Murphy's Law: Fatal, But Manly, Addiction

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January 24, 2011: For the last two years, deminers in Afghanistan have increasingly been under attack. This is a major change. Even before September 11, 2001, the Taliban declared that deminers should not be molested in any way. That's because all the mines and unexploded munitions buried all over Afghanistan do not discriminate. Anyone who comes upon this stuff is likely to get hurt. But last year, 125 deminers were killed, wounded or kidnapped by Taliban or bandits. Most of the victims were kidnapped for ransom.

The reasons for this upsurge of violence against deminers is all about a job well done. No good deed goes unpunished. After 22 years, and over $300 million, the demining effort in Afghanistan is in its final stages. Most of the largest and most dangerous minefields were cleared by 2008, and attention turned to retraining programs for deminers who no longer had work. In many parts of Afghanistan, all the explosive stuff has been cleared, and many of the deminers don't want to move to another part of the country to continue their work. That can be dangerous given all the tribal and religious animosities, not to mention the bandits and Taliban. Some of the recent attacks were the result of deminers operating in an area where the locals were of a different tribe.

The demobilized deminers were given training mainly in the building trades (carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, and masons.) Having been a deminer is a splendid resume enhancer in Afghanistan, so these men usually had little trouble getting in on the building boom that is currently sweeping the country. But many deminers had become addicted to their dangerous task, and kept at it. With much less fear of old mines or unexploded bombs, more Taliban and bandits simply saw deminers from another part of the country as potential victims.

The demining effort, using nearly 9,000 demining personnel (nearly all of them Afghans) removed over 350,000 anti-personnel mines, over 20,000 anti-tank mines and over seven million pieces of unexploded ordnance (shells, grenades). The demining effort should be finished in another year or two.

 


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