2014 To Walk the Earth in Safety: South and Central Asia
The United States looks to intensify engagement with frontline states in Central Asia as their neighbor, Afghanistan, implements the transition to Afghan-led security. The importance of improving connections between the United States and countries within South and Central Asia (SCA) is made all the more urgent as Afghanistan transitions its security responsibility to domestic institutions. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocated for an enhanced effort at integration with other regional stakeholders by noting that “lasting stability and security [in Afghanistan] go hand in hand with economic opportunity.”
Conventional weapons destruction (CWD) assistance is essential to capacity building and helping countries in SCA provide adequate security, particularly in light of the 2014 drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Following decades of conflict, Afghanistan has one of the world’s highest levels of landmine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) contamination. Remaining Soviet-era munitions and landmines affect Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, former Soviet satellites. Sri Lanka is making significant progress following the end of its civil war in 2009. The country is increasing its domestic capacity with the development of Sri Lankan demining nongovernmental organizations and has a high percentage of female deminers integrated throughout multiple organizations.
Since 1993, the United States has provided more than $432 million in CWD programs to the SCA region; of that, over $375 million constitutes the funding for Afghanistan. As the New Silk Road initiative to promote trade in SCA develops, continued U.S. assistance to CWD programs will be essential to stabilizing the region to allow for greater economic prosperity and progress toward peace.
Afghanistan retains one of the highest levels of contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in the world, mainly as a result of the 1979 Soviet invasion followed by internal armed conflict in 1992–2001 and the U.S.-led Coalition’s intervention in late 2001. As of June 2013, the Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan (MACCA) estimated the number of hazardous areas at 4,876, affecting 545 square kilometers (210 square miles) and 1,688 communities. Although Afghanistan boasts one of the most established mine action programs in the world, the recent release of land from Taliban strongholds resulted in the identification of more hazardous areas than were previously known to exist, emphasizing the need for continued donor funding and increased attention to the severity of the problem affecting the civilian population and the socioeconomic success of Afghanistan.
A HALO deminer trains using a MINEHOUND detector in Afghanistan. [Photo courtesy of HALO]
Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $375 million in conventional weapons destruction (CWD) programs in Afghanistan aimed at clearance and safe disposal of landmines, UXO, and excess weapons and munitions. Directed through several Afghan and international partner organizations, this assistance has made significant progress toward restoring access to land and infrastructure, developing Afghan capacity to manage such programs independently, and protecting Afghan communities from potential risks.
In FY2013, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) provided $30 million for CWD in Afghanistan to the following programs:
• Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC) reduced the threat and impact of ERW on the population of Kabul and Baghlan provinces in central Afghanistan. ATC deployed manual and mechanical demining assets as well as mine detection dogs and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams.
• Clear Path International supported integrated victim assistance projects in 31 of the 34 Afghan provinces.
• Danish Demining Group deployed mine clearance teams and survey teams, and conducted mine risk education in Panjshir province.
• Demining Agency for Afghanistan (DAFA) reduced the threat and impact of ERW on the population of central and eastern Afghanistan in Kabul and Nangarhar provinces. In addition, DAFA supported competitively bid, community based demining projects in the Kajaki, Musa Qala, and Zhari districts. DAFA deployed manual and mechanical demining assets, as well as mine detection dogs and EOD teams.
• The HALO Trust (HALO) conducted demining, along with weapons and munitions destruction and assessment, throughout central, northern, northeastern, and western Afghanistan.
• Mine Clearance Planning Agency (MCPA) reduced the threat and impact of ERW on the population of central and eastern Afghanistan in Logar and Nangarhar provinces. MCPA deployed manual and mechanical demining assets, mine detection dogs, and EOD teams.
• Mine Detection Dog Center utilized funds to reduce the threat and impact of ERW on the population of eastern Afghanistan in Nangarhar province and supported a competitively bid, community based demining project in the Now Zad and Sangin districts.
• Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Reconstruction conducted clearance work in Kabul, Logar, and Nangarhar provinces and completed high-priority tasks in the Parwan and Panjshir provinces.
• Sterling Global supported PM/WRA through monitoring and evaluation of mine clearance projects and the mentoring and oversight of five national nongovernmental organizations. Sterling facilitated the transition of seven Afghan EOD teams to an implementing partner but retained oversight and monitoring through technical advisers.
