April is Limb Loss Awareness Month and I have enjoyed tremendously the Amputee Coalition of America’s #ShowYourMettle campaign on Facebook. The messages conveyed by individuals sharing photos of their prosthetics is inspiring. The campaign also reminded me that in April 2004, quite coincidentally, two separate comic strips featured traumatic limb loss. In both comics’ storylines, the character who lost a limb was a soldier in Iraq losing his leg after the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED). In Doonesbury, B.D., one of the original characters from the strip who first appeared in the 1960, is the one who loses his leg. In Get Fuzzy, we are introduced to a new character, William, the cousin of the main character Rob Wilco; after this storyline, William does not re-appear in the comic.
In 2004, I was working for Landmine Survivors Network and was a habitual reader of the comics page. Funky Winkerbean (which was not carried by the Washington Post) covered the landmine issue extensively with a character working in mine action in Afghanistan who narrowly avoided injury (the entire series is available for reading here), but Doonesbury and Get Fuzzy went a step further.
As a complete confession: I don’t read too many comics anymore – my current favorites are Brewster Rocket and Pearls Before Swine and I try to make time for Dilbert as well, but am usually disappointed (Elbonia adventures excepted). I also never “got” Get Fuzzy. My brother likes is it a lot, but I couldn’t get into it. I was raised on Bloom County and The Far Side and (dating myself here) can remember when Garfield was almost funny. I don’t miss Calvin and Hobbes as much as some do, but I always wondered what became of Spaceman Spiff when he got to college. In 2004, before we had Facebook, I read almost every comic on the newspaper page and was struck by the Get Fuzzy storyline more than Doonesbury’s.
Garry Trudeau has gotten a lot of mileage out of the B.D. story arc. Through B.D., Trudeau has documented the dysfunction of the Veterans Administration, the benefits of peer support and the everyday complications that come with being a below-knee amputee. B.D. has maintained a deadpan humor: when he brought up the injury to his wife, he asked if she remembered the “fifteen pounds he was trying to lose.” Trudeau has also become an outspoken supporter of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has been recognized for his efforts. In April 2004, he made the media rounds to discuss the storyline and what B.D.’s injury could mean.
Darby Conley, the creator of Get Fuzzy, did no publicity around the limb loss storyline. He refused to talk about it, saying the images “spoke for themselves.” It’s never been confirmed, but I am certain that Conley has a cousin or close friend (possibly even named William) who lost a leg in Iraq and the single week storyline was his way of talking about it. Over the course of the week, Conley takes aim at the absence of any sort of welcome for the injured soldiers returning from Iraq and also manages to put in a plug or two for the Boston Red Sox (in 2004, five months after these comics ran, the Sox finally broke “the Curse of Babe Ruth” and won the World Series) and Dunkin Donuts. But in a panel in Friday’s comic, Conley has both Rob and William looking at the place where William’s leg once was in silence, breaking the tension as Rob tries to tell William everything will be okay and William telling Rob not to worry about him.
It’s a scene that must have played out for thousands of young men and women who returned from Iraq, grievously injured by explosives but saved by advances in combat medicine, and their loved ones as they tried to make sense of this new situation. Because we see B.D.’s rehabilitation and return to his family and home, we know he turned out okay. We also know B.D. is a fictional character. Today, 12 years later, I still look at the Get Fuzzy panels and wonder how William is doing. I hope he’s okay and hasn’t put on too much weight from the crullers.
Michael P. Moore
April 26, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Bear with me, folks: this is going to be a long one. In March we have landmine-related stories from 15 countries and areas, with good and bad news to report. In the stories below, I report on over 150 landmine and ERW casualties, the deadliest month of the year so far. The positive news includes continued mine clearance in Angola and Algeria and Japan’s support for mine action in several countries. The glass is never more than half-full.
The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights produces a biannual report on violations of the human rights of the Sahrawi people. In their report for the period July – December 2015, they noted one landmine injury in addition to multiple other violations (All Africa).
During March, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visited Western Sahara and observed the landmine clearance projects managed by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) (All Africa). During that visit, Ban referred to the “occupation” of Western Sahara by Morocco which led the Moroccan government to call for the expulsion of the UN mission in Western Sahara, including the UNMAS staff.
