Murphy's Law: All Your Landmines Are Belong To Us

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July 1, 2009: The Taliban have gotten into the mine clearing business, and are chasing away, and sometimes murdering, the Afghan demining teams. Last year, Afghan de-mining teams cleared 82,000 antipersonnel and 900 anti-vehicle mines in Afghanistan. That's 20 percent of all the mines removed since the effort began in 1989. Warlords, drug gangs and the Taliban used to leave the de-miners alone, mainly because the de-mining work is enormously popular with all Afghans. But the Taliban, on the advice of their al Qaeda allies, have adopted the roadside bomb as a major weapon. But, unlike Iraq, there are not a lot of surplus munitions lying about. But there are still thousands of mines. Often, the general location of the mines is known, and the Taliban will go and dig up the mines, and remove the explosives, for use in their bombs. This is dangerous work, and many of these amateur deminers have died from inexperience. But still they persist, and don't want any competition when it comes to finding the mines,

Eight years ago, 140 Afghans a month were being killed or wounded by landmines. Now it is only about fifty (still the highest in the world). In the last twenty years, over 500 square miles have been cleared of mines. The de-mining effort was to be completed in another four years. But that's now in doubt, at least in the south, where the Taliban are seeking to recycle mines. Worse yet, the Taliban do not clear entire minefields. They will search for, and remove what they need, and leave most of the mines in the ground. So, eventually, professional de-miners will have to come in and search the entire minefield to make sure all the mines have been removed.

About a third of the country still has hundreds of minefields to be cleared. Each of these minefields prevents civilians from farming, grazing their herds, or travelling across the area. The mines cleared last year freed over 500 communities from the curse of having an un-cleared minefield in their midst. Even the Taliban would benefit from the de-mining, because the Taliban often travel cross country in areas they are not familiar with. Travelling at night, they might miss signs posted to warn people away from an un-cleared minefield. But the Taliban are more in need of explosives, than of safe travel routes.

Foreign contributions pay to train, equip and pay the Afghan de-miners. The only foreigners involved in the operation are technical experts needed to repair gear, or train users on new equipment.

 


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