Even under ideal conditions, clearing landmines and other unexploded ordnance is dangerous and difficult work -- and the challenging security environment of southern Iraq makes clearance in the sandy soil and hot climate more challenging. But more help is on the way in the form of some specially-trained four-legged friends, thanks to the Department of State’s support of our partners at the Marshall Legacy Institute’s (MLI), and their work with the Iraqi Mine Clearance Organization (IMCO), a local non-governmental organization,
Mine-detection dogs are invaluable members of IMCO’s mine-clearance teams, whose heightened sense of smell can significantly speed up the search for unexploded munitions. MLI has provided 12 dogs to IMCO since 2010 -- including a group of four new dogs that arrived in Basra in May 2013 for a round of training with their handlers. The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) sponsors four of the dogs (Paco, Diesel, Friendship Too, and Parkie), while American schoolchildren sponsored seven more through MLI’s Children Against Mines Program (CHAMPS). Raytheon sponsored the final MDD.
The training, funded by PM/WRA, brought the new dogs and handlers together with experienced mine detection teams. Working together in dog-handler pairs six days a week, the teams prepared for a series of tests to ensure the dogs met International Mine Action Standards for detecting landmines. The teams successfully passed their certification tests in late September. In early October, the four new dog teams joined the eight teams already operating in minefields in southern Iraq.
The training program also provided instruction on the international standards for Government of Iraq officials from the Directorate of Mine Action in Baghdad and the Regional Mine Action Center in Basra. Participants spent time learning about the International Mine Action Standards, and observing the rookie and veteran teams at work in the field. MLI will also bring in a skilled veterinarian to provide training on preventative care and treatment of working dogs. This training will improve the level of care provided by both IMCO personnel and local veterinarians in Basra.
Several decades of conflict have left numerous communities in Iraq, especially those in the southern provinces, heavily contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war. The United States has invested more than $234 million in conventional weapons destruction programs in Iraq since 2003 to clear and safely dispose of landmines and excess munitions and weapons, once again allowing civilians to utilize the land for agriculture and other uses. Programs like the one conducted by MLI are an important part of developing a local capacity to tackle these challenges independently.
PM/WRA is proud to support the MLI training program and the Mine Detection Dog teams working for IMCO in southern Iraq. By keeping its teams accredited to international standards, IMCO is ensuring that their human and canine team members can continue sniffing out landmines and other explosive remnants of war for many years to come.
Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $2 billion to more than 90 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war. For more information on U.S. humanitarian demining and Conventional Weapons Destruction programs, check out the latest edition of our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.