The role of AFRICOM in achieving a Landmine-Free Africa

The US military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) based in, of all places, Stuttgart, Germany, inspires a kind neo-colonial fear among many Africans and Africanists, not unlike the shadow that France and China cast over the continent.  Without directly addressing those fears, I believe it’s important to recognize some of the good that can come from AFRICOM’s presence and activity in Africa.  Specifically AFRICOM’s Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) program.  Active since at least 2009, AFRICOM’s HMA program conducted 22 training missions in nine different countries in 2013 alone (Email from Tom Saunders, U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs, rec’d January 14, 2014).  Training included topics such as: demining, explosive remnants of war (ERW), Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) Levels I and II, Vehicle Maintenance, Medical First Responder, Mine Risk Education, and stockpile conventional munitions assistance in support of the US Government’s HMA program.  The training curricula were developed by experts at the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and reflect current best practices and knowledge (All Partners Access Network).  One current gap in the training program is comprehensive victim assistance for landmine and ERW survivors.

Kenyan and US soldiers participate in HMA training of trainers.

Kenyan and US soldiers participate in HMA training of trainers.

To receive support from AFRICOM’s HMA support, national authorities must submit requests to the US embassy which then forwards requests to the State Department.  The State Department then combines all requests and reviews them as part of the broader humanitarian efforts conducted by the State Department and the Department of Defense.  While plans are still being confirmed, AFRICOM may conduct as many as 40 HMA missions in nine countries in 2014 covering IMAS Levels I and II, ERW Operations, Medical First Responder, Basic and Advanced Demining, and stockpile management and destruction (Email from Tom Saunders, U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs, rec’d January 14, 2014).

As examples of the kind of training offered by AFRICOM, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have participated in multiple HMA missions.  In 2009, the DRC military (the FARDC) requested support from the US State Department to conduct mine action activities in the eastern provinces, in and around Kisangani.  After at least eight separate missions of up to three weeks in duration and the donation of $125,000 worth of mine detection and explosive ordnance destruction equipment, a sustainable mine action program has been established within the FARDC.  From the FARDC soldiers trained by AFRICOM, a select group of engineers participated in a training of trainers to further expand the skill set within the force (AFRICOM).

Photo from DRC Training

US and Congolese soldiers participate in a field exercise as part of HMA training

About a year ago, AFRICOM hosted a Train the Trainer program for Kenyan Army EOD Combat Engineers.  AFRICOM deployed the US Navy’s EOD Mobile Unit Six to train future instructors within the Kenyan military to respond to the variety of munitions and explosives the Kenyan army encountered in Somalia.  Using a combination of classroom exercises and field simulations, the training mirrors that of the DRC training with the intention of increasing the ability of Kenyan soldiers to train their colleagues (AFRICOM).

Kenyan soldiers participate in a classroom exercise as part of HMA training

Kenyan soldiers participate in a classroom exercise as part of HMA training

Other countries to have received support from AFRICOM include Burundi, Chad, Namibia, Mauritania, Mozambique, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.  Sharp-eyed readers will note that Kenya and Tanzania do not have landmine or significant ERW contamination and Burundi and Namibia have limited ERW contamination.  For Kenya and Burundi, and likely for other African countries with limited contamination, AFRICOM is deliberately training for peacekeeping operations like the African Union Mission in Somalia to which Burundi, Kenya and Uganda have contributed soldiers.  Referring to the experience, one US Navy trainer said of the peacekeepers, “”They go downrange a lot and we want to make sure they have the knowledge to do well.”  Training engagements support the Component Commands’ goals, like Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s (CJTF-HOA) “mission to strengthen security in East Africa through military-to-military engagements with partner nations” (AFRICOM).

US Army Africa (USARAF), based in Vicenza, Italy, is the most forward-thinking of AFRICOM’s Component Commands.  According to its HMA coordinator, Maj. Jennifer Smith, USARAF is looking “expand into victim’s assistance and mine risk education,” adding preventive instruction to the technical training currently on offer.  “If that happens, our numbers will probably increase because we will have concurrent training squads” (US Army Africa). USARAF has also reached out to UNMAS, the HALO Trust and the French government to complement, and not compete with, other actors’ work and address shortfalls identified by the international community and civil society.  USARAF wants to leverage its position to “assist in coordinating and integrating [the HMA] program with our multinational allies’ efforts.” USARAF is also exploring tailoring “U.S. instruction on demining activities to correspond with UNMAS’s ability to help host nations certify their own de-miners and unexploded ordnance incident responders” (Email from Tom Saunders, U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs, rec’d January 14, 2014).

