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Afghan security forces counter roadside mines
Militant landmines responsible for 80% of civilian casualties
By Ahmad Farzan
KANDAHAR – Afghan authorities are taking special measures to detect and defuse roadside mines, according to the Afghan Ministry of Defence.
“Roadside mines are the biggest problem for our security forces, and our mine-defusing training programme has improved now,” Gen. Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defence Ministry, told Central Asia Online. “We defuse over 200 mines on a daily basis.”
The mines include both those recently planted by militants, as well as ones planted throughout three decades of conflict.
Roadside mines are considered the militants’ deadliest weapon. Mines harm security forces and also kill hundreds of civilians every year.
Afghan authorities are now defusing such mines with the help of new equipment and trained dogs.
The Defence Ministry opened and equipped a school in Kabul last year to teach mine-defusing techniques, ministry officials said. Eighty percent of civilian fatalities come from mine explosions, Azimi said.
“There are also military casualties because of these mines,” he said.
The mine problem persists despite a government ban on ammonium nitrate fertiliser decreased insurgents’ mine-planting activities.
“Research conducted between 2007 and 2010 shows 80% of the mines used (by the militants) are handmade,” he said. “Eighty percent of the casualties suffered by the security forces are those caused by planted mines as well as by other (similar) explosives, but the ban on ammonium nitrate has reduced such explosions by 7%.”
Roadside mines and civilian casualties
In southern Kandahar Province, where the battle between security forces and the insurgents is fiercer than anywhere else in Afghanistan, medics say 70% of the victims of roadside mines are civilians.
“It is because they do not travel in cars but (ride) public buses,” Dr. Abdul Qayoom Pukhla, director of public health in Kandahar, told Central Asia Online.
The Taliban plant anti-personnel mines either under bridges or on civilian routes, Abdullah Mama, a resident of Zherry District, told Central Asia Online.
A Taliban spokesman denied targeting civilians, saying that civilians ignore Taliban warnings about where they have planted mines to target military convoys.
Transition to Afghan forces
Afghan troops are fighting the problem as the transition to their responsibility for security approaches.
That transition will start in March, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said.
But Afghan forces should be properly equipped, both in quantity and quality, before they take control of security, military analysts say.
Afghan troops are ready to take charge, Azimi told Central Asia Online. He put the number of security forces at 152,000, and said the ministry expects the number to increase to 172,600 at the end of the year.
But to effectively take responsibility for security, the country’s ground and air forces will need more advanced military hardware, including the latest devices to detect anti-personnel mines, said Yaqoobi, a battalion commander for the ANA 206th Shaheen Corps in southern Helmand Province.
The government is acting to fill that gap soon, Defence Ministry officials said.
“It is crucial to give Afghan troops everything they need before they begin assuming responsibility for security,” Brig. Gen. Sayed Malook, commander of the ANA 206th Shaheen Corps in the south, said.