MODERATOR: Okay. Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. My name is Cheryl Neely and I am a media relations officer here. We are pleased to have you and as our special guest here for the Washington Foreign Press Center briefing on the release of the 2017 To Walk the Earth in Safety Report addressing the humanitarian hazard of landmines and unexploded ordnances.
The ground rules for this briefing are that it is on the record, and please remember to turn off or silence all of your cellphones.
I’d like to start by introducing our briefer, Mr. Stanley Brown. He is the Office Director in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Weapons Removal and Abatement Office, at the U.S. Department of State.
Mr. Brown, thank you.
MR BROWN: Good morning and welcome and thank you for coming for this rollout week of TWEIS, To Walk the Earth in Safety. What I’d like to do is I’m going to talk about the report, what’s in the report, what it – what the report addresses, and then we’re going to talk about some of the things – going to kind of go around the world and talk about some of the programs that are highlighted in the report, and we’ll take questions after that. So again, thank you for coming.
As Cheryl said, my name is Stan Brown. I’m the Director of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau. And today we are rolling out To Walk the Earth in Safety. To Walk the Earth in Safety basically chronicles the U.S. Government’s work in conventional weapons destruction. That work is done collaboratively with the Department of State, Department of Defense, and U.S. Agency for International Development, and the work has a significant impact on civil society.
We are working to help secure small arms, light weapons, and keep those from being illicitly proliferated. We’re helping countries with stockpile management and stockpile security, helping them reduce the deteriorating stockpile so they don’t explode unintentionally, but at the same time, help them take care of the stockpiles that they retain so that they are – don’t go out the back door to terrorists and other bad actors.
It also chronicles the work that we’re doing to clear landmines and explosive remnants of war around the world. As many of you know, the United States is the largest donor to conventional weapons destruction, having provided $2.9 billion since 1993 to 100 countries, and also helping 14 countries declare themselves mine-free. This work goes a long way in helping society to recover from the upheaval of conflict, but it also addresses many of our national security priorities, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit when we address the issues associated with clearing areas that were once occupied by ISIS, as you will see in Iraq, Syria, and other areas.
The – so one of the questions I always get asked is how are we doing collectively as an international community on the clearing of landmines, and are the casualties going down? Well, Landmine Monitor is another publication which chronicles the impact that this kind of work is having around the world. And if you look at their – 2016 is their most recent version. The casualties from ERW and landmines actually went up from about 3,700 to 6,500 people. Why did that happen? Well, we’re solving a lot of the problems associated with the manufactured landmines around the world. However, as we are seeing in a lot of the conflict zones – Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Yemen – that we’re seeing increased casualties as a result of IEDs and unexploded ordnance or explosive remnants of war. So a lot more work to be done, and I think Landmine Monitor will release their report that covers ‘16 later on this week actually.
So let’s talk about the highlights of To Walk the Earth in Safety and some of the work that’s ongoing around the world. First I want to talk about Iraq. Iraq – we’re working in Iraq to clear critical infrastructure to provide follow-on assistance and stabilization in the areas where ISIS was cleared or ISIS was defeated. So how are we doing that? We are going through our NGO partners, implementing partners, working closely with the Iraqi Government as well as our contractors there to clear critical infrastructure like schools, cement factories, electrical power grids, water delivery facilities, all in an effort to return services back to a normal situation. We’re looking to accommodate people coming back to their homes, coming back to the cities, and get things up and running so that we can restore services in those areas. That work is being done in Anbar and Nineveh provinces. We’re seeing that work being done in Ramadi, Mosul, Tal Afar, and that work is ongoing and has been very successful thus far.
Likewise, when we talk about Syria, we’re doing very much the same work. We are clearing schools, bakeries, again power stations, water treatment facilities, dams, access to different infrastructure in the country. And we’re doing that work in Manbij, Tabqa, and Raqqa. And again, that work is having a critical impact on civil society – ability for people to come back and have services restored.
