The Month in Mines, August 2016

Syria and Yemen deservedly get the majority of the news about use of cluster munitions and landmines, but North Africa has also seen fairly widespread use of these weapons in the last few years.  Beginning with the Gaddhafi regime’s use to try and hold off the liberation forces encouraged by Arab Spring, through current use by various Islamist groups, new landmine use can be seen in Algeria, Libya, Mali, Tunisia, Egypt and Nigeria.  In Libya and Sudan, government aligned forces have been alleged to use cluster munitions.  The use of these weapons in these ongoing conflicts means that their effects will be felt for years to come, in countries which already faced substantial burdens of explosive remnants of war.

 

Egypt

During World War II, British and German armies laid some 17 million landmines in the western deserts of Egypt, an area that became famous as the tank battle of El Alamein.  Most of those landmines remain in the deserts and until recently have only been a threat to the nomadic communities who make the desert their home.  Two people were killed and three injured by a mine in the Wasy el-Natroun area.  Egypt now has plans to development much of the western desert to take advantage of the natural gas deposits that lie below the surface and has cleared 155 square kilometers of desert of mines (Daily News Egypt), but another actor has also emerged with plans for the minefields: the Islamic State.  According to the former director of Egypt’s Mine Action Center, Fathy el-Shazly, there have been at least ten confirmed reports of jihadists digging up old landmines and repurposing them as improved explosive devices, the first coming in 2004.  The March 2016 landmine blast in the Red Sea area was attributed to repurposed landmines. Newsweek’s story about ISIS using World War II mines is a bit breathless and sensationalized, but points to another danger of abandoned ordnance. To its credit, Newsweek also highlights the poverty of the nomadic communities in the western desert and notes that some of the nomads are tempted to dig up the old mines and sell them as they have no other form of income (Newsweek).

In the Sinai region, where the Egyptian government is fighting a separate Islamist insurgency, a policy captain was killed while chasing insurgents following a firefight and an attempted bombing of an Al-Arish police station (Ahram).

 

Rwanda

When Papias Higiro stepped on a landmine shortly after the genocide and civil war in Rwanda, his life prospects were bleak.  21 years later, Papias has received his first prosthetic leg and can fulfill his dream of walking again and will attend vocational training to become a hairdresser.  This intervention was made possible by the charitable arm of AirTel, a mobile phone company (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

The government of Zimbabwe has accused three Zimbabweans living abroad of trying to destabilized the government.  One of the men is accused of threatening to plant landmines on the roads to kill a thousand people (The Herald).

In recognition of Zimbabwe Defence Forces Day, Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, recognized the landmine clearance efforts of the Zimbabwean army, the HALO Trust and Norwegian People’s Aid (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

Nigerian soldiers are clearing landmines and other explosives left by Boko Haram and have arrested five members of the group who are suspected of planting some of the mines (All Africa).  The local Nigerian commanders boasted of a massive demining effort covering the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, an effort made possible by the purchase and delivery of demining equipment (Vanguard).

 

Chad

Nigeria is not the only country affected by Boko Haram.  Four Chadian soldiers were killed by a Boko Haram landmine near that country’s border with Niger (Reuters).

 

Libya

In Libya, the army under General Haftar, has ousted Islamic State forces from the city of Sirte, but Islamic State laid many landmines and booby traps.  Deminers from the army and from Libya’s intelligence services are now tasked with clearing mines and explosives which have killed over 300 soldiers and injured another 400.  At least four deminers have been killed and another injured trying to clear Sirte.  Five months of clearance work remains in Sirte according to a military spokesman (IRIN News).  To assist the Libyan forces, the Italian government is believed to have deployed special forces to the country to train Libyan deminers (Sputnik News; Ahram).

General Haftar’s army, while calling for assistance with landmine clearance, has also not helped its own cause by using banned cluster bombs.  In official photos published by the Libyan National Army (LNA), army helicopters are shown carrying the munitions, which challenges the LNA’s denial of use of such weapons in Derna and Benghazi (War is Boring).

In addition to the LNA’s cluster bombs, the Islamic State left landmines in Derna city, one of which killed a leader of the Shura Council of Mujahideen, an Islamist group that ousted Islamic State before being besieged by the LNA (Libyan Express).

In Benghazi two soldiers were killed and two more wounded at a checkpoint in the Al Gawarsha district (Libya Observer).  And in Misrata, the local hospital reported three soldiers killed in two separate incidents, both attributed to Islamic State landmines (Libya Observer).

