Special Reports

To Walk the Earth in Safety (2008)
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
June 2008

Special Reports: U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program

Formally established in 1993, with roots to late 1988 when the term “humanitarian demining” was coined in Afghanistan, the interagency U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program is the largest and one of the world’s oldest such programs. It is comprised of the Department of State, Department of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development’s Leahy War Victims Fund, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Collectively, the program operates worldwide to clear landmines and all types of explosive remnants of war, provide mine risk education, render survivors assistance, advance the technology of mine clearance through cutting-edge research and development, train deminers in affected countries to the highest international standards, and support foreign public health projects related to survivors’ assistance.

The United States remains the world’s top contributor to humanitarian mine action (HMA), having spent well over $1.2 billion since 1993. The U.S. continues to contribute tens of millions of dollars annually to help rid the world of the “hidden killers” that remain from past conflicts, the overwhelming preponderance of which have been manufactured and employed by other countries and foreign combatants. In fiscal year 2006, the United States dedicated $75,997,000 to mine action, and in FY 2007, the U.S. spent $82,092,000 more.

The funding history table on pages 51–55 charts all U.S.-funded humanitarian mine action since FY 1993. In addition, conventional weapons destruction activities supported by the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) through the end of FY 2007 are summarized on page 7.

Endeavors to eradicate persistent landmines, abandoned ordnance, explosive remnants of war (ERW), at-risk stocks of aging munitions, and surplus conventional weapons around the world support the U.S. goal to improve sustainable development and global peace. These efforts provide a humanitarian response to the harmful social and economic effects generated by such arms and munitions, and advance peace and security by promoting regional stability through the use of HMA and conventional weapons destruction as confidence-building measures. This benefits society by reducing the number of civilian casualties, allowing refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes, and enhancing the political and economic stability of countries affected by these hidden killers and dangerous depots.

A typical U.S. humanitarian mine action program involves assisting a mine-affected country to establish a mine action center or national demining office, establish a mine risk education program and a demining training program, and often includes funding actual mine-clearance and ERW-clearance operations. As the country develops its demining capabilities, and the program becomes self-sustaining, the United States relinquishes its active role to the host nation.

The mission of the Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement is to develop policy options, implement arms destruction and mitigation programs, and engage civil society in a synergistic effort to reduce the harmful worldwide effects generated by the indiscriminate use of persistent mines and illicit and abandoned conventional weapons of war. Among its several responsibilities, PM/WRA oversees day-to-day management of bilateral mine action assistance programs. In addition, PM/WRA encourages the participation of civil society in mine action through its unique Public-Private Partnership program (2009-2017.state.gov/t/pm/wra/partners).

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) promotes sustainable development by providing humanitarian services in post-conflict situations. Its Bureau of Humanitarian Response, Office of Transition Initiatives, bridges the gap between emergency assistance and long-term development by supporting organizations and people in emergency transition in conflict-prone countries. In addition, USAID’s Leahy War Victims Fund helps to improve the mobility, health, and social integration of the disabled, including landmine survivors. Typically, USAID works through nongovernmental organizations to develop a country’s capacity for sustainable services for amputees and other conflict survivors.

The Department of Defense (DoD) manages a Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program that is improving the technologies and means to detect and clear landmines and explosive remnants of war. One of its recent, successful projects has been the development, testing, and deployment of the Handheld Standoff Mine Detection System (HSTAMIDS), the biggest breakthrough in detection technology since World War II.

DoD also manages the Humanitarian Demining Training Center; the Center’s key contribution has been to teach U.S. Military Forces to train foreign deminers to conduct humanitarian mine action to International Mine Action Standards. In some situations, DoD funds a humanitarian mine action program’s start-up costs, and PM/WRA provides subsequent funds to procure the necessary equipment, provide training (such as for host-nation demining program managers), and supply continued support until the program reaches the U.S. government’s end-state.

The Department of Health and Human Services, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides technical and financial support to several nongovernmental organizations and U.N. agencies for public health projects related to survivors’ assistance. These projects include the provision of direct support to survivors as well as science-based assistance in identifying new survivors and assessing their health needs. 

Special Reports: Defining Humanitarian Mine Action

The United States believes that humanitarian mine action (HMA) should focus on making the world “mine impact-free” (i.e., free from the humanitarian impact of landmines) instead of “mine free.” This is because it is impossible to guarantee that every single landmine is cleared from an affected country or region. Furthermore, it is more practical, feasible, cost-effective, and morally defensible to clear mines that have a humanitarian impact than to spend dwindling donations on seeking the last landmine in a remote location. Suspected or known mined areas that pose a lesser humanitarian threat or that are less economically critical may be cleared later, while available funds are devoted to clearing mined areas or countries where landmines and unexploded ordnance continue to pose a grave menace to the civilian population. 

