The FY13 US Government Budget, Department of Defense Special

The Obama Administration recently issued its proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 (FY13).  It’s a pretty staggering document and one that will get picked apart in the coming months as the White House and Congress argue over the details, but there are a couple of items relevant to mine action (White House).

The easy figure in the budget for the United States government’s demining and mine action program is the $126 million in the State Department’s budget for Convention Weapons Destruction, which includes humanitarian demining and mine action.  This amount represents the budget of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (WRA) in the Political-Military Affairs bureau and falls under the greater rubric of “Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism and Demining.” The $126 million includes allocations for countries to assess and contain the “dangerous depots” of unstable and aging explosives; continued response to the proliferation threat of shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles or MANPADs; and program development, possibly WRA’s small grants program for innovative projects.  The allocation provides “limited funding for victims’ assistance” (State Department, pdf). 

The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement is the State Department’s primary actor for all issues related to mine action which lies within the realm of conventional weapons destruction.  WRA is the home of the US government’s landmine policy and presumably has led the on-going landmine policy review process started by the Obama Administration some time ago.  WRA publishes the annual “To Walk the Earth in Safety” report which details the US governments mine action programs (State Department).  It is not a large department.  In the FY13 justification to Congress, the State Department reports that WRA only has 19 employees and an operational budget of $3 million per year, so it is limited in what it can do with the broad remit the Office must pursue (State Department, pdf).

The largest expenditures on mine action actually occur not in the policy-making Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, but within various branches of the Department of Defense.  Defense spending on landmines (and improvised explosive devices [IEDs] which is just a fancy way of saying “home-made landmines”) falls into three categories: mines themselves, mine clearance equipment and activities and counter-mine equipment and technologies.  This spending includes research and development activities and procurement of existing technologies. 

Counter-mine equipment and technologies include mine-resistant vehicles and jamming technology to disrupt command control of mines.  These items are intended to be used by front-line fighting forces as they travel through areas with mines and IEDs and serve as a recognition that more US soldiers have been killed or injured in Iraq and Afghanistan by explosive devices than by bullets.  There is also a large investment in the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Fund (JIEDDF). 

Mine clearance equipment and activities are for use in non-violent (“non-kinetic” in military parlance) situations where explosive ordnance disposal teams can survey minefields and clear them using mechanical and non-mechanical means.  This is the mine clearance that most NGOs would be familiar with and the US military pioneers a lot of the mechanical and survey techniques that then get incorporated into humanitarian demining.  In fact, the Office of the Secretary of Defense has a specific line item in the FY13 research and development budget for “humanitarian demining.” 

Then of course, there are the anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines that the US military will use itself.  All of the current systems for use and development are the so-called “smart” systems with “man-in-the-loop” command control to ensure that the mines are not victim-activated.  This includes the modern Claymore munitions, the Spider Networked Munition and the Quickstrike sea mine; all of which are improvements on persistent or “dumb” landmines, but are still landmines nonetheless. 

The following table shows the amounts of money spent by category:

Expense Category Amount
Counter-Mine Equipment & Technologies  
·         JIEDDF $1,902,814,000
·         Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected Vehicle modifications 927,400,000
·         Countermine Equipment 3,698,000
·         Airborne Mine Neutralization Systems 20,607,000
·         Airborne Mine Countermeasures 61,552,000
·         Minesweeping System Replacement 60,111,000
·         Landmine Warfare & Barrier R & D 137,241,000
·         Mine & Expeditionary Warfare R & D 32,394,000
·         Surface & Shallow Water Mine Countermeasures 190,622,000
Mine Clearance Equipment & Activities  
·         Humanitarian Demining $13,321,000
Anti-Personnel & Anti-Vehicle Mines  
·         Mines and Clearing Charges $15,775,000
·         Spider Network Munitions 17,408,000
·         Spider Apla Control Unit 34,365,000
·         Quickstrike Mine 6,852,000
·         Mine Development 8,335,000
TOTAL $3,431,865,000

The Department of Defense is investing more than $3.3 billion on overcoming the threats to US personnel from landmines and IEDs in conflict zones, compared to only $13 million on humanitarian demining in non-conflict areas.  While non-conflict areas are typically outside the purview of the US military, the incredible investment in counter-mine technology demonstrates the threat that landmines and IEDs pose to persons in mine-affected areas.  Fortunately, the amount spent by the US military on landmines themselves is a fraction of what is proposed for defeating mines, but is still six times as much as will be spent on humanitarian demining (Office of the Secretary of Defense).  