Of course, the extensive use of landmines can also backfire as seen in Sirte when an Islamic State member tried to drive an explosive laden car into Al Bunyan Al Marsoos positions and struck a landmine laid by Islamic State forces, destroying the car and causing no casualties beyond the driver (Libyan Observer).

 

Tunisia

Three Tunisian soldiers were killed and seven more injured by an anti-tank landmine in the western region of the country, near the Algerian border.  The mountainous region has been a hideout for militants since the start of Arab Spring in 2011 (Press TV).

 

Algeria

The Algerian army cleared 866 landmines dating back to the liberation war against the French.  This was part of the ongoing clearance work along the borders of the country.  Algeria is also facing a current threat from Islamist groups that are fighting against the government and the army.  In the last year and a half, Algerian has killed or arrested hundreds of suspected Islamists and the government claims that the Islamists have mostly been defeated and the government is now trying to consolidate its position and make the affected areas safe for the population.  The government reported the seizure of two landmines that were believed to have been intended for use along the country’s roads.  In just such an incident, four civilians were killed when their vehicle struck a mine attributed to Islamist groups (Strategy Page; Defence Web).

 

Michael P. Moore

September 26, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Anti-Vehicle Mines, Still a Thing

Later this year, the Fifth Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) will take place and for another year, nothing will be done to curb or regulate the use of anti-vehicle landmines, or Mines other than Anti-Personnel Mines (MOTAPM) in treaty parlance. The humanitarian impact of these weapons is clear. In the first six months of 2016, 84 people were killed and 136 injured by anti-vehicle mines in 17 different states and territories (GICHD-SIPRI).

Photo 3-06 9 Mines

Anti-tank mines laid by the Angolan army and waiting demolition by the HALO Trust

From August 31 to September 2, the CCW members held a preparatory meeting for the Review Conference and anti-vehicle mines came up as an issue.  According to Reaching Critical Will, Ireland called for continuing work by a group of government experts to discuss the anti-vehicle mines and the applicability of international humanitarian law on these weapons, especially in terms of detectability and limiting the humanitarian harm they cause. Several states supported the Irish proposal, but several opposed the continuation of the group of experts.  The Russian delegation went as far as to say that a detectable anti-vehicle landmine would lose its military value and be pointless (Reaching Critical Will).  I don’t agree with the first part of the Russian statement, but I support the idea that anti-vehicle landmines are pointless, detectable or otherwise.

In advance of the preparatory meeting, GICHD published the report from a November 2015 meeting on anti-vehicle mines which served as some of the context for the meeting. One of the most interesting points to me from the November meeting was a statement from the HALO Trust about its demining work in Somaliland.  According to the Trust, many of the landmines in Somaliland are minimum metal content anti-vehicle mines which are very hard to detect and require slower, manual demining methods.  Had the mines been detectable, Somaliland could have been mine-free in 2012 and the international community would have saved US $30 million in additional clearance costs.  Instead, there are 180 hazardous areas remaining, most of which are roads which cover over a thousand kilometers.  Since 2012, 50 people have been killed or injured by landmines, including many anti-vehicle mines, which shows the continuing humanitarian impact of non-detectable anti-vehicle mines (Landmine Monitor 2014 and forthcoming).

Michael P. Moore

September 22, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Every tool in the tool box, Part 1

To clear Angola’s landmines, we should be ready to embrace every tool at our disposal.

Most demining firms rely on metal detectors to find mines and several use dogs.  The HALO Trust, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and Mines Advisory Group all use metal detectors in their work in Angola.  During my visit to Angola, one group I did not get to see in action was APOPO.

 

apopo

An NPA employee shows off his Hero RATS t-shirt in Malanje, Angola.

APOPO is the Belgian demining firm that uses mine detection rats, “Hero Rats,” and is active in Mozambique, Cambodia and now Angola.  In Angola, APOPO is something of a subsidiary to NPA and all of APOPO’s staff, limited to trainers and handlers of the rats, are actually NPA employees.  NPA trains the deminers that clear the mines found by the rats and provides all of the logistical and administrative support needed to deploy the rats, which are paid for by APOPO.  According to NPA’s Country Director in Angola, the rats actually sped up clearance rates in the province where they were used.  Until the end of May, APOPO’s work was supported by the European Union and APOPO’s own resources.  Now, APOPO’s work is coordinated with the deminers supported by the Japanese Embassy.  The US State Department has been reluctant to fund APOPO for a number of reasons: 1) APOPO is well-resourced by the Belgian government and individual donors, 2) rats have not been accredited under international mine action standards as an official tool for mine detection, and 3) no independent evaluation of the rats’ capability and accuracy in mine detection has been published.  There are grumblings within the community about the attention the rats are able to generate in the media, but if they work, I am happy to see another tool in the toolkit.  Certainly I prefer the rats to the “Mine Kafon” which seems to get an equal amount of attention but has yet to clear a single mine whereas APOPO finished clearance in Mozambique’s Gaza province ahead of schedule.