U.S. humanitarian mine action focuses on three major “pillars,” which are:

  • Mine detection and clearance
  • Mine risk education and
  • Mine survivors’ assistance

Depending on the needs of a country, the United States may assist with financial support in one, two, or all three pillars. Research and development in new demining technologies is also a component of HMA. 

Mine Detection and Clearance

Before clearance can begin effectively in an affected country, a Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) is conducted, ideally to determine the specific nature and extent of the landmine situation. The LIS identifies broad areas within a country where mines exist and estimates the impact these mines have on local communities. Areas where mines do not exist are also recorded; this is called area reduction. Although mine clearance and mine risk education often must begin before the survey is complete, the LIS provides mine action authorities an important tool for development planning.

Following the LIS, a technical survey is conducted to document specific details of the landmine contamination. Mined areas are demarcated, and the number and types of mines and explosive remnants of war are recorded. 

International law, such as Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to which the United States is a party and which it has ratified, requires that those who lay mines identify the types of landmines emplaced, and map their locations so that the mines can be removed at the conclusion of hostilities. However, insurgent groups and sometimes nations have ignored international law, and placed mines indiscriminately without marking or recording their use or location. Even when maps and other records are available, natural events may, over time, diminish their utility. For example, mines tend to migrate from their original locations as a result of shifting desert sands or from heavy rains in tropical areas that wash away topsoil. 

An old Soviet-built army truck rusts in a minefield in the Middle East. Unfortunately, not all minefields are as well fenced and marked as this one. [ŠiStockphoto.com/Claudia Dewald]
An old Soviet-built army truck rusts in a minefield in the Middle East. Unfortunately, not all minefields are as well fenced and marked as this one.[ŠiStockphoto.com/Claudia Dewald]

No single technology can be employed to find and remove mines in all circumstances, in all terrains and weather conditions, and against all mine types—not even the new Handheld Standoff Mine Detection System (HSTAMIDS), which uses a combination of metal detection and ground-penetrating radar to differentiate between landmines and harmless metal debris. The primary tools, which have been used to find mines for over 60 years, are mine detectors and handheld probes. Mine detecting dogs (MDDs), and mechanical demining tools, such as flails and tillers, are also used.

Other bio-sensors such as bees and African pouch rats have also been tested, but have not been as widely accepted and deployed as MDDs which are relatively robust and generally successful if properly trained and cared for, and teamed with a well-trained human handler. In conjunction with mine clearance, a quality assurance program is used to assess the efficacy of these operations, and MDDs can assist this process. 

U.S. law states: “…as a matter of policy, U.S. Forces shall not engage in physically detecting, lifting, or destroying landmines, unless it does so for the concurrent purpose of supporting a U.S. military operation; or provides such assistance as part of a military operation that does not involve the armed forces.” Therefore, U.S. military personnel, as described in the “U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program” section, use a “Train-the-Trainer” approach to assist a country in clearing landmines. These U.S. Special Operations Forces who have graduated from DoD’s Humanitarian Demining Training Center educate an initial team of host-nation deminers in mine-clearance techniques and procedures. In turn, this indigenous team trains others until an adequate number of the country’s nationals are sufficiently competent to mark and clear mines safely and efficiently without U.S. help. 

Mine Risk Education

The majority of mine casualties are young men who encounter mines during their daily activities, such as farming or shepherding animals. Adult men are often hurt while trying to disarm mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) to recover the scrap metal and sell it. Children are typically hurt or killed while playing with mines and UXO. Women become casualties while gathering firewood or water, or while working in their gardens. 

Various nongovernmental organizations, often supported by the U.S. and other donors, provide mine risk education (MRE) to at-risk populations. Teaching people how to recognize and avoid landmines and explosive remnants of war, and to inform demining authorities of the presence of such hazards, can help to reduce casualties. MRE uses a variety of materials and media to convey important messages. U.S.-created MRE materials, and the manner in which the information is presented, are sensitive to the cultural mores of the local population. U.S. military personnel also conduct mine risk education during train-the-trainer humanitarian mine action deployments. They are fluent in the language of each mine-affected county to which they deploy, and they undergo country specific cultural training prior to engaging in this activity. 

Survivors’ Assistance

Survivors’ assistance requires a long-term commitment to landmine survivors and often to their family members too. Treating the initial injuries is not enough because as the wounds heal, new prostheses to fit the growing or wilting limb are needed, as is training to relearn daily personal care and income-producing skills. The psychological injury to a landmine survivor is also a factor in that person’s recovery and for the family members; the survivor must overcome both physical difficulties and feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness to regain a productive life. For these reasons, mine action programs encourage a holistic approach to providing assistance to the survivors of landmine injuries.

