The Month in Mines, March 2017

So, the big news lately featured a certain second son of Princess Diana and his efforts on behalf of a landmine free world by 2025.  At Kensington Palace on April 4th, Prince Harry delivered a powerful speech calling on people and nations to commit to a mine free world.  Harry’s call, made personal by his own visits to minefields in Angola and Mozambique (and presumably by what he saw during his tour of duty in Afghanistan), was quickly answered by the British Minister for International Development, Priti Patel, who announced a three-fold increase in British funding for mine action (The HALO Trust; Mines Advisory Group).  Many other countries have made similar pledges for new or sustained funding for mine action (Landmine and Cluster Munition Blog), but what I have not seen are pledges from the mine-affected countries to meet their obligations to clear minefields and support survivors.  With new money available, mine-affected countries need to step up and meet the challenge.

 

Somaliland

For the first time, Somaliland’s parliament ordered the deportation of two foreigners who had “disrespected Islam.”  Both of the individuals deported worked for the Danish Demining Group (DDG) which conducts community safety programs including mine risk education and small-scale clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) (All Africa, Danish Demining Group).

 

The Gambia

In the far eastern section of The Gambia, just on the border of Senegal’s Casamance region, a landmine killed a father and his son.  The area is known as a safe haven for Casamance rebel groups, but this is the first known mine in the area (Freedom Newspaper).

 

Egypt

Two civilians were killed by a landmine pace in a village near the border with Israel on the Sinai Peninsula (Al Araby). Another landmine near the Suez Canal killed one person and injured four more.  The mine was believed to have been a remnant from the war with Israel in the 1950s (Ahram). In a third incident on the Sinai Peninsula, three people, including two children, were killed and two others injured when their car stuck a mine (Ahram).

 

Angola

The government of Japan has made a US $550,000 grant to the HALO Trust to help clear the 20 remaining minefields in Huambo Province.  Having already cleared 270 minefields, the HALO Trust is looking to finish the job in Huambo, once one of the most mine-affected areas of Angola (Relief Web).

 

Nigeria

A Cameroonian soldier was killed by a landmine in Nigeria’s Borno State.  The soldier was part of the multi-national force fighting against Boko Haram and he was killed when his vehicle struck a mine in the roadway (Cameroon Concord). To support Nigerian capacity to clear landmines and other ERW, the United States government donated training aids and hosted a humanitarian mine action training program at the Nigerian Army’s military engineering school in Abuja (NTA).

 

Libya

Two Libyan soldiers were injured by a landmine attributed to the Islamic State in the liberated city of Sirte (Libya Observer).  In Benghazi, a military deminer was killed in the line of duty and the Gawarsha neighborhood of Benghazi has been deemed too mine-contaminated to allow for the return of civilians (Libya Observer).

A dozen deminers from the Russian company, rsb Group, have been conducting mine clearance in the eastern part of Libya (The Trumpet).

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

April 17, 2017

 


My challenge to the snake-oil salesmen

Oh, look: researchers at Hebrew University have come up with an “innovative” technique to find landmines using genetically-modified bacteria that fluoresce when in the presence of explosive vapors (Jerusalem Post). I really, really want these new technologies to work to improve landmine detection and clearance, but over the last five years I have seen a lot of innovative ideas that have received a lot of funding for development but have not resulted in a single cleared landmine.  These include:

The Mine Kafon

The Landmine Boys

Croatian honeybees

Danish plants

Indian drones and

Pianos.

I am sure there are others, which offer great promise, but simply don’t work.

So, here is my challenge: If you will vouch for the efficacy of your innovation and set up a true field demonstration (in an actual minefield or suspected hazardous area), I will fly to your site, at my own cost, and document the test.  If successful, I will shout it from the mountaintops and share with everyone I meet.  If unsuccessful, you will reimburse me for my trip, make a donation to the mine-clearing organization of my choice and publish a full-page ad apologizing to landmine victims everywhere for squandering money that could have been used on tried and true methods for clearance.

Any takers?

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

April 12, 2017

 


Trump Administration proposes 10% reduction in Mine Action support

Today is the International Day for Mine Action and Awareness.  From Great Britain, we are looking forward to new commitments to the the goal of a landmine-free world by 2025, but in the United States, the proposed budget from the Trump Administration threatens that goal.