In terms of the humanitarian demining activities, the FY13 funding is more than $1 million less than what had been requested for FY12 and the FY14 projection further reduces the funding by $1.5 million from the FY13 request.  The Bush Administration had projected $15.4 million for the FY13 funding for humanitarian demining, more than $2 million greater that what the Obama Administration is now seeking.

Current year (FY12) plans for the Defense Department’s demining in Africa involve testing new handheld mine detection tools in Mozambique and mechanized clearance equipment in Mozambique and Angola. In FY11, Defense staff conducted a country assessment of Mozambique.  Defense Department staff are also being made available to embassy staff for minefield surveys and post-clearance quality control.  The FY13 plans will continue FY12 activities and provide on-demand support to embassies and combat commands (Office of the Secretary of Defense, pdf).

Michael P. Moore, February 28, 2012

Mugabe’s Succession and Zimbabwe’s Landmines

There are whispers that Robert Mugabe’s iron-fisted reign over Zimbabwe may be near an end.  A leaked draft of the new constitution reveals a term limit on the presidency that would exclude Africa’s longest-serving ruler.  Would this end the violence and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe?  Doubtful, since the most likely replacement for Mugabe is not the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai, but rather a Mugabe loyalist of one form or another who would protect Mugabe from any international investigations in his retirement.  Mugabe has several generals, all with their own histories of human rights violations, he could choose from to succeed him; those generals would want to protect Mugabe as much to save their own skin as to save his.  Power in Zimbabwe will remain with the ZANU-PF, Mugabe’s party that has essentially functioned as the state since the 1990s. 

The recent and highly suspicious death of General Solomon Mujuru, a leading member of ZANU-PF and husband of Vice President and potential Mugabe successor, Joyce Mujuru, removed a threat to Mugabe and his inner circle.  General Mujuru was thought to be courting support from the MDC, and his supporters accuse Mugabe of having Mujuru killed.  Had Mujuru been able to consolidate support from MDC and elements of ZANU-PF which remember Mujuru’s service in the liberation war against Rhodesia, Mujuru would have been able to mount a significant and likely successful challenge to Mugabe or any successor Mugabe suggested.

Matters are coming to a head in Zimbabwe.  New elections must be held by June 2013 and a Wikileaks report claimed that Mugabe, who celebrated his 88th birthday on February 21st, is suffering from prostate cancer which was diagnosed in 2008 or earlier.  If he is very ill, Mugabe may not be able to participate in a long campaign or even have until June 2013 to complete the succession (Globe and Mail).  Mugabe insists he is healthy (BBC), however, any sign of weakness from Mugabe would likely mean electoral victory for Tsvangirai (and reports suggest that Tsvangirai and MDC have already bested Mugabe and ZANU-PF once at the polls in the 2008 elections, elections that were essentially voided by ZANU-PF and resulted in the killing and torture of thousands of MDC members and leaders; see Peter Godwin’s The Fear for a brutal description of the aftermath of the 2008 elections), as would the candidacy of any ZANU-PF member other than Mugabe.  Therefore, Mugabe must run again to ensure he will be able to choose his successor.

In all reality, any election held in Zimbabwe will result in an announced ZANU-PF and Mugabe victory.  The question is what will be left of the country in the aftermath of the election.  In 2008, the post-election violence dwarfed what happened in Kenya, even though the violence in Kenya led to International Criminal Court proceedings.  In the next election, look for the violence to occur long before the balloting takes place in an effort by ZANU-PF to pre-empt any possibility of MDC being able to participate or field candidates.  This is the model taken by Rwanda: effectively decide the election before it occurs so that on balloting day, “free and fair elections” take place by completely excluding any opposition.  The difference will be that in Rwanda, the regime was able to achieve this by carefully targeting a few opposition leaders, in Zimbabwe look for widespread politicide as MDC members and supporters face arbitrary arrest, torture and assassination.  In 2008, ZANU-PF and Mugabe failed to grasp how little support they had and that’s why they were forced to conduct the post-election frenzy of violence; they won’t make that mistake twice. ZANU-PF has already secured nearly unlimited financial resources thanks to the control of diamond fields in the country and the lifting of EU embargoes on diamond sales.  Global Witness rightly quit the Kimberley process in protest to the Mugabe regime’s ability to sell diamonds internationally, realizing that the proceeds would fund widespread violence and human rights abuses, beyond those already occurring in the mines themselves (The Journal).

