On November 30th, the US Department of Defense reversed a Bush Administration policy on the use of cluster munitions. After using cluster munitions in Afghanistan and Iraq and seeing the impact of the weapons in Lebanon after their use by Israel, the Bush Administration, simultaneous to the negotiations on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, had decided the weapons had an inexcusable humanitarian impact due to their high failure rate and their threat to civilian populations after conflicts ended. The Obama Administration maintained the policy and increased support to Laos to clear the cluster munitions that had been dropped by the United States during the Vietnam War. Since 2008, the Pentagon has sought replacement weapons for cluster munitions and abided by the policy that the US military would not acquire any cluster munitions that have a failure rate greater than 1%. At the same time, the military would dispose of existing stockpiles of older cluster munitions that did not adhere to the 2008 policy. The new Trump Administration policy reverses the earlier policy and ignores the humanitarian consequences of the cluster munitions.
Citing the ongoing (never-ending) war on terror and unnamed, but “important changes in the global security environment,” the new policy specifically authorizes the use of cluster munitions with failure rates above 1%. The policy requires new cluster munitions to either have a self-destruct feature or a failure rate of 1% of less; however, the policy also allows field commanders to purchase and order cluster munitions that do not adhere to the policy’s requirements for new cluster munitions, thus rendering any such requirements moot. This change will provide political cover for any regime, including the Syrian government, to use and stockpile cluster munitions, saying that if the weapons are important to the United States, they are also important to us. This is the same argument that kept the Cuban and Georgian governments from joining the Mine Ban Treaty and means these inhuman weapons will likely continue to threaten civilian populations for years to come.
Now, longtime readers will know I have a cynical streak, but please hear me out. The 2008 Department of Defense policy had a significant impact on domestic producers of cluster munitions, specifically Textron, Inc. During the Obama Administration, Textron announced the closure of a cluster munition manufacturing plant in Massachusetts and a round of layoffs, saying that the 2008 policy made the weapons system unsustainable for the company. This was a good thing. However, in June 2017, the Trump Administration nominated Textron’s CEO, Ellen Lord, as undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, responsible for all military acquisitions, including cluster munitions under the new policy. During her confirmation testimony, no mention was made of any recusal of Ms. Lord from decisions related to Textron’s business interests, despite her position as head of acquisitions and Textron’s status as the 18th largest defense contractor in the world. And then, just four months after Lord’s confirmation, the Pentagon announces the change in policy including an option to purchase cluster munitions such as those Textron produces. Again, I may be cynical on these matters, but something feels a bit off here (Congressional Research Service Report # RS22907; USNI; Defense News).
On to the news from the Continent:
APOPO, the landmine clearance organization that uses rats to detect mines, is the fourth NGO operator to support the clearance efforts in Zimbabwe. APOPO has been assigned the minefields in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Clearance of the Park will provide security for the animals and enable greater use of the Park for eco-tourism. APOPO will start the work using traditional methods of mechanical and manual demining before introducing the rats (Relief Web).
Libya has emerged in the last couple of years as one of the most mine-affected countries with the Islamic State making extensive use of the weapons. Estimates of the total number of newly laid explosives are in the thousands and include extensive use of booby traps in residences (Asharq Al-Awsat). At least eight civilians were killed and another 11 wounded by landmines in October in the city of Benghazi (Netral News). Additional casualties were reported in November in Benghazi (Libya Herald; Libya Herald; Libya Herald). The British government donated US $4 million worth of demining equipment to assist with the clearance of Sirte; in addition to the equipment, the United Kingdom is providing training to Libyan military and police engineers (Xinhua). The British ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, also visited Benghazi and announced a donation of 1.2 million British Pounds to train clearance teams in Benghazi and launch a mine-risk education program (Libya Herald).
Four civilians were killed in northern Mali when the minibus they were riding in struck a landmine near Lellehoye in the Gao region (Anadolu Agency).
Tunisian anti-terror units killed an explosives expert and found at least one landmine ready for use (Xinhua).
With the recent government settlement to provide funding for the clearance of landmines and unexploded and abandoned ordnance from the 1960s Biafra war, there seems to be a new interest in the extent of contamination. Casualty figures are unclear, but over 18,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW) have been cleared so far by one demining organization with another thousand items waiting disposal (People’s Daily).
The HALO Trust has cleared and destroyed over 1,000 anti-personnel mines from Menongue and Cuito Cuanavale in the first nine months of 2017 (EIN News). In Bie Province, the National Demining Institute (INAD) cleared over 200 ERW in a similar time period (All Africa).