Michael P. Moore

February 26, 2014

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The Month in Mines, January 2014

2014 will mark the twentieth anniversary of Bill Clinton’s call for the “eventual elimination” of anti-personnel landmines.  In an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Clinton said:

I am proposing a first step toward the eventual elimination of a less visible but still deadly threat: the world’s 85 million antipersonnel land mines, one for every 50 people on the face of the Earth. I ask all nations to join with us and conclude an agreement to reduce the number and availability of those mines. Ridding the world of those often hidden weapons will help to save the lives of tens of thousands of men and women and innocent children in the years to come (State Department).

To date, we have seen tremendous success in reducing the “number and availability” of anti-personnel landmines, but the “elimination” of landmines has been more “eventual” than I think anyone would have expected.  But a new year is a time for new optimism; let’s see where 2014 takes us.

 

Somalia

A landmine targeting a Somali military vehicle traveling through the Yaqshid neighborhood north of Mogadishu killed a civilian woman and injured several others.  A Somali soldier may also have been killed and other soldiers wounded, but no official confirmation of military casualties was made (Hiraan Online; All Africa).  A few days later, a landmine detonated as an aid convoy passed on its way to Ifo 1 camp near the Dadaab refugee camp complex.  Five Kenyan policemen were riding in the car that was struck and suffered minor injuries.  This was the second such attack on an aid convoy in Dadaab in as many weeks (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa).  On the Afgoye to Mogadishu road, two soldiers were killed and three others injured by a landmine (All Africa; Sabahi).  In Galka’ayo town in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, a landmine was placed under a bridge near the local hospital.  When the mine was triggered, three people were killed and another seven injured (All Africa).  And in Beledweyn town in central Somalia, a site of significant conflict, two landmine blasts occurred simultaneously.  No casualties were reported but some witnesses believed that the person or persons who were planting the mines may have accidentally triggered them.  The blasts were immediately followed by a security sweep which arrested dozens of young men suspected of complicity in the blasts (All Africa; All Africa).

The lone bright spot in Somalia comes from the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland.  Since Somaliland is not recognized as an independent state, it cannot join the Mine Ban Treaty, but the government of the region has been working with Geneva Call to draft legislation that would mirror the Mine Ban Treaty and prohibit the use, transfer and stockpiling of landmines.  The legislation is under consideration by Somaliland’s House of Representatives and may come to a full vote in the very near future (Somaliland Sun).

 

Angola

Angola’s government issued several end of year reports on landmine clearance work in 2013, province by province:

  • In Huambo province, 3.1 million square meters of land were cleared (All Africa);
  • In Bie Province, the HALO Trust cleared 129 landmines (All Africa);
  • 3.23 million square meters of land were cleared in Lunda Sul province (All Africa);
  • 180 kilometers of road linking Lunda Sul province with Lunda Norte province (All Africa);
  • 240 sappers were trained between Lunda Norte province and Cunene Province (All Africa; All Africa); and
  • 5.3 million square meters of land were cleared in Cunene province (Defence Web).

In total, more than 1,500 landmines and 100,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW) were cleared from Angola in 2013.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, commended Angola on its work to “free the country from landmines.” There is lingering concern, however, despite the tremendous progress made in landmine clearance that the demining program is “hamstrung by lack of funding” and the work is being scaled back in various parts of the country (Defence Web; All Africa).

