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The Killid Group, June 7, 2014

Departing troops put civilians at risk

Department of Mine clearance (DMC) of Afghanistan national disaster management authority has a list of 29 civilians who were killed by undetonated ordnance.

By Esmatullah Mayar

Foreign troops are pulling out of Afghanistan but the war they started will likely continue to extract a price. Evacuated bases and other theatres of military operations are littered with unexploded ordnance, and have claimed civilian lives. An investigation.

On April 12, the Afghan National Security Council (NSC) urged international forces to clear landmines and other ordnance around bases and firing ranges used over the last 13 years. At a meeting chaired by President Hamid Karzai his National Security Adviser Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta was told to take up the issue.

Engineer Shafeeq Yusufi who heads the Department of Mine clearance (DMC) of Afghanistan national disaster management authority has a list of 29 civilians who were killed by undetonated ordnance.

And those are just the cases in which the U.N. has specific details about the location of the ordnance. Broadly, in 2012 there were 363 civilian casualties in Afghanistan – or about 30 per month – that were attributed primarily to unexploded ordnance, though in some cases also to mines, (Mohammad Sediq) Rashid said. For the first half of this year, there have been 241 such casualties, an increase of about 10 per month, he said.
The Killid Group, Jun. 7, 2014

In 2010 and 2011, before the start of the pullout, only four incidents were reported. But the accidents involving civilians spiraled as the staggered withdrawal began. There were 29 incidents in 2012, 38 in 2013 and 11 in the first four months of the current year.

According to Yusufi, even people foraging for wood near the evacuated bases have become victims of “unexploded devices”. “They are not landmines,” he clarified. “They (international forces) have left unexploded devices,” he asserted. The Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan (MACCA) has also confirmed ISAF and NATO forces did not plant landmines.

However, Ali Akbar Qasemi, a Member of Parliament (MP) from Ghazni, said the mines were planted to protect the foreign bases. “In areas where their security was threatened the mines were laid as a protection,” he said.

He claimed he has sought a special budget from the government to clear mined areas but to no avail. “The ministries of defence and interior affairs are responsible … They should work in coordination with international forces,” he said.

Dawlat Waziri, the deputy spokesperson in the Ministry of Defence, said there were remnants of the ammunition used by foreign troops specially in areas where they conducted military exercises and operations. He cited the example of Chapa Dara in Kunar where he said a shell remains unexploded and “in the future it could kill civilians”. Cleaning takes time and money, and it should be done by the retreating international troops, he added.

Waziri said the decision to get the US-led NATO forces to clean up contaminated areas was first taken by the Council of Ministers before the matter was raised in the NSC.

Mapping the danger

Mine Detection Dog Centre (MDDC), a non-governmental organisation, which has started surveying evacuated military bases and other areas, has estimated roughly 121,000 hectares may be contaminated by unexploded devices. According to MDDC director, Shuhab Hakimi, it would cost between 5 and 6 million USD and take at least five years to clean such a vast area. Many affected areas fall within villages, and this could be particularly dangerous for civilians, he added.

Afghan children with unexploded ordnance
Children with unexploded ordnance. (Photo: Overseas Civilians Contractors)

Hakimi said US authorities have promised to foot 25 percent of the cost, and commitments for the rest have been got from other unidentified countries. “They (US) have promised that once the survey is completed they would seek a budget from Congress for their share,” said Hakimi.

Dr Rafiullah Bedar, a spokesperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said the withdrawing foreign forces have also failed to keep an agreement to hand over the areas they occupied, along with the maps of where mines were laid or areas used as firing ranges with live ammunition.

“International troops left some parts of Kunar and Nuristan without following the protocol with the Ministry of Defence,” he alleged.

Nomads at risk

Afghanistan’s pastoral people are at risk in Lugar, Khost, Paktia and Maidan Wardak provinces. “Three nomads were martyred this year in Obchakan area of Lugar. One of them on election day,” said Haidar Khan Nayeemzoy, representative of the Kuchi nomads in Parliament. Also recently three others including two nomads were killed by unexploded ordnance in Khost province, one person in Paktia and eight people in Maidan Wardak from the Sultan Khail tribe. “I have documentary proof in all these cases, and can present relatives of the victims to corroborate the deaths,” he said.

A MACCA report has identified Bagram as one of the most dangerous for civilians. The sprawling US base is in Parwan province.

Maiwand Sapai, reporter of Killid Radio, has interviewed people who were eye witnesses in accidents involving civilians in the last one year.

Sayed Mohmmad, who is from Bagram, told the reporter how two months ago children playing in the desert were the innocent victims. “They found a piece of ordnance which exploded killing one child and injuring the others. It took six of us to take the injured to a hospital,” he said.

Farid, 30, from Kapisa is the father of another victim. He said that early last year his son, daughter and nephew were playing together when they found a mine. “They pounded it, and the mine detonated. My son has lost one eye, and his legs are under treatment,” the distraught father said.

Killid tried to get the views of international forces but no one was willing to talk.

Category: US-NATO, HR Violations - Views: 3572