Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Mineclearing in Afghanistan

The image in my mind as I began yesterday's post is one of those I failed to capture for myself during my "visit" to Afghanistan in 2002-03. There is no living human presence in that mental picture. Rather, a straight trail stretches off into the distance, across a relatively flat landscape. The trail is lined with rocks. The rocks are painted like the fishing bobbers we used when I was a child--half red, half white. They lay on their sides. White into the trail. Red facing away. You stay on the white side. In some places, they line the roads themselves. The following is from my Thanksgiving letter, 2002, and describes a trip from Bagram to Kabul:

At the one intersection we come to, we turn southeast, taking the less populated route to Kabul. For miles as we leave the area of the base, the roads are lined with rocks every twenty feet or so. Red and white each rock is painted. White side to the road, red to the fields . . . the minefields.

Only a week before I came here, one of the drivers of one of the fuel trucks waiting outside the gate had resisted the call of nature for as long as he could. The inspection of each truck is thorough, and the line that day was long. He stepped off the road, the road we've just come along, and walked a few paces in order to relieve himself. In that field he left the contents of his bladder, a good bit of his blood, and the shards of bone and flesh that had once been one of his feet. One of his fellow truck drivers walked into that same field and carried him out. "He was my friend. He was crying out for help. What else could I do?"
That was five years ago. In looking for an image of such a trail somewhere on the net, the closest thing I could find initially was this one from from: Military Photos.Net, 6 Nov 07:

A member of Halo trust team . . . in Kohi Safi, Afghanistan on Nov. 1, 2007. Afghanistan remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. A mine clearance team from the Halo Trust have been working for more than a year in the small village of Kohe Safi and have removed 800 mines and 118 unexploded bombs. Throughout the country the Halo Trust alone is working to clear 90 million square meters of mine fields containing some 640,000 mines, they estimate it will take them 18 years to complete this task. A break through in mine detection not seen since World War II is due to speed things up in the coming year when Halo become the first civllian organisation to use H-STAMIDS (The Handheld Stand-Off Mine Detection System) a new combination tool with a metal detector and ground penetrating radar system. The H-STAMIDS remain classified and during recent trails in Afghanistan the device had to be returned to the US military at the end of each day. The new equipment should make mine clearance 2-3 times faster.
From that caption, I visited the site of the Halo Trust itself. Where I found this photo:
The key point, is that reaping the mines sown over 20 years of war is likely to take even longer than two decades.

I suppose the same may be true of those other mines as well.