 

Sudan

Sudan, even after the partition that created South Sudan, has one of the worst landmine contamination problems in Africa.  Since the conclusion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, Sudan has made significant progress to clear its known minefields with some 385 minefields consisting of 42.6 million square meters of land cleared since 2011.  Local organizations like JASMAR and Friends of Development Organization have been working on mine risk education in addition to clearance and now the local communities of Sudan can report any discovered ERW (UNOCHA).  As a result of these efforts, in January the government of Sudan declared several areas of East Sudan, including Togan, and that Kassala state is expected to be landmine-free in 2014.  The landmines and ERW is these areas date back to World War II and continued through 2007.  The states of Kassala, Red Sea and Gedaref have some 545 landmine survivors and the government has recognized landmines as “the main obstacle to comprehensive development, reconstruction, and voluntary return to affected areas.”  Another 500 landmine survivors have been registered elsewhere in Sudan but efforts for survivor assistance were not highlighted in the recent announcements about landmine clearance (All Africa; All Africa).

 

Tunisia

Tunisian authorities arrested three persons, a “terrorist” and two others in the Kasserine region, and seized three landmines.  Over the last several months, several landmines have detonated around Kasserine and nearby Mount Chaambi were Islamist fighters have been suspected of hiding (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

As landmine clearance expands in Zimbabwe with the support of the HALO Trust and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), mine risk education programs for school children have also begun.  Some 9,300 students who live near the border minefields of Crooks Corner received mine risk education to learn how to identify and avoid anti-personnel landmines (Relief Web).

A year ago, six people were killed when a traditional healer tried to extract red mercury from what was later identified as an anti-vehicle landmine.  Three houses were completely destroyed and a dozen others damaged.  To date, the survivors of the blast continue to struggle in temporary housing (All Africa).  I bring up this story because a soldier stationed at the Zimbabwe Nation Army ammunitions depot in Mashonaland West Province was arrested and convicted in January for conspiring to sell landmines and grenades in order to extract the red mercury they believed was inside (Bulawayo 24).  So let’s all repeat:

  • There is no such thing as red mercury.
  • Tampering with landmines is extremely dangerous.
  • Enough people are killed and injured by landmines.

 

Nigeria

The Boko Haram conflict in northern Nigeria is one of the bloodiest in Africa.  Characterized as an insurgency or coordinated series of terrorist attacks, I think it’s rapidly developing into a civil war.  I am skeptical of most reporting on the Boko Haram conflict, but there is the possibility that the group has started to use victim-activated landmines in addition to other improvised explosive devices. According to one report, more than 50 people were killed in Borno State and 300 houses destroyed on the last weekend of January.  A security source said “The [Boko Haram] attackers used several improvised explosive devices and planted several improvised explosive devices around the village as they were leaving. Two improved explosives went off this morning, narrowly missing our security personnel going there to evacuate corpses.”  Referring to the planted bombs as “landmines,” as the paper, “Leadership,” has done may be an accurate portrayal of Boko Haram’s devices.  The fact that the bombs went off many hours after the attack and appear to have been used as booby-traps for persons clearing the bodies of those killed is suggestive of a victim-activated device (All Africa).

 

South Sudan

The majority of the coverage of South Sudan lately has been rightly focused on the half million people displaced and 10,000 killed in violence between factions loyal to President Salva Kiir and ousted Vice President Riek Machar. While a Cessation of Hostilities agreement was signed by the two sides, violence continues as does displacement both within South Sudan and in refugee camps in neighboring countries.  Displaced persons are at a high risk of landmine injury due to the fact that they are traveling through unfamiliar territory, quickly and with little or no support from official sources.  That risk was made evident when two people were killed and another 14 injured as the Land Cruiser they were riding in drove over a landmine in Upper Nile State.  The Land Cruiser was being used a form of public transportation and served the needs of people who were displaced (Radio Tamazuj).  I am certain there have been other landmine injuries during the weeks of violence, but this was the only confirmable report I have seen.

 

Democratic Republic of Congo

Handicap International (HI) has launched a new demining program in Orientale and Maniema provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  Some 30,000 square meters of land near the city of Kisangani will be cleared using a combination of mechanical methods and manual methods.  Between a 36-ton MineWolf and a team of mine-sniffing German Shepherd dogs, HI’s deminers in DRC hope to make rapid progress.  Similar combinations of techniques have cleared more than 12 million square meters of land in Mozambique (Handicap International).