British Member of Parliament Daniel Kawczinski called on the British government to hand over any minefield maps from the battle of El Alamein in World War II. Any maps from the battle would be significantly out of date and the shifting sands of the desert may have moved most of the mines from their original locations making the maps less helpful than might be hoped (Arab News). In previous reports, the British Ambassador has said that all such maps have been turned over the Egyptian authorities, but the detail of the maps was limited (The Monitor).
The Ministry of Defence has submitted a request to the Cabinet of the Gambia to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Gambia has already signed the Convention, but not yet completed the process of ratification (The Point).
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
December 30, 2017
My more astute readers will have noticed the distinct lack of traffic and content on this site. I apologize: things in my other worlds have gotten busier than I would have liked and I will try to get caught up again. I have posted a couple of items on the Red Mercury side of things, one on the report of a man trying to bring Red Mercury to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s offices in Atlanta (Campaign against Red Mercury) and the other about the people who keep trying to get me to buy the stuff (Campaign against Red Mercury). Also during this period I received a reminder that I have been writing this blog for six years, but I feel the urgency of the issue as sharply as I did when I first began. Without further ado or delay, the Quarter in Mines:
The Gambia is not considered a mine-affected country, but it is located immediately next to Senegal’s Casamance region which is a recognized mine-affected region and during Yahya Jammeh’s rule, The Gambia served as a refuge for rebels involved in the Casamance conflict. Since Jammeh departed The Gambia earlier this year, the space for free media has opened up and two landmine incidents have been reported which suggest the possibility of others which we simply didn’t hear about during Jammeh’s dictatorship. In the first incident, a farmer and his two sons were returning from collecting firewood when their donkey cart struck a mine on a road leading to the Casamance. All three were killed (All Africa). The second incident, which, like the first occurred in the Foni region, had no reported casualties, but seemed to spark a significant intelligence investigation (Freedom Newspaper).
Nigeria’s Army Chief of Staff acknowledged that landmine clearance of the Sambisa Forest, which had been used as a base by the Boko Haram rebels, had yet to begin in any meaningful manner. He called for donations of equipment and invited the international demining operators to support a clearance program (All Africa). In partial response, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) deployed an assessment team to Nigeria to evaluate the situation (All Africa). The threat from improvised and artisanal mines in Sambisa Forest is significant. At a crossroads, four mines were found and cleared (All Africa). In another incident, three civilian loggers were killed by a mine in the roadway when their truck struck the mine (National Daily).
In the south of the country, in the regions affected by the Biafra War in the 1960s, landmine survivors called upon the government for greater assistance and caches of mines and other abandoned ordnance are still being found (The Guardian).
In the good news column of the ledger, two regions, West Darfur’s Foro Baranga area and the Red Sea State were declared free of landmines (All Africa; All Africa). Clearance in the Red Sea State received substantial support from the government of Italy. Other eastern states in Sudan are expected to be cleared by the end of the year, thanks in part to continuing support from Italy, but the mine action program in Sudan remains woefully underfunded with less than 20% of the funds sought received (Italian mission to the UN). In somewhat surprising news – due to continuing sanctions on Sudan – the US government pledged US $1.5 million in support for mine action in Sudan during a donors conference (Journal du Cameroun).
In Darfur, UXO is the more significant problem. A teenager was killed by a suspected grenade when one of the two camels he was herding kicked the explosive (All Africa). While on patrol, ten peacekeepers from the United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) were injured when their truck struck an explosive remnant of war (ERW) (Sudan Tribune). In a third incident a herder was killed and another injured by a piece of ERW. The man killed was buried on the site of the blast so severe was the damage and the man injured suffered loss of his legs (Radio Dabanga).
In the contested region of Abyei, the Ethiopian Demining Platoon assigned to the peacekeeping force there destroyed several small arms and hundreds of pieces of ammunition and explosives as part of ongoing efforts there (Sudan Tribune).
The government of Norway continues to support landmine clearance in Angola’s northern Malanje province. A new grant of US $470,000 to Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will help clear the village of Camalanga (Relief Web). NPA’s partner APOPO used rats to detect landmines in the village of Camatende, and the fields have been returned to productive use (Relief Web). NPA is also working to clear the village of Luquembo and have discovered five anti-personnel landmines already (Angola National Press).
In accordance with its recent report on landmine clearance to the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, Angola is developing a final request for extension of it Article 5 demining obligations. At current pace, the clearance will take at least another 25 years, but Angola has pledged to meet the global goal of clearance by 2025. To develop the request, Angola’s mine action authority hosted a national conference on demining and included donors, mine clearance organizations and other government agencies. During the conference, the Angolan government announced that US $200 million would be needed in international assistance to achieve a mine-free Angola by 2025 (New York Times, All Africa, Relief Web).
