Landmine casualties rose in Africa in 2014

Globally, landmine casualties in 2014 were up by 11% over 2013, 3,678 in 2014 compared to 3,308 in 2013. Most of that increase is attributed to the increased number of casualties from victim-activated improvised explosive devices which fall under the definition of landmines according to the Mine Ban Treaty (The Monitor).  1,296 Afghan casualties were recorded by the Landmine Monitor in 2014; in 2013 the Monitor recorded 1,050 casualties (The Monitor).  While that increase is substantial and important to highlight, several African countries also saw significant increases in the number of landmine and cluster munitions casualties.

Twenty-two African countries and two semi-autonomous regions reported landmine casualties in 2014.  This is an increase from 2013 when 19 countries and 2 regions reported casualties.  The total number of casualties in 2014 was 719, up 11% from the 2013 count of 646 and 14 countries reported an increase in the number of casualties from 2013.  Two countries, Chad and Mali, saw the highest increases with Chad reporting 79 landmine casualties, an increase from 9 the year before; Mali reported 144 casualties, up from 68 in 2013.

Figure 1 shows 2014 landmine and ERW casualties:

Capture1

Figure 2 shows the percent change in landmine and ERW casualties from 2013 to 2014:

Capture2

While not official, I also believe Angola (11 reported casualties), Libya (10 casualties) and Sudan (40 casualties) experienced more casualties than has been reported.  All three countries lack a centralized casualty reporting mechanism with casualty reports in Angola coming from demining organizations; in Sudan casualty reports are compiled from three separate United Nations missions; Libya was in a state of civil war in 2014.  In Angola I heard from some of the mine action organizations that they believed there were casualties in their working areas that went unreported.  In Sudan, casualties may have occurred in the heavily mined states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, but because of the conflict there would have gone unreported.  Most mine action organizations in Libya were forced to re-locate due to the conflict and so reliable data was, and continues to be, unavailable.  Also, Eritrea and Ethiopia both reported no landmine casualties in 2014, but it is possible that, similar to Angola, landmine injuries may have occurred in remote areas and gone unreported to the proper authorities.

Increases in landmine casualties result from a number of factors including new usage of mines, displacement of populations to or through mine-affected areas, returns of displaced populations to areas that became mine-affected during the period of displacement, changes in land use and better data collection processes.  All of these occurred on the continent in 2014 and each country which experienced an increase could attribute that increase to one or more factors.

Early indications suggest that 2015’s landmine casualties will be similar if not increasing again over 2014. Also, thanks to the GICHD / SIPRI initiative, anti-vehicle mine incidents are also being tracked which may provide additional insights in landmine casualty dynamics.

Michael P. Moore

December 30, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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Why Ted Bromund and the Heritage Foundation are wrong about landmines

Ted Bromund is the Margaret Thatcher senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation and dropped this little piece of coal in my stocking just before Christmas. This is not the first article critical of the Mine Ban Treaty published by Mr. Bromund and the Heritage Foundation.  They also published this piece in December 2010, this one in September 2014 and this article in December 2014.  Mr. Bromund’s colleague at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, Daniel Kochis, published this piece in June 2014 in response to the Obama Administration’s change in landmine policy announced at the Mine Ban Treaty Review Conference in Maputo, Mozambique. There are a few major fallacies in the most recent piece which was a response to the release of this year’s Landmine Monitor report, a report I had a hand in writing so I feel a bit more sensitive to this critique than previous ones.

First, the picture accompanying the article shows a truckload of anti-tank mines which are not regulated by the Mine Ban Treaty.  The photo below would have been a far more appropriate picture which shows several South African-made R2M2 anti-personnel mines.  Mr. Bromund is welcome to use this photo with proper attribution.

