The widespread and indiscriminate use of mines, small arms/light weapons (SA/LW), ordnance and munitions since the Soviet invasion of 1979 has left Afghanistan heavily contaminated with explosive remnants of war (ERW) and other hazards. The Mine Action Program for Afghanistan (MAPA) estimates that 720 square kilometers of hazardous areas exist, with more than four 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 hazards discovered to date, vast areas remain contaminated due to ongoing 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. Mines, ERW, and loosely secured or illicit conventional weapons and munitions continue to restrict access to valuable resources and important infrastructure, effectively making social and economic reconstruction in Afghanistan extremely difficult.
The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the U.S. Department of State provided more than $18 million in FY2008 for the Conventional Weapons Destruction Program in Afghanistan. These funds enabled Afghan nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), international NGOs, international organizations, and private-sector partners to clear ERW-contaminated areas, care for victims of conflict, and destroy or secure abandoned or otherwise at-risk munitions and explosive ordnance that might be used by insurgents to construct roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices.
The PM/WRA Afghanistan Program, through a contract with DynCorp International, trains, equips, and funds seven Afghan explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams throughout Afghanistan. Since 2006, these PM/WRA -funded EOD teams have destroyed or secured more than 9,000 metric tons of unexploded, abandoned, or otherwise at-risk munitions and SA/LW, and provided explosive ordnance safety training to more than 65,000 Afghan nationals. Also under this DynCorp contract—in a unique partnership with the NGO Clear Path International—PM/WRA provided quick impact funds totaling more than $500,000 to Afghan partners including the Kabul Orthopedic Organization, Afghan Landmine Survivors Network, the Afghan Disabled and Vulnerable Society, and several other organizations engaged in victim-assistance projects in Afghanistan. PM/WRA granted more than $10.5 million to Afghan humanitarian mine-action NGOs that made advances in manual and mechanical clearance operations, victim assistance, community-based demining operations and mine-risk education. These Afghan NGO partners included Afghan Technical Consultants, Demining Agency for Afghanistan, Mine Clearance Planning Agency, Mine Detection Center, the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation, and The HALO Trust (HALO ). Contributing to the safe physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) of Afghanistan’s ammunition stockpiles, PM/WRA provided $250,000 to the ongoing PSSM project led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Maintenance and Supply Agency. Also in FY 2008, PM/WRA continued SA/LW and man-portable air-defense system mitigation and destruction activities.
In late FY 2008, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program (HD R&D) provided HALO with the Mantis, an armored tractor area-preparation and mine-clearance system worth $367,000. The Mantis includes a suite of tools for breaking up soil, reducing metal clutter, sifting soil and rolling suspect areas. In FY 2008, HALO continued operations with an HD R&D-provided Orbit Screen and excavator-sifting attachments, a value of $150,000.
Abandoned and unexploded ordnance collected from villages near Jalalabad, stacked and awaiting disposal.
Clear Path International partnered with Accessibility Organization for Afghan Disabled to build one of its first PM/WRA-funded ramps at Ariana, a school for girls in Kabul, Afghanistan. More than 80 girls with disabilities use wheelchairs and now have barrier-free access to the buildings thanks to the AOAD project. AOAD is an Afghan charity that builds wheelchair ramps and provides other advocacy services for persons with disabilities in Afghanistan.
A female deminer from MAG uses HSTAMIDS in Cambodia to scan the ground for possible mines. The system allows deminers to discriminate between mines and clutter, which reduces the time spent manually excavating the ground.
As a result of nearly three decades of conflict, Cambodia continues to be one of the most severely landmine and explosive-remnants-of-war affected countries in the world. Heavy mine contamination started during the 1960s when civil war broke out between the government and the Communist Khmer Rouge, which ended with the latter’s victory in 1975. In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and drove Khmer Rouge forces back to the Thai-Cambodian border; however, the pollution of the land did not stop there. Following the invasion by Vietnam, the Cambodian government created the K-5 mine belt, a densely mined barrier along the Thai border, to prevent the Khmer Rouge’s return. Despite these efforts, Khmer Rouge guerrilla groups continued to pervade Cambodia until their surrender in 1997, and in 1988, scattered unmapped minefields for short-term defensive purposes. Assistance from the United States and other donors has significantly reduced the annual casualty rate; however, the death toll remains high: 875 casualties were reported in 2005, while in 2007 there were 352 known victims.