In addition to the problems facing the country from policital violence and civil conflict, the government of South Sudan also needs to complete the demarcation of its southern border with Uganda. Part of that process will include survey and landmine clearance (All Africa). To support mine clearance in South Sudan, several countries, including Cambodia, continue to send specialized peacekeeping forces (Khmer Times).
While support for mine survey and clearance is forthcoming, support for landmine survivors is very limited. In the capitol, Juba, survivors can obtain prosthetics from the Physical Rehabilitation Reference Centre but orthopedic services are limited elsewhere in the country. With a quarter million ERW found and cleared so far in 2017, the threat from mines to the population is pervasive. Survivors from across the country have to travel to Juba and find the resources to support themselves for up to two weeks to have a prosthetic built and fitted for them (All Africa).
The heavily mine affected province of Matrouh – near the site of the World War II battle of El Alamein – reported zero landmine casualties in 2016, a stunning achievement made possible by the efforts of local activists and landmine survivors to raise awareness about landmines. Mine clearance and survivor support remain a challenge despite the efforts of the United Nations Development Programme, the government of Egypt and the limited number of donors, including Kuwait, which support clearance of Egypt’s northwestern deserts (Mada Masr, Al Ahram). Of course, Egypt’s landmine problem is not limited to the ERW from World War II. Extensive minefields remain on the Sinai Peninsula from the 1950s and 1960s conflicts with Israel. One Egyptian soldier was killed and three others injured when their vehicle struck a mine on Sinai, a mine that might be a decades old relic or the result of recent conflict with an Islamic State-linked group operating in Egypt (Al Bawaba).
Two children were killed by a landmine in the Middle Shabelle region when their auto rickshaw struck the explosive. Two other mines were found nearby (Xinhua Net). In the Lower Shabelle region, a minibus struck a mine killing at least 19 people and injuring others (Al Jazeera). And in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, two people were killed by a mine in the Galgala mountain area (All Africa). All three incidents were blamed on the Al Shabaab rebels without confirmation from the rebels themselves.
Three people affiliated with the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali were injured when their vehicle hit a mine in the northern Kidal region. A newly announced Islamist group, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, claimed responsibility for the blast (Stars and Stripes).
Until the outbreak of the Boko Haram rebellion and its spread in the aftermath of efforts by the government of Nigeria to eliminate the threat, Cameroon had not been considered a landmine-affected country. That has now clearly changed. The US government has donated mine-clearing equipment to Cameroon to address the threat (Journal du Cameroun) and multiple incidents confirm the threat. Three Cameroon soldiers were killed and at least five others injured in two separate landmine blasts (Anadolu Agency, Cameroon Concord) and six civilians were injured by a mine placed on a busy road (Journal du Cameroon). During a visit to a military hospital, Cameroon’s Defense Minister was able to meet with 21 soldiers who had been injured by landmines (Journal de Cameroun).
In the fighting for the cities of Sirte and Benghazi, Islamist rebels made extensive use of landmines and booby traps. Sirte has been liberated by the Libyan army under General Haftar and the fighting in Benghazi intensified during the quarter. The Danish Demining Group has received funding from the government of Great Britain to support landmine clearance and mine risk education in the country (Libya Observer).
In Sirte, the main roads into the city from the east and west have been re-opened following landmine clearance (Libya Observer). Within the city, mine clearance continued, but the risks remain. Two employees of the water utility were killed by a mine near a water storage tank (Libya Herald).
In Benghazi, at least 24 people, soldiers and civilians alike, were killed in the “Tree Street” district of the city in February and March, including a father and his son who were trying to return to their farm (Libya Herald). A mine planted at the former internal security building killed one soldier and injured two others (Libya Herald). In total, the Libyan National Army reported clearing 3,800 landmines from the center of Benghazi during its efforts to defeat the Islamist forces there (Xinhua Net).
In addition to the civilians and soldiers killed and wounded, two Libya National Army officers, a naval commander and a senior Special Forces officer were killed in separate landmine explosions (Libya Herald).
In the northern Mijek region, a shepherd was killed by a landmine after apparently hitting the explosive with a rock. The national mine action center had declared that part of the country landmine-free, but some of the desert regions are still contaminated as evidenced by this recent tragedy (Zouerate Media).
Over the course of the next 15 months, the Polisario Front, in fulfillment of its Deed of Commitment with Geneva Call, will destroy all stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines. Already the Front has destroyed 13,000 mines, but thousands remain in the stockpile (Geneva Call).
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working with the Ethiopian National Defence Forces to increase the capacity of Ethiopia’s military in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). This is part of a regional program to increase landmine clearance and EOD capacity in Africa and ICRC has supported similar work in Zimbabwe (International Committee of the Red Cross).