15, Collected

Second, Mr. Bromund points out that “U.S. land mines are not responsible for any of these casualties.”  He goes on to say that “a ban on U.S. land mines won’t help, for the simple reason that U.S. mines aren’t killing anyone.” And technically he may be right: US-made landmines probably didn’t kill anyone in 2014, but US-bought landmines almost certainly did. As a small example consider Angola which reported 11 landmine casualties in 2014 (a number which almost certainly does not reflect the true number of casualties).  Those casualties were the result of landmines laid by government forces and UNITA rebels during the course of the three-decades long civil war in Angola.  During the war, the government was supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba and the Soviet Union sent many landmines to the government as part of military aid packages.  These mines would have been made by the Soviet Union or its allies including East Germany, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.  UNITA was supported by the United States government and received military and logistical support, but not through direct channels.  Much like other clients of the US during the Cold War, UNITA received arms and weapons made not by the US, but by NATO allies like Italy and Belgium or geographically closer allies like South Africa and Zaire.  This allowed the US to retain “plausible deniability” for supporting rebel groups against internationally-recognized governments.  Now, can I prove that any of the 40 landmine victims in Angola were injured by a US-made landmine?  No, but the possibility is very strong and Mr. Bromund knows this.

Third, Mr. Bromund says “a U.S. ban offer any kind of moral lesson to others.”  Wrong again.  Only two countries in the Western Hemisphere maintain stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines, the US and Cuba.  And Cuba has explicitly said it will continue to retain landmines as long as the US does. Also, the former Soviet republic of Georgia has said that if the United States feels anti-personnel landmines are a necessary part of its arsenal, then Georgia would view them the same way.  Therefore, if the US were to ban landmines, at least two countries would lose their justification for not doing the same.

Fourth, Mr. Bromund claims “Repeated studies have found that no other weapon can protect U.S. forces and civilians as reliably as land mines.”  The studies Mr. Bromund cites are from 1999, but a 2002 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, GAO—2-1003, “U.S. Use of Land Mines in the Persian Gulf War,” which specifically looked at US military landmine use in the first Persian Gulf War (Mr. Bromund’s studies looked at models and theories of landmine use, not actual use). According to the GAO, the US military only used 118,000 “self-deactivating” mines in the Gulf War despite having access to millions of persistent mines.  Of those 118,000 mines, there is no evidence that any of them “actually caused or contributed to enemy losses.”  Also, Iraqi forces were not “aware of or have actually encountered” landmines used to protect defensive positions.  So, US mines were completely ineffective and 81 US soldiers were confirmed killed or injured by Iraqi or “unknown” landmines.  And while no evidence was found that US landmines caused US casualties, the Department of Defense confirmed that US-made and used cluster munitions caused 80 casualties among US service members; other unexploded US ordnance caused 16 more US casualties.  So, as the GAO report points out: more US casualties were caused by US cluster munitions and UXO than Iraqi landmines.  The GAO report goes on to highlight significant reliability issues with self-destructing mines which had a dud rate in the Gulf War of 100 times that reported by the Department of Defense.  So while Mr. Bromund suggests that US landmines protect soldiers and civilians reliably, the actual evidence is otherwise.

Lastly, Mr. Bromund in his December 2010 commentary trotted out the tired chestnut that eliminating landmines from the US arsenal “would seriously degrade the ability of the U.S. to defend itself and its allies, particularly in Korea.” The Korean Peninsula remains the one place where the US will continue to allow use of anti-personnel landmines even though, get this: the US does not have a single landmine in Korea.  All of the landmines on the Korean Peninsula belong to North Korea or South Korea.  The US maintains this exception because, in the case of an attack on South Korea by North Korea, the US would assume military control of South Korean forces and therefore South Korea’s landmines.  The US commander in Korea has said that the one million South Korean landmines prevent a North Korean invasion, but that claim represents a serious failure to comprehend the dynamics of the conflict.