The Trump Administration’s FY18 budget includes a nearly US $3 billion cut in State Department funding (Politico).  That includes a 10% reduction in the line for Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism and Demining Programs, from $505 million in FY17 to $451 million in FY18:

Capture

According to the Administration, this reduction will have “minimal impact” upon programming.  Well, what would “minimal impact” look like?  Let me paint one scenario.

According to the State Department’s 2016 report on mine action, “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” the State Department invested $154.6 million in landmine clearance and risk education activities across dozens of countries.  However, $63.2 million went to just five countries (Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Laos and Syria).    If we assume that the commitments for these five countries will remain unchanged (because the Obama Administration made landmine clearance a priority for Colombia and Laos; and the Trump Administration’s rhetoric suggests that Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will remain priority areas as part of the fight against Islamic State), the 10% cut, or $15.5 million, will be made across the rest of the portfolio.  Support for African countries (Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe) totaled only $13.5 million and any reduction there, especially with emerging needs for mine action support in Mali and Nigeria, could hamper clearance efforts.

Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State, spoke of the importance of landmine clearance in Iraq as a means of helping people return to their homes after the ouster of the Islamic State from Mosul (State Department). Mine action has been used as a soft power tool; peacebuilding efforts in Burma, Colombia and Senegal have benefited from US commitments to mine action.  The US support for landmine and UXO clearance in Southeast Asia has helped heal some of the wounds from the US involvement in the wars of Vietnam and Cambodia. But the current Administration values “hard power” in the form of the military over soft power efforts like mine action, despite Tillerson’s remarks.

Cutting mine action funding would be short-sighted and leave many thousands of people exposed to the threat of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.  At a time when other countries and actors are re-affirming the pledge to a mine-free world by 2025, the US should improve upon its past investments, not reduce them.

Michael P. Moore

April 4, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


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


Every Tool in the Toolkit, The Royals

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s visit to Angola.  During that visit she donned protective gear and walked through a recently cleared minefield and met with landmine victims at the Red Cross’s prosthetic clinic.  At this time, negotiations on the Mine Ban Treaty were ongoing and Diana’s visit to the minefield and her subsequent advocacy helped galvanize public opinion against anti-personnel landmines.

In February 1997, BBC1 aired a special on Diana’s trip which is available in three parts on YouTube:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

 

Diana’s visit was coordinated by the British Red Cross and the minefield aspects were last minute additions to the program.  I have been told that the HALO Trust team received a call from the trip organizers one afternoon asking if Diana could visit a minefield the next day.  Recognizing the opportunity, the Trust made the necessary arrangements.  Looking at the photos and the video, I am struck by how terrifying the experience must have been for Diana.  The civil war in Angola had only ended a couple of years before (and would re-ignite soon enough) and despite wearing protective gear, you will notice that no one is walking with her in the recently cleared minefield and humanitarian demining was still in its infancy. Every step she took she could see the warning signs and the white stakes you see mark where a landmine had been laid and removed.

diana-in-a-minefield1

And yet, she managed a smile for the cameras.

diana-in-a-minefield2

Since Diana’s death in August 1997, other members of royalty have stepped forward. Jordan’s Prince Mired bin Raad serves as the special envoy for universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty and has traveled to multiple countries including China, the United States, Tonga and Peru to encourage accession to the Treaty. Princess Astrid of Belgium serves in a similar role, promoting the Mine Ban Treaty and advocating for the rights of landmine survivors. Prince Harry, Diana’s younger son, has also carried on her mantle serving as the patron of the HALO Trust’s 25th anniversary appeal and traveling to Mozambique and Angola to personally witness the mine clearance work.  The presence and interest of royalty in landmines helps keep the focus on the subject and ensures that public attention and support continues.

The 20th anniversary of Diana’s visit affords an opportunity to review what has been done over the last two decades. The results are astonishing.  The below picture shows the comparison of what the minefield looked like during Diana’s visit and what it is now: a city street with no signs of its past as a minefield.

diana-in-huambo-then-and-now

In addition to the progress on landmine clearance in Angola, the victim assistance situation in Angola and Bosnia which was a large focus of Diana’s advocacy can also be reviewed.

diana-at-the-icrc-facility

When the movie, Diana, came out a couple of years ago, the Daily Mail tracked down the survivor in the below photo and gave an update on her life since meeting Diana. The 20th anniversary is another opportunity to check in on Sandra and the other survivors Diana met.