• ITF Enhancing Human Security received funding to support MACCA with particular emphasis on quality assurance and quality control of U.S.-funded clearance operations, enhancement of host-nation capacity through Information Management System for Mine Action training, and development of program management skills within the Department of Mine Clearance.
Also in FY2013, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development (HD R&D) Program provided $355,000 in funds and new technology to support mine action assistance in Afghanistan. Afghanistan continued operations in FY2013 with previously provided technology valued at $1 million.
In partnership with HALO, HD R&D initiated an operational field evaluation of the Minehound hand-held detector for minimum-metal, anti-tank (AT) mines in western Afghanistan. HD R&D continued evaluations of equipment to clear mines and perform technical surveys in villages and agricultural areas throughout Afghanistan. The equipment includes the Orbit Screen, which sifts mine-contaminated soil; several sifting excavator attachments; the Mantis, an armored area-preparation and mine-clearance tractor; and the Raptor, an armored tractor with the Rotary Mine Comb AT mine clearance attachment. The Rotary Mine Comb is particularly successful in clearing very large minefields that are contaminated only with minimum-metal AT mines in hard, rocky soil or where metal contamination or electrical interference preclude metal detectors. Together these systems have cleared more than 3.6 million square meters (1.3 square miles) and found 37,000 mines and pieces of UXO to date.
Kyrgyzstan has substantial landmine contamination along its shared border with Uzbekistan. Due to ongoing bilateral tensions between the two countries, Kyrgyzstan has no interest in delineating, removing or destroying its minefields. As with many former Soviet satellite countries, Kyrgyzstan faces risks from unsecured and deteriorating weapons and munitions stockpiles. While physical security is a serious and genuine concern, the degraded and deteriorating ammunition stockpiles pose an immediate danger to civilians as all national ammunition storage sites are located close to or within highly populated areas. National storage sites are in such poor condition that they provide only the minimum level of protection from adverse weather conditions. This, in turn, adds to the risk of explosive residue from decaying ammunition contaminating soil and water tables around these highly populated areas .
Since 2011, the United States has provided $800,000 to assist Kyrgyzstan with the development and publishing of national ammunition standards, explosive ordnance disposal training, destruction of excess man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), and the renovation and upgrade of existing explosive storage facilities. The implementing partner, the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), made significant progress in segregating, securing, and destroying excess and unserviceable conventional munitions to prevent spontaneous explosions and injuries or displacement of civilian populations living near ammunition storage depots.
In FY2013, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) contributed $300,000 to the OSCE’s existing conventional weapons destruction project to upgrade and enhance the physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) capacity of Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Defense. Project locations covered the north, central, and southwest regions of Kyrgyzstan.
In August 2013, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek sponsored a seminar in coordination with the OSCE Mission in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The Small Arms Light Weapons Program of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in the U.S. Department of Defense led a multinational team to Bishkek to conduct the PSSM executive seminar. The team trained 18 members from the Kyrgyzstan Ministry of Defense in arms, ammunition, and explosives storage safety and security best practices and procedures.
Sri Lanka is contaminated by landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) remaining from more than three decades of armed conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which sought a separate homeland in the north and east. Although demining activities immediately commenced following the end of the war in 2009, mine and ERW contamination remains a critical impediment to the resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDP) and development initiatives.
Kanesan Kirushnaveni (Verny), HALO Sri Lanka’s first female task commander, who oversees several teams of deminers. [Photo courtesy of HALO]
Since 1993, the United States invested over $41 million in Sri Lanka to fund mine clearance efforts, survey projects, risk education, and national capacity building for the Sri Lankan Humanitarian Demining Units (SLA HDU). The funding was directed through several implementing partner organizations with support from the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA).
In FY2013, PM/WRA provided $3.3 million to Sri Lanka for conventional weapons destruction programs that cleared landmines/unexploded ordnance (UXO) and provided mine detection dog capacity building as follows:
• Danish Demining Group demined selected locations in Northern province, thereby facilitating Sri Lanka and relevant humanitarian agencies resettlement and development activities in that area.
• Delvon Assistance for Social Harmony removed landmines and UXO in support of IDP resettlement in Northern province.
• The HALO Trust (HALO) performed clearance operations in Northern province to support Sri Lanka’s efforts to return IDPs to their homes and to enable people in the area to once again engage in productive livelihoods.