The thaw has already begun in relations between Zimbabwe and the international community.  Last week, the European Union lifted sanctions on dozens of Zimbabwe’s and ZANU-PF’s leaders, although not Mugabe himself or his closest allies (BBC).  Also last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Defence to provide training and equipment to Zimbabwe’s military deminers.  This represents the most significant international assistance to Zimbabwe’s demining activities in more than a decade and is crucial if Zimbabwe is to meet its Man Ban Treaty-obligated deadline for mine clearance of January 1, 2013.  Currently, there are 600 kilometers of minefields to be cleared in just over 10 months; considering that in the previous twelve years, Zimbabwe only managed to clear 250 kilometers, this is a very tall order (All Africa).  (This estimate of 600 kilometers is more than double the estimate produced by the Zimbabwe Mine Action Center as reported in the 2011 Landmine Monitor report, but is consistent with the information in Zimbabwe’s Article 5 Extension request [The Monitor; Implementation Support Unit, pdf]).

In 2010, Zimbabwe submitted an Article 5 Extension request which was approved at the Tenth Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.  This extension provided the current demining deadline of January 1, 2013 and was the second such extension awarded to Zimbabwe, the first having passed without Zimbabwe meeting its obligations.  In the 2010 extension request, Zimbabwe noted that it would need $100 million in international assistance to clear the known and anticipated minefields.  Zimbabwe’s landmines are a remnant from the liberation war against the Rhodesian government and the government of Zimbabwe’s demining focus is on the minefields along the Mozambican border which had been partially mapped by the HALO Trust when that organization was assessing the landmine contamination in Mozambique.  This need is extreme, especially considering the fact that Zimbabwe attributed its failure to meet its Article 5 demining obligations to the following causes:

a)      As a result of economic sanctions, Zimbabwe was been unable to access funds from the international financial institutions and was unable to import equipment and contract commercial demining companies;

b)       Zimbabwe experienced a shortage of demining equipment and current equipment is ageing;

c)       Zimbabwe was unable to fully fund demining operations on its own and its national commitment was limited by other pressing budgetary concerns such as food, power and fuel imports; and

d)      Zimbabwe had not received support from the international community since 2000 and had been isolated from developments in demining techniques and standards.

Should international assistance not be available – in other words, if Zimbabwe remained a pariah state and under sanction by the international community – Zimbabwe pledged to continue demining activities using its existing capacity, but estimated that the process would take 50 years to complete (Implementation Support Unit, pdf)

Considering the fact that Zimbabwe was estimating that there were as many as 5 million anti-personnel landmines that would need to be cleared, the need for international assistance is extreme in order for Zimbabwe to meet its mine clearance obligations.  Therefore the ICRC’s assistance to Zimbabwe’s demining program is most welcome.  Hopefully, this is the start of significant humanitarian assistance to the country and a recognition by the government and the international community of the needs present.  However (and this is a HUGE however), the continued leadership of Zimbabwe by Mugabe, or worse by one of Mugabe’s military leaders who are still subject to EU sanctions and travel bans, limits the prospects that the thaw in international relations.  The coming elections are expected to be accompanied by violence that could result in any assistance, like the ICRC’s being withdrawn.  Efforts are in place to force Mugabe to accept a succession by placing term limits in a new constitution that would bar him from running for President for another term. Mugabe has pledged to veto any such measure (The Standard) virtually ensuring that he will be the President of Zimbabwe after the next election and that a ZANU-PF loyalist – one who will protect Mugabe and other ZANU-PF members from international prosecution under crimes against humanity charges – will be his successor.

So, I am grateful to hear that ICRC has come through to help the people of Zimbabwe; now, if only the government of Zimbabwe will follow suit and place its people before the regime.

Michael P. Moore, February 23, 2012.

Will Uganda meet its Article 5 De-mining Deadline of August 1, 2012?

Earlier this year, Uganda and South Sudan began a collaboration to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance from their shared border.  This region was affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion which was active in this region in the 1990s and early in the 2000s.  Since 2006, the LRA has been based outside of Uganda in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, so there has been no new landmine contamination from the rebels in the last five years.  The Danish Demining Group will lead the clearance effort on behalf of the two governments who are represented by police and military units from Uganda and the Mine Action Programme for South Sudan.  The clearance activities “will cover 54 kilometres… in Amuru District, and is expected to be complete between November and December this year” (The Daily Monitor).

I’ll start by saying, this is good news.  Any landmine clearance is very good news, just as the assistance that the United States Army is providing to Uganda and other governments in central Africa to rid the world of Joseph Kony and the LRA is good news.  But, these things could be better.  The US could link its intelligence and logistical support to fight the LRA with mandatory reforms of the Ugandan military and electoral systems, both of which are problematic, instead of unconditionally supporting an undemocratic regime and an army with a history of corruption and human rights abuses.  By the same token, the mine clearance efforts in northern Uganda’s Amuru District could have been started much sooner so that Uganda would ensure compliance with its Article 5 demining obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.