A Tunisian soldier died from injuries sustained in a landmine blast on Mount Ouergha on the border with Algeria. The mountain ranges have been used as an operating base by Islamist rebels and the deceased soldier was honored with the title, “Martyr of the nation,” after his death (Al Bawaba). A few days later a shepherdess was also killed by a landmine on a nearby mountain (News 24).
During the Intersessional Meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty, Algeria made the formal announcement that the nation had completed its landmine clearance obligations. One million mines in 93 separate hazardous areas have been cleared and 120 million square miles have been made available for productive use (Relief Web).
In 2012 Uganda declared itself landmine-free but over the last several years 149 unexploded and abandoned explosives have been discovered in the region. Most of the devices have been discovered by farmers in their fields, but there is no clear reporting mechanism to alert authorities about these explosives. The Gulu Amuru Landmine Survivors Association, composed of some 800 survivors injured by mines laid by the Lord’s Resistance Army, have called on the government of Uganda to take action to address the problem (PML Daily).
After declaring itself landmine-free in 2015, Mozambique discovered additional, previously unknown minefields. In partnership with Norwegian People’s Aid Mozambique has now cleared the minefields removing over 100 antipersonnel landmines (Norwegian People’s Aid).
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
July 25, 2017
Many apologies for this one being so late. Will try to do better for the rest of the year…
2016’s news that the number of landmine casualties had gone up severely is tempered only slightly by the fact that this news seems to have spurred some action in the international community. At a meeting of the African Union in December, the countries that had joined the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions re-committed themselves to the goal of a mine-free world by 2025 and setting up mechanisms to create cross-border cooperation to help achieve that end (African Union).
In the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, security forces fought militants aligned with the Islamic State for the first time in that region of the country. The firefight began when Puntland troops were stopped by landmines placed in the road. When the troops started to clear the mines, Islamic State fighters attacked. No casualties were reported from the mines (All Africa).
In Hirshabelle, one of Somalia’s key agricultural regions, the United Nations Support Office in Somalia and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) collaborated to rehabilitate major roadways to enable access and transport. During the operation, the teams rebuilt a bridge near Jowhar town that had been destroyed by a landmine (UN Support Office in Somalia).
The Zimbabwe Mine Action Center (ZIMAC) hosted a national mine action strategic planning workshop to develop the 2017 workplan and set up a long-term plan for clearing all remaining landmines in the country. This plan will help to inform the expected extension request from Zimbabwe to the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).
An India company, JMC Projects India, is building a hundred kilometer road between Kenya and Ethiopia and has pledged to provide prosthetics to members of the Tigray Disabled Veterans Association. An estimate 100,000 people in Tigray Regional State have been disabled by landmines or the wars in Ethiopia (All Africa).
Last year Nigerian military engineers discovered multiple caches of cluster munitions in northeastern Adamawa state and a suicide attack in Maiduguri carried out by a female bomber is thought to have used similar munitions (The Daily Beast).
In December, a lieutenant colonel in the Nigerian army died when his vehicle struck a landmine buried in the road in Borno state; the mine was attributed to Boko Haram. The lieutenant colonel is the fourth officer killed by Boko Haram in just two months (Naij.com).
To combat Boko Haram and the landmines, IEDs and booby-traps left by them, the Nigerian army acquired a Slovak-made mine-sweeper to clear the roads in Borno state (Naij.com).
The spokesman for the Libyan National Army’s engineering division was killed by a landmine in the Banfouda area of Benghazi (Libya Herald). As the army liberates more of the city, civilians are attempting to return to their homes and many have been killed or wounded by landmines and booby traps left by the fleeing Islamic State forces. A Chadian national was injured by a mine on a farm just east of Benghazi (Al Wasat). Bobby traps have been found not only in the streets and fields but also in Benghazi’s main hospital where two mines exploded. Fortunately no one was seriously injured (Libya Herald). As IS forces expand their asymmetrical warfare to include suicide car bombs and the use of weaponized drones, a brigade commander was killed by a landmine (Libya Herald) and a special forces soldier was killed and two other soldiers injured by a mine (Arab Today).
In the western city of Sirte, recently liberated from the Islamic State, residents and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) have called for assistance to clear the landmines left by IS. UNHCR and Mercy Corps are conducting a rapid needs assessment and have identified landmine clearance as the more pressing need (UNHCR). In partial response, army engineering teams from Misrata, Zliten and Tripoli are clearing the mines in Sirte and as they clear neighborhoods, alerting the residents so they can return. The engineering teams are also asking residents not to return to areas before those areas have been declared clear of mines to avoid further casualties. (Libya Observer). This message has been reinforced by the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, in remarks aimed at fostering national reconciliation (Press TV).
