Because of the humanitarian problems with duds, quick and professional clearance of cluster bomblets is crucial. By removing the dangerous duds, clearance protects civilians from injuries and helps a country and its people return to normal life. Fortunately, unlike other countries where cluster bombs have been used, Afghanistan had an extensive demining program already in place. (After two decades of war, Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, with about 737 million square meters contaminated.)200 As a result of the existing demining infrastructure, cluster clearance has progressed rapidly and in some regions may be finished by the end of 2002.201 Nevertheless deminers encountered several difficulties, including lack of resources, insufficient awareness (risk education) programs, and limited assistance from the United States.
Cluster Clearance in Afghanistan
MAPA coordinates about sixteen mine action groups in Afghanistan, several of which work on cluster bombs. Three Afghan-based NGOs have contributed to cluster clearance. The Mine Clearance Planning Agency (MCPA) surveys and maps BLU sites as well as minefields. OMAR runs extensive awareness programs and, in some parts of the country, clears ordnance. The Demining Agency for Afghanistan (DAFA) specializes in clearance.203 MAPA also works with several international NGOs, including the U.K.-based HALO Trust.204
HALO Trust, OMAR, and DAFA have played significant roles in the clearance of U.S. cluster bombs. HALO Trust is clearing bomblets in the central and northern regions, DAFA in the south, and OMAR in the west. Each group has assigned clearance teams to focus on BLUs. In March, in addition to setting aside staff to locate cluster sites, HALO Trust had dedicated twelve BLU teams to clear about fifty-two strikes. OMAR and DAFA had set aside two teams each.205 A typical team, at least for OMAR, includes one team leader, one assistant team leader, four section leaders, twenty-four deminers, two paramedics, and drivers.206
After MCPA finishes mapping a site, cluster clearance generally proceeds in two steps: surface and subsurface. The deminers first clear unexploded bomblets on the surface.207 Then, depending on the urgency of the site, they clear bomblets that penetrated the surface, often when the ground was soft.208 In Shidai outside Herat, for example, OMAR deminers walked in teams of seven up an isolated hillside marking every BLU. They planned to return later with large-loop metal detectors to track down subsurface bomblets, a much longer process. Deminers said they found BLUs up to fifty centimeters (twenty inches) deep although most subsurface ones traveled only twenty to thirty centimeters (eight to twelve inches) under ground.209
Because cluster bomblets cannot be defused, the deminers explode them in situ (in place). In many parts of Afghanistan, they use a simple tripod made in Pakistan. The device has three thin legs topped by a two inch (five centimeter) tall cup with a shaped charge. The deminers spread the legs of the tripod so that the shaped charge is three inches (seven centimeters) above the bomblet. They fill the cup halfway with explosive, stretch a time fuze out the plastic top, and light it. The shaped charge destroys the core of the bomblet without setting off the BLU and spreading dangerous fragments in every direction.210 While the device is cheap and effective, it is also dangerous because the deminers must work over the bomblet for an extended period of time. Since bomblets are sensitive to temperature, "there is a theoretical risk that if it's a hot day and a shadow falls over it, that would be enough to trigger an explosion," Moorhouse said.211
Overall the deminers have made excellent progress in clearing cluster bombs from Afghanistan. By late March, for example, OMAR had cleared seven of thirteen strike sites in Herat. "Inshallah we complete all cluster bombs in two to three months," OMAR engineer Sher-Agha said.212 Deminers in other parts of the country had similar expectations. Tim Horner at the RMAC in Kandahar said his teams would finish in a couple months.213 HALO Trust's Zenk expected to finish by year's end. "I think we'll deal with it. It's not really a problem because [HALO Trust] ha[s] massive manpower," Zenk said.214
Although clearance expectations were high in the spring, work remained to be done at the end of 2002. According to MAPA, as of November, 227 cluster bomb sites had been surveyed and 111 cleared.215 In some regions, expectations were met. Cluster bomb clearance in the southern region was reportedly almost finished by September.216 By November, HALO Trust had finished clearance in the Shomali Plain, destroying 2,230 BLUs, and had cleared fifty sites in the north, destroying 3,666 BLUs. It still had several northern areas to complete, however.217 Work in the Herat region slowed in the summer because OMAR prioritized mine clearance in rural areas that would be inaccessible in the winter. In September, it could only dedicate cluster bomb clearance teams to the Fourth Armored Brigade Headquarters and Ishaq Suleiman.218 While deminers did not meet their original goals, the clearance rate in Afghanistan is impressive given that cluster bomblets caused problems in Iraq and Yugoslavia for years. The success is due to the smaller number of bomblets dropped and to the existing capacity of the Afghanistan's demining program.