At the 2009 Cartegena Summit on a Mine-Free World, Uganda requested and received a three-year extension of its Article 5 demining obligations until August 1, 2012.  In approving the request, the Conference of States Parties “noted that Uganda found itself in a situation wherein less than two months before its deadline Uganda was still unclear whether it would be able to complete implementation of article 5.1 of the Convention by its deadline. The Conference further noted that Uganda itself had acknowledged that the late commencement of operations and establishment of a mine action programme contributed to this situation” (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf). Despite the warning, Uganda has only just started demining activities in Amuru District, more than two years after the extension had been approved, and with only seven months left in which to complete the demining. 

In November 2011, the Ugandan Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Musa Ecweru, told the 11th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in Phnom Penh that Uganda was committed to meeting its demining deadline and would seek the assistance of Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) to meet that goal (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).  However, the most recent reports from Uganda suggest that NPA assistance has not been secured and Danish Demining Group has replaced NPA as Uganda’s mine clearance partner.

Based upon the reports of the Danish Demining Group, demining will not be completed until November or December 2012, three months or more after the demining deadline has passed for Uganda (The Daily Monitor).  Uganda would therefore be non-compliant with the Mine Ban Treaty.   Uganda’s Internal Affairs Minister, Mr Hillary Onek, who launched the collaboration with South Sudan and Danish Demining Group, should be aware of the fact that Uganda faces non-compliance and rather than blaming the LRA for placing the mines, should accept responsibility for the delay in launching the demining activities.  Uganda will either need to speed up the demining process by putting more resources at the disposal of the deminers or request another extension of the deadline. The Mine Ban Treaty community should also put pressure on Uganda to do everything possible to avoid non-compliance with this important obligation.

Michael P. Moore, February 15, 2012

Why the Tuaregs Have Not Used Landmines in Mali even Though They Probably have Lots of Them

In northern Mali in the last couple of weeks, a new rebellion under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) armed with cash and weapons from Libya that became available after the fall of Gaddhafi.  The Azawad in MNLA’s name refers to the historic homeland of the Tuareg and consists mostly of three provinces in northern Mali, including Tibuktu, as well as portions of Niger and Algeria. This rebellion appears to the first fueled by the wreckage of the former Libyan regime, a possibility that was foreseen when Gaddhafi’s regime collapsed.  The MNLA is comprised of members of the Kel Tamasheq ethnic group – most commonly referred to as “Tuaregs” – and this is the fourth rebellion against the Malian government initiated by Tuareg separatists; the name is new, the cause and the actors are not, but this time the rebels are better armed and better organized than in previous uprisings. The timing for the uprising was propitious with the Arab Spring still fresh in the public minds, an active diaspora population forming via social media, and the return of Tuareg fighters hardened by their service to Gaddhafi and their active role in trying to preserve his regime against the Libyan rebels from Benghazi and their NATO air support (Think Africa Press). 

When Gaddhafi’s regime fell, all kinds of armaments were available for looting.  The US government’s primary focus was on shoulder-fired, ground to air missiles, usually referred to as MANPADs, but almost every kind of small arm was available.  “Besides bullets of various sizes, the abandoned warehouses [in Libya] are stockpiled with 130-mm antitank rockets, white phosphorous mortar rounds and tens of thousands of land mines” (Time).  The MNLA members who came from Libya to Mali  – possibly as many as a thousand fighters led by a former colonel in the Libyan army – have certainly brought some of that stockpile with them, including anti-tank weapons (such as rockets and landmines), anti-aircraft weapons (MANPADs), machine guns and mortars (New York Times).  Those weapons and their cohesiveness as a fighting force have meant that the MNLA has made rapid progress across northern Mali, brushing away what has been until now a limited resistance.  So far 20,000 refugees have fled northern Mali to Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso and the MNLA has launched assaults on the city of Kidal as the conflict escalates (BBC; Reuters).  The United Nations has called for a ceasefire, but that call has not been heeded (Xinhua) although Algeria has hosted some talks between Tuareg factions – not just the MNLA – and the Malian government (Maghrebia).  Even the star of Mali’s football team has called on the parties to stop fighting, using Mali’s penalty shoot-out victory over co-hosts Gabon as the platform to make his appeal (The Guardian).

Map of Mali, Courtesy WikiCommons

According to the 2011 Landmine Monitor, there is no confirmed anti-personnel landmine contamination in Mali, but there is a recognized and reported anti-tank landmine contamination in the northern areas of Mali, remnants of the previous Tuareg uprisings.  In response to this contamination, Mali has an extensive mine risk awareness program, but does not appear to have a robust demining program (The Monitor).  So far, in the news reports about the MNLA uprising, there have been no reports of landmine usage by the rebels, but I think it is likely that the rebels have access to mines, especially anti-tank mines.  The MNLA has not used landmines because the situation on the ground is not conducive, but that may change if the Malian army can halt the MNLA’s advance.