Michael P. Moore

September 20, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, July 2016

Two stories this month, one from Libya and one from Sudan, remind us of the dangers of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW).  In Libya, an experienced and knowledgeable deminer was killed in the line of duty; in Sudan some children played with an unexploded munition with tragic results.  Mine risk education is a vital part of mine action, but despite the numerous warnings in Sudan, people, including children, continue to tamper with mines and ERW.  However, even those most aware of the risks of explosive devices can still fall victim to them.  The lesson is this: the sooner all such items are cleared and destroyed, the sooner we can all live a little more securely.  On to the news:

 

Angola

The low price of oil has created a serious economic crisis in Angola. Many government subsidies have been cut as revenues from oil have evaporated.  However, the Minister of Welfare and Social Reintegration stated that programs benefitting some of the most vulnerable Angolans, including landmine clearance, will continue (All Africa).

The deputy governor of Cabinda province, Angola’s hub for oil production, announced that between 2008 and 2015, 2.1 million square meters of land had been cleared of mines, along with 586 kilometers of road (All Africa). In southern Cunene province, 41,000 square meters of land were cleared in the first half of 2016 (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

In areas liberated from Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria, returnees are unable to farm their lands for fear of the landmines placed by Boko Haram. This is one of the factors that is creating a famine with two million people needing food aid (All Africa).  In Borno state, personnel from Medicins Sans Frontieres were involved in a landmine incident that went unreported until a Nigerian army convoy was ambushed by Boko Haram in the same area a few days later (Trends).

 

Somalia

Four people were injured in the Kenyan town of Mandera, near the border with Somalia, by a landmine blamed on Al Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group which has been expanding its geographic reach.  The mine was placed near a communications tower as an ambush (All Africa). After the ambush, Kenyan soldiers were accused of attacking and looting the town of Lafey in retaliation for the death of one of the soldiers during the ambush.  This is one of many incidents in which military forces fighting Al Shabaab have killed or injured civilians, civilians who are just as traumatized by the acts of Al Shabaab (All Africa).

 

Libya

A Libyan deminer, the Chief of Explosives for Operation Dignity in Benghazi, was killed trying to defuse a landmine.  The deminer had previously escaped injury when the car he was in drove over a landmine in May and he had just recently completed a demining course in the United Arab Emirates (Libyan Express).  The Libyan forces, led by General Haftar, have suffered many injuries from landmines laid by retreating Islamists.  Four special forces members were killed by a landmine in Benghazi’s al-Gwarcha district as the army tries to fully control the city (Daily Mail).

 

Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe the HALO Trust employs a number of female deminers as part of its equal opportunity policy in hiring.  For many women in the Mukumbura region where the HALO Trust is working, few formal employment opportunities exist and, thanks to the training and focus of the deminers, female deminers can support their families and build houses (News Day).

 

Sudan

Three separate blasts from unexploded ordnance occurred in North Darfur.  In the first, two women were killed and a man injured; the survivor lost his hands and feet in the blast (All Africa). In the second, a farmer was killed when he struck an explosive while plowing his fields (All Africa). In the third, two children were killed and a third injured when they played with a munition and tried to set it on fire (Strategy Page).

 

Continental

The government of the Netherlands committed 45 million euros to landmine clearance.  In Africa, the Dutch will support demining in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan (Netherlands Times).

The British charity, Find A Better Way, sponsored a dozen trauma surgeons from mine-affected countries to attend a seminar at the Imperial College of London to learn about the latest research and advice for treatment of traumatic amputations.  Algeria was among the African nations represented at the seminar (Imperial College of London).

The European Union proposed to shift some development funds to improving the security sector in African and Middle Eastern countries.  According to a EU Commission spokesperson, one of the ways these re-allocated funds could be used is for demining by national armies (CCTV).