Also in March, Western Sahara registered its first landmine fatality of the year when a shepherd’s truck struck a probable anti-vehicle mine west of the berm, near Smara (Remove the Wall).
The government of Japan pledged US $2.1 million in support of UNMAS’s work in Kassala, Red Sea, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. The donation will support clearance of 1.5 million square meters and risk education for 100,000 Sudanese (All Africa). At the same time, a rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), accused the government of Sudan of using cluster munitions in the ongoing conflict in Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains region, which includes South Kordofan (Sudan Tribune).
In North Darfur’s Tawila area, two UXO incidents were reported. In the first, two men were killed by a UXO blast as they were collecting firewood (Radio Dabanga). In the second incident, six gold miners were killed and three more injured when their vehicle struck a piece of UXO (Radio Dabanga).
Even though the country has been declared landmine free, Mozambique is still plagued by other explosive remnants of war so the national police are being educated on explosive ordnance disposal (Star Africa).
In addition to training Senegalese forces, the US Marines have been training Moroccan soldiers to build the demining capacity of the Moroccan army. Starting in 2007, the Moroccan military has cleared some 564 square kilometers of land, and the goal is for Morocco to be able to train its own forces on explosive ordnance disposal. In April, Morocco will launch a new effort to clear the landmines from the eastern side of the berm that divides Western Sahara into the Moroccan-controlled area and the Polisario-controlled area (Camp Lejeune Globe; Sahara Question).
The governments of Japan and Norway provided US $ 203,384 for landmine clearance in Malanje province. With the funds, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will be able to clear 117,000 square meters (All Africa).
The National Intersectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Aid (CNIDAH) has called on the population to report suspected minefields to the Commission. At the same time, CNIDAH’s representative announced plans for clearance of 3.1 million square meters of land in Cunene province and that over 546,000 square meters had been cleared in 2015 (Angola Press). In Lunda Norte province, the National Demining Institute (INAD) reported the clearance of 2.2 million square meters of land in 2015 (All Africa). As part of the national infrastructure plan, INAD has finished the clearance of the high voltage lines in Cabinda Province which was accompanied by some clearance activities to enable small scale cultivation (All Africa http://allafrica.com/stories/201603170842.html). In Zaire province, construction of electrical lines is pending the demining of some 189 kilometers of line (Angola Press). In Uige province, the Angola NGO, Terra Mae, cleared over 300 landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) in March (Angola Press).
The uncertain financial support for mine action globally continues to have very real, local impacts. The HALO Trust, which has cleared over 51 million square meters and 65,000 mines and ERW in Bie Province since 1995 have shuttered their operations in that province. INAD and the Angolan army will be responsible for surveying and clearing the 300 suspected hazardous areas that remain in the province (Rede Angola).
Egypt’s northwestern deserts are polluted with mines leftover from the World War II battles around El Alamein and the modern city of Matrouh. The European Union supports a large demining project there which is in its third year. Sahar Nasr, the Minister of International Cooperation, during a visit to the program called on the EU to extend the project (All Africa; State Information Service; El Balad).
Even though the minefields of El Alamein are more famous, two landmine incidents in Sinai and one on the Red Sea coast highlighted the fact that Egypt’s landmine contamination is more widespread. Five soldiers were killed and seven more injured by a landmine near the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada (Egyptian Streets). In Sinai, seven police were killed and nine injured in one landmine incident and one Bedouin was killed and another injured in a second incident (Al Bawaba; Al Bawaba). The Red Sea mine likely dates to World War II and the first Sinai mine is from the conflicts with Israel in the 1950s and 1970s. The Bedouins were victims of a recently laid mine that detonated when struck by their tractor.
Algerian counter-terrorism forces destroyed four bunkers and 16 anti-personnel landmines in Boumerdes (Ennahar). In ongoing operations, the Algerian army cleared almost five thousand landmines from the borders that date back to the French colonial period. Through February 2016, Algeria has destroyed 831,017 landmines (Ennahar).
The anti-poaching unit operating near Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls park arrested 300 poachers in 2015 and recovered 10 kilograms of elephant ivory from three dealers. In the process, the unit also found a cache of 50 landmines leftover from the liberation war in the Zambezi National Park and called the Zimbabwe army to destroy them (Radio VOP).