 There are four patterns of landmine use that have been reported recently.  In Somalia, Al Shabab uses landmines to lay ambushes for police and military vehicles.  The mines are placed along routes that Kenyan, Ethiopian, Somali or African Union forces are expected to use and when such forces pass through, the landmines are detonated, either remotely or by the weight of the vehicle.  In Libya, Gaddhafi’s forces, including the Tuareg soldiers who now make up the MNLA, used landmines to cover their retreat as they were pushed back from the edges of Benghazi to the capitol of Tripoli.  These landmines delayed the advance of the Benghazi-based rebels as they pushed towards the west.  In Sudan and in Mogadishu, rebels have placed landmines randomly to disrupt normal traffic and injure or kill civilian rather than military targets.  The intention is to sow fear and bring to a halt any trade or travel.  In Mali itself, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has planted landmines around the Wagadou Forest which AQIM has established as a base of operations.  The landmines prevent the entry by Malian or Mauritanian security forces who wish to oust AQIM from its base (Maghrebia).  In all of these models, the battle lines are static and the use of landmines is intended to create an existential threat of injury in the intended targets. 

At the moment, the MNLA is on the move.  They are advancing from the bases they have established along the Algeria border and as long as they continue to move forward, they will not be tempted to use landmines.  Any use of landmines now would interdict MNLA’s ability to retreat as they would have to cross their own minefields in the face of resistance.  However, if MNLA were to face solid resistance and their advance become bogged down, the membership of MNLA has already demonstrated its willingness to use landmines as they did in Libya in defense of a regime they were ultimately not willing to die for.  Previous Tuareg uprisings have seen the use of anti-tank mines and I would expect this one to be no different, but the circumstances are at the moment, unlikely to generate such use.  This is a situation to keep an eye on as it develops over the coming weeks.

Michael P. Moore, February 8, 2012

Why do former Portuguese colonies in Africa have so many landmines?

Guinea-Bissau recently became the tenth country in Africa to be able to declare itself free of anti-personnel landmines after completing its demining obligations under Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf). The other African countries who have declared themselves to be mine-free, and whose declarations are unchallenged, are Burundi, Gambia, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tunisia and Zambia (The Monitor).   Namibia has declared itself to have completed demining of it territory, but that claim is disputed by Landmine Monitor researchers (The Monitor); Djibouti has also declared itself landmine-free according to the AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation support unit but that claim is also contested by the Landmine Monitor (The Monitor).  If you are keeping track, that’s nine countries with an uncontested claim to being mine-free, of which only one – Guinea-Bissau – is a former Portuguese colony.

Portugal had five colonies in Africa, two of which are island states (Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe) and the other three (Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique) had significant landmine contamination.  For most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, landmine contamination followed de-colonization.  Exceptions include Italian possessions in East Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia) which resisted Italy’s invasion and where fighting took place between Italian and British forces during World War II.  In North Africa, landmine contamination dates back to World War II, but landmines were also used by the French in their attempts to contain Algerian independence in the 1960s.  For the former Portuguese colonies, independence did not come until 1974 when a revolution in Portugal, partly led by soldiers tired of fighting and dying to preserve Portugal’s overseas empire, brought a new government to power and independence was hurriedly granted to Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. In Guinea-Bissau, the new country’s leadership coalesced quickly and the fighting ceased with independence.  In Angola and Mozambique, Marxist governments were established under the MPLA and FRELIMO parties, respectively.  In 1975, in the heights of the Cold War, the emergence of Marxist governments was not going to be tolerated by the West and via South Africa, the Angolan rebel group UNITA emerged, and via Rhodesia, the Mozambican rebel group RENAMO emerged. 

The wars in Angola and Mozambique were some of the longest running conflicts of the Cold War.  Angola’s wars covered five decades, from the 1960s to the 2000s, ending only with the death of UNITA’s leader, Joseph Savimbi.  Mozambique’s wars lasted 30 years until 1992 and the end of the Cold War brought a halt to international support to the combatants.  I think the Cold War connection is the key to the extent of landmine contamination in these two countries.  The Cold War context provided participants in the wars with access to sources of arms and money, including landmines, and the sponsors of the participants had little to lose if their allies suffered from or caused massive casualties.  Neither the Soviets nor the Americans committed any troops to these conflicts and the arms buildup that began with the Vietnam War meant that the super powers had an awful lot of weapons that they could offer to allied forces.  Unlike post-Cold War conflicts, the participants in the wars in Angola and Mozambique did not have to finance their forces, the Soviets and Americans did that for them and the Soviets also provided front-line troops in the form of Cuban soldiers whilst South Africa provided US-funded forces. 

