Big Winner in the Trump Budget? ISIS.

At an event hosted by the United States Institute of Peace and the HALO Trust earlier this month, a State Department official, Jerry Guilbert, told the audience that the Trump Administration’s foreign policy priority is defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) and that the focus of US support for mine action would be clearance of land liberated from ISIS.  Guilbert mentioned increase support for clearance in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen and repeated that mine action funding would advance national security and foreign policy interests.  The release of the Trump Administration’s budget confirms this shift in resources.

On the surface, the allocation for mine action under the Trump Administration is increased by 6% over the last confirmed Obama budget, from $185 million to $196.9 million.  But the distribution of the budget is very different and reflects the “America First” mandate as described by the State Department.

Region  FY16 Actual
(in thousands)
 FY18 Request
(in thousands)
% Change
Africa  $                 12,600  $                 13,000 3%
East Asia & Pacific  $                 41,085  $                 23,000 -44%
Europe & Eurasia  $                   8,530  $                 10,000 17%
Near East  $                 30,900  $                 88,900 188%
South & Central Asia  $                 25,090  $                 24,000 -4%
Western Hemisphere  $                   3,500  $                 20,000 471%
Discretionary  $                 45,874 $                           0 -100%
Management  $                 17,421  $                18,000 3%
Totals  $              185,000  $              196,900 6%

Whereas the Obama administration focused on Cold War legacies and matching resources to the needs, the Trump Administration is focused on ISIS-affected countries and current threats.  The US Ambassador to Cambodia had given a hint of this change in focus in an interview in Phnom Penh a couple of weeks ago and the proof is here.  Mine action support in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) is basically halved, dramatically reducing Obama’s recent commitment to clearance in Laos.  At the same time, support for mine action in Iraq and Syria increases 350% from $23 million to $81.5 million.  Guilbert had mentioned additional support for Libya and Yemen, but funding for Yemen is flat (well, the Trump Administration did just promise $100 billion in new Saudi armaments to continue the war there, so it’s probably a net negative) and funds for Libya are reduced from $2.5 million to $1 million.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the funding appears to be flat ($12.6 million to $13 million), but again the allocation changes greatly.  Support for mine action in Angola is cut by more than half and Senegal would receive no support because neither country figures into conversations of national security or fighting Islamist terror groups.  Those funds are re-allocated to other countries. A positive is to see Chad get a $1 million allocation as is the quadrupling of funds for the Democratic Republic of Congo (form $500K to $2 million).  Countries of the Sahel affected by Al Qaeda also had flat (Somalia) or increased funds (Mali, Mauritania, Niger).  Nigeria, despite the presence of Boko Haram, receives nothing, so clearly all Islamists are no equal in how they figure into the Trump Administration’s prioritization scheme.

Also, spare a thought for the Vulnerable Populations Funds, like the Leahy War Victims Fund which was one of the first sources of landmine victim assistance support.  In the Trump Administration budget, the Special Populations Funds are eliminated and replaced with this:

DISABILITY PROGRAMS SEC. 7047. (a) ASSISTANCE.—Funds appropriated by this Act under the heading “Economic Support and Development Fund” may be made available for programs and activities administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to address the needs and protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities in developing countries.

The Trump Administration’s budget for mine action reflects its singular foreign policy priority: ISIS.  For Syria and Iraq, this is good news (or at least the parts of Iraq liberated from ISIS; the rest of Iraq may not benefit.  And it is unclear how mine clearance will be handled in Syria since the US does not have the ability to operate there in any significant manner), for the rest of the world not so much.  By allocating the budget according to foreign policy priorities and not humanitarian needs, the Trump Administration has dealt as serious blow to the vision of a landmine free world in 2025.