• MAG (Mines Advisory Group) cleared and improved access to land in Northern province for resettlement.
• Marshall Legacy Institute provided an assessment of and training assistance to the SLA HDUs in the utilization of their mine detection dog capacity.
In FY2013, the U.S. Pacific Command deployed military explosive ordnance disposal personnel to Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, to conduct ERW disposal training including demining and first responder medical training with an emphasis on blast trauma injuries. Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid appropriation funded travel, supplies, equipment, and service costs totaling $310,000.
Also in FY2013, U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development (HD R&D) Program provided $212,000 in funds and new technology to support mine action assistance in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka continued operations in FY2013 with previously provided technology valued at $220,000.
In FY 2013, in partnership with HALO, HD R&D began an evaluation of the Handheld Standoff Mine Detection System (HSTAMIDS) to improve mine clearance in metallic soils and deep sand. To date, HSTAMIDS has cleared 128,000 square meters (31.6 acres) and located 1,875 mines. The HD R&D Program continued an evaluation with MAG of the Improved Backhoe system and rake attachments. The equipment provides area preparation, area reduction, and mine-clearance capabilities to release villages and agricultural land to returning IDPs. The Improved Backhoe and rakes have cleared 225,000 cubic meters (294,289 cubic yards) of land and uncovered 1,600 mines.
In addition, the Leahy War Victims Fund of the U.S. Agency for International Development provided $500,000 to Handicap International to support physical rehabilitation at three centers in Sri Lanka: Lady Ridgeway Hospital in Colombo, the Teaching Hospital in Batticaloa, and a new prosthetics and orthotics clinic in Kilinochchi.
Landmine contamination along Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan remains from defense operations that Russia conducted for Tajikistan in the 1990s to prevent Islamic militants from crossing the border into Tajikistan. Additionally, Tajikistan’s 1992–1997 civil war resulted in landmine and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) contamination throughout the central region of the country. Furthermore, as a result of years of regional conflict, as well as the porous border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan has amassed large quantities of munitions and small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) that are poorly secured and pose a risk to both national and regional security.
In the mountains of Tajikistan, a Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) weapons and ammunition disposal team member carries a wire guided Konkurs anti-tank guided missile to the demolition site for disposal. [Photo courtesy of FSD]
Through FY2013, the United States has invested more than $12 million in funding to Tajikistan. This funding supports demining operations, destruction of excess and unserviceable munitions, physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) of SA/LW, integrated victim assistance, and national capacity building of the Tajikistan National Mine Action Center (TNMAC). This funding was directed through multiple implementing partner organizations and has made significant progress to restore access to land and infrastructure, protect the return of internally displaced persons, and assist persons with disabilities.
In FY2013, PM/WRA provided $2.9 million to Tajikistan for conventional weapons destruction (CWD) programs that cleared landmines and unexploded ordnance, provided integrated victim assistance, and supported capacity building of TNMAC as follows:
• Norwegian People’s Aid established and deployed one multi-purpose demining team along the Tajik-Afghan border.
• Organization for Security and Co-Operation for Europe (OSCE) developed national humanitarian demining capacities and supported their operational deployment on the Tajik-Afghan border. OSCE also established the Integrated Cooperation on Explosive Hazards Program with emphasis on sharing regional lessons learned to develop a regional database and establish a regional response capability to mitigate and counter explosive hazards.
• Fondation Suisse de Déminage (Swiss Foundation for Mine Action or FSD) continued CWD activities, non-technical survey, and clearance of ERW through the deployment of one multi-purpose demining team and one weapons and ammunition disposal team. FSD also developed one civilian demining team from the Union of Sappers for Tajikistan and supports their operational deployment along the Tajik-Afghan border.
• United Nations Development Programme supported TNMAC with emphasis on developing host-nation capacity with the Information Management System for Mine Action database, victim assistance and accessibility projects that include psychosocial therapy and vocational rehabilitation, demining training accreditation, project development, and operational management skills development.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) Small Arms Light Weapons (SA/LW) Program provided conventional weapons destruction support to Turkmenistan in FY2013. At the request of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the DTRA SA/LW Program led a multinational team to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, to conduct a physical security and stockpile management technical seminar. The OSCE office in Ashgabat sponsored the seminar providing training on arms, ammunition, and storage safety, and security best practices and procedures to 16 members from the Turkmenistan Ministry of Defense.