As we go to Africa, we’re working very hard in the Maghreb, Sahel, and the Great Lakes regions of Africa. If you look at the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have destroyed about 150,000 small arms/light weapons there. We have destroyed about 1,229 tons of ammunition, about 2,000 landmines, and 14 MANPADS in those areas. So we’re doing a lot to curb the illicit flow of weapons but at the same time reduce stockpiles of deteriorating weapons so they cannot be used against our allies and our friends.
If you continue around the world and look at what we’re doing in Colombia, in 2016 the report covers the partnership between the United States and Norway and 19 other countries plus the EU in the Global Demining Initiative for Colombia. In that initiative, at a ministerial-level pledging conference at the UN General Assembly last year, we were able to pledge 107 million to help Colombia reach its goal of being free from the impact of mines by 2021.
So energizing the international community and making sure that we can all come together to help Colombia, who had a historic – demining was a part of the historic peace process between the FARC and the Government of Colombia in that regard.
In Afghanistan, we continue to work in Afghanistan. It’s one of our long-running programs. We’ve provided about $442 million historically to Afghanistan since 1993, and we’ve completed about 200 demining projects there in the course of 2016. So very – excuse me, in 2016. So a very active program there. It continues to help civil society recover from conflict but still a lot of work to be done in that regard.
In East Asia Pacific, there are a lot of – last year we announced a pledge to help Laos with their contamination of unexploded ordnance from the Vietnam conflict. We continue to work very closely with the Government of Laos in that effort in clearing unexploded ordnance and doing a national survey there which will drive our work and guide our work into the future.
So a lot of different efforts going on around the world in conventional weapons destruction, helping civil society, helping our national security interest, and putting us – and putting civil society in a place where they can recover from the upheaval of conflict and heal the wounds that often continue after the actual fighting is over.
So with that quick around-the-world I’m going to pause here and ask if you have any questions.
QUESTION: I’ll ask you a question about Iraq.
MODERATOR: Can you state your name?
QUESTION: Oh, Rebaz Ali from RUDAW.
MR BROWN: Okay.
QUESTION: How bad is the situation in Mosul after it was liberated from ISIS, and now the population are in the process of returning back into the city? Is there any problems you have faced during this process where the people are trying to get back to the city?
MR BROWN: Right. So the contamination in Iraq and in Mosul specifically has been very high. There’s been a very high contamination of IEDs and explosive remnants from war, unexploded ordnance from the conflict. So a lot of structures were – a lot of structures were destroyed, so there’s ordnance within those structures. But we’re doing a lot of work on the critical infrastructure side to re-establish services in Mosul. We are seeing quite a few people return. We don’t have – we don’t specifically track data on IDPs that are impacted by unexploded ordnance when they return, but we’re working as hard and fast as we can to clear the IEDs that are there.
In Iraq it’s a multifaceted effort. We have NGOs and a contractor on the ground that are clearing IEDs, but we’re also training Iraqi capacity to handle this issue into the future. So we’re training Iraqis to be able to do that, also in a partnership with Iraqi Security Forces and even our U.S. Military.
QUESTION: How’s the – sorry. How’s the Iraqi Government – how do you describe the cooperation from the side of the Iraqi Government? Are they responding to your —
MR BROWN: Absolutely, absolutely. One of the early-on partnerships between the U.S. Government and the government of – governor of Anbar was very critical in getting the work up and running. So the Iraqis – Iraq is one of those situations where the cooperation between government officials, the UN agencies UNDP and UNMASS on the ground, as well as U.S. forces and all the different coalition partners that are providing funding for the effort, has been going very well.
MODERATOR: I just do want to remind journalists please state your name and your outlet when posing a question, and please wait for the microphone. Laurie, I think you had your hand up.
QUESTION: Sure. Laurie Mylroie, Kurdistan 24. Could you tell us where you’ve done the most work and you’ve been the most effective in Iraq in clearing the IEDs from ISIS and where the most work remains to be done?
MR BROWN: Okay. So generally speaking in Iraq, we have not only been – initiated the programs where we’re clearing the IEDs, we’ve also continued to traditional programs that we were doing before ISIS. So we continue to do work not only in Nineveh and Anbar provinces, but a lot of that is the urban work around Ramadi and Mosul where ISIL/ISIS was for an extended period of time.
