U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Programs: Asia

To Walk the Earth in Safety: The U.S. Commitment to Humanitarian Mine Action
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
June 2006


An improvised explosive device severely damaged this four-wheel drive vehicle that PM/WRA provided to the UN for humanitarian mine action operations in Afghanistan.  In some parts of the world, terrorists and others are intent on interfering with, or deliberately targeting, post-conflict reconstruction organizations engaging in mine action and other forms of humanitarian assistance. Mine action operations are hazardous and are often interrupted by such incidents. Sadly, Afghanistan is not the only country emerging from decades of war where this is the situation. Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.The flag of AfghanistanAfghanistan has endured major conflict since 1979 and remains severely affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) that cause nearly 100 casualties each month (down from 150-300 victims a month). A 2004 Landmine Impact Survey commissioned by the United Nations Mine Action Program for Afghanistan (UNMAPA) reported landmines and UXO in a total of 715.9 square kilometers of land and in 2,368 communities. Most landmines and UXO are found in agricultural fields, irrigation canals, and grazing areas, with concentrated belts located around major cities, airports, government installations, and power stations, and near the borders with Iran and Pakistan. The cluster munitions used by Coalition forces against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda that failed to explode—a small fraction of Afghanistan's UXO problem—were cleared from accessible areas in 2003 following a special survey conducted by the United States.

Afghan dog handlers and their mine detecting dogs (MDDs) take a break from their duties during a site visit by a team from PM/WRA. The U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program firmly believes that properly trained and equipped MDDs and their handlers can effectively speed the process by which areas are determined either to be mined or not mine-affected (area reduction), and they can enhance the quality assurance/quality control process during and after clearance. MDDs continue to be a valuable component of a deminer's 'tool box' in all but the most extreme climates and terrains. Col. Tom Allen (U.S. Army Reserve), USAID.The United States allocated $61,378,000 to Afghanistan in humanitarian mine action funds for FY04, resulting in the recovery of 22,137,676 square meters of agricultural land and roadways. The U.S. Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) granted $1,522,283 to the Mine Detection and Dog Center for mine detecting dogs and survey work, and another $2,157,480 to the Mine Clearance Planning Agency for surveying and marking minefields in 22,335,285 square meters of land. The Demining Agency for Afghanistan (DAFA) received $2,643,710 from PM/ WRA to clear mines and UXO, while The HALO Trust's demining activities in the Shomali Valley were supported by $1,000,000 in PM/WRA funding. In addition, PM/WRA paid a U.S. firm, RONCO Consulting Corporation, $4,375,527 to provide technical assistance to DAFA for demining and UXO clearance, and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) was granted $617,425 for mine risk education. In 2004 and 2005, USAID's Leahy War Victims Fund provided approximately $1.6 million in support for the Comprehensive Disabled Afghan's Program (CDAP), the focal point for providing assistance for those with disabilities in Afghanistan. CDAP works closely with the Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled to provide rehabilitation services to approximately 20,000 disabled veterans in Kabul and technical assistance to strengthen disabled persons organizations and the disabled community in general. USAID funds also underwrote the majority of demining and reconstruction costs that reopened the vital Kabul-to-Kandahar highway to traffic in December 2003. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, the International Rescue Committee, and UNICEF to design and conduct a war-related mortality, injury, disability, and mental health survey.

This poster from the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation (OMAR), one of the Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in humanitarian mine action, depicts OMAR's efforts to clear landmines and other remnants of war, and to conduct mine risk education.  OMAR and other Afghan mine action NGOs have received substantial funding, equipment, and other support from PM/WRA. Col. Stu Harris, USMC, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

In December 2004, the State Department's PM/WRA initiated a contract with The HALO Trust to destroy or deactivate small arms and light weapons (SA/LW), heavy weapons (including tanks and artillery), and associated munitions left over from decades of conflict. PM/WRA funding established three mobile Weapons and Ammunition Disposal (WAD) Teams as well as two technical teams to support the Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) initiative. The DIAG technical teams assess the type and condition of weapons and munitions surrendered during the DIAG process, with surplus or unserviceable items designated for destruction by WAD Teams. The three WAD Teams operate in eight provinces and can transport all necessary equipment, such as hydraulic shears and angle grinders, to destroy or deactivate weaponry. Their unique mobility allows them to respond to requests for assistance from Coalition Forces and U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the field. As of FY05, the three teams destroyed 4,745 SA/LW, 432 metric tons of heavy weapons munitions, and 375.6 metric tons of small arms ammunition, in addition to disabling 287 heavy weapon components. Other teams throughout Afghanistan are being supported by a variety of private and public donors, both bilaterally and through the UN Voluntary Trust Fund.