 

Mozambique

Speaking of Mozambique, the Belgian organization APOPO will be deploying a “small army” of its specially trained rats to help the country meet its mine clearance deadline of December 31, 2014.  In a perfect description of humanitarian demining, APOPO’s Mozambique program manager, Tess Tewelde, said, “The target is not the number of landmines, rather it is to clear the contaminated area and give back to the people. Whether [landmines] are few or many, the threat is the same” (The Guardian).

 

Mali

Five United Nations peacekeepers were slightly injured when their vehicle ran over a landmine some 20 miles from the northern town of Kidal.  Kidal had been held by Islamists prior to the French military’s intervention in the country and still has some rebel elements active in the region.  The identity of the peacekeepers is unknown, but most of the troops are from other African countries with some French and Chinese soldiers participating in the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) (The Telegraph).

 

Michael P. Moore

February 10, 2014


The United States’s policy on landmines might be about to change

Then again, it may not.  There is a buzz around Washington and all signs point to an imminent announcement on the Obama Administration’s review of the current landmine policy which was put into place 10 years ago this month.  At one time, the United States was the undisputed leader in the movement to ban anti-personnel landmines.  In 1992, thanks to the leadership of Senator Patrick Leahy, the United States passed the first ever export  ban on landmines. In 1994, President Bill Clinton was one of, if not the first head of state to call for a permanent end to the use of landmines when he made the following statement at the United Nations General Assembly:

And today I am proposing a first step toward the eventual elimination of a less visible but still deadly threat: the world’s 85 million antipersonnel land mines, one for every 50 people on the face of the Earth. I ask all nations to join with us and conclude an agreement to reduce the number and availability of those mines. Ridding the world of those often hidden weapons will help to save the lives of tens of thousands of men and women and innocent children in the years to come.

In 1995, Belgium and Norway banned the use, production, trade and stockpiling of landmines and at that point, US leadership on the landmine issue began to slip.   While the US was instrumental in writing and passing the Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons which restricted the use of some types of landmines, the US did not sign the Ottawa or Mine Ban Treaty which was signed by 89 countries in 1997 and has been ratified or acceded to by 161 nations to date.  In 1998, the United States announced it would join the Ottawa Treaty in 2006 if a “suitable alternative” to anti-personnel landmines could be developed.  The current 2004 landmine policy issued by the George W. Bush administration did not pledge to join the Ottawa Treaty at any point.

In a recent piece, the Arms Control Association notes that the United States is the only member of NATO and with the exception of Cuba, the only country in the Western Hemisphere to not be a party to the Ottawa Treaty.  Last November, the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines issued a press release noting that 16,000 people have been killed or injured by landmines since the Obama Administration launched its policy review. Let me go one further on both of these points.  If the US were to sign the Ottawa Treaty, it is likely that others, specifically Georgia and Cuba, will follow suit.  Georgia and Cuba both maintain landmine stockpiles due to the US’s insistence that they might be necessary; if the US no longer feels that landmines might be necessary, then the arguments of Georgia and Cuba to keep them disappears.  Other countries’ arguments may similarly collapse if the US were to join the Ottawa Treaty.

As for the count of 16,000 landmine casualties since the start of the Obama Administration policy review, think about this: in 1992 the United States first recognized the humanitarian threat of landmines and responded by banning their export.  In those 22 years, an estimated 230,000 people were killed or injured by landmines.  That’s more than the combined casualties for Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Atomic Archive; Yale Law School).  One of President Obama’s ambitions is to rid the world of nuclear weapons.  Perhaps he should first finish the work started more than two decades ago and help eliminate the weapon that’s caused more casualties than all atomic and nuclear weapons.

Michael P. Moore

February 10, 2014


Wait, you told me you didn’t have any landmines: Cote D’Ivoire’s unreported stockpile

The monitoring regime of the Mine Ban Treaty relies heavily on self-reporting. Countries produce annual reports, referred to as Article 7 reports, that describe all activities related to the Treaty’s obligations.  Key points of the reports are the number of landmines possessed by a country, landmine clearance activities and a voluntary section on “other” matters which can include victim assistance activities or support to other countries’ mine action work.  Compare that monitoring process to the verification process Barack Obama described in his recent State of the Union Address for Iran’s nuclear program: “Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb.”  Those inspections will provide observers, including the United States with “verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb” (Washington Post).  The Mine Ban Treaty has a limited verification process in the form of inspection visits, but to date, no country has been subjected to such a visit, no matter how credible the reports of violations have been.