We continue to work in the south and up on the border regions and doing some of those traditional mine action programs that existed before we started on this effort to clear all the IEDs.
So obviously there’s a huge effort in the Mosul and Tal Afar and Ramadi because of the concentration of population, but the other work that we’ve been doing continuous, too.
MODERATOR: Sayed, VOA?
QUESTION: Sayed from Afghanistan Service, Voice of America.
MR BROWN: No, mike’s coming.
MODERATOR: Could you wait for the microphone and repeat your name?
QUESTION: My name is Sayed. I’m from Voice of America, Afghanistan Service. The question is: How big is the threat of landmines for Afghanistan – I mean, for the people of Afghanistan? And how significant and useful is the process of demining, or clearing the areas from the mines?
MR BROWN: So the problem in Afghanistan has been significant. If you look at the number of – casualty numbers in Afghanistan, it’s been one of the countries that’s had the highest casualty rate historically. But we are incrementally clearing, and we see quarterly reports on the amount of square meters cleared in Afghanistan, and we’re making significant progress. As I said, we’ve donated around I think it’s $442 million over the history of the program in Afghanistan. There – we employ hundreds of deminers there, and they’re working tirelessly to clear the areas that are most needed to be cleared for the humanitarian impact.
So the work is ongoing. It is having an impact on society there, and our deminers are busy going about it on their daily business.
QUESTION: And how significant is the cooperation of the government?
MR BROWN: The government’s been very good. We’ve been helping build the national capacity there of the demining – the mine action center, and they have been very active in working with the U.S. Government. We are trying to transfer as much as we can the responsibility to the Government of Afghanistan to manage and oversee the projects. And that has been very successful also.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: In the back, please.
QUESTION: Hi. Cristobal Vasquez, Caracol Radio, Colombia. Last year, President Obama implemented or promised a certain amount of funds for the demining process in Colombia – this in the context of the peace agreement with the FARC. Do you think President Trump will continue this program of demining, and the funding for the demining program in Colombia?
MR BROWN: Okay. So what we’ve seen so far in Colombia – as I said earlier, Norway and the U.S. partnered to do the Global Demining Initiative for Colombia. Nineteen other countries plus the EU joined that effort, and what we’ve seen over the time is a pledge of 107 million. Since then, we’ve actually seen the Buffett Foundation come onboard and pledge additional funding for Colombia.
Thus far, our budget numbers for Colombia have been steady, in general. I know there’s a lot of talk about the way ahead in the U.S. in the demining realm globally. We have seen historically high budget requests for demining from this administration, so our budgets are actually going up. The request for FY18 overall was 196.9 million – that’s the highest request for funding for demining ever made. So the – it’s hard to tell year to year, but right now, the way we see it is Colombia’s funding is as promised by the past administration.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I believe Mr. Men was next?
QUESTION: Yeah. Hi. My name is Kimseng Men from Voice of America Khmer Service. Turning the focus to Southeast Asia – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. After the Vietnam War, where the U.S. pulled out of the region – the region and the war – there were other internal conflicts where China and Russia was also involved and contaminate the area. So my question is: How do you cooperate with all these country in demining in the region, or have you done so, or are you willing to do that? Thank you.
MR BROWN: So we are absolutely willing to do that. We work very closely not only with our embassies in the region, but also with the governments in the region. If – just looking at some of the different organizations. So we have a memorandum of understanding with the Vietnamese Government on mine clearance. We work very closely with the Vietnam Mine Action Center. Same with the Cambodian Mine Action Center, and the mine action centers at the National Regulatory Authority in Laos, as well as some of our partners in the Pacific islands, where we still continue to clean up ordnance from World War II.
So a very close relationship. We have received great support – obviously, the generosity of the American people in our funding overall, but also from Congress. And Congress writes into its management statement every year that the U.S. should focus on clearing up U.S.-caused unexploded ordnance, prioritize that. And in the context of the Vietnam conflict, we have prioritized our funding to clean up the ordnance there in Southeast Asia.