In many ways, the front line of the Cold War in the late 1970s was between the 15th and 18th parallels in southern Africa.  With the United States withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973 and the forcibly re-unification of that country in 1975, the guns, soldiers and money had to go somewhere.  In the 1980s, the battlefield would move to Central America, but in 1975-1980 the Cold War belonged to southern Africa.  The United States and South Africa supported UNITA, FRELIMO and Ian Smith’s Rhodesia against the MPLA, RENAMO and the Zimbabwean independence movement.  For the United States, this was an ideological war; for Apartheid-era South Africa, it was about survival as FRELIMO provided support and sanctuary to the African National Congress.  The Soviet Union had supported FRELIMO and the MPLA when they were fighting for independence against Portugal as part of a broader tendency to support anti-colonial movements.  Once in power, MPLA and FRELIMO were trying to install communist regimes with support from the Soviets.  Oil and diamonds were not yet a factor.

The wars in Angola and Mozambique in the 1970s and 1980s, like the wars in Cambodia and Afghanistan at the same time, represent a different kind of conflict from those that we see in the post-Cold War period.  In the post-Cold War era, the rebel movements seemed to get smaller and more focused on sources of revenue.  You begin to see a nexus of conflict resources and child soldiers after the Cold War and after the end of state sponsorship of rebel factions.  When the Soviet Union or the United States supported a rebel faction, that group had access to conventional weapons, military training and financing.  After the Cold War, every gun had to be bought, every soldier had to be paid (hence the shift to child soldiers who don’t expect to be paid), and fighters needed to be trained (again, child soldiers using AK-47s require very little training).  The role of conflict diamonds or other lootable resources becomes important as a source of finance for rebels who can no longer rely on wealthy patrons.  The targets of rebels changed as well.  Instead of directing attacks against government forces and installations, civilians become the targets; mostly because civilians lack the ability and means to fight back and the rebels lack the strength in numbers or force to fight pitched battles.  Symmetric warfare gives way to asymmetric warfare. 

In Angola, UNITA made the shift from Cold War freedom fighters to post-Cold War rebels thanks to conflict diamonds.  In Mozambique, RENAMO lost the support of South Africa with the end of Apartheid and the Cold War and changed tactics, trading bullets for the ballot box as a political party in a democratic state. Portugal’s former colonies got caught in the Cold War trap as a quirk of timing.  They weren’t destined to be two of the most landmine-affected countries in the world, but as home to civil wars in which neither side cared about anything other than winning, the indiscriminate use of landmines was an acceptable tactic for wars’ sponsors.  Landmine use would not be as widespread in conflicts after these.  Instead, landmines and minefields became more targeted against roads and to protect the vital conflict resources. 

Guinea-Bissau escaped Mozambique and Angola’s fate and that’s why it is now free of anti-personnel landmines and why Portugal’s other former colonies face decades of continued threat from landmines.

Michael P. Moore, February 3, 2012


Author’s note: I’ve not sourced this post as well I’ve sourced others.  Most of my information comes from past readings of Martin Meredith’s “The Fate of Africa” and Christopher Cramer’s “Violence in Developing Countries” and many other sources too numerous to count or recall.  Please do feel free to correct me.

January 2012, The Month in Mines by Landmines in Africa

The start of a new year sometimes brings good news, and there was some good news coming out of Africa related to landmines.  Angola continues its relentless push towards being mine-free; schools re-opened in Libya after their grounds were demined; and European policy makers faced the continuing tragedy of landmines.  This good news was balanced out by new landmine incidents in Somalia and Senegal and continued human rights violations in Sudan and Western Sahara, enforced through the deliberate use of landmines. 



The National Demining Institute (INAD), after a successful year in 2011, laid out its plans for mine action in 2012.  Focusing on road clearance and demining in areas with the greatest potential for socio-economic development, INAD will be using animals for the first time, specifically dogs from the Marshall Legacy Institute (All Africa) and rats from APOPO (All Africa).  One of INAD’s priority areas will be the new, cross-border park, the Okavango-Zambeze project with Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In 2011, INAD and other mine action operators cleared 32 million square meters of land, destroying more than 3,000 landmines in the process and clearing 337 kilometers of roadway (All Africa).  Of these totals, demining in the Kwanza Norte province make up 1.6 million square meters and 200 landmines (All Africa).