Michael P. Moore

May 24, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 


The Month in Mines, March 2017

So, the big news lately featured a certain second son of Princess Diana and his efforts on behalf of a landmine free world by 2025.  At Kensington Palace on April 4th, Prince Harry delivered a powerful speech calling on people and nations to commit to a mine free world.  Harry’s call, made personal by his own visits to minefields in Angola and Mozambique (and presumably by what he saw during his tour of duty in Afghanistan), was quickly answered by the British Minister for International Development, Priti Patel, who announced a three-fold increase in British funding for mine action (The HALO Trust; Mines Advisory Group).  Many other countries have made similar pledges for new or sustained funding for mine action (Landmine and Cluster Munition Blog), but what I have not seen are pledges from the mine-affected countries to meet their obligations to clear minefields and support survivors.  With new money available, mine-affected countries need to step up and meet the challenge.

 

Somaliland

For the first time, Somaliland’s parliament ordered the deportation of two foreigners who had “disrespected Islam.”  Both of the individuals deported worked for the Danish Demining Group (DDG) which conducts community safety programs including mine risk education and small-scale clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) (All Africa, Danish Demining Group).

 

The Gambia

In the far eastern section of The Gambia, just on the border of Senegal’s Casamance region, a landmine killed a father and his son.  The area is known as a safe haven for Casamance rebel groups, but this is the first known mine in the area (Freedom Newspaper).

 

Egypt

Two civilians were killed by a landmine pace in a village near the border with Israel on the Sinai Peninsula (Al Araby). Another landmine near the Suez Canal killed one person and injured four more.  The mine was believed to have been a remnant from the war with Israel in the 1950s (Ahram). In a third incident on the Sinai Peninsula, three people, including two children, were killed and two others injured when their car stuck a mine (Ahram).

 

Angola

The government of Japan has made a US $550,000 grant to the HALO Trust to help clear the 20 remaining minefields in Huambo Province.  Having already cleared 270 minefields, the HALO Trust is looking to finish the job in Huambo, once one of the most mine-affected areas of Angola (Relief Web).

 

Nigeria

A Cameroonian soldier was killed by a landmine in Nigeria’s Borno State.  The soldier was part of the multi-national force fighting against Boko Haram and he was killed when his vehicle struck a mine in the roadway (Cameroon Concord). To support Nigerian capacity to clear landmines and other ERW, the United States government donated training aids and hosted a humanitarian mine action training program at the Nigerian Army’s military engineering school in Abuja (NTA).

 

Libya

Two Libyan soldiers were injured by a landmine attributed to the Islamic State in the liberated city of Sirte (Libya Observer).  In Benghazi, a military deminer was killed in the line of duty and the Gawarsha neighborhood of Benghazi has been deemed too mine-contaminated to allow for the return of civilians (Libya Observer).

A dozen deminers from the Russian company, rsb Group, have been conducting mine clearance in the eastern part of Libya (The Trumpet).

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

April 17, 2017

 


My challenge to the snake-oil salesmen

Revising to add Arizona State University’s robot turtle swarm made of cardboard (I wish I was making that up…). Welcome, I guess. 

 

Oh, look: researchers at Hebrew University have come up with an “innovative” technique to find landmines using genetically-modified bacteria that fluoresce when in the presence of explosive vapors (Jerusalem Post). I really, really want these new technologies to work to improve landmine detection and clearance, but over the last five years I have seen a lot of innovative ideas that have received a lot of funding for development but have not resulted in a single cleared landmine.  These include:

Robot Turtle Swarm

The Mine Kafon

The Landmine Boys

Croatian honeybees

Danish plants

Indian drones and

Pianos.

I am sure there are others, which offer great promise, but simply don’t work.

So, here is my challenge: If you will vouch for the efficacy of your innovation and set up a true field demonstration (in an actual minefield or suspected hazardous area), I will fly to your site, at my own cost, and document the test.  If successful, I will shout it from the mountaintops and share with everyone I meet.  If unsuccessful, you will reimburse me for my trip, make a donation to the mine-clearing organization of my choice and publish a full-page ad apologizing to landmine victims everywhere for squandering money that could have been used on tried and true methods for clearance.

Any takers?