sandra-and-diana

In August of 1997, Diana made her last formal trip, visiting landmine survivors in Bosnia with the founders of Landmine Survivors Network. In the years following that trip, an annual sitting volleyball tournament was held in Diana’s honor, emphasizing her role in bringing attention to the issues in Bosnia.  If the anniversary of Diana’s visit leads to a 20-year review of the progress in Bosnia, that would be a positive.

diana-in-bosnia

 

Michael P. Moore

January 4, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The US Military has moved on From Landmines and Cluster Munitions, You Should Too

Memo to the New Administration

During the campaign, Hillary Clinton made reference to the Ottawa Treaty and her support for joining the Treaty as well as the lingering effects of cluster munitions in Laos.  Donald Trump was silent on these subjects and so while representatives of the Heritage Foundation and the Lexington Institute have suggested that a Trump Administration should reverse current US policies on these weapons, please allow me a few moments to make the case for continuation of those current policies.

First, the US military has moved on.  Since the 1991 Gulf War, the United States has not used victim-activated, anti-personnel landmines because after-action reports showed that US laid mines injured more American soldiers than Iraqi soldiers.  In the mid-1990s, the Clinton Administration launched a search for alternatives to anti-personnel landmines that would be detectable using basic metal detectors and self-deactivating.  That effort, combined with the Bush Administration’s 2004 landmine policy, has encouraged the defense industry to develop new munitions that are fully compliant with the Ottawa Treaty and nearly ready for deployment (Defense News).

The US Army has developed the “Spider” munitions system that will be put into use by the US Army in 2018 with improvements to its control mechanisms available in five years.  The Spider replaces anti-personnel mines as an area-denial and defense tool and fits into the Army’s emerging tactics of “terrain shaping” in which the military uses munitions to constrain the movement of opponents into areas more favorable for the US forces.  As part of the modernization process, the US army is also re-furbishing the Volcano system and developing a second landmine alternative, the “Gator.”  With these changes, the Army will possess a “common munition that can be delivered in a variety of methods to meet the ground commander’s intent and provide maximum flexibility as operational requirements evolve” (Defense News).  In other words: the US military has no interest in landmines, anti-personnel or anti-vehicle, which are not compliant with the Ottawa Treaty.

As for cluster munitions, the US government has, since 2008, asserted their military utility, but also recognized the potential civilian harm from indiscriminate use and high failure rates.  The Obama Administration re-affirmed the Bush Administration’s policy, which is available here. To achieve a failure rate of 1% or less, thereby meeting the standard set by Department of Defense in 2008, contractors have developed new cluster munitions that not only adhere to the DoD’s policy but are also compliant with the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  The “alternative” warhead will leave “zero unexploded ordnance on the battlefield” according to its manufacturer, Lockheed.  These new warheads may already be in use by the military, beating the landmine alternatives to the battlefield (National Interest).  Again, long story short: the US military has new tools which are compliant with the Convention on Cluster Munitions and no longer needs non-compliant cluster munitions.

 

Landmines

The United States has not joined the Ottawa Treaty which bans the use of anti-personnel landmines.  The United States was the first country to call for a ban on these weapons in 1994 and was the first country to ban exports of these weapons.  The US has committed to never use persistent landmines, anti-personnel or anti-vehicle; to prohibit the sale or export of non-detectable, non-self-destructing mines; and to increase funding for humanitarian mine clearance.  Those were the policies of the George W. Bush administration from February 2004 (State Department). The current policy, published by the Obama Administration in 2014, does not differ much from the Bush policy, and can be found on the State Department’s website here.

Ted Bromund, a senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation, called the Obama Administration “foolhardy” for restricting the United States use of landmines, leaving only the Korean Peninsula exempt from that restriction.  Mr. Bromund complained that the Ottawa Treaty has not had much impact on the number of landmine casualties each year, stating that landmine casualties are linked to the number of wars and that the number of wars has gone up (Forbes). As Mr. Bromund said, “let’s go to the tape”:

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the number of wars in 2014 was 41 compared to 32 in 2006.

6-total-number-armed-conflicts-2006-2015

From SIPRI: Patterns of Armed Conflict Trends, 2006-2015. https://www.sipri.org/yearbook/2016/06

In that same time period, the number of casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) declined from over 6,500 to less than 3,700.