Landmines are not what prevent the North Korean army from marching across the Demilitarized Zone; the threat of a US nuclear strike does.  North Korea’s government allowed as much as a tenth of its population to starve to death in the 1990s.  A government so callous would think nothing of sending a division of troops to act as human mine-clearers in advance of a mechanism invasion.  And what was North Korea doing while its people starved? Developing atomic weapons to use as a deterrent in case they did make an assault on South Korea.  Pyongyang’s pursues nuclear capability (and the means to reliably deliver warheads) to counter the perceived US threat that exists as long as South Korea remains under US protection.  The Korean conflict is a nuclear one, not a conventional one and any general, US or otherwise, who doesn’t realize that and relies on landmines to sleep well at night is mistaken.

I don’t know why the Mine Ban Treaty and efforts to eliminate landmines bother Mr. Bromund so.  Any military usefulness for these weapons is dwarfed by their humanitarian impact which extends way beyond just the immediate casualties of landmines.  More than 12 million people live in areas affected by landmines, limiting their access to water, agricultural land and markets.  Most of these people are not in active conflict zones are suffering the after effects of wars that ended a generation or more ago. Mr. Bromund and the Heritage Foundation should be applauding the US’s leadership on this cause, as the US is the single-largest donor to mine clearance around the world, not trying to undermine it with flawed and specious arguments.

Or perhaps there’s a simpler explanation.  South Korea’s Hanwha Group was, in 2014, one of ten donors to give at least US $1 million to the Heritage Foundation (2014 Annual Report).  Hanwha Corporation was founded as an explosives company in the 1950s and remains one of the world’s largest producers of defense munitions (Hanwha Profile).  Those munitions include cluster munitions and landmines (The Monitor; Plunkett Research; IDEX). Just saying.

Michael P. Moore

December 29, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 

 


The Month in Mines, November 2015

Religion comes up surprisingly often in this blog about landmines.  This month’s news roundup includes several Islamist groups and mentions of two Popes.  I think this has more to do with the actors in the conflicts along the Sahel (and Pope Francis’s extraordinary visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic), than anything else, but I would like to hear others’ opinions.  We frequently attribute landmine use to Islamist groups in Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt and I often wonder if they get a disproportionate share of the blame.  Are some of the mine accidents attributed to these groups placed by non-Islamist groups or remnants from previous conflicts that had no specific religious ties?  If I knew, I would certainly attribute correctly.

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian Army claimed to have encountered many landmines left by Boko Haram as the Army cleared areas of northeastern Nigeria that had been held by the Islamist group.  The presence of landmines has been confirmed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the landmines have hindered the delivery of humanitarian assistance (All Africa). With the expulsion of Boko Haram, Nigerian legislators from the region have called upon the Nigerian Army to prioritize the clearance of landmines and other unexploded ordnance to allow displaced persons to return to their homes.  The legislators also sought assistance for victims of landmines (All Africa; Channels TV).

 

Uganda

The visit of Pope Francis to Uganda, part of a three-nation visit on the African continent, has led to reminiscences of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Uganda in 1993.  Included in John Paul II’s itinerary was Uganda’s western district of Kasese which in 1993 was contaminated with landmines remaining from the 1979 invasion by Tanzanian forces to oust Idi Amin (All Africa).  Fortunately, Uganda has cleared all of its known minefields so Pope Francis’s visit did not cause the concern that John Paul II’s had done.

 

Kenya

In Kenya, Pope Francis’s visit was preceded by a landmine blast in the northeast of the country, along the border with Somalia.  According to Kenyan media, five Kenyan soldiers were wounded by a landmine planted in the roadway during a patrol (Standard Media).  However, Al Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the blast, said at least eight Kenyan soldiers were killed in the attack (All Africa).  I’m not giving too much credibility to Al Shabaab’s claims, but think it is important to highlight that despite all of the efforts against the group, Al Shabaab continues to control significant portions of Somalia and in addition to its operation capacity, the group maintains a robust media function.  Defeating a group like Al Shabaab will require not just military measures, but also social actions to prevent the group from being able to communicate with its intended audience.  The inflation of casualties by Al Shabaab can be seen as an attempt to further show the group’s strength.