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

April 12, 2017

 


Trump Administration proposes 10% reduction in Mine Action support

Today is the International Day for Mine Action and Awareness.  From Great Britain, we are looking forward to new commitments to the the goal of a landmine-free world by 2025, but in the United States, the proposed budget from the Trump Administration threatens that goal.

The Trump Administration’s FY18 budget includes a nearly US $3 billion cut in State Department funding (Politico).  That includes a 10% reduction in the line for Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism and Demining Programs, from $505 million in FY17 to $451 million in FY18:

Capture

According to the Administration, this reduction will have “minimal impact” upon programming.  Well, what would “minimal impact” look like?  Let me paint one scenario.

According to the State Department’s 2016 report on mine action, “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” the State Department invested $154.6 million in landmine clearance and risk education activities across dozens of countries.  However, $63.2 million went to just five countries (Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Laos and Syria).    If we assume that the commitments for these five countries will remain unchanged (because the Obama Administration made landmine clearance a priority for Colombia and Laos; and the Trump Administration’s rhetoric suggests that Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will remain priority areas as part of the fight against Islamic State), the 10% cut, or $15.5 million, will be made across the rest of the portfolio.  Support for African countries (Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe) totaled only $13.5 million and any reduction there, especially with emerging needs for mine action support in Mali and Nigeria, could hamper clearance efforts.

Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State, spoke of the importance of landmine clearance in Iraq as a means of helping people return to their homes after the ouster of the Islamic State from Mosul (State Department). Mine action has been used as a soft power tool; peacebuilding efforts in Burma, Colombia and Senegal have benefited from US commitments to mine action.  The US support for landmine and UXO clearance in Southeast Asia has helped heal some of the wounds from the US involvement in the wars of Vietnam and Cambodia. But the current Administration values “hard power” in the form of the military over soft power efforts like mine action, despite Tillerson’s remarks.

Cutting mine action funding would be short-sighted and leave many thousands of people exposed to the threat of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.  At a time when other countries and actors are re-affirming the pledge to a mine-free world by 2025, the US should improve upon its past investments, not reduce them.

Michael P. Moore

April 4, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


All the Tools in the Toolkit: Demining Machines

My elder son is three years old and is enamored with construction vehicles.  He has a big yellow Tonka truck (probably the same basic design I had when I was his age) that he plays with in the back yard and the playground.  He’ll fill the back with rocks, dirt, water, toy bulldozers, water, anything that will fit.  And then they will get dumped out.  He can do this for as long as he can do anything and it’s a joy to watch.  I was thinking about him while I got to see some demining machines at work (or not, more on that momentarily) in Angola.

Landmines can be cleared manually, through the painstaking process of locating mines and digging them out by hand, or they can be cleared through the use of mechanical means.  Using what looks like amped up farm equipment, most demining machines fall into one of two types: flails or tillers.  Flails use weighted chains to beat the ground, setting off mines upon contact.  Tillers use fixed spikes to dig the ground.  Both flails and tillers rotate around a horizontal axis and are mounted on the front of the machines.

01 - Demining Machnies

02 - Demining Machnies

Mechanical demining is pretty much limited to areas with anti-personnel landmines and small explosives.  Anti-vehicle mines and large pieces of unexploded ordnance would damage even these heavily armored machines.  Soil and terrain are also important to consider when using mechanical means. Tillers aren’t much use in rocky areas and if an area is subject to flooding, the machines can get caught in the mud (they are not light and nimble).

Most smaller machines are remote controlled drones, enabling the “driver” to operate the machines from a safe distance.  Some of the bigger machines, like the one below, will have a cab for the driver, but the size of the machine puts the driver out of harm’s way.

03 - Demining Machnies

The benefit of using mechanical means, beyond the safety of the operator, is the speed at which the machines can clear land. According to Digger DTR and using data from clearance work in Senegal, mechanical demining can clear land six times faster than manual teams.

04 - Demining Machnies

In Angola, mechanical demining is used by all the NGO operators – MAG, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and the HALO Trust – as well as the National Institute for Demining (IND). NPA gave us a demonstration of their MineWolf which kicked up a tremendous amount of dust.  Per NPA custom, they had named their machine, Vanessa, after a former program manager.