Special Reports: Conventional Weapons Destruction

The United States is a global leader in combating the illicit trafficking and accumulation of conventional weapons and munitions of all calibers. While acknowledging the legitimacy of the legal trade, manufacture, and ownership of arms, the U.S. works to improve global and national mechanisms for controlling conventional weapons, providing physical security and stockpile management for at-risk arms and munitions depots, and destroying excess weapons around the world. 

Many countries have stockpiles of conventional weapons and aging, often unstable, munitions dating back to the Cold War (or even earlier eras) that are no longer needed for their national security. These stockpiles and weapons frequently pose a major public-safety hazard in populated areas as well as an environmental threat. Since they are often poorly secured, these munitions and conventional weapons are easy targets for terrorists, criminals, and insurgent groups. 

The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs helps develop and implement U.S. policies regarding convention weapons and munitions.

These efforts include supporting initiatives at the United Nations and other international organizations to address illicit transnational arms transfers through marking and tracing of small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) and strengthening controls on arms brokers. PM/WRA may also establish U.S.-funded destruction operations within the host country, taking into account factors such as regional stability, counter-terrorism and force protection, and mitigation of the humanitarian impact of illicit SA/LW and abandoned ordnance. 

PM/WRA SA/LW Program Funding
FY 2006 FY 2007
$8,662,500 $16,167,000

Through a similar process, PM/WRA and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) offer technical assistance on physical security and stockpile management issues to teach weapons custodians and ammunition technicians U.S. weapons standards and procedures. PM/WRA and DTRA work closely with the host nation to develop and execute projects that meet the needs of the requesting government, are cost-effective, and promote regional security. Since the program’s inception in 2001 through the end of 2007, more than one million weapons, 80 million rounds of ammunition, and over 24,000 MANPADS have been destroyed. PM/WRA has implemented SA/LW destruction programs in the following countries with their cooperation: Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Guinea, Lesotho, Liberia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Romania, São Tomé and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, and Sudan.

This edition of To Walk the Earth In Safety includes current conventional weapons destruction projects funded wholly or in part by the United States through PM/WRA in fiscal year 2006 and fiscal year 2007. For more recent updates on all PM/WRA activities, visit //2009-2017.state.gov/t/pm/wra

Special Reports: The Menace of MANPADS

Two insurgents in Iraq with SA-7b and SA-14 MANPADS. [U.S. Department of Homeland Security]
Two insurgents in Iraq with SA-7b and SA-14 MANPADS. [U.S. Department of Homeland Security]
Anatomy of a Typical MANPADS
Anatomy of a typical MANPADS: An SA-7 MANPADS: Launch tube--Thermal battery, Grip stock; Missile--Infrared seeker, Control section, Warhead, Flight motor, Internal eject motor. [U.S. Department of Homeland Security]

Man-portable air-defense systems or MANPADS (also referred to as shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles) are small, light, and easy to transport and conceal. Estimates of global MANPADS production range from 750,000 to 1,000,000, with thousands believed to be outside government control. The U.S. Department of State estimates that since the 1970s MANPADS were employed against more than 40 civilian aircraft, resulting in at least 28 crashes and over 800 deaths worldwide.

After the November 2002 attempted shoot-down of a civilian the airliner in Kenya with MANPADS, available, the United States redoubled its already considerable efforts to keep these weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Countering the proliferation of MANPADS is an overriding U.S. national security priority. At the direction of the White House, a MANPADS interagency task force was created that coordinates the efforts of the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and other Federal agencies and organizations. Within the Department of State, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and the Bureau for International Security and Nonproliferation have responsibility for the MANPADS security situation.

The international Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations, the G-8, the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Organization of American States, and other international and regional organizations have recognized the MANPADS threat and have encouraged steps to reduce the number of these weapons available on the black market. The Office of Conventional Arms Threat Reduction in the Bureau for International Security and Nonproliferation works to prevent transfers of MANPADS—and the technology to produce them—to undesirable end-users through bilateral and multilateral engagement, with an emphasis on responsible export controls.

 The U.S. Department of Defense supports international negotiations by providing expertise on the proper management and control of MANPADS, and by enforcing stringent physical security and accountability for MANPADS in U.S. possession. In 2001 the Department established the Golden Sentry program to monitor end-use sale of MANPADS through foreign military sales to ensure that they are not diverted to criminal use. The Defense Security and Cooperation Agency administers the Golden Sentry program, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the U.S. Army provide support.