Nigeria & Cameroon
Vigilantes, operating under the more benign name of “civilian self-defense groups,” have been important actors in the fight against Boko Haram in Cameroon. However, these vigilantes lack the necessary equipment – they have appealed for bicycles to assist in their operations – and have been victims of the very landmines and explosives they are trying to find. In five days, seven landmine blasts killed 34 people and injured 40 more. The Cameroonian army has received technical advice and equipment from the US government and trainers from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the French army are educating Cameroon soldiers on landmine and explosive clearance (Voice of America; African Press Organization). Cameroon’s soldiers have also been landmine victims with one killed and four more injured in two separate blasts in Amchide-Gance and Zamga (Simon Ateba). The explosions and other war-related injuries have stretched Cameroon’s health system beyond its capacity (All Africa).
In Nigeria, 15 people were killed by suspected Boko Haram landmines in Nussa village in Borno state (Channels TV). On the road from Chul to Huyum, also in Borno, three Nigerian vigilantes were killed and seven injured by a landmine (Press TV). In addition to soldiers and vigilantes, hunters from Nigeria’s indigenous groups have also sought to join the fight against Boko Haram. Acknowledging the landmine risks, these hunters have “super natural powers” which they will use “to assist the military in crushing Boko Haram” in addition to their extensive knowledge of the Sambisa forest which Boko Haram is using as a refuge (TVC News). Two Boko Haram members were killed by their own landmine as they fled from Nigerian soldiers in Kumala area of Borno (All Africa http://allafrica.com/stories/201603180337.html).
The US government provided 24 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) to the Nigerian army to assist with the fight against Boko Haram. However, most of the vehicles require maintenance and servicing before they can be used and have been referred to as “carcasses.” The Nigerian army has been able to deploy some mine-clearance machines, but the available machines are insufficient for the vast area of the Sambisa forest (All Africa).
One soldier was injured by a landmine in the Kasserine region during a counter-terrorism operation (All Africa).
Under the auspices of the State Department’s Humanitarian Mine Action program, a US Marine contingent led a six week training session for Senegalese soldiers in demining and explosive ordnance disposal. Other partners in the training program include the Vermont National Guard and the Austrian Armed Forces (Defence Web). In addition to the national army, Handicap International is clearing landmines in Senegal’s Casamance region. In 2016, HI plans to clear 55,000 square meters, the equivalent of 8 football pitches (Relief Web). HI’s partner, the Senegalese Association of Mine Victims (ASVM) is leading a mine risk education campaign in Casamance with survivors directly participating. In the current campaign, ASVM hopes to reach 60 schools and 65 villages (Relief Web).
The European Union and UNMAS donated bomb disposal equipment to the Somali Police force which will outfit five bomb squad units that will also be trained (Relief Web). A line of landmines placed in the center of Bardhere town in southern Somalia killed two people and injured several others when an Ethiopian army vehicle drove over them. In the aftermath of the blast, the Ethiopian soldiers fired indiscriminately injuring some bystanders (Goobjoog News). In Bakol, three Al Shabaab members were arrested and charged with planting landmines (News Ghana).
Six peacekeepers with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) were injured at the start of the month when their vehicle struck a landmine on the Aguelhok – Tessalit road (MINUSMA). Three days later an unknown number of casualties occurred when another MINUSMA vehicle struck a landmine near Kidal (Desert Media). At the end of the month, two Malian soldiers were killed by a landmine on the Mopti – Timbuktu road (Desert Media).
The government of Japan contributed US $2.3 million to UNMAS for mine action in South Sudan. Over 110 million square meters of land in South Sudan is contaminated by landmines and ERW affected almost eight million people. New mine usage during the current civil war compounds the problem (Modern Ghana).
Michael P. Moore
April 18, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
My daughter asked me why I do landmine work. I told her a banal and superficial answer which I now regret because she is so much of the reason why I work on landmines. I value the fact that my daughter and sons can play outside without the fear of landmines or other explosives and I wish every parent to have this same sense of security. No children’s play should be threatened by landmines. Every month I read about children who are killed or maimed by landmines as they are walking to school or playing soccer or otherwise being kids. I long for the day when such stories are consigned to history. Childhood is hard enough, parenting is hard enough without landmines. So, until every parent is certain that their children are safe from landmines, I’ll be here, #TogetherAgainstMines.
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
April 4, 2016