In FY05, the United States provided another $13,700,000 to aid in humanitarian mine action there. Of this amount, Cranfield University received $300,000 to provide local demining groups with mid-level management training. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Humanitarian Demining Research and Development program invests over $1 million annually towards improving the U.S. Army's AN/PSS-14, or HD-HSTAMIDS, a dual-sensor mine detector. This is the first and only fielded true "mine" detector that incorporates both ground penetrating radar and metal detector, allowing deminers to discriminate mines from small metal fragments. The Humanitarian Demining Program invested over $150K in FY05 towards the execution of an in-country field evaluation of the HD-HSTAMIDS in partnership with The HALO Trust in Afghanistan. Four HD-HSTAMIDS systems have been sent to Afghanistan where The HALO Trust deminers have been trained on the system. The HALO Trust is incorporating the system into its operations in 2006. This is the first time a humanitarian demining organization will be able to use the HDHSTAMIDS in actual demining operations which should greatly improve their efficiency, allowing the land to be cleared at a much faster rate. In addition, the Humanitarian Demining Program provided The HALO Trust in FY05 with $106,000 for the development of unique sifting and digging technology in Afghanistan. The HALO Trust integrated the ALLU sifting bucket onto its front loaders, developed a special purpose sifting trailer and evaluated DoD's air spade digging system. Transfer of the demining program from the UN to the Government of Afghanistan, to be completed by December 2006, is moving forward with the support of the UN and donor countries. For example, the UN Development Program, UNMAPA, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, NATO's International Security Assistance Force, and the U.S.-led Coalition work together to support the Afghan National Survey being undertaken by the new Afghan Ministry of Defense. Completion of the survey will allow the Afghan Government to clear UXO, which is currently the cause of more than half the victims in Afghanistan. Compliance with this long-term, strategic perspective assures that the most effective landmine and UXO clearance efforts support Afghan reconstruction. Clearing the most affected areas has facilitated the return of more than 3.8 million Afghan refugees, including 760,000 in 2004, believed to be the largest voluntary refugee repatriation in modern history.


A little Cambodian girl who lost a limb to a persistent anti-personnel landmine is taught to walk with crutches at a physical rehabilitation center in Phnom Penh. She faces a lifetime of challenges as she grows and must be  regularly refitted with prosthetics. The LWVF, VVAF, Landmine Survivors Network, American Red Cross, Handicap International Belgium, Children's Medical Center (formerly ROSECharities Cambodia), Clear Path International, and others are working to ensure that she and other disabled Cambodians have their hope, dignity and mobility restored. In addition, organizations such as Adopt-A-Minefield, Roots of Peace, Freedom Fields USA, Grapes for Humanity, Landmines Blow!, and Global Care Unlimited, have also generously provided funds to assist these mine survivors, and to demine mine-infested valuable land and infrastructure. John McCann, Warner Bros.Flag of CambodiaThe impact of three decades of conflict and the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge regime is still felt in Cambodia today, a country that remains affected by large amounts of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). This tragic legacy of violence was exacerbated in the 1990s by the growth of illicit trafficking in narcotics, weapons, and people, and the dangerous recycling of UXO for its scrap metal value; both activities are driven by economic need.