Democratic Republic of Congo
The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) reported on its 2016 achievements in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In addition to clearing almost 175,000 square meters of ground and destroying over 26,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW), 8,000 Congolese have been sensitized about the dangers of landmines and ERW. The sensitization campaign included a pop song by a local artist and is available on YouTube. The current pace of clearance would allow DRC to meet its Mine Ban Treaty requirement of clearance of all known minefields by January 1, 2021 (UNMAS).
A shepherd lost his left leg to a landmine on Mount Semmama in the Kasserine region. The right leg was also severely damaged and may also require amputation (Webdo). Two Tunisian soldiers were also injured in the Kasserine region in a separate incident (Direct Info).
In the northern Malanje province, Angola’s National Demining Institute handed over to the local government, a 2,500 square meter field that had been cleared of mines. The local authorities plan to use the land for an electrical substation (ANGOP).
In Huila province, fears of a previously undocumented minefield were heightened when a farmer was injured by an anti-tank mined as he was plowing a field for a newly launched agricultural program. This was the second such blast in the area in the last two years and the earlier explosion killed two people (ANGOP).
In its annual review of progress, the National Inter-ministerial Commission on Demining and Humanitarian Assistance (CNIDAH) reported 1.4 million square meters of land have been cleared of mines by Angolan military engineers. CNIDAH also announced its intention to secure another extension for its Article 5 clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty with the extension period lasting until 2025. CNIDAH calculates that US $275.2 million will be required to clear all known landmines and minefields (Prensa Latina).
Just a little a year after declaring the country free of anti-personnel landmines, Mozambique has declared itself free of cluster munitions. In 2015 Norwegian Peoples Aid, with support from UNDP, conducted a comprehensive survey of cluster munitions remnants and identified 4 provinces affected by cluster munitions. After the survey, NPA cleared 144 Rhodesia-made submunitions from multiple campaigns along the border leaving Mozambique cluster munition-free (Norwegian Peoples Aid).
In the North Darfur region, two boys were killed and a third injured by an ERW that the boys found and played with (Radio Dabanga).
According to the Sudanese Defense Minister, 14 civilians were killed or injured by landmines in Sudan in 2016. In response, almost 99 million square meters of land has been cleared of mines and other ERW (Sudan Vision).
Three French soldiers were killed and three others wounded when their vehicle struck a landmine. The vehicle was in the lead of a convoy traveling to Tessalit from Gao (Africa News).
In December, the Algerian National Police cleared over 81,000 landmines from the border with Morocco (DZ Breaking).
A man was injured by a landmine when he drove his Land Rover over it. The injuries were not thought to be life threatening, but there is concern that recent floods in Western Sahara may have moved some mines causing areas that had previously been safe to now be dangerous (Dales Vozalas Victimas).
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
February 27, 2017
Syria and Yemen deservedly get the majority of the news about use of cluster munitions and landmines, but North Africa has also seen fairly widespread use of these weapons in the last few years. Beginning with the Gaddhafi regime’s use to try and hold off the liberation forces encouraged by Arab Spring, through current use by various Islamist groups, new landmine use can be seen in Algeria, Libya, Mali, Tunisia, Egypt and Nigeria. In Libya and Sudan, government aligned forces have been alleged to use cluster munitions. The use of these weapons in these ongoing conflicts means that their effects will be felt for years to come, in countries which already faced substantial burdens of explosive remnants of war.
During World War II, British and German armies laid some 17 million landmines in the western deserts of Egypt, an area that became famous as the tank battle of El Alamein. Most of those landmines remain in the deserts and until recently have only been a threat to the nomadic communities who make the desert their home. Two people were killed and three injured by a mine in the Wasy el-Natroun area. Egypt now has plans to development much of the western desert to take advantage of the natural gas deposits that lie below the surface and has cleared 155 square kilometers of desert of mines (Daily News Egypt), but another actor has also emerged with plans for the minefields: the Islamic State. According to the former director of Egypt’s Mine Action Center, Fathy el-Shazly, there have been at least ten confirmed reports of jihadists digging up old landmines and repurposing them as improved explosive devices, the first coming in 2004. The March 2016 landmine blast in the Red Sea area was attributed to repurposed landmines. Newsweek’s story about ISIS using World War II mines is a bit breathless and sensationalized, but points to another danger of abandoned ordnance. To its credit, Newsweek also highlights the poverty of the nomadic communities in the western desert and notes that some of the nomads are tempted to dig up the old mines and sell them as they have no other form of income (Newsweek).