05 - Demining Machnies

06 - Demining Machnies

MAG inherited their MineWolf machine from DanChurchAid which had used the machine for clearance in the far eastern regions of the country, but due to funding limits, had been forced to close down operations.  This is the machine, currently out of commission and waiting for repairs that will cost many thousands of dollars (but still much less than the cost of a new machine).  You can see that the tiller attachment on this machine differs from that of NPA’s.  The design of the machines are such that the clearance attachments can be swapped out to match the clearance need, or be replaced if they are damaged.

07 - Demining Machnies

Rarer than flails and tillers are sifters which dig into the ground, scoop up a shovel-full and then shake loose the dirt.  MAG uses a sifter attachment on a standard construction excavator (see below) on some of its sites in Angola.

08 - Demining Machnies

In 2016, the HALO Trust took delivery of a new remote-controlled Digger DTR tiller that will be used in an around Huambo in central Angola.

09 - Demining Machnies

For a complete list and discussion of the types of mechanical demining machines and their uses, please see the GICHD’s publication here.

Michael P. Moore

March 24, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, February 2017

Below we will talk about Algeria’s landmine clearance, but I would like to compare it to Mozambique’s achievement of a landmine-free country.  Mozambique was greatly aided by the efforts of multiple commercial and humanitarian demining organizations and when Mozambique detonated its last mine, board members were invited and press releases issued.  When Algeria cleared its last mined, no announcement was made for a couple of months, despite the fact that Algeria had three times as many mines as Mozambique.  Algeria’s deminers, members of police and army engineering units, toiled away for years on what must have seemed like an impossible task, but they did it.  Those anonymous souls achieved something special and deserve as much recognition and respect as Mozambique’s deminers.

 

Algeria

As we had mentioned in last month’s news round-up, Algeria has completed its demining obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.  With contamination from World War II, the liberation war against France and a civil war in the 1990s, Algeria had over a million mines across 120 million square meters.  The densest minefields were to be found along the borders and had been laid by the French as a “cordon sanitaire” in an attempt to prevent supply and support to the liberation fighters in the 1950s and 1960s. Mine clearance took place in two phases, the first in the two and a half decades after liberation and the second after 2004 with the last mine cleared on November 30, 2016. Algeria is the second North African country after Tunisia to complete demining with the rest of North Africa, Morocco, Libya and Egypt choosing to remain outside of the Mine Ban Treaty. The formal announcement of Algeria’s clearance was made at the annual meeting of Mine Action Program Managers in Geneva and recognized by the President of the Convention (Defence Web).

 

Cameroon

A Cameroonian soldier was killed while on duty in Nigeria’s Borno state by a suspected landmine attributed to Boko Haram.  The soldier was riding in a vehicle which struck the mine (Cameroon Concord).  A few days later, another Cameroonian military vehicle struck a mine in northeastern Cameroon killing four soldiers and injuring others.  The second mine was also attributed to Boko Haram which has been accused of laying mines throughout the Lake Chad region to thwart attempts by the joint forces of five countries – Nigeria, Niger, Char, Cameroon and Benin – to combat the group (Anadolu Agency).

 

Egypt

2017 will see the 75th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein and while some will celebrate this turning point in the second World War, for many Egyptians in the Northwest Desert, it will be a grim reminder of the continuing threat of landmines laid during that battle.  To date some 8,000 people have been killed or injured by World War II landmines and the demining process has been slow (ITV).

 

Somalia

In 2015 the HALO Trust expanded its activities in Somalia beyond the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland with some initial survey work.  Now operating in southern Somalia, the HALO Trust is active along the Ethiopian-Somali border which was the site of battles in the Ogaden wars of the 1980s.  This month, the Trust’s clearance teams found their first landmine in southern Somalia near a former military camp which had been the source of multiple accidents in the 2000s (Relief Web).

