About the Author: Peter Villano is a Program Manager in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
Last time I joined you on DipNote, I wrote about U.S. efforts to help Afghanistan clear landmines and unexploded ordnance left over from the 1980s-1990s through community-based demining. Since then, I’ve received a lot of questions about the ongoing effort to help Afghans safeguard their communities from these deadly hazards, a few of which I’d like to share with you today.
What areas of Afghanistan are most affected by landmines?
Landmines affect almost every province in Afghanistan. While the most heavily affected areas are in the provinces surrounding Kabul, many urban centers throughout the country — as well as communities along Afghanistan’s ring road — also face risks from landmines and unexploded ordnance.
For the most part, known hazardous areas are marked. However, there are also areas that have not been surveyed by demining experts, as well as other areas where dangerous buried explosives may be known only to locals who have suffered causalities or lost livestock, and who now know to avoid these areas. For these reasons, abandoned landmines and unexploded ordnance remain a serious danger to Afghan civilians. On average, as many as 60 people a month are injured or killed by these hidden hazards, with children involved in more than half of these incidents.
Ultimately, landmines and unexploded ordnance inhibit development, disrupt markets and production, prevent the delivery of goods and services, and generally obstruct reconstruction and stabilization efforts. When you remove landmines and other explosive hazards in Afghanistan, you enable socio-economic development that could further the larger goal of promoting stability and security in Afghanistan and the wider region.
What does the United States do to help solve this problem?
As in over 45 other post-conflict countries around the world, the United States funds the clearance of landmines, abandoned and unexploded ordnance, and other “explosive remnants of war,” and works in close partnership with the Afghan government, private Afghan nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other international groups to safely remove and dispose of these explosive hazards. Since 1993 the U.S. has provided more than $180 million for humanitarian mine action in Afghanistan, making it the largest international donor to Afghanistan for this type of assistance. The majority of this assistance has gone directly to Afghan-run NGOs that have been engaged in this type of work for more than 20 years. IN addition, the United States has also provided financial assistance and support to individuals and families injured in accidents involving landmines and other explosives through the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Leahy War Victim’s Fund.
Do you train Afghans to do the landmine clearance?
Actually, Afghans proven themselves to be capable experts in all forms of humanitarian mine action. The United States just provides them with financial assistance. Most of the projects we support — including the community-based demining initiative in Kunar province I wrote about last time — are 100 percent Afghan-run. Depending on the number of projects operating throughout the country, there are about 4,000-5,000 Afghans employed in humanitarian mine action. Most of them are employed by Afghan NGOs and commercial organizations, but international NGOs also play a major role.
We are proud to partner with the brave Afghan men and women who are removing explosive remnants of war and landmines every day, and improving the safety and security of Afghanistan, one square kilometer at a time.
Are you making progress? How do you measure your progress in humanitarian demining in Afghanistan?
The international community and the Afghans are indeed making progress in clearing landmines and other explosive remnants of war. Progress is measured by the amount of land that is cleared - and over the past 20 years more than 1500 square kilometers (579 square miles) of land has been cleared.
After decades of war, we know there are still about 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) of suspected minefields. While ongoing clearance efforts are reducing that number, new hazards are still being discovered, from 1980s-era abandoned munitions to new roadside bombs planted by militants, something that the U.S., Afghan, and international forces are watching very closely.