In FY 2008, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State allotted a total of $4,053,526 for humanitarian mine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) action in Cambodia. DynCorp International acquired $2,290,000 under a continuing contract to manage, disburse, and monitor U.S. financial support for the operations of Demining Unit No. 3 of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), as well as to administer training, equipment, and advice to the unit’s multiple teams. The contract also provides for developmental support and advisory services to the Cambodian demining and UXO authorities. The HALO Trust (HALO) received a grant of $850,000 for support and provision of advanced Handheld Standoff Mine Detection System (HSTAMIDS) detectors to 13 manual demining teams, and support to additional explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), survey, mine-risk education (MRE), and mechanical teams for continued work along the K-5 mine belt. Additionally, HALO received a grant of $45,000 to be used to match contributions from Rotary International for the fielding and equipping of an additional demining team. Mines Advisory Group (MAG) acquired a grant of $515,000 to deploy manual deminers, mechanical vegetation cutters, Bozena and Tempest flails, community liaison teams, and mobile EOD teams in six provinces.
Also in FY 2008, the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation received $160,000 for continuation of its Explosive Harvesting Program, in which explosives are removed from locally-obtained munitions and packaged into charges for use by demining and UXO operators. Norwegian People’s Aid was given $99,976 to provide support for development of the central database of CMAC. Spirit of Soccer received a grant of $75,000 for its youth MRE program that links awareness education with soccer skills and sports role models. Finally, Freedom Fields was granted $18,550 to produce a documentary film on landmine clearance in Cambodia.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program (HD R&D) has worked for many years in Cambodia, providing technologies valued a more than $2 million for operational field evaluations with the CMAC, HALO, MAG, and the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation. Beginning in June 2006, HALO integrated the multi-sensor HSTAMIDS in its manual, anti-personnel mine-clearance operations of densely cluttered minefields. The HSTAMIDS evaluation was expanded in FY 2008 to include operations with MAG.
During FY 2008, HD R&D continued operational field evaluations of the Tempest vegetation cutting flail, excavator soil sifting attachments, the MAXX+ remote-controlled mini-excavator, and the innovative Explosive Harvesting System, which recasts stockpiled explosives into demolition charges for mines and unexploded ordnance. In addition, HD R&D provided funds to develop a regional test and training site for HSTAMIDS mine-detection technologies at the CMAC training center in Siem Reap.Laos
An unexploded bomb mere meters from a school house in Laos.
The majority of Laos’ extensive explosive remnants of war (ERW) contamination and its smaller landmine presence stems from the Second Indochina War, also known as the American-Vietnam War, between 1964 and 1973. Some contamination resulted from the country’s own period of civil war (1962–1975). During its prolonged air campaign against the North Vietnamese forces operating in Laos, the U.S. military dropped over two million tons of bombs, and estimates indicate that up to 30 percent of these aerial munitions failed to detonate on impact. Large land battles were also fought inside Laos.
Post-war population growth and other socioeconomic factors have subsequently continued to increase the human presence in ER W-contaminated areas. Besides posing a threat to the Laotian people in the impacted areas, ER W also limits their access to agricultural land, disturbs traditional land-use patterns, and impedes other economic development. In 1996 the government established UXO Lao as the national organization to systematically address the ER W problem, and in 2006 created the National Regulatory Authority (NRA) as the policy-level body for all aspects of the effort. Since clearance operations began, at least 186 types of munitions from all former combatants have been located, highlighting the complexity of the operational challenges.
In FY2008, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the U.S. Department of State allotted a total of $2,953,000 for humanitarian ERW clearance and related work in Laos. This money was split between ArmorGroup North America, Fondation Suisse de Deminage (FSD), Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and World Education, Inc.
ArmorGroup North America received $1,932,000 under a continuing contract to develop the capacity of the NRA through management and financial training, and to provide for the operating costs of UXO Lao in conducting clearance, technical survey, and community-awareness programs in several provinces.