QUESTION: Thomas Gorguissian with Al-Ahram, Egypt. My question is general question, because it said “annual report.” I mean, specifically about Syria and Iraq and Yemen, which is – recently it was war zones, let’s say. How much of your effort was able to demine the mines? I mean, it’s like 60 percent, 40 percent, 30 percent?
MR BROWN: The – so if you’re talking about the recent IEDs – okay, so —
QUESTION: I mean, it’s like – to give an understanding. It’s great commitment and great effort is done over years. How much is left —
MR BROWN: So we haven’t been able to go into these countries in the current context, and secure the environment and be able to do surveys, or – technical or non-technical surveys to actually establish what level of contamination we are – we are responding in what we’ll call a stabilization timeframe, where we’re trying to stabilize the local communities and civil society as far as the (inaudible) infrastructure there. So we don’t have a full picture of the entire contamination, so it’s too hard to tell you what percentage we’ve actually cleared at this point.
What I can say, though, is the effort – what we’re gaining through the effort is as we clear, we’re seeing people come back and services being stood back up, and it’s having a significant impact. But I cannot tell you what percentage is left to do.
QUESTION: The other question related to it, because you say how —
MODERATOR: Sorry, could you put the microphone up to your mouth?
QUESTION: Oh. Okay, thank you. Sorry about that.
MODERATOR: That’s okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Could you explain to us – I mean, can you explain to us how much is this effort is done in not just demining and – in an effort to mapping this situation of the mines’ presence in these areas. I mean, is this part of the new effort or your effort to start with demining?
MR BROWN: Right. So we’re doing all of the above. I mean, we’re doing survey and we’re doing clearance of the areas. We are trying to establish the level of contamination. We’re not holistically doing a survey; we are responding to requests from the local governments. Iraq has a priority, Syria has a priority, and we’re trying to respond to those priorities so that we get those things cleared first.
So in that regard, we are taking care of the most important things first. We – and that list continues to grow as we —
QUESTION: And my final question, it’s regarded – how much of this effort is non-governmental effort? I mean, it’s not just government?
MR BROWN: Well, the majority of the implementers that we fund are non-governmental organizations; they’re international NGOs. We have a couple of contractors that are involved, but for the most part we do the majority of our funding globally through NGOs.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Is there another question? In the back? Yes, would you please take the microphone, state your name and outlet?
QUESTION: Pleasure. Hi. My name Haykaram Nahapetyan. I am journalist and cameraman for the Armenian TV. I hope that we can also have an opportunity for one-on-one later, but at this point I would like to ask what work you do in the Caucasus, in my geography, particularly Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh? Thank you.
MR BROWN: Okay. So the – so currently, we don’t fund – at the State Department we don’t fund any projects in Nagorno-Karabakh. I’d have to refer you to USAID, who is the – has funded the demining programs there.
In Armenia, programs there ended in about 2015 where we were – I think the last funding we had there was about $300,000 to help with the capacity – national capacity of the mine action center there, and help them with some of the requirements that they had. I think from a – from 2013-2015, through HALO Trust, we had a number of mine-detection dogs that were doing clearance of areas in Armenia. But we have not funded anything since 2015.
MODERATOR: Let me see if there’s someone else that has not asked a question that would like to before we go back. Anyone?
QUESTION: Can I follow up very quickly?
QUESTION: I was asking about the reason why demining in Armenia stopped. No more mines? That’s the reason, or any other technical —
MR BROWN: The – as I under – the reason that we stopped funding there was the Armenia mine action center had the capability of continuing to do the demining on their own. One of the things that we look at as we start all these programs is the ability to develop a national capacity where the work can continue after the U.S. funding goes away, or that we move on.
In the case of Armenia, they had the capacity to do that and so we graduated that program.
MODERATOR: Mr. Men, you had another question?
QUESTION: Kimseng Men again. My follow-up question: You already mentioned about cooperation with the local governments, but what about the Russia and China? For example, the reason why I ask this question, because in the Cambodian case right now there is political tension over there, and then there is sentiment that the U.S. and – are clearing UXO and the mines that left over by the Russian and the Chinese as well. And people there have a sense that it’s not fair to the U.S. So are you also trying to involve the Soviet and China to also take responsibility for what they did also? So is that part of your plan?
