Afghanistan: U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Team Clears More Than Landmines

Posted by Kate McFarland
February 14, 2011
Afghan Explosive Ordnance Technicians and U.S. Technical Advisors in Herat

About the Author: Kate McFarland is an Assistant Program Manager for South and Central Asia in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Since the Department of State began its humanitarian demining program in 1993, we have become the world's leading provider of financial and technical support for landmine clearance and unexploded ordnance removal projects in more than 80 countries. As the program has evolved, the work of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement has expanded to include the destruction of conventional weapons, munitions, and explosives; preventing injuries through mine risk education; and support services for those injured. On a recent visit to Herat province, I witnessed firsthand how our evolving mission holds new promise for supporting U.S. humanitarian assistance efforts in Afghanistan and beyond.

In the summer of 2010, our technical advisors from DynCorp International sent a group of experts to investigate a storage site for explosives at an Afghan Army base in western Herat province. At the site, the team discovered 800 metric tons of explosives intended for the construction of a nearby hydroelectric dam that were unsafely stored. Nearly half of the materials posed an imminent danger to the base and nearby forces -- not to mention villages for miles around. An open flame or sudden attack could spell disaster. Moreover, potential loss or large-scale theft could result in the explosives ending up in the possession of insurgents and used in the construction of roadside bombs targeting Afghans and their international allies.

Their conclusion was clear: the explosives were a serious hazard and needed to be properly stored and safeguarded immediately.

The assessment team got the ball rolling with a report to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, which brought the key players to the table: Afghan provincial authorities, Afghan National Army officials, the U.S. military, and representatives from the Embassy of India on behalf of the construction company overseeing the dam project. Together, they agreed to allow our team to safely separate and dispose of 320 metric tons of unsafe explosives, help transfer and secure the remaining explosives at the construction site, and most importantly, get hundreds of area residents out of harm's way.

The completion of the destruction portion of the project represented a major success for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the Department of State. A central mission of the American presence in Afghanistan is to ensure lasting security and mitigate the future threat of danger, especially to unsuspecting civilian populations. Not only did the destruction of explosives ensure the safety of Afghan troops, but it demonstrated the U.S. commitment to keeping Afghan civilians safe.

In all, the Department of State's investment of $183 million paid to our Afghan and international partners has resulted in the return of more than 160 million square meters of land to civilian use. Our conventional weapons destruction programs in Afghanistan are detailed in our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety. However, vast amounts of land contaminated by landmines and other unexploded remnants of war remain across Afghanistan, including in southern and eastern provinces where humanitarian demining and conventional weapons destruction teams are commonly targeted by insurgents. Moving forward, we hope to do our part to continue building on more than a quarter century of partnership in demining with the Afghan people as they work to make their country safer, one square meter at a time.



February 14, 2011

Sataris in Australia writes:

This is the sort of information that should be propogated by the media more, I had never thought how explosives used in construction might have been stored in post-war afghanistan.

Wish CNN and others would display these sort of stories alongside their main war stories, about all the good that is actually happening.

New Mexico, USA
February 16, 2011

Eric in New Mexico writes:

I sure hope folks had a long chat with that contractor.


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