A child was injured by a piece of unexploded ordnance in Wamba.  The boy, a herder, wandered into an area in which British and Kenyan troops had been engaged in live-fire exercises.  After his injuries, the boy was evacuated to a regional referral hospital for surgery.  The evacuation was seen by some as an attempt to cover-up the injury, but the British Army commander has committed to cover all costs of care (All Africa).

 

Somalia

Mine action employees face a number of risks associated with their profession, most specifically from the mines that deminers clear.  In Senegal and Afghanistan, deminers have been kidnapped and held hostage and some have been killed.  However, Somalia poses its own threats.  A few years ago a mine risk educator was kidnapped and held by pirate factions until her rescue by US special forces.  This month, a United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) employee was killed in an apparent murder-for-hire scheme after the UNMAS employee got into an argument with the governor of Beledweyne region.  The governor and UNMAS employee were from different clans which may have complicated their relationship (Hiiraan Online, no link).

 

Mali

Four days after the assault on the Radisson hotel in the capital Bamako, a United Nations peacekeeper was killed near Timbuktu by a landmine planted in the road.  The peacekeeper was part of a convoy.  No word on any other injuries (Reuters).

 

Angola

750,000 square meters of land, contaminated by over 700 explosive remnants of war, including anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, has been cleared so far this year in Menongue, the capitol of Angola’s Kuando Kubango province.  The cleared land will be used to build houses for area residents (All Africa).

In Huila province, over a thousand kilometers of roads have been cleared in the last decade and over 127,000 explosive remnants of war were destroyed in the process. Also, nearly 2,000 persons with disabilities, including landmine survivors, benefited from social reintegration programs (All Africa).

 

Algeria

Between September and October, Algerian army engineering units cleared and destroyed more than 12,000 landmines dating back to the French colonial period.  In total, more than 800,000 mines have been cleared to date (All Africa; All Africa).

 

Egypt

The Sinai Peninsula continues to be flash point for an Islamist insurgency that arose after the military overthrew Mohamed Morsi’s government.  Near Arish, a group of Islamist gunmen attacked a family killing several members and when one member of the family rushed to the scene to try and help his relatives, he drove over a landmine, killing himself and a child (News 24). In Sheikh Zuwaid, two Bedouins, a mother and her child, were killed by a landmine supposedly planted to target Egyptian military forces (Al Bawaba).

 

Libya

The charges against Saadi Gaddafi, son of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, will likely include the distribution and use of landmines in defense of his father’s regime in 2011. Other charges include terrorism and the murder of the coach of Tripoli’s Al-Ittihad football club (Middle East Eye).  Dealing with those landmines is a priority for many organizations.  The Libyan Mine Action Center, with the support of UNMAS, will conduct an assessment of the Tawrgha neighborhood of Misrata and provide mine risk awareness to the residents (Relief Web).  In Benghazi, several Libyan soldiers were killed by landmines placed by Islamist groups as the soldiers advanced on positions in around the city (AFP).  And in Derna, three Islamic State members died when karma struck and they drove over a landmine placed other Islamic State members (Libya Observer).

 

Western Sahara

Serious flooding on both sides of the Moroccan-built berm in Western Sahara has likely displaced some of the millions of landmines that lie along the berm.  Plastic and other minimal-metal mines are prone to moving during floods and once the waters recede, mine action organizations will need to assess the likelihood that minefields have been disturbed (ICBL).

 

Sudan

Three children in North Darfur were killed by a grenade that they found and began to play with. Two other children were injured (Radio Dabanga). In the Jebel Marra region of Darfur, a man was killed and his wife maimed when the donkey he was riding on stepped on or kicked a piece of unexploded ordnance (Radio Dabanga).

 

Zimbabwe

To end on a piece of good news, Norwegian Peoples Aid announced that they have cleared their 1,000th landmine along Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique.  Hundreds of thousands of mines remain to be cleared by NPA is making good progress and looking to shift to new work sites (NPA).

 

Michael P. Moore

December 18, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org