-trainer approach to assist a country in clearing landmines. The SOF soldiers train an initial team of host nation personnel in mine clearance techniques, including medical evacuation procedures in the event of a demining accident. This cadre, in turn, trains another group, and so on, until a large body of the country's own nationals are competent to clear mines safely and efficiently.
Once found, mines will not be removed from their location. Rather, the landmine will be left in place, marked, and then destroyed. If terrain permits, landmines are destroyed by maneuvering specially equipped vehicles over the land to destroy multiple mines within a single minefield. The United Nations standard for a successful mine clearance operation is that landmines and UXO down to 20 cm be destroyed. A process much like mine detection called quality assurance is generally used to assess mine clearance operations. Mine detection dogs are very efficient tools for this process.
The last activity within mine action is survivor assistance, which requires a long-term commitment to both the landmine victim and his or her family members. It is not enough simply to treat the initial injuries, as important as that is. Many landmine survivors are children. As a child grows, new prosthetic limbs become necessary, and a lifetime of additional operations and expenses are necessary. Over time, the psychological injury to landmine survivors also becomes a factor in their recovery and that of their family members. For these reasons, mine action programs encourage a holistic approach to the provision of assistance to the survivors of landmine injuries.
Neither the Department of State's Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs (HDP) or the U.S. Department of Defense uses demining funds for survivor assistance. The Defense Department, using Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) and other operations and maintenance funds pays for Blast Resuscitation and Victims Assistance (BRAVA). However, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) fund programs to alleviate the suffering of mine survivors and their families. USAID uses money from the Patrick J. Leahy War Victims Fund to provide long-term treatment and prosthetics to landmine accident survivors. PRM's programs assist with the resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons, many of whom are endangered by landmines in the course of flight from their homes and subsequent return.