 

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

September 6, 2016

 

 


Blogging Angola: It’s time to Ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions

After my trip to Angola, I am convinced that while Angola has a substantial landmine problem, the contamination from cluster munitions is minimal.  In 2008, Angola signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, but has yet to ratify the Convention.  It’s past time for Angola to ratify the Convention and while my opinion may not carry much weight with the Government of Angola, I’m happy to express it all the same.  Here’s the piece I wrote for the Cluster Munition Coalition calling on Angola to ratify the Convention:

http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/en-gb/media/news/2016/time-for-angola-to-ratify.aspx

Michael P. Moore

July 27, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, June 2016

While I was off gallivanting around Angola in June, the threat of landmines continued in other parts of the Continent.  The total number mine action stories from the month is fairly limited, but they continue to show the trend of contamination lingering from long ago conflicts and the immediate fears of new use and new contamination from active wars.  In Angola, some of the battlefields I saw had classic tactics of position where one force probed and attacked from a fortified position, trying to outflank the other while protecting one’s own flanks.  The minefields on these battlefields followed predictable patterns along lines of defense.  The new uses in places like Mali and Nigeria reflect assymetrical warfare where small forces use mines to disrupt the movements of larger, better-armed forces.

 

Mali

Three deminers attached to the MINUSMA peacekeeping mission were attacked and killed in the northern city of Gao by members of Al Qaeda (All Africa).  The MINUSMA mission is the deadliest peacekeeping mission and in response, the mission commander has called for upgrades in the mission’s ability to detect and defend against improvised explosive devices and landmines, saying the threat from such weapons is “growing” (Newsweek).

 

Kenya

In Mandera, a landmine attributed to Al Shabaab injured several police officers who were riding in the lead car of a convoy (All Africa). In a similar attack in Garissa, an ambulance driver was killed and three medics injured as they were en route to pick up a patient.  The attack on the ambulance was also blamed on Al Shabaab (All Africa).

 

Angola

In 2013 Angola and Italy signed a cooperation agreement related to defense and international security, including landmine clearance.  In June, the Angolan Defence Minister traveled to Italy to review the status of that cooperation (All Africa). In southern Cunene province, a mine action representative from the government agency, CNIDAH, called on landmine victims to register themselves with CNIDAH to be able to access the services provided by the agency.  The representative also reported that over half a million square meters of land had been cleared in the province in 2015 by the national NGO, Terra Mae (All Africa).  The US Assistant Secretary for International Security and nonproliferation, Tom Countryman, met with the international demining NGOs supported by the US State Department in advance of our visit (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian general in charge of operations in the northeast of the country against Boko Haram asked the government to keep several roads in the area closed to civilian traffic due to landmines.  The House of Representatives is pressuring the military to open the roads to travel to allow displaced persons to return to their homes, but the general notes that the roads have not been surveyed or cleared fully and landmines and IEDs may remain (All Africa).

 

Cameroon

It may not matter to Boko Haram, but I applaud the Cameroon Bar Association’s condemnation of the Islamist group for multiple human rights violations, including the use of landmines, in its 2015 report on the human rights situation in the country (All Africa).

The effects of Boko Haram’s landmines on Cameroon were made clear when three Cameroonian soldiers were injured by a mine planted in the far north of the country (Cameroon Concord).

 

Zimbabwe

One of the benefits of landmine clearance programs is the jobs made available to residents of the mine-affected areas.  In Zimbabwe, the HALO Trust has trained and employs a large number of men and women who were born and raised in villages along the minefields on the border with Mozambique. In addition to the obvious benefits of clearing landmines, the additional cash in the local economies helps drive development through construction of homes and investment in the communities (Voice of America).

For those injured by mines, Zimbabwe Assembly member Newton Kachepa called on the Ministry of Health and Child Care to provide wheelchairs and prosthetic devices (Bulawayo 24).

 

Algeria

1,603 French-laid landmines were cleared from Algeria by the national army in May (Ennahar).

 

Libya

The current arms embargo imposed upon Libya includes restrictions on the import of non-lethal military hardware, such as mine detection equipment.  As the Libyan army advances against the Islamic State forces in the town of Sirte, IS-laid landmines are taking a heavy toll and the Libyan army has asked for the ban on mine detectors and similar items to be lifted (Libya Observer).