MAG received a grant of $500,000 in support of operations in Khammoune province, which includes training and managing a team to conduct UXO clearance, technical survey, and community liaison.
FSD was granted $304,630 for continuation of unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance in support of the United Nations World Food Programme’s Food-For-Work project in three districts of Savannakhet province, as well as support for limited clearance work in other provinces.
World Education, Inc. was granted a total of $216,370 for ERW-risk education, and for survivors’ medical, economic, and technical assistance. The latter program is designed to improve the living situation of ER W survivors and their families, and to provide training to health, agricultural, and vocational training officials to enable them to better serve the needs of ER W survivors. PM/WRA also granted World Education $500,000 to strengthen district hospital capacity to address trauma of UXO and other injuries.
In addition, the U.S. Agency for International Development gave Handicap International $300,000 to support vocational rehabilitation for people with disabilities in Laos.Philippines
In FY2008, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State spent $270,000 with local contractor Alloy Engineering to destroy 36,930 firearms in the Philippines that were no longer needed by the military, or that had been seized by authorities from criminals and terrorists.Sri Lanka
Schoolchildren running on a road recently cleared of mines in Toppur village, Trincomalee district, Sri Lanka.
Landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) affecting parts of Sri Lanka are a result of two decades of armed conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government. Along with the mined areas in the high security zones that are maintained by the Sri Lankan Army, the Sri Lankan government estimates there are 98 to 150 square kilometers affected by landmines and ER W. Roughly half of the landmines emplaced in Sri Lanka are scattered in the northern Jaffna Peninsula, the most severely affected region in the country. In 2002, the government and LTTE made a cease-fire agreement, providing an opportunity for humanitarian mine action to begin. With support from the United States, the United Nations, and other donor nations and organizations, significant progress in clearing land was made so that internally displaced persons (IDPs) could return to their land and safely farm. Unfortunately, the ceasefire agreement collapsed in mid-2006 and the conflict intensified, resulting in additional and unsurveyed mine/ERW contamination. Mines and unexploded remnants of war pose an immediate threat to IDPs, as well as an obstacle for resettlement and a serious long-term challenge to economic reconstruction.
In FY2008, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the U.S. Department of State provided $1,479,322 for emergency clearance operations by international nongovernmental organizations to support the safe return of thousands of IDPs in the eastern areas between Batticaloa and Trincomalee, where the Army had recovered control from the LTTE. Danish Demining Group was granted $534,000 to clear high-priority areas in Trincomalee that were critically needed for resettlement and agriculture. PM/WRA granted an additional $449,268 to the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action to conduct emergency clearance for the resettlement of 693 families. Another $496,054 grant went to Mines Advisory Group to conduct a technical survey, manual demining, and battle-area clearance, and by December 2008 more than 2 million square meters of land had been released in Batticaloa for safe use to an estimated 8,452 civilians.
Tajikistan is affected by landmines emplaced along the country’s borders by Russian and Uzbek forces, as well those laid during the 1992–97 civil war. The population is most affected by landmines that were laid by Uzbekistan’s security services in 1999–2001 with the intent to prevent infiltration by the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Tajikistan’s landmine contamination is a threat to its people, causes losses to livestock, and prohibits access to already scarce pastures and agricultural land. Additionally, it is believed that the country possesses stockpiles of aging and inadequately stored conventional weapons.
In FY2008, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State awarded a grant of $180,000 to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The grant will be used to destroy several thousand small arms and light weapons.
Beaver is a small, remote-controlled vegetation cutter that is undergoing operational field evaluations in Thailand by the Thailand Mine Action Center.
In FY 2008, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program (HD R&D) continued operational field evaluations of several mechanical technologies in Thailand. Valued at $1.4 million, these technologies are used for vegetation clearance and area preparation, including the remote-controlled Beaver and Tempest, and the large-class SDTT (Severe Duty Tractor and Tools) and Uni-Disk excavators. In FY 2008, the Thailand Mine Action Center was provided Peco, a small remote-controlled vegetation clearance system, by HD R&D. To learn more about the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining program, visit www.humanitariandemining.org
The U.S. Department of State has donated millions of dollars worth of demining equipment to BOMICEN over the years. Decals like this one were affixed to the most recent batch of equipment that was donated by PM/WRA.