The deminers generally do not view cluster bomblets as a huge problem, at least compared to landmines. "In the context of this country, they're kind of like a minor problem," Zenk said.219 Sher-Agha concurred. He said that the unexploded ordnance abandoned at Herat's military bases by the Taliban presents many more difficulties than cluster bomb clearance, which he described as "easy."220 Another Herat official noted in March that he expected OMAR to finish the thirteen cluster sites by summer, but it would take ten years to clear the 347 surveyed mine sites.221 Some deminers, however, felt that cluster bombs were distracting them from their primary work. Zenk said that HALO deminers frequently had to clear BLUs from villages surveyed for mines the previous year.222 "They are taking resources from a long-standing mine problem," Moorhouse said.223
The controversial nature of the weapon has attracted international attention to cluster clearance. "Why is it a big issue? Because the rest of the world is interested in it. We'll deal with it because of pressure on us from different angles," Zenk said.224 The United Nations asked clearance groups to keep separate data about injuries due to cluster bombs. Deminers in the Shomali Plain, just north of Kabul, were urged to finish their work quickly so that government officials can take visiting dignitaries there. Some of this pressure is political, and the demining groups do not give in to it completely. Horner said that regardless of pressure, a minefield on land needed by civilians takes precedence over an isolated cluster site.225 Nevertheless, information gathering will provide a better understanding of cluster bombs and inform future debate about them.
Clearance Difficulties and Dangers
The deminers also suffered from a lack of equipment. The Taliban stole vehicles and looted warehouses, especially in Kandahar.231 A U.S. strike on a DAFA warehouse occupied by the Taliban destroyed other equipment.232 During their reign, the Taliban banned global positioning system (GPS) receivers, which tell users their exact latitude and longitude. Horner said his survey team did not believe him when he said they were now legal.233 GPS receivers are important tools for identifying the location of cluster sites. They also allow deminers to find sites that others, including the United States, have identified. Horner described the biggest obstacle to clearance as having to use multiple kinds of maps instead of GPS receivers. "I read all about this place being a mature demining place, but it's way behind Bosnia," Horner said. "It takes three to four weeks to map sites. The information we've got is nowhere near as comprehensive."234 The demining groups need funding to replace their lost equipment, buy new GPS receivers, and train staff in their use.
The equipment that does exist is spread unevenly across the country. Horner said that Kandahar was the worst off. "Because it's hot, dusty, and no one likes coming here, it's been ignored for a long time," he said.235 OMAR in Herat has also faced equipment shortages. It has only eight large-loop metal detectors and its deminers have limited safety equipment.236 While deminers clearing cluster bomblets for the U.K.-based HALO Trust in the Shomali Plain wore chest and face protectors, deminers in Herat had no such gear because the Afghan-based OMAR could not afford it.
The southern and western demining groups have also faced staff shortages. After the U.S. bombing campaign began in October, many deminers fled. "Everyone was told to flee to the hills and look after their families," Horner said.237 Deminers started to trickle back in January, but by late March, the Kandahar RMAC had about a dozen active teams instead of its usual forty-nine.238 Since the deminers have to clear mines as well as clusters, OMAR and DAFA could only dedicate two teams each to cluster bomblets. In March, HALO Trust had a staff of more than 1,800 in Afghanistan but expected to lose some as the war ended and the new government was set up. Doctors who worked for the demining group, for example, would want to return to their pre-war positions.239 Several deminers also complained about the low pay, which averages $130-135 per month. Zenk, however, described it as "very good pay for these here parts."240
Because these obstacles led to delays in deminers' work, civilians often resorted to their own methods of clearance. The pressure for land and the fear of casualties drove residents to find ways to dispose of the bomblets themselves. After a BLU killed a child in Takhar, for example, an elderly woman began to gather bomblets. "She decided she was an old lady and if anyone should get it, it should be her," Zenk said. The woman piled up eighteen bomblets, lit a fire under them, and walked away. When HALO Trust heard of this story, it quickly dispatched a team to the area.241 Civilian clearance is not only dangerous to civilians who do not know how to handle cluster bombs safely but also of limited effect. In Kandahar and other places, Human Rights Watch found bomblets civilians had tried to burn. While charred on the outside, the BLUs remained dangerous because the fuzes were intact.242 In Qala Shater, neighbors dumped unexploded bomblets into a canal that runs through the center of the neighborhood and is used by children for swimming. OMAR diverted the water into irrigation canals to start clearance. The residents, however, needed the canal's water and only let the deminers divert it for a short time. As a result they created a long-term clearance problem.243