The U.S., along with other international donors, has endeavored to help Cambodia to recover, partly through the provision of nearly $44 million in U.S. humanitarian mine action assistance since FY93. Nearly $4 million in FY05 funding from the U.S. Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) supported mine action by The HALO Trust, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and the Cambodian Mine Action Center's (CMAC) Demining Unit #3 in the provinces most affected by landmines and UXO. The funds were also used to maintain MAG's three "Tempest" remote-controlled demining machines in Cambodia. In addition, PM/WRA initiated a middle management training program for deminers through Cranfield University (U.K.) and its partner VBNK Institute of Management. The U.S. Department of Defense continued local capacity-building programs in medical, vehicle maintenance, and explosive storage assistance training at a cost of $86,455. DoD's Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program supported the development of technology in Cambodia with partnerships with The HALO Trust, CMAC and MAG by providing $880,000 for the development of sifting technology, the TEMPEST ground-engaging fl ail, the new multi-sensor HD-HSTAMIDS handheld system that can detect all metallic and non-metallic landmines, and a unique Explosive Harvesting Program (EHP). The EHP utilizes UXO and landmines slated for destruction and recasts their explosives into detonation charges for use in stockpile reduction and in situ neutralization of UXO and mines. Finally, the U.S. Agency for International Development's Leahy War Victims Fund (LWVF) expended $865,000 to maintain a training center for orthopedic technicians; mobilize civil society groups on disability and rehabilitation issues through the Disability Action Council and Handicap International-Belgium; and provide prosthetics and rehabilitation services through the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF). In 2005, USAID continued its efforts to strengthen rehabilitation services in Cambodia with an additional $800,000 investment. In FY05, the United States provided another $3,920,000 in funding for what remains a high-priority country in the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program. Of this amount, $129,000 went towards mid-level management training for two classes of 25 Cambodian demining leaders through Cranfield University.

Recognizing the threat to society posed by trafficking in military-grade small arms and light weapons (SA/LW), the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces requested U.S. assistance to secure their stocks of weapons and munitions. PM/WRA successfully completed a new SA/LW destruction and stockpile security program in 2004. With $250,314 in FY04, PM/WRA enabled the destruction of 233 man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) that Cambodia deemed unnecessary for its needs, and upgraded security at K-86, a military base near Phnom Penh, to forestall theft of SA/LW by arms smugglers. PM/WRA began to support destruction of surplus and unstable ammunition at K-68 in FY05 with $29,000 in assistance.

The U.S. has contributed to Cambodia's mine action efforts since 1993, resulting in total land cleared reaching 259 million square meters during these 12 years. Although international and domestic efforts have managed to reduce landmine casualties by 75 percent since the mid-1990s, Cambodia will remain a high-priority country for U.S. mine action assistance until at least 2008, when the worst mine threats will have been addressed. The increase in deaths and injuries from attempts to recycle metal from UXO poses a difficult challenge. Cambodia may not be free from the humanitarian impact of landmines ("mine impact-free") until 2020.

This is a mechanical vegetation cutter funded by the U.S. Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. An operator of The HALO Trust is clearing small trees, bushes, and brush in a mined area. What this vegetation cutter accomplishes in a few hours saves manual deminers days of strenuous work, enabling them to efficiently focus on clearing landmines and UXO. Deborah Netland, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. 

A father and his daughter, both disabled by persistent anti-personnel landmines, were fitted with prosthetic limbs. Life for farmers and other rural dwellers in developing countries is hard, and it is made even more so by landmines, other explosive remnants of war, and by SA/LW wielded by criminals and terrorists. Survivors fortunate enough to receive medical treatment and a prosthetic often struggle to obtain proper post-operative physical rehabilitation, counseling (ideally by peers), vocational training, and replacements for worn or outgrown prosthetics. The LWVF has programs addressing all these challenges in Cambodia and in other war-torn countries.

Flag of LaosA team of female Mines Advisory Group (MAG) technicians in the process of carefully clearing an unexploded aerial bomb. MAG is one of the organizations that carries out UXO and landmine clearance in Laos for the U.S. Department of State. �Sean Sutton/MAG/magclearsmines.orgLaos suffered extensively from its own civil war and from the spillover of two wars in neighboring Vietnam, one of which was the U.S. air campaign from 1964 to 1973 when the U.S. dropped nearly two million tons of ordnance on North Vietnamese troops transiting through or sheltering in Laos. Due to heavy tropical foliage and soggy terrain, up to 30 percent of these munitions failed to explode, leaving two-thirds of the country littered with unexploded ordnance (UXO). Ground combat during its civil war and the Vietnam War also resulted in the laying of minefields along the country's eastern border.

