Attrition: Lethal Leftovers

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April 26, 2019: Afghanistan continues to lead the world in casualties from landmines and other unexploded weapons. Such losses have been increasing dramatically since 2014 when foreign troops left and the Taliban began a major effort to overthrow the democratic government and replace it with a religious dictatorship that would tax drug gangs rather than planting landmines and other explosives for them. In 2014 there were about 900 mine and explosive device casualties. By 2017 that had more than doubled, to 2,300 and the casualties keep increasing. Nearly half of the victims are children (those under age 18). The mine clearing effort greatly increased after the Taliban were driven from power in 2001. But in the last decade, the Taliban have been increasingly planting more mines themselves and attacking or scaring away mine clearing teams.

Until 2006 Afghanistan was making great strides in getting rid of millions of land mines (most of them Russian and Chinese Cold War vintage stuff). In 2001 over 1,600 Afghans a month were being killed or wounded by all these mines but by 2006 the losses were cut in half. Since then the growing use of landmines by the Taliban and drug gangs has increased annual mine casualties to nearly 2,500. By 2006 17 years of demining efforts had cleared nearly a thousand square kilometers mines. At the time that was believed to be 70 percent of the mined areas. Up until 2007 the Taliban and drug gangs tended to leave the deminers alone. But then new minefields began to show up, planted by the Taliban and drug gangs to protect drug (opium and heroin) operations. This happened despite the fact that most Afghans wanted nothing more to do with landmines and just want to see them all gone. Most of the people actually clearing the mines are Afghans, and some have been at it for since the 1990s. Foreign aid groups and governments provide equipment, training and money for salaries and supplies. The biggest supplier of such aid has been the United States.

Landmines were outlawed by an international treaty in 1999, but this mainly applied to nations that don't have landmines or don't have any reason to use them. Islamic terrorists, rebels and drug gangs have not signed the international agreement and find the mines a cheap way to control civilian populations and slow down anyone coming after them. It takes more time, money, and effort to remove these mines than to place them. Most countries needing to get rid of mines seek to speed up mine clearing by training local volunteers to be part of the part-time mine clearing teams. The government provides training, pay (usually pretty good by local standards), health and life insurance and other benefits. When a new bunch of mines are found (usually by an animal coming across them), the team gets to work.

Despite efforts like this it has not been a promising time for those seeking to enforce the ban on the use of landmines. In the last few years terrorists and rebels in Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand, Yemen and Burma planted landmines (and other explosive devices) while only in Burma does the military still use them. Also, there are eleven countries still manufacturing landmines (China, Cuba, India, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam.) Arms dealers will still provide large quantities of Russian and Chinese landmines, many of them Cold War surplus and not very reliable (because of age). China, Russia, and other communist nations were major producers of landmines during the Cold War. The mines were produced not just for use against potential enemies but to aid in keeping the borders closed and preventing citizens from leaving these unpleasant dictatorships.

There is a growing list of outlaw organizations that are ignoring the 1999 Ottawa Convention to ban landmines. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are manufacturing landmines in primitive workshops and using them against Pakistani, Afghan, and foreign soldiers, as well as Afghan civilians who refuse to support the Islamic terrorist group.

Despite the 1999 treaty, landmines are still causing over 8,000 casualties a year worldwide. About twenty percent of the victims are killed and 90 percent of them are males. This is largely because men are more likely to be out in the bush or working farmlands that still contain mines. A third of the casualties are security personnel (police and soldiers). Afghanistan leads the world in landmine casualties. Most landmine losses these days occur in countries where rebels and criminals are still using landmines, either factory made ones from countries that did not sign the Ottawa Convention or locally made models.

Landmines are simple to make and workshops are easily set up to do it. There's no shortage of mines out there, despite the fact that in the first few years after the 1999 Ottawa Convention was signed over 25 million landmines, in the arsenals of over fifty nations, were destroyed. But these nations were not users and rarely sold them either. Those who want landmines find ways to obtain and use them. The Taliban are the latest group to demonstrate this. Leftist rebels in Colombia have been making their own mines for years now, as have Islamic and communist rebels in the Philippines. There are believed to be over 100 million mines still in the ground and at least as many in military warehouses for future use.

The 1999 Ottawa Convention was supposed to have reduced land mine casualties among civilians. It hasn't worked because the owners of the largest landmine stockpiles, Russia and China, refused to sign. Chinese land mines are still available on the international arms black market. China is believed to have the largest stockpile, mostly of anti-personnel mines. The old ones are often (but not always) sold before they become worthless. But even these mines, which go for $5-10 each, are too expensive for many of the criminal organizations that buy them. Land mines, competitive with the factory built ones from China, can be built for less than three dollars each. You can find all the technical data you need on the Internet. On the plus side, these locally made anti-personnel mines tend to be less potent than factory made ones and thus the heavy “mine boots” provide even better protection when the wearer encounters a locally made mine.

Anti-vehicle mines are increasingly popular and are particularly common in poor countries where there are still a lot of dirt roads traveled by buses and trucks, carrying dozens of passengers each. While these mines are usually intended for military vehicles, mines can't tell the difference. Just another reason why Afghanistan has the largest number of annual mine casualties in the world.

 


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