Of some concern should be the fact that while demining and mine risk education were listed as priorities for Angola and INAD in 2012, victim assistance was not mention (All Africa).  With an estimated 23,000 to 80,000 landmine casualties, Angola is not only one of the most mine-affected countries, it has one of the highest victim populations and so every year, victim assistance needs to be a priority for the country (The Monitor).


Mere months after vicious fighting (which continues at a more limited level to this day), 1.2 million Libyan children were able to return to school this month.  With support from UNICEF and other actors, the new Libyan government cleared school-grounds of landmines to make them safe for classes.  Future plans include making schools more accessible for students with disabilities, including those injured by landmines during the 2011 conflict (All Africa).

On the other side of the ledger however, the new government in Libya is struggling to provide protections of human rights and develop a state under the rule of law.  Human Rights Watch, in a broad and scathing report on human rights abuses by the new Libyan government and its associate militias, also reported on the continued presence of thousands of anti-vehicle and anti-personnel landmines used by forces loyal to Gaddhafi in civilian areas.  These landmines will need to be cleared in order to enable Libyans to travel freely throughout the country and to access their homes (All Africa). Western governments have prioritized securing the large weapons caches from Libya, especially shoulder-fired rockets (frequently called, MANPADS), but there is continuing fear that arms from Libya have spread to other countries and to non-state actors like Boko Haram in Nigeria.  The Russians, long critical of NATO’s intervention in Libya stated that the “consequences of the Libyan crisis… are a serious threat to security and stability in the entire region” and the possibility of landmine proliferation are very much part of that threat (Reuters).


One of the requirements of states parties to the Mine Ban Treaty is to destroy any newly found stockpiles of landmines.  In Mozambique, police received an anonymous tip of an old cache of landmines and small arms that belonged to the RENAMO rebels from the civil war that ended in 1992.  The police promptly destroyed the items, noting that they showed signs of neglect (All Africa).


The renewed fighting between the Senegalese Army and the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance has exposed Senegalese soldiers to new landmine incidents in the contested Casamance region.  At least one army vehicle struck a landmine, injuring seven soldiers near the Gambian border which was followed by a gun battle suggesting that the landmine was laid as part of an ambush (Afrique Jet).

Somalia (and Kenya and Ethiopia):

I’m combining Kenya’s ad Ethiopia’s landmine news with that of Somalia’s since the three are currently inextricably linked by the armed interventions of Kenya and Ethiopia into Somalia.  Kenyan forces were targeted by a landmine in Madera town in northeastern Kenya, injuring several civilians and leading to indiscriminate arrests of young Somalis living in the area (All Africa; All Africa).  In Dadaab refugee camp, nine landmines and other explosives were seized in police raids (All Africa).

Inside of Somalia, there appear to be four loci of conflict: Beledweyn (in Hiraan province, along the main route from Ethiopia to Mogadishu), Gedo (in southwest of the country, where the borders of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia meet), Jubaland (also in the southwest, along the Indian Ocean and adjacent to the Kenyan border) and Mogadishu (the nominal capitol of the country). 

Map of Somalia, Courtexy of WikiCommons

In Beledweyn, Ethiopian troops and Somali forces under the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) fought with Al-Shabab militants.  The allied forces found several landmines buried in the streets of the town, apparently intended to target Ethiopia’s heavy vehicles as they passed through the town (All Africa).  A couple days after those landmines were discovered, an Ethiopian truck was struck by a remote-detonated landmine in Beledweyn.  The explosion was followed by a fire fight in which Ethiopian soldiers killed two civilians and wounded several others (All Africa). In Gedo, Ethiopian and TFG forces were attacked by militants using landmines.  An Ethipian convoy was targeted in an “enormous” blast causing an unknown number of casualties (All Africa).  In a separate incident, a TFG truck was blown up with at least five people injured, possibly killed (All Africa).  Both attacks were immediately followed by a series of arrests as the Ethiopians and TFG soldiers tried to identify and capture those responsible. Kenyan forces, backing TFG forces, continued to push further into Lower Jubba, towards their goal of the port city of Kismayo.  Al-Shabab forces are using landmines and other asymmetrical tactics to slow that advance with both sides claiming victory (All Africa).

Mogadishu is still the center of the conflict in Somalia as the TFG’s forces tried to instill a long-term sense of security in the city.  A young man and women were arrested at a city checkpoint carrying landmines that were intended for use by Al Shabab (All Africa). Al Shabab has been using landmines and improvised explosive devices in Mogadishu to disrupt the official government.  One such landmine exploded at the former United States embassy whose grounds have become a make-shift refugee camp, killing two and wounding two others (All Africa).  The TFG forces, supported by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers have been able to dislodge Al Shabab from Mogadishu’s suburbs, despite the presence of foreign jihadists within Al Shabab’s ranks (All Africa).