 

Libya

Despite the liberation of the western city of Sirte from Islamic State forces, civilians continue to be threatened by landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW).  Three children were injured by a piece of ammunition that was thrown onto a fire and father and two of his children were injured by a landmine outside of their house which had reportedly been used as an operations room by Islamic State (Libya Herald).  In partial response, the Presidential Council, which is recognized by the United Nations as the formal governing body, has been called upon by the Libyan army to provide metal detectors and other demining gear to find and clear the mines left by IS (Libya Observer).  Demining is a core element in the army’s six-point plan for ensuring the safe return of Sirte residents who had been displaced by the fighting.  The city has been divided into neighborhoods and the army is sweeping them in turn before allowing residents back to their homes (Libya Observer).

In Derna, one child was killed and two others injured by a landmine attributed to IS and left near the GECOL building (Libya Observer).

 

Western Sahara

An estimated 5 to 10 million landmines pollute the Western Sahara region.  Laid by the Polisario Movement and the government of Morocco the mine have killed or injured more than 300 people and thousands of camels since the 1991 ceasefire.  Polisario has handed over its minefield maps to the United Nations to assist with clearance while the Moroccan government maintains active minefields along the berm that divides the region (Mail and Guardian).

 

Angola

The United States ambassador to Angola, Helen La Lime, confirmed the US’s continuing support for a mine-free Angola during the first visit of a US ambassador to the eastern provinces of Lunda Sul and Lunda Norte (Relief Web).

 

South Sudan

Eighty children in the United Nations Protection of Civilian (PoC) site in Bentiu received mine-risk education from the Mission staff.  The lessons are part of a broader program to inform school children about the dangers from landmines and other ERW, especially after three children were injured while playing with unspent ammunition (Relief Web).

 

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

March 7, 2017


The Month in Mines, January 2017

At this year’s Academy Awards, the Danish film, “Land of Mine,” was one of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Picture.  “Land of Mine” (Under Sandet in Danish) lost to the Iranian film, “The Salesman,” but garnered quite a bit of attention for its subject: in the days after World War II, the Danish government forced German prisoners of war to clear the landmines placed on Danish soil during the Nazi occupation of Denmark.  I haven’t seen it yet, but as a fact-based account, I am looking forward to this film.  Other the flip side and made of pure hokum, is “Mine” starring Armie Hammer as a US military sniper who steps on a landmine and hears the fateful, “click,” as the mine arms itself.  Hammer then has to survive for 52 hours on the same mine as he waits for rescue. We’ve covered this before, but landmines don’t go “click,” they just explode.  Having them go click may be a good trick for heightening narrative tension, but it is also supremely lazy writing.

Check out “Kilo Two Bravo.”  Like “Land of Mine,” “Kilo Two Bravo” is based upon real events, specifically the experiences of a British army unit in Afghanistan which, during a routine patrol of a dry riverbed near the Kajaki dam, wanders into a minefield.  The mines don’t go click.  They wait like silent predators, unseen and unmarked, until they are disturbed.  The filmmakers treat the landmines like monsters in a horror movie which is what “Kilo Two Bravo” is: a modern monster movie with tragic, terrible and real outcomes.  The soldiers try desperately to save one another and incur additional injuries in the process, but steadfastly refuse to withdraw until they are all rescued.  The audience knows the mines are there but it is still a shock when they detonate because landmine explosions are inherently shocking.  Writing gimmicks are not needed to heighten the tension, the facts of the situation facing the characters creates its own tension.  A very good, if tough movie, which shows the true horror of these weapons.

 

South Africa

A woman living on the border with Zimbabwe was gardening in her yard when she detonated a landmine that had been left behind when the area was a military base in the Apartheid era.  The woman was injured in the arm and face. This incident followed one a year earlier when a person was killed salvaging scrap metal in the same area (All Africa).

 

Uganda

A suspected landmine from the Lord’s Resistance Army severely injured six children in Pader District who found the explosive and were striking it with sticks (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

A Biafran War-era landmine was discovered in Ebonyi state, sparking panic that it might be an improvised explosive device (IED), until the item’s actual provenance was confirmed by local police.  The police also searched the nearby area but found no other explosive remnants of war (ERW) (All Africa).