The United States is the single largest donor to the landmine and UXO clearance program in Laos, having contributed nearly $25,000,000 since FY95. In FY04, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) contributed $1,912,000 in assistance to Laos, including $724,632 to Norwegian People's Aid, and $475,403 to Mines Advisory Group (MAG) for UXO and mine clearance in the highly-affected provinces of Saravane, Sekong, and Attapeu. PM/WRA also supplied a $211,965 grant to the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation to develop a national mine and UXO accident database. In addition, the U.S. Agency for International Development's Leahy War Victims Fund, along with its implementing partner, The Consortium (World Education and World Learning), granted $400,000 for medical training and staff, primary education, and school-based UXO risk awareness. In FY05, the United States provided $3,200,000 more in humanitarian mine action aid. Among other accomplishments, this funding helped restore the Lao demining program's staff to full strength.

In 2004, publication of the National Poverty Eradication Plan (NPEP) was the significant impetus to address the needs of the highest-priority districts. The 2004 Work Plan for the Lao National UXO program (UXO Lao) called for the organization to work in 24 districts that the NPEP identified as very poor, and in 11 districts that the NPEP identified as poor. In the coming years, the major focus of UXO Lao's efforts will be to reclaim farming and grazing land from UXO and mines in these 35 districts. Laos has set a goal of achieving mine impact-free status by 2013. The significant mine action aid that the United States provides may enable the country to become safe from the humanitarian impact of mines and UXO by then.

Sri Lanka

Flag of Sri LankaA real U.S. Department of State Public-Private Partnership in action! Senior Sri Lankan Army engineer officers and principals from the Sri Lanka Association of Greater Washington, the Sri Lanka-U.S. Business Forum,  Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI), Chubb Corporation, the office of Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska), and a mine detecting dog trainer from RONCO Consulting Corporation, inaugurate the Sri Lankan Army mine detecting dog kennels on the Jaffna Peninsula. PM/WRA funded the kennels, and MLI provided the mine detecting dogs  through generous funding from concerned American citizens, non-governmental organizations, and corporations.   Deborah Netland, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.Nearly two decades of civil war came to a tentative end in February 2002 with a cease-fire agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The cease-fire allowed substantial humanitarian mine action (HMA) operations to begin throughout the areas affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). From 1995 to 2001, 3,909 casualties from landmines and UXO were reported in Sri Lanka, or approximately 568 victims per year, on average. In 2003, reported casualties dropped to 102, thanks in large part to mine action assistance from the United States and other donor nations, the UN, nongovernmental organizations, and the diligent efforts of Sri Lankan deminers. Shortly after the ceasefire, the U.S. Department of State deployed its Quick Reaction Demining Force, based in Mozambique (see page 6), to help demine land in order to resettle internally displaced persons and reinforce peace.

During a program assessment visit, a PM/WRA team interviewed these ethnic Tamil farmers who were disabled  by persistent anti-personnel landmines. The farmer on the left had been blinded, and the other two had suffered multiple limb loss. The farmer on the right also had eye injuries. Although they were fortunate to have received medical treatment and prosthetics, the magnitude of their injuries is such that they are no longer able to farm and provide for their families. They also required new, properly fitted prosthetics. Their plight is a reminder that the needs of landmine survivors must continue to be addressed even after the mines have been cleared. John Stevens, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.In FY04, the United States provided $2,700,000 in HMA support to Sri Lanka. The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) awarded a U.S. firm, RONCO Consulting Corporation, a $1,775,000 contract for national capacity building in mine action. RONCO trained a Sri Lankan Army (SLA) cadre consisting of 280 deminers, 35 medics, 42 senior non-commissioned officers, and 40 commissioned officers. In an innovative public-private partnership between PM/WRA and the Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI), in close coordination with the SLA, six mine detecting dogs (MDDs), paid for by MLI with funds raised from U.S. citizens and corporations, and their SLA handlers were trained and deployed to Jaffna by June 2004. The successful integration of MDDs into SLA operations resulted in another six MDDs being donated through MLI in 2005. The U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Leahy War Victims Fund, with non-government partner Motivation, implemented a program to enhance opportunities for landmine survivors. In FY04 and FY05, USAID provided over $1 million in funding towards these efforts. During that time period, nearly 2,000 rehabilitation devices were provided including prostheses, orthoses and wheelchairs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with the World Health Organization continued to fund a post-conflict injury surveillance program. In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense Blast Resuscitation and Victim Analysis Team trained medical staff in the treatment of civilian casualties of mines and UXO. In FY05, PM/WRA allocated $2,700,000 more for mine action assistance. Of this amount, $1,220,000 funded the training of three additional demining squadrons, $1,130,000 was used to purchase equipment and vehicles, and $275,000 was used to integrate an additional six mine detecting dogs into the SLA's mine action program.

