Landmines and other unexploded ordnance affect virtually every province in Afghanistan, a tragic legacy of nearly three decades of conflict. The most heavily mined country during past conflicts, Afghanistan's struggle is compounded by tons of unexploded ordnance, as well as abandoned conventional weapons and munitions -- such as the buried shells in the photo above -- used by insurgents to target Afghan civilians and coalition forces. Experts note that as many as 83 people a month on average are injured or killed in Afghanistan by landmines and unexploded ordnance, with children involved in more than half of these incidents.
I recently traveled to Afghanistan to get a first-hand look at one of dozens of Humanitarian Mine Action projects funded by our Bureau's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. There, I met Afghan demining experts who, with U.S. support, are working to find and safely clear their country of these hidden killers, allowing families to return home and get their communities on the road to post-conflict recovery.
As in many countries struggling to recover from conflicts, such as Angola, Mozambique, or Sri Lanka, landmines and unexploded ordnance inhibit development, disrupt markets and production, prevent the delivery of goods and services, and generally obstruct reconstruction and stabilization efforts. By removing these deadly hazards, we can enable the socio-economic development needed to further the larger goal of promoting stability and security in Afghanistan and the wider region.
The United States is proud to be the world's single largest financial supporter of demining. Under the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action program -- a partnership among the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- the United States has provided more than $1.5 billion toward landmine clearance and conventional weapons destruction in 47 countries. Initiatives funded include:
• Mine clearance projects by 63 partner organizations, such as the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and the HALO Trust
• Mine-risk education to help area residents avoid injury by identifying potential hazards
• Research and development into new demining technologies
• Training local demining technicians in affected countries
• Supporting rehabilitation programs serving those injured by landmines and unexploded munitions
We partner with a wide array of international partners in our mine action efforts in Afghanistan, but the majority of U.S. financial assistance goes directly to Afghan-run NGOs, which have pioneered a unique approach called “community-based demining.”
“Community based de-mining” means that Afghan NGOs recruit, train, and employ local workers, in close partnership with community leaders, to survey and clear explosives. It represents a unique opportunity to link Afghan and U.S. humanitarian, development, and counterinsurgency objectives. It furnishes jobs that keep young men employed, and perhaps most importantly, establishes trust with local leaders. These projects are not just outsiders coming in to conduct mine clearance; local residents take pride in doing their part to take back their communities, thus reinforcing local governance and reducing insurgent influence.
Projects can last for several months or more, providing income and economic opportunity to numerous families. Meanwhile, as de-mining progresses, follow-on agricultural and vocational training, as well as immediate development projects can commence, allowing locals to capitalize on their cleared land and an available labor force with new job skills.
Since 1993, the United States has provided more than $165 million for humanitarian mine action in Afghanistan, making it the largest international donor to Afghanistan for this type of assistance. Our partners have used these funds to clear more than 160 million square meters of land -- nearly two-thirds of all suspected hazardous areas. However, vast amounts of land remain in inaccessible regions of the country, as well as in southeastern provinces where demining operations are commonly targeted by insurgents.
The need is urgent and the work of these Afghan NGOs is vital. We are proud to partner with the brave Afghan men and women working across their nation to remove these explosive remnants of war, and improve the safety and security of Afghanistan, one square kilometer at a time.