2017 To Walk the Earth in Safety: South and Central Asia--The Expeditionary Nature of Demining in the Afghan Highlands
In Afghanistan, significant numbers of traditional communities eke out a living on grassland plateaus high in the mountain ranges by raising goats and sheep for their own subsistence and modest trading. Shepherds have grazed their flocks in these areas for a century or more, but in recent decades their work has been made more hazardous, at times by active conflict, and more constantly by landmine contamination. Soviet forces and Mujahideen fighters, followed by Northern Alliance groups and Taliban forces, sought to establish posts and bases on ridgelines above villages and valleys for surveillance and to control the high ground during fighting. Frequently, these groups laid mines around their posts, and therefore much of the remaining contamination is found on steep hillsides and hilltops.
Manual demining teams represent the bulk of operational capacity in Afghanistan because they are the most efficient and cost-effective method for conducting clearance in mountainous areas. The Afghanistan Technical Consultants (ATC) utilized donkeys to carry equipment to their high-mountain camps to conduct clearance operations, as most hazards within Chaharikar and Salang Districts of Parwan Province are located near the top of mountains. With no roads for vehicles, the donkeys had to pack in everything needed for the operations: demining equipment, safety equipment, medical supplies for emergencies, tents, food, clothing, and communications gear. Planning these expeditions is complex and must be thorough. Using narrow footpaths, some journeys to the camps take three to four hours. The same donkeys used to carry heavy equipment up the trails are also relied upon to evacuate casualties if needed. These “beasts of burden,” by providing support to demining operations, help grant local shepherds access to more grassland and more peace of mind for their own safety and the protection of their flocks and livelihoods.