Yes, the number of conflicts increased from 41 in 2014 to 50 in 2015, but the four conflicts that contributed to substantial increase in landmine and ERW casualties – Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen – all began in 2014 or earlier (Washington Post; BBC News). So Bromund’s assertion that landmine casualties are linked to conflicts is false.

Bromund also fails to note that victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the ones that the Landmine Monitor counts, are banned by the Ottawa Treaty.  If you only count factory-made landmines, then the number of landmine casualties decreased from 2014 to 2015, which is a success of the Ottawa Treaty as fewer and fewer such mines are available for use.  But the Ottawa Treaty bans all victim-activated anti-personnel landmines, factory-made and home-made.  Victim-activated mines cannot discriminate between civilian and soldier and so however they are made, they violate the laws of war related to the principle of distinction.

 

Cluster Munitions

Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute called the United States’s policy on cluster munitions, “’bat poop’ crazy,” saying the Obama Administration had bared the US’s “throat to the enemy’s knife” (National Interest). Mr. Goure acknowledges that Obama Administration has publicly stated the utility of cluster munitions, a continuation of the George W. Bush Administration’s policy.  The Bush Administration’s policy also clearly stated that the US recognizes the need to minimize civilian casualties (Congressional Research Service), which is the part that Mr. Goure gets very wrong.

In 2008, the US government declared that it would not export cluster munitions which had a failure rate greater than 1% and the US has long had a policy not to export weapons to countries which the US fears will use them in contradiction to international humanitarian law.  When the Obama Administration cancelled transfers of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia, that decision reflected Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate use of cluster munitions civilian locations.  The burden of evidence of Saudi Arabia’s bad behavior simply became overwhelming and the US had to cancel the shipments.  Recently, Saudi Arabia admitted to using British-made cluster munitions, but claimed only to have used them on legitimate military targets (The Guardian).

Mr. Goure understands the concern about cluster munitions, saying “The argument against cluster munitions is that those that do not explode on contact with a target or the ground can lie around posing a threat to civilians. Even when they are designed to become inert after a period of time, some small number can fail to go dud.” Note that Mr. Goure does not say what that “small number” might be and seems to accept the risk to civilians posed by unexploded cluster munitions. And the problem is worse than “some small number;” cluster munitions fail at rates of 20 – 40% leaving thousands of submunitions which become de facto landmines.  In Laos, Lebanon, Kosovo, Afghanistan and now Yemen, hundreds if not thousands of civilians are killed or injured every year by cluster munitions dropped by the US or its allies. That is unacceptable.

Lastly, Mr. Goure’s statement that the Obama Administration has disarmed the military is patently false.  The US military has received ample support to develop new weapons that would replace indiscriminate landmines and cluster munitions with high failure rates (in fact, the National Interest, which published Mr. Goure’s opinion piece, also published the article on alternatives to the cluster munitions which he advocated for).  The military has newer, better, more reliable weapons at its disposal, making the older munitions obsolete.  Like Mr. Bromund’s and Mr. Goure’s arguments.

 

The anti-personnel landmine and cluster munitions trains left the station a long time ago, Ted and Dan.  Stop trying to get the Trump Administration to acquire weapons the US military doesn’t want.

 

Michael P. Moore

December 28, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 


Letting the Lamb into the Lion’s Den

Back in October, Washington, DC hosted the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA).  One of the major elements of the annual meeting is the exhibition by defense and security contractors: it is essentially the largest arms show in North America and features a range of products.  I was there to meet with and learn about the state of the art in explosives detection and removal and will write about that in a few days.  In the meantime, I would like to share with you some of what I saw.

 

Things I expected to see at the Arms Show:

Tanks.

 

 

Rockets.

03-rockets

Bullets and explosive ordnance.

04-bullets

Guns. Lots of guns. (notice the man on the left staring at me, cocking a pistol…)

 

Things I did not expect to see at the Arms Show:

Sunglasses.

07-sunglasses

A bag full of weed and money. They’re fake, but still…

08-bag-of-weed

Wells Fargo Bank.  Predator drones: yes; predatory loans: no.

09-wells-fargo

Re-enactors in period costume. Well, maybe dudes (and I did see Abraham Lincoln), but not a Southern Belle.

10-re-enactors

A six-foot tall mouse.  Vermin: yes; children’s literary characters: no.

11-maisie

 

Things I didn’t expect to see, but really should have:

Blatant sexism and women looking very uncomfortable because of it.

12-sexism

Michael P. Moore

December 15, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org