It has been more than 20 years since the last Russian mines were laid on the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. However, these silent soldiers still lie in wait. Today, they no longer defend the border, but instead prohibit farmers from productively tilling their land. These farmers depend on the land to feed their families through the cold winter months.
Manually clearing the dense overgrowth of vines and vegetation from these contaminated areas would be extremely dangerous, time-consuming, and expensive. Thus, mechanical clearance assets, like the mini-Mine Wolf flail machine pictured above, are a more efficient and effective tool whenever they can be brought to bear. In 2011, the U.S. Departments of State and Defense facilitated the acquisition of a mini-Mine Wolf for Tajikistan through a $1.2 million Foreign Military Financing grant. This machine was deployed to Tajikistan as part of the Conventional Weapons Destruction program managed by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (WRA).
In Tajikistan, the mini-Mine Wolf is now being used for ground preparation within the Panj District, along the Tajik-Afghan border, in a joint effort between the Tajikistan National Mine Action Center (TNMAC), the Tajikistan Ministry of Defense (MOD), and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA). As significant subject matter expertise was already available in the country, the training, maintenance, and deployment of this crucial technological asset has been managed and facilitated locally by the TNMAC.
In 2015, the mini-Mine Wolf was deployed along the Tajik-Afghan border; unfortunately, cross-border incursions by non-state actors placed the machine at risk of attack and damage, and it was withdrawn and placed in storage. Since April 2020, the machine has been back in action and deployed near Navobod village in the Panj district. There, the mini-Mine Wolf has cleared vegetation and prepared contaminated ground for clearance along an irrigation channel that brings water to the village. Since re-opening this channel, the village has expanded its efforts to bring productive agriculture back to the area.
From April to June, the mini-Mine Wolf has been used to process an additional six acres of land, enough to grow 70 tons of potatoes, enough for 2000 people in a year. Now that these irrigation channels are open, water from the Panj river flows freely to the land surrounding the entire village. One local farmer, Zafar Abdullov, praised the effectiveness of the clearance effort: “We need the water for irrigation purposes, not only for this area but for all of Navobod village. Agriculture is the primary source of income for the population here. They need the land.” Clearing the area around the village from landmines, Mr. Abdullov said, would allow the villagers to significantly expand the area under cultivation, thereby both increasing their food output and improving the livelihood of their community.
Tajikistan’s contaminated area is particularly overgrown and difficult to reach. The mini-Mine Wolf works in concert with other vegetation clearance equipment to improve access to surface land and prepare the ground for inspection and clearance. With the mini-Mine Wolf, deminers can more quickly gain access to areas that were previously unreachable and destroy mines and unexploded ordnance they uncover. The machine not only saves hours of manual labor, but it can be operated remotely, which allows operators to stand at a safe distance in case it triggers an explosion. After vegetation is removed and the ground softened by the flail attachments, deminers are then able to identify, remove and destroy all explosive hazards.
Using modern machinery like the mini-Mine Wolf to clear land and to find explosive hazards has proven to be a dramatically safer and more effective method to carry out demining along Tajikistan’s heavily mined border with Afghanistan, and it is a tremendous improvement over manual clearance alone.
The United States is the world leader in Conventional Weapons Destruction, programming more than $3.7 billion in over 100 countries since 1993 to advance security, stability, and economic development priorities. To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Mr. Nicolas Christian serves as the Assistant Program Manager for South Central Asia in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. Department of State.