Afghanistan. Angola. Colombia. Laos. Vietnam. These are just prime examples of the 60 countries affected by thousands of landmines left over from previous conflicts. According to the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 181 incidents in 2016 related to anti-vehicle mines (AVMs) in 22 states and territories caused 195 deaths and 228 injured. Some 46 per cent were civilians and nine out of ten casualties occurred in conflict settings. Ukraine alone accounted for 24% of global casualties, followed by Mali, Pakistan and Syria.
A vast challenge faces agencies seeking to clear territory formerly occupied by ISIS as civilians seek to return home to areas riddled with hundreds of IEDs, mortars, and mines. Buildings rigged to explode with a single trip-wire and whole streets have been booby-trapped with IEDs since 2014, some laced with chlorine or mustard agent, which have injured dozens of Iraqi EOD (explosives ordnance disposal) technicians.
The UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) had previously estimated costs for Iraq as a whole at $50 million this year, but said this could double because of Mosul. Paul Heslop, chief of UNMAS programme planning and management section stated that “clearing urban areas of contamination is more complex and dangerous than minefields. You need a higher level of technical skill and complex equipment and it’s slower. As areas are liberated, you get a better idea of the level of contamination.” He added that Iraq needed an Afghanistan-style demining operation, which at its peak in 2012 involved 15,000 people.
Legacy of landmines
Countries affected by mines and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) suffer from the restriction of land use – which hinders development and production, as the land provides the main income for rural families. As land is cleared, displaced families can return home and rebuild their communities and livelihoods. Clearing landmines opens the way to trade and economic development: farmers can return to their fields, goods can be transported to market, and countries can begin to recover from war.
Since 1993, the US has invested more than $2.8 billion in more than 95 countries, working with Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Norway and the UK and 50 international NGOs (non-governmental agencies).
Military forces involved in mine clearance on land or at sea have to make a route for safe-passage through the mined area rapidly – for example, to reach a casualty. The mined area is the minimum width required to move the army’s assets across. Clearance is undertaken in silence or under cover of darkness and to minimise soldier casualties – often done manually while lying down using metal-detectors and/or prodders or standing up using long-prodders or rakes. When done with machines, these ‘process’ the ground in order to make it possible to walk on or drive through.
Pillars of mine action
The UN’s mine action activities or ‘pillars’ include mine/ERW risk education; demining – mine/ERW survey, mapping, marking and clearance; victim assistance, including rehabilitation and reintegration; stockpile destruction; and advocacy against the use of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions.
These are guidelines rather than formal standards. In humanitarian demining, all explosive items must be removed in an area so that civilians can fully use the land. In Humanitarian demining civilians must be able to use a path, field, or other area in complete safety.
Mine action activities are designed to:
- Reduce real and perceived risks to affected populations of landmines, cluster munitions, ammunition stockpiles and ERW
- Address consequences of accidents upon victims
- Reduce economic, social and developmental consequences of contamination
- Advocate developing, adopting and complying with appropriate instruments of international humanitarian law.
Cambodia: hallmark case
Over the past 15 years, Cambodia’s significant efforts in cleaning up landmines and ERW has liberated areas from mines and reduced the number of casualties from 4,320 in 1996 to 111 in 2015. With landmine contamination in northwest Cambodia and cluster munition contamination in the northeast, the access to productive land has been extremely restricted and limited investment in infrastructure. Progress in mine action is given by land clearance combined with a strong commitment to mine risk education and victim assistance.
As mines are often laid with roadside IEDs in many conflict areas, equipment may be designed to deal with both. As with EOD, unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) can be remotely controlled. To pick an example, the Armtrac 20T Robot from the UK’s Armtrac Ltd is a flexible small UGV designed to operate in areas contaminated by landmines and other UXO. It is fitted with several toolkits, including a demining flail and rear excavator equipped with different attachments, and for C-IED operations, a portable X-Ray machine is mounted on the front and a state-of-the-art IED disruptor on the rear arm.
It has a diesel 40 HP water cooled Isuzu engine with a radiator reversing fan to prevent the engine from overheating in very dusty conditions. With a forward and reverse speed of 7 KPH the Armtrac 20T can operate for several hours continuously without refuelling. Its hydraulic hoses and couplings are internationally common. It is in service in the US Army and French armed forces as well as in Albania, Angola, Bosnia, Chad, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Kosovo.
Global International Security uses mechanical equipment for demining that need to be simple and easy to operate. Some are purposely built for mine action and others adapted from commercial plant machinery, such as the Tempest vegetation cutter, Minecat and Bozena mini flails, excavators, sifters and screeners.
Andy Oppenheimer AIExpE is Editor-in-Chief of CBNW (Chemical, Biological & Nuclear Warfare) and CBNW Xplosive, a Faculty Contributor to the St Andrews’ University Course in Terrorism Studies. He is an Associate Member of the Institute of Explosives Engineers, a Member of the International Association of Bomb Technicians & Investigators, and author of IRA: the Bombs and the Bullets (Irish Academic Press, 2008).
DEMINING TOTAL SECURE
Total Secure Defence’s demining equipment includes land mine detectors and mine prodders.