U.S. Mine Action Support to AfghanistanDonald F. "Pat" Patierno, Director, Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs
Remarks at Elle Dicor and IMG Home Benefit Event in Support of Roots of Peace
May 21, 2003
Thank you, Mrs. Kuhn, Mrs. Margaret Russell, Mr. Tony Abrahim and Sam Abrahim, distinguished guests, friends and partners, good evening. I am very pleased to be able to acknowledge one of the Department of State’s public-private partners in humanitarian mine action – Roots of Peace – and to commend Elle Décor and IMG Home for their support of the Roots of Peace effort.
Within the State Department, we have what I believe is a one-of-a-kind office – the Office of Mine Action Initiatives and Partnerships, which has, as its fundamental charter, to foster partnerships between the public and private sectors to help secure security and stability in post-conflict environments. Roots of Peace is one of the many partnerships nurtured by my colleagues in that office.
I think you will agree that one of the daunting problems faced by nearly 60 nations around the world is the menace posed by landmines, and perhaps there is no greater example of that menace than Afghanistan, the country of focus at tonight’s event.
Among the daunting challenges facing President Karzai is the quarter of a century old problem of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) – residue of conflict left in the wake of the Soviet invasion, factional fighting, and, more recently, Operation Enduring Freedom. Landmines and UXO threaten the very lives of the Afghan people, hamper the provision of humanitarian assistance, and play havoc with efforts to reconstitute its war-torn infrastructure and economy.
The objectives of the U.S. Humanitarian Demining Program and the work that organizations such as Roots of Peace does, directly or indirectly, advances national reconciliation and social stability in crisis-affected areas such as Afghanistan and Croatia – the latter another landmine “adoptee” of Roots of Peace.
By helping to remove landmines and by educating at-risk populations, we not only help to keep innocents out of harm’s way and restore valuable land to productive use, but also we give hope. Hope that the future will be better than the present, and hope that the grim patterns of political hostilities and social dislocation will give way to a return to normalcy, and a secure and more tranquil life.
Public and private funds are addressing the problem of landmines in real and meaningful ways. In Afghanistan, Roots of Peace, in partnership with HALO trust, a well-known international mine clearance organization, is helping to clear land from agricultural areas on the Shomali Plain. The clearance of these lands will once again allow the production of agricultural bounty that will reduce pressure on President Karzai’s government and on the international community to provide food to Afghanistan’s people.
More than 1.8 million refugees and internally displaced persons have returned. In addition, cleared land has enabled the Mine Action Program Afghanistan (MAPA) to provide employment opportunities to over 9,200 farmers and industrial workers, increased agricultural outputs (valued at $14.2 million U.S. dollars), and livestock production (valued at $43.4 million U.S. dollars).
The United States Department of State takes pride in having engaged continuously in this effort in Afghanistan for nearly 14 years. The U.S. did not abandon Afghanistan’s mine action sector when the Soviets departed. Since 1989, we have provided over $50 million, $9 million of which has been provided this fiscal year. With these funds, the United States supports a variety of programs including mine detection and clearance, training and mine risk education. The lion’s share of these funds finance mine clearance operations executed by a professional cadre of Afghan deminers that numbers in the thousands, and which has developed a reputation as among the best in the world.
The Afghan deminers risk their lives each and every day as they labor to find and destroy landmines and UXO. Recently, however, there has emerged another challenge, one about which you, as we are, gravely concerned. Today, the safety of Afghan deminers is threatened more by random act of terror and intimidation than by the threat of the explosives they seek to destroy. There is evidence that the Taliban has adopted a deliberate strategy of explicitly targeting national and international members of the humanitarian aid community.
Just this week, the Director of the UN’s Mine Action Program in Afghanistan provided a list of nine incidents, occurring since April 22, in which aid workers were targeted. Roadside incidents involving individuals traveling in any white vehicle that seems to be providing support to the government or to the reconstruction/ development process appear to be the trigger for the attacks. I am relieved to report that none of these incidents occurred in the area of most interest to Roots of Peace – the Shomali Plain. However, neither I, nor anyone else can offer absolute assurance that these cowardly attacks on innocent providers of humanitarian assistance will not strike this area.
What I can say is that many are working hard to establish the most secure humanitarian mine action program possible. MAPA has suspended demining operations in the provinces of Paktya, Paktika, Khost, Lower Ghazni, Zabul, Hilamnd, Nimroz and Kandahar. Deminers working in these areas are being shifted to work in other high-priority, but safer areas, so that they might continue their important work. USAID is providing an additional 400 armed guards for the protection of all humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan. In addition, the Government of Afghanistan is providing 100 soldiers to focus on the areas most likely to be the focus of an attack. These security measures, plus many others, once implemented, will provide the security conditions that are conducive for humanitarian mine action activities, suspensions will be lifted and demining will return to full capacity.
We encounter threats with any humanitarian endeavor. The challenge is to find ways to provide security while meaningful work continues. Most assuredly, the loss of any humanitarian service provider – deminer, medic, engineer, educator, whoever, to an act of terror gives pause to all of us in the field of humanitarian assistance. In Afghanistan, I find it particularly despicable that deminers have been targeted. Deminers have been among the most respected individuals throughout the country. Their work – indeed their undaunted courage – has widely been admired and appreciated. The recent loss of deminers to these acts of cowardice cannot be allowed to stop their important work.
I believe that with the assistance of the international community, the Government of Afghanistan and the UN Mine Action Program Director are instituting prudent measures to provide the security conditions necessary for mine action. We all hope that these measures will soon allow MAPA to redirect its resources back to the areas so that Afghanistan’s impressive demining capacity will once again benefit the entire country.
In the meantime, like the proud Afghan deminers, we in the humanitarian mine action community will press on, mindful of the threat, but committed our mutual cause. We ask for your continued partnership in the pursuit of that endeavor.