Afghanistan: Landmine Clearance Safeguards Communities One Square Kilometer at a Time

Posted by Peter Villano
September 16, 2009
Minesweeper in Minefield on Outskirts of Kabul

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.



New York, USA
September 17, 2009

Ron in New York writes:

What's Mine is Yours......

U.S. leads the world in arms sales....ultimately the majority of mines placed will have a U.S. source. We are willing to sell them and also fund their removal. Brilliant!!

District Of Columbia, USA
September 17, 2009

DipNote Blogger Peter Villano writes:

Actually, the United States has not exported a single anti-personnel landmine to anyone anywhere in almost 20 years. In 1992, Congress enacted a ban on exports of all U.S. anti-personnel landmines. For more facts about U.S. landmine policy, visit

United States
September 17, 2009

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

Another reference in the same Field Manual:

Antipersonnel Mines
3-44. SFODs may temporarily use antipersonnel mines along likely avenues of approach into the base.

Creeks, riverbeds, and the surrounding elevations
are good locations for placing antipersonnel mines.

Personnel will warn the civilian population about the use of mines to preclude unnecessary civilian casualties. They may temporarily employ antipersonnel mines in the
following areas not used by civilians:
Near running water sources.
Around fruit and shade trees.
On little-used roads and trails.
In and around abandoned fighting positions or around abandoned uninhabited dwellings.
Now maybe we do not authorize the sale of mines but we can hardly say we do not "export" them if we are using them on foreign battlefields.

And look how they are used - precisely where children are likely to play! Uninhabited buildings, near running water, under fruit and shade trees?

The only thing left out is playgrounds and schools.

Let's stop land mining entirely. We don't need to go out of our way to maim and kill children with our wars.

United States
September 17, 2009

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

I see there is a new land mine policy. Good. I've nothing to complain about this land mine policy.

U.S. Landmine PolicyOn Friday, February 27, 2004, the new United States policy on landmines was announced.

This policy is a significant departure from past approaches to landmines.

It ensures protection for both military forces and civilians alike, and continues U.S. leadership in humanitarian mine action -- those activities that contribute most directly toward eliminating the landmine problem and mitigating its effects on landmine survivors. Under the new policy, the United States will:

eliminate all persistent landmines from its arsenal;

continue to develop non-persistent (self-destructing/self-deactivating) landmines that will not pose a humanitarian threat after use in battle;

continue to research and develop enhancements to the current self-destructing/self-deactivating landmine technology in order to develop and preserve military capabilities that address the United States transformational goals;

seek a worldwide ban on the sale or export of all persistent landmines;

get rid of its non-detectable mines within one year;

only employ persistent anti-vehicle mines outside of Korea between now and 2010, if needed, when authorized by the President;

not use any persistent landmines -- neither anti-personnel nor anti-vehicle -- anywhere after 2010;

begin the destruction within two years of those persistent landmines not needed for the protection of Korea;


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