In the Sinai region, where the Egyptian government is fighting a separate Islamist insurgency, a policy captain was killed while chasing insurgents following a firefight and an attempted bombing of an Al-Arish police station (Ahram).
When Papias Higiro stepped on a landmine shortly after the genocide and civil war in Rwanda, his life prospects were bleak. 21 years later, Papias has received his first prosthetic leg and can fulfill his dream of walking again and will attend vocational training to become a hairdresser. This intervention was made possible by the charitable arm of AirTel, a mobile phone company (All Africa).
The government of Zimbabwe has accused three Zimbabweans living abroad of trying to destabilized the government. One of the men is accused of threatening to plant landmines on the roads to kill a thousand people (The Herald).
In recognition of Zimbabwe Defence Forces Day, Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, recognized the landmine clearance efforts of the Zimbabwean army, the HALO Trust and Norwegian People’s Aid (All Africa).
Nigerian soldiers are clearing landmines and other explosives left by Boko Haram and have arrested five members of the group who are suspected of planting some of the mines (All Africa). The local Nigerian commanders boasted of a massive demining effort covering the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, an effort made possible by the purchase and delivery of demining equipment (Vanguard).
Nigeria is not the only country affected by Boko Haram. Four Chadian soldiers were killed by a Boko Haram landmine near that country’s border with Niger (Reuters).
In Libya, the army under General Haftar, has ousted Islamic State forces from the city of Sirte, but Islamic State laid many landmines and booby traps. Deminers from the army and from Libya’s intelligence services are now tasked with clearing mines and explosives which have killed over 300 soldiers and injured another 400. At least four deminers have been killed and another injured trying to clear Sirte. Five months of clearance work remains in Sirte according to a military spokesman (IRIN News). To assist the Libyan forces, the Italian government is believed to have deployed special forces to the country to train Libyan deminers (Sputnik News; Ahram).
General Haftar’s army, while calling for assistance with landmine clearance, has also not helped its own cause by using banned cluster bombs. In official photos published by the Libyan National Army (LNA), army helicopters are shown carrying the munitions, which challenges the LNA’s denial of use of such weapons in Derna and Benghazi (War is Boring).
In addition to the LNA’s cluster bombs, the Islamic State left landmines in Derna city, one of which killed a leader of the Shura Council of Mujahideen, an Islamist group that ousted Islamic State before being besieged by the LNA (Libyan Express).
In Benghazi two soldiers were killed and two more wounded at a checkpoint in the Al Gawarsha district (Libya Observer). And in Misrata, the local hospital reported three soldiers killed in two separate incidents, both attributed to Islamic State landmines (Libya Observer).
Of course, the extensive use of landmines can also backfire as seen in Sirte when an Islamic State member tried to drive an explosive laden car into Al Bunyan Al Marsoos positions and struck a landmine laid by Islamic State forces, destroying the car and causing no casualties beyond the driver (Libyan Observer).
Three Tunisian soldiers were killed and seven more injured by an anti-tank landmine in the western region of the country, near the Algerian border. The mountainous region has been a hideout for militants since the start of Arab Spring in 2011 (Press TV).
The Algerian army cleared 866 landmines dating back to the liberation war against the French. This was part of the ongoing clearance work along the borders of the country. Algeria is also facing a current threat from Islamist groups that are fighting against the government and the army. In the last year and a half, Algerian has killed or arrested hundreds of suspected Islamists and the government claims that the Islamists have mostly been defeated and the government is now trying to consolidate its position and make the affected areas safe for the population. The government reported the seizure of two landmines that were believed to have been intended for use along the country’s roads. In just such an incident, four civilians were killed when their vehicle struck a mine attributed to Islamist groups (Strategy Page; Defence Web).
Michael P. Moore
September 26, 2016
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
New wars and old wars, old wars and new wars. We continue to face the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war from old wars, while rebel groups rely on landmines and improvised explosive devices to conduct asymmetrical wars in the present. In most countries we talk about here in these pages, the country falls into one group or another. A few places, Algeria is an example we see this month, faces the old and the new threats. It is my hope that this is a limited club and not a growing one. We shall see.
The Nigerian army has begun yet another push into the Boko Haram-held Sambisa forest in northeastern Nigeria. At a Nigerian military check-point on the Bui-Damboa road, a vehicle struck an artisanal landmine killing five people and injuring three others. The proximity of the mine to a Nigerian check-point suggests the military needs to be more vigilant when establishing their positions (All Africa). In Yobe state, seven people who had been displaced by Boko Haram and have since been able to return to their homes were killed by a landmine in their agricultural fields. The local government has responded with mine risk education program (Punch). Landmines have also been placed in the farmlands of Borno state and five farmers were killed by a mine, even though the Nigerian military supposedly had cleared the area. Because of the danger, many farmers are refusing to go to their fields despite the fact that they have no other means of support (Pulse).