The U.S. Department of Defense Humanitarian Research and Development Program has provided the SLA with a "MAXX +" mechanical mine action system. The $250,000 "MAXX +" system is a modified commercial remote controlled mine excavator capable of performing numerous mechanical tasks of vegetation cutting and soil removal and sifting, significantly increasing the productivity of deminers.

Although lacking a formal and comprehensive national mine impact survey, the Government of Sri Lanka has developed effective priorities for HMA projects and, with cooperation from the UN, has established coordinating bodies at the national and district level. Both the National Steering Committee for Mine Action and the various District Steering Committees have inclusive memberships, drawing upon government officials, non-governmental operators, ethnic minority representatives, and UN technical specialists. The Government of Sri Lanka intends to clear all high-priority areas by 2008.


An expert Mines Advisory Group (MAG) explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician teaches Vietnamese EOD trainees how to safely defuse and prepare an unexploded bomb for controlled destruction. The United States assists Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia to clear unexploded bombs, landmines, and other explosive remnants of war that originated from all combatants. Sean Sutton, Mines Advisory Group (MAG).Flag of VietnamAs a result of conflicts between 1945 and 1991, Vietnam has an estimated 350,000 to 800,000 tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and persistent landmines that affect all of its provinces to various degrees. A preliminary study in 2003 by Vietnam's Technology Center for Bomb and Mine Disposal (BOMICEN), estimated that, because of the presence of UXO, nearly 4,359 square kilometers of cultivated land is now fallow.

In FY04, the United States contributed $4,114,000 for humanitarian mine action (HMA) assistance in Vietnam, and in FY05 contributed another $4,000,000 for HMA. The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided demining equipment to BOMICEN's 100 demining teams, each consisting of 20 to 25 personnel. BOMICEN is primarily engaged in socio-economic development throughout Vietnam, with demining efforts focused on reclamation of roads and other infrastructure components. PM/WRA supported, and continues to support, HMA operations in Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Ha Tinh Provinces in central Vietnam. PM/WRA granted Mines Advisory Group (MAG) $499,158 to maintain two mine action teams in Quang Binh, and another $638,000 for teams in Quang Tri. PM/WRA also granted $150,000 to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's (VVMF) Project Renew for a mine risk education program in Quang Tri, and $272,405 to the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) to complete the first phase of a Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) covering Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Ha Tinh Provinces in central Vietnam. The results of the VVAF survey will be critical in designing the Government's national HMA Strategy.

Beginning with modest funding for humanitarian programs for war victims in 1999, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Leahy War Victims Fund (LWVF) have supported an increasingly sophisticated and appropriate response to the needs of Vietnam's population living with disabilities. This work offers a prime example of how small, initial investments can lead to the evolution of a comprehensive national strategy for the rehabilitation of citizens with disabilities and their inclusion in a country's societal and economic transformation. Today, that response incorporates government ministries and departments, donor agencies, international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based groups, and professional organizations. This collective response has led to passage of two remarkable national laws regarding disabilities and barrier-free access. Perhaps most significantly, societal and physical barriers in Vietnam are slowly being overcome, and people with disabilities are increasingly contributing to national life and the economy. In FY 2004 and 2005, USAID provided over $2 million towards these efforts. The LWVF also maintains a regional training center for orthopedic technicians. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has collaborated with the UN Children's Fund to expand injury surveillance and prevention programs at schools and community levels. In FY05, the United States allocated $2,850,000 in HMA aid. Of this amount, MAG received $1,046,000 to support its Community based Explosive Remnants of Wars program in Central Vietnam.

U.S. assistance, modern equipment for BOMICEN's deminers, and the increasing presence in Vietnam of non-governmental demining organizations, will contribute significantly to reducing the risk from mines and UXO. The LIS, for example, will allow BOMICEN, U.S.-sponsored demining groups, and international donors to identify and focus on those areas that have been most affected by the remnants of war. With continued effort by all parties, it may be possible for Vietnam to become free from the humanitarian impact of landmines and UXO ("mine impact-free") by 2014 or soon thereafter.