All the Tools in the Toolkit: Demining Machines

My elder son is three years old and is enamored with construction vehicles.  He has a big yellow Tonka truck (probably the same basic design I had when I was his age) that he plays with in the back yard and the playground.  He’ll fill the back with rocks, dirt, water, toy bulldozers, water, anything that will fit.  And then they will get dumped out.  He can do this for as long as he can do anything and it’s a joy to watch.  I was thinking about him while I got to see some demining machines at work (or not, more on that momentarily) in Angola.

Landmines can be cleared manually, through the painstaking process of locating mines and digging them out by hand, or they can be cleared through the use of mechanical means.  Using what looks like amped up farm equipment, most demining machines fall into one of two types: flails or tillers.  Flails use weighted chains to beat the ground, setting off mines upon contact.  Tillers use fixed spikes to dig the ground.  Both flails and tillers rotate around a horizontal axis and are mounted on the front of the machines.

01 - Demining Machnies

02 - Demining Machnies

Mechanical demining is pretty much limited to areas with anti-personnel landmines and small explosives.  Anti-vehicle mines and large pieces of unexploded ordnance would damage even these heavily armored machines.  Soil and terrain are also important to consider when using mechanical means. Tillers aren’t much use in rocky areas and if an area is subject to flooding, the machines can get caught in the mud (they are not light and nimble).

Most smaller machines are remote controlled drones, enabling the “driver” to operate the machines from a safe distance.  Some of the bigger machines, like the one below, will have a cab for the driver, but the size of the machine puts the driver out of harm’s way.

03 - Demining Machnies

The benefit of using mechanical means, beyond the safety of the operator, is the speed at which the machines can clear land. According to Digger DTR and using data from clearance work in Senegal, mechanical demining can clear land six times faster than manual teams.

04 - Demining Machnies

In Angola, mechanical demining is used by all the NGO operators – MAG, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and the HALO Trust – as well as the National Institute for Demining (IND). NPA gave us a demonstration of their MineWolf which kicked up a tremendous amount of dust.  Per NPA custom, they had named their machine, Vanessa, after a former program manager.

05 - Demining Machnies

06 - Demining Machnies

MAG inherited their MineWolf machine from DanChurchAid which had used the machine for clearance in the far eastern regions of the country, but due to funding limits, had been forced to close down operations.  This is the machine, currently out of commission and waiting for repairs that will cost many thousands of dollars (but still much less than the cost of a new machine).  You can see that the tiller attachment on this machine differs from that of NPA’s.  The design of the machines are such that the clearance attachments can be swapped out to match the clearance need, or be replaced if they are damaged.

07 - Demining Machnies

Rarer than flails and tillers are sifters which dig into the ground, scoop up a shovel-full and then shake loose the dirt.  MAG uses a sifter attachment on a standard construction excavator (see below) on some of its sites in Angola.

08 - Demining Machnies

In 2016, the HALO Trust took delivery of a new remote-controlled Digger DTR tiller that will be used in an around Huambo in central Angola.

09 - Demining Machnies

For a complete list and discussion of the types of mechanical demining machines and their uses, please see the GICHD’s publication here.

Michael P. Moore

March 24, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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The Month in Mines, February 2017

Below we will talk about Algeria’s landmine clearance, but I would like to compare it to Mozambique’s achievement of a landmine-free country.  Mozambique was greatly aided by the efforts of multiple commercial and humanitarian demining organizations and when Mozambique detonated its last mine, board members were invited and press releases issued.  When Algeria cleared its last mined, no announcement was made for a couple of months, despite the fact that Algeria had three times as many mines as Mozambique.  Algeria’s deminers, members of police and army engineering units, toiled away for years on what must have seemed like an impossible task, but they did it.  Those anonymous souls achieved something special and deserve as much recognition and respect as Mozambique’s deminers.

 

Algeria

As we had mentioned in last month’s news round-up, Algeria has completed its demining obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.  With contamination from World War II, the liberation war against France and a civil war in the 1990s, Algeria had over a million mines across 120 million square meters.  The densest minefields were to be found along the borders and had been laid by the French as a “cordon sanitaire” in an attempt to prevent supply and support to the liberation fighters in the 1950s and 1960s. Mine clearance took place in two phases, the first in the two and a half decades after liberation and the second after 2004 with the last mine cleared on November 30, 2016. Algeria is the second North African country after Tunisia to complete demining with the rest of North Africa, Morocco, Libya and Egypt choosing to remain outside of the Mine Ban Treaty. The formal announcement of Algeria’s clearance was made at the annual meeting of Mine Action Program Managers in Geneva and recognized by the President of the Convention (Defence Web).

 

Cameroon

A Cameroonian soldier was killed while on duty in Nigeria’s Borno state by a suspected landmine attributed to Boko Haram.  The soldier was riding in a vehicle which struck the mine (Cameroon Concord).  A few days later, another Cameroonian military vehicle struck a mine in northeastern Cameroon killing four soldiers and injuring others.  The second mine was also attributed to Boko Haram which has been accused of laying mines throughout the Lake Chad region to thwart attempts by the joint forces of five countries – Nigeria, Niger, Char, Cameroon and Benin – to combat the group (Anadolu Agency).

 

Egypt

2017 will see the 75th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein and while some will celebrate this turning point in the second World War, for many Egyptians in the Northwest Desert, it will be a grim reminder of the continuing threat of landmines laid during that battle.  To date some 8,000 people have been killed or injured by World War II landmines and the demining process has been slow (ITV).

 

Somalia

In 2015 the HALO Trust expanded its activities in Somalia beyond the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland with some initial survey work.  Now operating in southern Somalia, the HALO Trust is active along the Ethiopian-Somali border which was the site of battles in the Ogaden wars of the 1980s.  This month, the Trust’s clearance teams found their first landmine in southern Somalia near a former military camp which had been the source of multiple accidents in the 2000s (Relief Web).

 

Libya

Despite the liberation of the western city of Sirte from Islamic State forces, civilians continue to be threatened by landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW).  Three children were injured by a piece of ammunition that was thrown onto a fire and father and two of his children were injured by a landmine outside of their house which had reportedly been used as an operations room by Islamic State (Libya Herald).  In partial response, the Presidential Council, which is recognized by the United Nations as the formal governing body, has been called upon by the Libyan army to provide metal detectors and other demining gear to find and clear the mines left by IS (Libya Observer).  Demining is a core element in the army’s six-point plan for ensuring the safe return of Sirte residents who had been displaced by the fighting.  The city has been divided into neighborhoods and the army is sweeping them in turn before allowing residents back to their homes (Libya Observer).

In Derna, one child was killed and two others injured by a landmine attributed to IS and left near the GECOL building (Libya Observer).

 

Western Sahara

An estimated 5 to 10 million landmines pollute the Western Sahara region.  Laid by the Polisario Movement and the government of Morocco the mine have killed or injured more than 300 people and thousands of camels since the 1991 ceasefire.  Polisario has handed over its minefield maps to the United Nations to assist with clearance while the Moroccan government maintains active minefields along the berm that divides the region (Mail and Guardian).

 

Angola

The United States ambassador to Angola, Helen La Lime, confirmed the US’s continuing support for a mine-free Angola during the first visit of a US ambassador to the eastern provinces of Lunda Sul and Lunda Norte (Relief Web).

 

South Sudan

Eighty children in the United Nations Protection of Civilian (PoC) site in Bentiu received mine-risk education from the Mission staff.  The lessons are part of a broader program to inform school children about the dangers from landmines and other ERW, especially after three children were injured while playing with unspent ammunition (Relief Web).

 

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

March 7, 2017