The Minister of Welfare and Social Reintegration thanked the media for its role in raising awareness about landmines and other explosive remnants of war (All Africa). The EU ambassador to Angola, Gordon Kricke, promised additional financial support for landmine clearance in the eastern provinces of Moxico, Lunda Sul, Lunda Norte and Cuando Cubango (All Africa). In southern Cunene province, the Angolan army hosted mine risk education sessions in several schools (All Africa). In Zaire province, the National Demining Institute complete clearance work for the the Nzeto / Mbanza Congo power line having found six pieces of unexploded ordnance in the process (All Africa). In Moxico province, MAG handed over two cleared minefields to the community after 320 landmines and other explosive remnants of wars were removed (MAG).
The Cameroon Bar Association issued its report on violations of human rights including Boko Haram’s use of anti-personnel landmines which violates the fundamental right to life (All Africa). At a military funeral, the Cameroon army paid its respects to 13 soldiers who died fighting against Boko Haram, some of who were killed by landmines (All Africa). In addition to the dead, at least thirty Cameroonian soldiers are being treated for injuries that range from snake bites to landmine blasts (Citizen Digital).
Almost US $5 million is required to clear the minefield that marks the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe in Gonarezhou National Park. The acting coordinator of the Zimbabwe Mine Action Center noted the need for funds to buy basic equipment like metal detectors. 300 people have been killed by mines in the park since 1980 along with hundreds of wild and domestic animals (All Africa). The leader of the Prophetic Healing Ministries warned his followers about the dangers of trying to extract red mercury from landmines, saying that red mercury is a hoax (All Africa).
Two women were killed and a third injured by a landmine placed in the Samam mountain on the border with Algeria (Reuters).
Two Malian soldiers were killed and another injured when their vehicle hit a landmine on the road between Gossi and Hombori in the north of the country (Fox News). In another incident, Chadian peacekeepers were ambushed north of Aguelhok in the Kidal region. The convoy the peacekeepers were traveling with struck a landmine and then gunmen opened fire. Five peacekeepers were kill and three injured (The Nation).
Three Libyan soldiers were killed and two wounded by a landmine in Sirte, during an operation to defeat the Islamic State rebels (Libya Observer). An eleven year-old girl who tried to flee the fighting in Sirte was grievously injured by a landmine and required 17 hours of surgery by six surgeons to be stabilized (Libya Observer).
Police in the southern city of Kismayo found and cleared a landmine from a major road (Garowe Online). In Mogadishu a landmine detonated near a government checkpoint injuring five people, two soldiers and three civilians (Horseed Media). In the semi-autonomous Puntland region, two Puntland soldiers were killed and three more injured as tried to defuse a landmine in Galgala (Garowe Online).
A landmine attributed to the Lord’s Resistance Army was found in the middle of a road in the Teso region, some 13 years after the LRA invasion. After closing the road, the police cleared the mine (All Africa).
The Algerian government announced the clearance of over 2,000 landmines planted by the French colonial authorities during the liberation war. In addition to the ongoing clearance activities, Algerian counter-terrorism forces found and cleared a landmine being used to protect an Islamist hideout (Strategy Page).
Michael P. Moore
June 28, 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
Already in 2016 the United States has signaled its intention to increase support to two of the most mine-affected countries, Colombia and Laos. The increased investments will enable both of these countries to be mine and cluster munition-free in a few years (State Department; CNN). There should also be consideration for increasing investments in African countries, many of whose contamination from landmine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) would be manageable with a long-term commitment of funding.
Provincial landmine clearance totals for 2015 were reported for several provinces. 2.14 million square meters of land in Cunene province, 5.4 million square meters in Lunda Sul province, 550 thousand square meters in Huambo province, and 750 thousand square meters in Kuando Kubango province were cleared of landmines by the National Institute of Demining, the Angolan Army, local government outfits and the HALO Trust (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa). Cleared lands will be available for agriculture, building of roads and hospitals, and safe access to water (All Africa; All Africa). To maintain clearance capacity for 2016, the national demining association, Terra Mae, and a cadre of Angolan army sappers participated in separate training sessions (All Africa; All Africa).
Two boys were killed and a third injured by a landmine that they found and tried to dig out. The boys, all brothers, deliberately hit the mine, not realizing the potential consequences. Local officials have called for the survey and clearance of all mines in the area to prevent more casualties (All Africa).
