Liberating Libya from Explosive Remnants of War

Posted by Katie Smith
March 5, 2012
Landmine Removal Team at Work

While the 2011 Libyan uprising against the Qadhafi regime drew attention to the security challenge posed by at-risk conventional weapons, the conflict also resulted in large quantities of unexploded ordnance and landmines scattered throughout the Libyan countryside. In response, the United States has allocated $3 million to two international implementing partners: Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) to safeguard Libyan communities through emergency clearance of 1.5 tons of explosives from former battlegrounds and partnering with Libyan authorities to survey remaining ammunition storage areas throughout the country. This is a key component of a larger $40 million investment toward helping the Libyan authorities to safeguard the Libyan people by securing conventional weapons.

MAG and FSD teams have been working closely with Libyan authorities in Adjdabiya, Misrata, Tobruk and the Western Mountain region to identify threats. This cooperation has led to the successful destruction of over 50,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance and the safe clearance of approximately 7.5 million square meters of land to date. Ongoing efforts to identify and safely dispose of suspected threats is a painstaking and dangerous process, and is being carried out in conjunction with the newly formed Libyan Center for Mines and Remnants of War (LMAC). Both MAG and FSD projects began in March 2011 and are expected to continue for the next 2-3 years.

In addition to destruction, U.S-funded MAG teams have also been raising awareness about the dangers posed by what have been nicknamed "street museums," which are unguarded collections of unexploded ordnance collected by local residents Libyans who want to expose Qadhafi's atrocities. Andy Gleeson, MAG's senior technical expert on the ground in Libya commented that "when you've got this mixture of a lot of lethal items lying around, and a population who are wholly unaware of the risks, [it] is really worrying." Fatal incidents involving children playing with what they believe to be harmless pieces of metal have decreased dramatically since risk education activities surrounding the dangers of unexploded ordnance have become available.

Emma Atkinson, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, (PM/WRA) Program Manager for Libya, has closely monitored the progress of MAG and FSD. "The work being done by MAG, FSD and other mine action NGOs is critical to security and stability in Libya. The partnership that we have had with the Libyan government, UN, and international community has been phenomenal and it's incredibly rewarding to be a part of such an important project," Atkinson said.

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