A series of conflicts involving Japan, France, and the United States from World War II through the early 1970s caused Vietnam to be heavily contaminated by explosive remnants of war (ERW). Landmines are also problematic due to periods of military struggle during the 1970s with neighboring Cambodia and China. The areas of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, and Quang Tri are the most ERW-affected provinces. ERW also affects Vietnam’s border region with Laos, an area that was intensively bombed by the United States in an effort to interdict North Vietnamese troops and supplies. The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the U.S. Department of State encourages mine-action organizations to use the findings of the PM/WRA -funded Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) in Vietnam by mandating that its grantees in Vietnam seek interim survey results. It now funds projects only in provinces that have completed the LIS. In 2008 PM/WRA continued this approach and intends to uphold LIS use in Vietnam henceforth.
On April 29, 2008, the government of Vietnam passed legislation to formally establish the Vietnam Bomb and Mine Action Centre (VBMAC). Under direct responsibility of the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs, the VBMAC is assuming the role of national coordinator for clearance operations, victim-assistance projects, and mine-risk education (MRE). Work is underway to get its organizational and staffing structure functioning; however, some of its first priorities are to develop a strategic plan and set national standard operating procedures (SOPs) in alignment with international mine-action standards. Both the strategic plan and SOPs will help in the prioritization of clearance activities and coordination of funding streams to address Vietnam’s contamination problem effectively. The government of Vietnam and the international nongovernmental organizations working in Vietnam’s mine-action sector will assume direct responsibility for managing the VBMAC.
In FY 2008, PM/WRA contributed over $2.5 million for humanitarian mine action in Vietnam. Directly, Vietnam’s Technology Centre for Bomb and Mine Disposal (BOMICEN) received over $133,000 in demining equipment from PM/WRA to continue helping BOMICEN develop national capacity to clear ERW and persistent landmines. Indirectly to BOMICEN, PM/WRA granted $100,000 to the Veterans for America (still identified in Vietnam as the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation) to provide technical assistance to five explosive-ordnance disposal (EOD) teams and $150,000 to Golden West Humanitarian Foundation to provide technical detection assistance and ordnance-salvage training.
PM/WRA granted $1,300,813 to Mines Advisory Group to conduct EOD rapid-response and static-site clearance in the Quang Binh province. Moreover, PM/WRA provided $222,318 to PeaceTrees Vietnam to field two EOD response teams in the Quang Tri province.
PM/WRA also provided funding to three organizations for MRE and victim-assistance programs. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Project RENEW received $289,478 to provide integrated humanitarian mine-action assistance (clearance, risk education, survivors assistance) to several districts of the Quang Tri province. In conjunction with this, the office granted $35,000 to Norwegian People’s Aid for the purchase of an ambulance for use by its EOD team working with Project RENEW. Survivor Corps received $64,018 to build the capacity and improve the quality of care given by local health entities in the Quang Binh province. Finally, PM/WRA granted $107,766 to PeaceTrees Vietnam to conduct mobile MRE activities in the Quang Tri province.
In FY 2008, the USAID Leahy War Victims Fund granted $500,000 to support Catholic Relief Services’ job creation and job placement programs for people with disabilities. Activities included mentoring through local enterprises and businesses as well as the establishment of an information-technology training institute in collaboration with Hanoi Technical College. It also provided $1 million in support of Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped for work with the Vietnamese government to create a comprehensive disability law as well as a public-private initiative with U.S. and Vietnamese companies to promote the hiring of people with disabilities.
Sign at a PeaceTrees Vietnam bomb clearance site on the former Ho Chi Minh Trail in Quang Tri province. This clearance project was funded by PM/WRA.
Deminers from PeaceTrees Vietnam working in Quang Tri province pose with members of PM/WRA.
PM/WRA Program Manager Marcus Carpenter poses with ordnance cleared by MAG in Quan Binh province.