In the Boni Forest on the Kenya-Somalia border, a landmine attributed to Al Shabaab detonated under a Kenya Defence Force vehicle killing six or seven soldiers (reports differ) and injuring three others. The continued insecurity around Boni Forest is keeping students and teachers out of school (All Africa; All Africa).
A Soviet anti-tank landmine was found beside a newly refurbished road. A country-wide explosive clearance campaign is underway in Namibia, but the area around the road was not surveyed prior to being tarred so the construction crew working on the road was lucky not to disturb the mine which dates back to the liberation war in Namibia (All Africa).
A tenth of Egypt’s arable land is contaminated with landmines, most, some 17.5 million, dating back to the battle of El Alamein in World War II. A second wave of mine-laying around the Suez Canal and Sinai Peninsula took place between 1956 and 1973 resulting in another 5 million mines on Egyptian soil. In addition to preventing agriculture, the mines impede development and exploitation of Egypt’s natural gas reserves. Since 1990, 3,200 people have been killed and over 4,700 have been injured by mines. Egypt has not signed the Mine Ban Treaty for a variety of reasons and remains one of the most significant hold-outs to the Treaty (All Africa).
The Italian government pledged 250,000 Euros for landmine clearance and mine risk education in Sudan. The funds will support clearance of 900,000 square meters of land in Kassala province and educate 5,000 people on landmine risks (All Africa). The contribution is part of the $12.4 million sought for mine action in Sudan by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). If the mine action sector were to be fully funded, Sudan could be landmine free by 2019 (Star Africa).
Three Malian soldiers were killed by a landmine when their convoy struck the mine near the northern city of Gao (Sahelien).
The HALO Trust, freshly off its role in creating a landmine-free Mozambique, has launched a modest victim assistance program focusing on providing prosthetic limbs to landmine survivors in Mozambique. In October 2015, 14 survivors were taken to Zimbabwe for measurements for custom prosthetics. The prosthetics were made by the Bulawayo-based prosthetist, Noordan Cassim, and then transported the hundreds of kilometers to Mozambique for fitting. All 14 survivors have received their prosthetic limbs which would have cost hundreds of dollars had the survivors purchased them (TakePart). While the program is commendable, I think it says a lot about the quality and available of prosthetics in Mozambique if survivors must travel to a neighboring country for measurements.
A Maasai herder was killed by a landmine near the military academy at Lesekekwa Meser. The area around the academy is supposed to be a secure area, but Tanzania, as a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, should have cleared all anti-personnel mines that might have been near the training ground (IPP Media).
Nigeria / Cameroon / Niger
The Boko Haram insurgency is affecting all three of these countries, and Chad, as the group shifts its tactics territory-holding to asymmetrical warfare. Following a similar playbook to that of Al Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram is using improvised explosive devices and hit and run tactics to sow chaos and confusion. In partial response, the United States government has granted 24 used Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles to the Nigerian army. Coming from Afghanistan and Iraq, the MRAPs are part of the same program leading to the militarization of domestic police forces in the United States. Of course, had the Nigerian army checked the warranty before accepting delivery, they would have noticed that some of the MRAPs are not in usable condition and replacement parts will need to be ordered and purchased from manufacturers in the States (All Africa). However, the need for mine-resistant vehicles for use against Boko Haram is clear. Five members of the a local security force in northeastern Nigeria were killed by a landmine and four others injured when their pick-up truck struck a landmine believed to have been place by Boko Haram (Today).
In neighboring Cameroon, the Minister of Communication reported that there had been at least 12 landmine attacks by Boko Haram in Cameroon in 2015 (Business in Cameroon).
In Diffa, Niger, six Nigerien soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine (Med Africa Times).
Two Libyan soldiers were killed and a third injured by a landmine in Benghazi (Arabs Today). In Kikla, about 50 miles southwest of Tripoli, a civilian was injured by a landmine placed in the city’s center. Other mines remain in the city and the local governing body has warned displace residents from returning until they are cleared (Libya Observer).
Handicap International has resumed its landmine clearance program in the Casamance region of Senegal after a three-year suspension of work. The group aims to clear 55,000 square meters by August 2016 (ReliefWeb).
A member of a military engineering group was injured by a landmine during clearance and destruction near Jebel Ouergha in Kef (Mosaique FM).
Two Sahrawis were seriously injured by an anti-tank landmine near the berm separating Western Sahara into the western, Moroccan-controlled region and the eastern, Polisario-controlled region. Two other passengers in the car escaped unhurt (MAP Independent News).
By the end of 2015, the Algerian army had managed to clear its one millionth landmine. Since 2004, almost 10 million hectares of land have been cleared (All Africa).
Michael P. Moore
February 16, 2016
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org