 

Michael P. Moore

July 27, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, May 2016

New wars and old wars, old wars and new wars.  We continue to face the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war from old wars, while rebel groups rely on landmines and improvised explosive devices to conduct asymmetrical wars in the present.  In most countries we talk about here in these pages, the country falls into one group or another.  A few places, Algeria is an example we see this month, faces the old and the new threats.  It is my hope that this is a limited club and not a growing one.  We shall see.

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian army has begun yet another push into the Boko Haram-held Sambisa forest in northeastern Nigeria.  At a Nigerian military check-point on the Bui-Damboa road, a vehicle struck an artisanal landmine killing five people and injuring three others.  The proximity of the mine to a Nigerian check-point suggests the military needs to be more vigilant when establishing their positions (All Africa).  In Yobe state, seven people who had been displaced by Boko Haram and have since been able to return to their homes were killed by a landmine in their agricultural fields.  The local government has responded with  mine risk education program (Punch). Landmines have also been placed in the farmlands of Borno state and five farmers were killed by a mine, even though the Nigerian military supposedly had cleared the area. Because of the danger, many farmers are refusing to go to their fields despite the fact that they have no other means of support (Pulse).

 

Angola

The Minister of Welfare and Social Reintegration thanked the media for its role in raising awareness about landmines and other explosive remnants of war (All Africa). The EU ambassador to Angola, Gordon Kricke, promised additional financial support for landmine clearance in the eastern provinces of Moxico, Lunda Sul, Lunda Norte and Cuando Cubango (All Africa). In southern Cunene province, the Angolan army hosted mine risk education sessions in several schools (All Africa).  In Zaire province, the National Demining Institute complete clearance work for the the Nzeto / Mbanza Congo power line having found six pieces of unexploded ordnance in the process (All Africa).  In Moxico province, MAG handed over two cleared minefields to the community after 320 landmines and other explosive remnants of wars were removed (MAG).

 

Cameroon

The Cameroon Bar Association issued its report on violations of human rights including Boko Haram’s use of anti-personnel landmines which violates the fundamental right to life (All Africa).  At a military funeral, the Cameroon army paid its respects to 13 soldiers who died fighting against Boko Haram, some of who were killed by landmines (All Africa). In addition to the dead, at least thirty Cameroonian soldiers are being treated for injuries that range from snake bites to landmine blasts (Citizen Digital).

 

Zimbabwe

Almost US $5 million is required to clear the minefield that marks the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe in Gonarezhou National Park.  The acting coordinator of the Zimbabwe Mine Action Center noted the need for funds to buy basic equipment like metal detectors.  300 people have been killed by mines in the park since 1980 along with hundreds of wild and domestic animals (All Africa).  The leader of the Prophetic Healing Ministries warned his followers about the dangers of trying to extract red mercury from landmines, saying that red mercury is a hoax (All Africa).

 

Tunisia

Two women were killed and a third injured by a landmine placed in the Samam mountain on the border with Algeria (Reuters).

 

Mali

Two Malian soldiers were killed and another injured when their vehicle hit a landmine on the road between Gossi and Hombori in the north of the country (Fox News). In another incident, Chadian peacekeepers were ambushed north of Aguelhok in the Kidal region.  The convoy the peacekeepers were traveling with struck a landmine and then gunmen opened fire.  Five peacekeepers were kill and three injured (The Nation).

 

Libya

Three Libyan soldiers were killed and two wounded by a landmine in Sirte, during an operation to defeat the Islamic State rebels (Libya Observer).  An eleven year-old girl who tried to flee the fighting in Sirte was grievously injured by a landmine and required 17 hours of surgery by six surgeons to be stabilized (Libya Observer).

 

Somalia

Police in the southern city of Kismayo found and cleared a landmine from a major road (Garowe Online). In Mogadishu a landmine detonated near a government checkpoint injuring five people, two soldiers and three civilians (Horseed Media). In the semi-autonomous Puntland region, two Puntland soldiers were killed and three more injured as tried to defuse a landmine in Galgala (Garowe Online).

 

Uganda

A landmine attributed to the Lord’s Resistance Army was found in the middle of a road in the Teso region, some 13 years after the LRA invasion.  After closing the road, the police cleared the mine (All Africa).

 

Algeria

The Algerian government announced the clearance of over 2,000 landmines planted by the French colonial authorities during the liberation war.  In addition to the ongoing clearance activities, Algerian counter-terrorism forces found and cleared a landmine being used to protect an Islamist hideout (Strategy Page).

 

Michael P. Moore

June 28, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org