In November 2010, election violence erupted in Cote d’Ivoire between groups loyal to the principle candidates for president.  Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo had been defeated by rival Alassane Ouattara but the army remained loyal to Gbagbo who refused to leave office.  After 3,000 people were killed in what bordered upon outright civil war, Gbagbo was arrested in April 2011 by Ouattara’s militia and Ouatarra assumed power (International Crisis Group; Responsibility to Protect). To facilitate a peaceful reconciliation in Cote d’Ivoire, the United Nations authorized a peacekeeping mission, UNOCI, which included representatives from the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS).  Part of UNMAS’s role in Cote d’Ivoire was to investigate allegations of landmine use by both groups during the five months of violence as well as assist with disarmament and integration of militias in to the national army and securing of firearms and military hardware.  UNMAS confirmed that no landmines had been used and Cote d’Ivoire, which had never been contaminated by landmines, continues to be free of minefields.

However, in the aftermath of the conflict, UNMAS and the new government of Cote d’Ivoire discovered a previously undeclared stockpile of anti-personnel landmines.  Cote d’Ivoire’s Article 7 report from 2009 (the last year the report was available before the election crisis) was unequivocal: Cote d’Ivoire had no anti-personnel landmines and did not even retain a small number for training purposes.  This report was not questioned by the Landmine Monitor and there was no reason to doubt the truthfulness of the report; except for the fact that Cote d’Ivoire clearly did have landmines as documented in their 2012 report.  Some 1,500 landmines were discovered during inventories of weapons and ammunition and of those, over 800 were destroyed by the HALO Trust and UNMAS (UNMAS; All Africa).

 

From UNMAS, anti-personnel landmines found in Cote d'Ivoire.

From UNMAS, anti-personnel landmines found in Cote d’Ivoire.

Peacekeeping - UNOCI

From UNMAS, peacekeepers in Cote d’Ivoire prepare to destroy discovered stockpile of anti-personnel landmines

Cote d’Ivoire reported in a timely manner on this discovery and has made an open declaration of the number of these mines that the government will now retain for training purposes.  The Mine Ban Treaty relies on countries to provide complete and accurate disclosures of landmine stockpiles and known minefields and in the case of Cote d’Ivoire, either the reports were known to be incorrect or the person completing them did not have the correct information to submit an accurate report. This is a case where the unreported stockpile caused no harm and has been dealt with in an open and transparent manner.  We cannot always expect this to be the case.  For example, in Sudan, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N) which is fighting against the government of Sudan recently signed the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment.  At the signing ceremony, an SPLM-N representative declared that the SPLM-N had a small stockpile of anti-personnel landmines that had been captured in battle.  But who could those mines have been captured from?  The government of Sudan has declared that its stockpile of landmines has been destroyed, so the mines could not have come from Sudanese Armed Forces.  South Sudan, which is suspected to support the SPLM-N, does not possess any declared stockpiles so the SPLM-N could not have lied about the origin of the mines.  It is possible that the SPLM-N mistakenly called anti-vehicle landmines (which it does possess) anti-personnel landmines, but I would have thought that Geneva Call would have corrected the statement.  So, assuming that SPLM-N does have anti-personnel landmines, where did they come from?  From an undeclared stockpile in either Sudan or South Sudan, most likely.

Landmines aren’t like weapons of mass destruction like chemical, biological or nuclear weapons which require large infrastructures and are difficult to hide.  A box of landmines can languish in the back of an armory or police station or house for years.  States parties are required to disclose any discovery of previously unknown stockpiles, but as we saw in Cote d’Ivoire, national armories may not be the best inventoried spaces, let alone hidden caches from various non-state actors.  When landmines of questionable provenance are found, as with the SPLM-N, it is important for other States parties to the Mine Ban Treaty to follow up and identify the source. Because the next situation may not turn out as well as in Cote d’Ivoire.

Michael P. Moore

February 5, 2014