 

Kenya

In further news of relics from long ago wars, herders in Kenya’s Samburu county found two bombs in an area that had been a British army training post during the colonial period.  The bombs were reported to the police who collected them for destruction. There have been many such discoveries of abandoned munitions in the area, some made by children tending herds (All Africa).

 

Mali

Five Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine in the central Mopti region of the country (Agence France Press).  Three other Malian soldiers were killed and fourth injured by a landmine as the soldiers traveled to the northern city of Gao (The News).

 

Algeria

One child was killed and seven others wounded by an ERW.  The children found the item in the woods near their home which is southwest of Algiers and was thought to be a stronghold for Islamist rebels during Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s (Maghreb Emergent).

In much better news for Algeria, the nation declared that all known border minefields and anti-personnel landmines have been cleared, fulfilling the Mine Ban Treaty obligations under Article 5.  During the course of the work, almost 9 million mines were destroyed and 62,000 hectares of land were cleared.  Algeria joins Tunisia as the second North African state to achieve this milestone (Africa Times).

 

Libya

A military messenger was killed by a landmine in the western part of the city of Benghazi (Al Wasat). Landmine and ERW clearance in Benghazi has been extremely dangerous and several deminers from military engineering units have been killed and injured by explosives laid by Islamic State members as booby traps (Arab 24). An explosive booby trap claimed the life of a special forces volunteer when he was searching and clearing a house in Benghazi (Al Wasat). As Libyan forces made progress towards liberating Benghazi, a brigade commander was killed in the Ganfouda neighborhood (Libya Herald).  A second unit commander was killed by a landmine just as the army declared Ganfouda liberated, leaving only “mopping up” operations to fully secure the city of Benghazi (Libya Herald)

 

Angola

Twenty years ago this month, a divorced mother of two boys took a walk through a field.  Photos show her walking alone, although there were large contingents of deminers and reporters close by.  This brief walk, maybe a couple hundred meters and just a minutes, showed that humanitarian demining worked and could be trusted to make land safe for even the most famous woman in the world, Princess Diana.  The government of Angola, the HALO Trust (Diana’s host for that walk), and diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, gathered to recognize the anniversary of Diana’s minefield walk and re-commit to a mine-free Angola.  The United States committed an additional US $4 million to landmine clearance as the participants in the event recognized that landmines still pose a danger to Angolans, as evidenced by the death of a child from an anti-tank mine a couple months earlier in a town just a few kilometers away (HALO Trust, Relief Web)

Elsewhere in Angola, a mine-risk education campaign in southern Cunene province targeted school children and shoppers at local markets to reduce the likelihood of accidents (ANGOP).

 

Egypt

In the World War II battle of El Alamein, the tank battalions of Great Britain and Germany famously faced off, but they were not alone.  On the German side could be found many Italian soldiers, and the legacy of that Italian involvement is still being recognized.  A decade ago, an Italian Air Force officer found minefield maps that were shared with the Egyptian government and some amateur and professional Italian historians are scouring wartime diaries and journals to uncover more information that may be of help to the Egyptian government in its demining efforts.  Now, satellite images are being used to further refine the information in those maps as battlefield locations are pinpointed (The Daily Beast).

Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation announced the establishment of a national center for mine action that will clear 150,000 acres of landmines from the northern coast.  The center will also provide mine risk education and support survivor assistance with the creation of a prosthetics facility (Daily News).

 

Western Sahara

A man was killed by a landmine when his car struck the mine near the village of Jreyfiya (Sahara Confidential).

 

South Sudan

Since the outbreak of violence in South Sudan in December 2013, the contamination from ERW has increased, especially in Bentiu and Upper Nile States.  Equatoria State remains heavily contaminated from ERW from the civil wars when South Sudan was still a part of Sudan (Eye Radio).

 

Michael P. Moore

February 28, 2017

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org