Away from the conflicts between Al Shabab and various government forces, US Special Forces, the same unit that killed Osama Bin Laden in May 2011, rescued two employees of the Danish Demining Group, a Dane (Poul Hagen Thisted) and an American (Jessica Buchanan), who had been kidnapped and ransomed by pirates in Somaliland.  Thisted and Buchanan are only two of many Westerners who have been kidnapped by various forces active in Somalia – Kenya’s entire pretext for invading Somalia is based upon the kidnapping of tourists from northern Kenya – but only Thisted and Buchanan have been lucky enough to merit rescue by the US army.  However, Thisted and Buchanan’s contributions to the community, they were in Somaliland providing mine-risk education to prevent new landmine casualties, were such that when they were kidnapped, Somalis demonstrated for their release.  Hopefully, both the goodwill engendered by mine action operators within their chosen communities and the threat of international retribution will protect mine action operators in the future (The Guardian).

Sudan and South Sudan:

Independence has not brought peace to South Sudan.  Instead, a war appears to be looming between Sudan and South Sudan as rebels in South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity State lay landmines and seek to harass oil shipments.  South Sudan’s government in Juba accuses Khartoum of supporting the rebels, providing them with guns and landmines to attack refugees and traffic on the roadways (All Africa).  The Unity state rebels, called the South Sudan Liberation Movement, are using anti-vehicle mines indiscriminately to close roads, such that the mere threat of new mines has completely halted humanitarian traffic in addition to oil traffic. This usage of mines (and their supply by Khartoum) could amount to war crimes if the usage prevents humanitarian access to refugee camps and deliberately targets civilians.  Khartoum’s intention in supporting the SSLM is to destabilize the new government of South Sudan and prevent South Sudan from providing assistance to rebels fighting against Sudan, especially rebels formerly allied to the now-rulers of South Sudan (All Africa).

However, South Sudan is still planning a future and the Minister of Roads and Bridges for South Sudan, Gier Chuang Aluong, laid out his plans for developing South Sudan’s roadways, of which only 100 kilometers are currently paved.  Aluong recognized that landmines, both new ones and ones left over from the 20-plus years of war with Khartoum, represent a major challenge, but by setting out the government’s priorities, perhaps mine action operators can target their support (All Africa).

Western Sahara:

Malainin Kakhal, secretary general of Saharawi Journalist and Writers Union, presented a lecture at the Habitat International Coalition meeting in Cairo discussing the sovereignty of the Western Sahara state, or rather the lack of sovereignty since Western Sahara has been annexed by Morocco.  Since the early 1980s, Morocco has used massive walls, the “Berm,” to maintain its control over Western Sahara, employing more than 5 million landmines in the process.  These landmines have caused many casualties among the pastoral peoples of Western Sahara and driven the Saharawi Gazelle to the brink of extinction (All Africa).

The Rest of the World:

Finland formally became the 159th State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty when it submitted its document of accession to the United Nations.  If Poland accedes to the Treaty as it has pledged to do in 2012, then all of the countries in the European Union will be parties to the Treaty (New Design World). 

In India, concerns are mounting about the training of its deminers, many of whom do not appear to be following the accepted Standard Operating Procedures.  Since October 2002, more than 400 Indian soldiers have been killed in demining accidents another 400 injured, a staggering figure; comparable to landmine casualty figures in Angola and Mozambique (DNA India).

In the United Kingdom, a cross-party group of Members of Parliament has been formed to conduct investigations into landmine “use, the efforts of agencies to clear existing mines, and the ways we can provide them with every support.”  The group, chaired by a member of the Conservative Party, recognized the negative impact landmines have on economic development, in addition to the physical threat.  There has been no response from the US Congress to this initiative (The Guardian).

Lastly, also in the United Kingdom, doctors at the Headley Court military rehabilitation centre (the UK’s version of Walter Reed) are learning from the experiences of soldiers who have suffered traumatic limb loss in Afghanistan and Iraq and trying to apply those lessons to trauma care throughout the country via the National Health Service’s specialist trauma centers.  The quality of military trauma care is obvious: “around 90 per cent of soldiers who have lost one or two limbs in recent years return to duty, though often in a different role. Many of them undertake significant sporting challenges” such as the Iron Man Triathlon.  The goal is to replicate this success for the general population, especially considering the fact that 17,000 amputations were performed in the UK in 2009 – 2010.  Burn care is also improving as a result of the lessons learned in warfare.  The point is this: better victim assistance for landmine survivors leads to better trauma care throughout the medical system (The Daily Mail).

Michael P. Moore, February 2, 2012