MR BROWN: Okay. No, I understand. So we are not specifically talking to Russia or China about the demining in Cambodia currently. We welcome all entities that want to help assist us to clearing remnants of the war. You are correct in that the – when you look at Cambodia, the contamination to the north and west is left over from conflicts in the ‘90s that – and the U.S. has no responsibility. We didn’t have any of the – we didn’t put any of the mines in place.
But in the west, we are focusing on the U.S.-caused UXO, which is from the Vietnam conflict. And we continue to support both efforts because we think it’s in the best humanitarian interest to do so. So it will help society there in Cambodia.
MODERATOR: Mr. Vasquez? Please state your name again and outlet.
QUESTION: Again, yeah, Cristobal Vasqeuz, Caracol Radio. I wanted to follow up and ask you: What are the new trends in mining around the world? Perhaps you referred to it earlier. That, and perhaps if you could give us some numbers as to perhaps the number of mines still on the ground right now.
MR BROWN: So the number of mines would be a very hard number to come up with. I don’t know that number off the top of my head, but it’s significant. We’re solving the problem, but there’s still a significant number of mines in the ground.
The trends in demining that I see is the nature of conflict is changing. The – while, again, as I said earlier, the use of manufactured landmines is actually going down, and we’re collectively – I guess worldwide we’re seeing a decrease in the number of mines in the ground through clearance operations, as we look at the nature of conflict in some of these other theaters like Iraq, Syria, Libya, we’re seeing a significant – in Africa too – we’re seeing a significant increase in the number of IEDs that we’re encountering. And that’s changing the nature of the requirements and the skills needed to clear those IEDs – that is, clearing an IED that – in many cases that has been placed to actually harm civilians that are returning and are actually in some cases placed to counter the explosive ordnance destruction technician that is trying to disarm it. So we’re seeing IEDs to – becoming a much more important issue to address, and quite frankly, we have put a lot of our funding toward that in the context of some of the current conflicts.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up: Just in terms of groups, what terrorist groups are using the mining as a core strategy?
MR BROWN: No, I mean – I don’t characterize one over the other. I think it’s something that, again, in the – in this realm of – or this era of conflict that different groups are using different mines or things to try to defend themselves, whether it’s traditional landmines, whether it’s IEDs or other types of improvised devices. I – off the top of my head, I can’t characterize one group over another on a specific thing.
QUESTION: Yeah, what —
MODERATOR: Laurie, please wait for the microphone and please state your name and outlet one more time.
QUESTION: Laurie Mylroie, Kurdistan24. Could you also tell us about the Kurdish – the Kurdistan Regional Government demining authority, how it’s functioning?
MR BROWN: IKMAA, so Iraq Kurdistan Mine Action Authority. And so we work with two mine action authorities: DMA, Director of Mine Action – Director of Mine Action in Iraq and the Iraq Kurdistan Mine Action Authority. We work very closely with both. They helps us to – they both help us coordinate activities on the ground in Iraq so that we can service all populations, and it goes back to my comments earlier. So we’re doing a lot of the legacy-type work that we’ve done in Iraq over a long period of time as well as addressing the more recent threats from IEDs that we’re seeing in more populated areas like Mosul, Ramadi, and Tal Afar, in those areas.
QUESTION: And in the Kurdistan region, is it mostly legacy demining that you have to deal with?
MR BROWN: Yes, yes.
MODERATOR: Okay. Are – is there anyone who has not had a chance to ask a question that would like to do so at this time? Okay, seeing none. Does anyone have another question? Okay. Well, thank you so much.
MR BROWN: Again, thank you very much for coming today. Again, the – To Walk the Earth In Safety is available on websites, obviously in hard copy too here, but it does chronicle a lot of work and a lot of efforts in helping civil society. So again, thank you for coming, and I appreciate your assistance.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Brown, and thank you all for attending. The event has now concluded.