Landmines take growing toll in Afghanistan conflict

UNMAS program manager in Kabul said they are facing difficulty handling the amount of landmines in the country. (AFP/File)
Updated 02 April 2019
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Landmines take growing toll in Afghanistan conflict

  • UN organization said landmine deaths in Afghanistan multiplied 5 times from 2012 to 2017
  • Landmines and explosive remnants increased as the war between the local government and Taliban intensified

KABUL: At a rehabilitation center in Afghanistan, Imran Gul clasped two parallel bars, cautiously easing his weight onto his new leg.
The 25-year-old nomad had been driving a tractor on hilly farmland when a land mine exploded, making him the latest victim of a scourge that has worsened in recent years as fighting intensifies between the government and the Taliban.
“I did not hear the sound of the bomb,” Gul told AFP as he tried out his prosthetic limb.
“I touched my leg and saw there was no leg, and there were pieces of shrapnel in my eyes. My hands were soaked in blood,” he added.
The blast in the eastern province of Ghazni also took two of Gul’s fingers.
According to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), casualties from land mines and so-called “explosive remnants of war” have soared five-fold between 2012 and 2017, the last year full data was available.
Casualties have increased as a result of the intensifying fight between the Afghan government and the Taliban, especially since 2014.
Battlefields have been left strewn with land mines, unexploded mortars, rockets and homemade bombs — many of them picked up by curious children.
“We are struggling to handle significant increases in the number of minefields in Afghanistan,” said Patrick Fruchet, the UNMAS program manager in Kabul.
The Afghanistan government has signed an international anti-landmine treaty, but the Taliban and other militants are bound by no such rules.
The UN hopes to raise attention to the issue Thursday, the annual International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.
“In 2012, we were down to about 36 casualties (killed and wounded) per month in Afghanistan — which is still enormous,” said Fruchet.
But those numbers have jumped. In 2017, there were more than 150 casualties a month.
In addition to the new explosive detritus, Afghanistan is still grappling with the legacy of mines from the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s and the civil war in the 1990s.
Mohammad Jamshidi, UNMAS deputy program manager, told AFP that a lack of funds means the country will probably miss the UN goal of being mine-free by 2023.
The “deadline seems to be difficult to achieve because all these new contaminations and the lack of sufficient funding for the mine action,” he said.
In an effort to prevent further tragedies, various organizations hold information sessions to warn civilians, including children.
Hashmatullah Yadgari, who works for the Danish Refugee Council, said many Afghans — particularly returning former refugees — have no idea what land mines and other explosives even look like.
People “do not have any information about it,” Yadgari said.
In a tent inside a refugee camp on the outskirts of Kabul, a family was recently shown the various types of explosive device they may well encounter.
“We had no knowledge and awareness about the land mines,” said Sakina Habibi, a mother of three who has just returned to Afghanistan after nearly 30 years in Pakistan and Iran.
Many survivors of blasts go to one of seven orthopaedic rehabilitation hospitals funded by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
At the same rehab center where Gul, the nomad who lost a leg, was being treated, other patients tried out their new prosthetics.
Abdul, an Afghan mine clearer who only gave his first name, stood unsupported for the first time since getting fitted with two legs.
He was disarming mines hidden in a house recaptured from the Taliban five months ago when the blast happened.
“I de-activated five pressure mines. The sixth was designed to explode when exposed to light. When I moved my lamp closer — boom,” Abdul said.
“I did my job, I prevented people from being killed by these mines. Even though I lost my legs, I’m lucky to still be alive,” he added.
The resilient father of two wants to keep his job, “to again save lives,” he said, mimicking holding a mine detector in one hand and a walking stick in the other.
Of the 12,000 new patients received annually by the ICRC, between 1,500 and 2,000 are casualties of war, some four-fifths of whom are wounded by land mines, said Najmudin Helal, head of the Kabul center.
Aside from physical rehab, the center works with patients to help them find a new place in society. Nearly half of the 300 staff at the Kabul hospital are disabled.
“They learn easily and they can teach the new disabled easily. It’s a hope (for new patients) to see that life carries on,” Helal said.


New IRA admits responsibility for killing Northern Ireland journalist: media

Updated 14 min 9 sec ago
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New IRA admits responsibility for killing Northern Ireland journalist: media

  • The New IRA ‘offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death,’ it said in a statement
  • The New IRA attempted to justify its actions by claiming she was killed during an attack on ‘enemy forces’

LONDON: Dissident republican group the New IRA on Tuesday admitted responsibility for killing Northern Irish journalist Lyra McKeen during rioting in Londonderry last week, in a statement to The Irish News.
The New IRA “offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death,” it said in a statement reported by the Irish newspaper, which said the paramilitary group used a recognized codeword.
McKee, 29, was shot in the head late Thursday as dissident republicans clashed with police in the Creggan housing estate in Northern Ireland’s second city, also known as Derry.
While admitting responsibility, the New IRA attempted to justify its actions by claiming she was killed during an attack on “enemy forces” and accused police of provoking the riot which preceded her death.
“In the course of attacking the enemy Lyra McKee was tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces,” the statement said.
“On Thursday night, following an incursion on the Creggan by heavily armed British crown forces which provoked rioting, the IRA deployed our volunteers to engage,” the New IRA statement said, according to The Irish News.
In the wake of her death, Northern Ireland’s six main political parties — including rival unionists and republicans who have been unable to form a devolved government for more than two years — issued a rare joint statement.
“It was a pointless and futile act to destroy the progress made over the last 20 years, which has the overwhelming support of people everywhere,” it read.
The killing, the latest upsurge in violence to shake the troubled region, came in the run-up to Easter weekend, when republicans opposed to the British presence in Northern Ireland mark the anniversary of a 1916 uprising against British rule.
A car-bombing and the hijacking of two vans in Londonderry earlier this year were also blamed on a dissident paramilitary group.
The 1998 Good Friday peace deal largely brought an end to three decades of sectarian bloodshed between republican and unionist paramilitaries, as well as British armed forces, in a period known as “the Troubles.”
Some 3,500 people were killed in the conflict — many at the hands of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
The group called a final cease-fire in 1997 and announced an end to its armed campaign in 2005, stating that it would seek to achieve its aims through peaceful political means.
The New IRA is one of a number of dissident republican paramilitary groups opposed to the shift toward non-violent tactics to bring about a united Ireland.
There have been concerns that paramilitaries could be seeking to exploit the current political turbulence over Northern Ireland and its border with the Republic of Ireland caused by Brexit.