Awareness (Risk Education) Programs
OMAR has added cluster bomblets to its nationwide mine awareness program. Posters now include images of individual BLUs and CBU casings. One depicts a refugee who spots a bomblet on his way home. It instructs him to retrace his steps, mark the spot, and go for help. "Danger. Don't touch unknown devices. They cause death," reads another poster with images of mines, cluster bomb parts, and unexploded ordnance. OMAR also brings BLU models to its awareness classes and makes extra efforts for special events. During the New Year celebrations in late March, which brought many people outside for picnics, OMAR used megaphones to warn people not to walk in certain areas.245
The education programs have had mixed effects. Human Rights Watch only saw the awareness posters in OMAR and U.N. offices, and the more common mine-awareness murals and billboards generally did not include cluster bombs.246 Nevertheless, by March, most people Human Rights Watch interviewed knew what a cluster bomb was and recognized it as dangerous. Villagers in Ishaq Suleiman, for example, at first said they did not have any pieces of cluster bomblets because OMAR had warned them they were dangerous to pick up. After further discussion, however, the people showed the Human Rights Watch team their collections of CBU casings, CBU computer pieces, and bomblet canisters. A young boy even offered the spider he had picked up for a toy. Desperate for scrap metal or merely curious, these villagers had ignored OMAR's warnings. In other cases, the awareness programs came too late. In Bag Nazer Gah, villagers said deminers arrived only after two people were injured.247 The demining groups, which have limited resources, cannot educate every Afghan or enforce what they teach.
Deminers have also increased awareness by identifying dangerous areas with painted rocks, but their system needs to be simplified or clarified. Red stones indicate mines, white cleared areas, and blue cluster bombs or battle areas. While most people seem to understand red and white, the blue confuses many. "It's a stupid system. . . . Blue doesn't mean anything to anyone," Moorhouse said.248 A shepherd found sleeping in an area outlined by blue stones near Ashoga said, "I have no idea what they mean. The deminers just came once and painted stones and left."249 Another man at the same site said, "I don't know exactly, might be something about mines."250 Contrary to what other deminers, including his supervisor, said, an OMAR team leader in Herat said blue meant the area had been surface cleared but not subsurface cleared.251 Either he was using a different system than everyone else or he was misinformed about the color code. The system itself has value, but deminers should better publicize their color-coded system by, for example, including the color key on awareness posters or discussing it in classes.252
The U.S. Defense Department provided a list of CBU strikes to the United Nations to be passed on to clearance organizations. The original list included the name of the location, GPS coordinates, estimated number of unexploded bomblets, and radius of dispersal. The unexploded ordnance numbers seemed to be based on a 5 percent dud rate.257 Deminers indicated, however, that the list was of little use. First, it existed in several, considerably different versions. Human Rights Watch encountered three versions of the list, dating from November 2001, January 2002, and March 2002, circulating in Afghanistan.258 MAPA said it gets new lists regularly259 although in November 2002 the March list was still the mot recent version in MAPA's possession. The different versions were not merely updates of new strikes. Each of the three provided different categories of information; they added and then removed weapon type, replaced number of unexploded bomblets with the number of bombs, and changed the way they measured the footprint.
The various versions of the list also included contradictory and inaccurate information, demonstrating a failure to record strikes carefully. Human Rights Watch visited many sites listed without finding evidence of cluster bombs. In one case, the list had the wrong coordinates for the village of Khodydad Kolai. It gave coordinates for a neighborhood by that name in Kabul, when it should have given coordinates for a village by that name south of Kandahar. In another case, it identified sites south of Herat that were unfamiliar to the local deminers. Instead they found evidence of thirteen strikes to the north. It appears that that January list transposed two digits, which were corrected in the March version. But even the latter did not include known strikes in villages such as Ishaq Suleiman and Jebrael.260 The ostensible precision of the data reported by the United States, latitudes and longitudes down to the second, leads to an expectation of accuracy when, in fact, the list is largely estimated.261 Given today's technology, the United States should be able to record the GPS coordinates of a strike when it happens and then pass that information on to the appropriate parties at the appropriate time.
Even if the list had been consistent and accurate, it would have been of little use on the ground. The United Nations failed to ensure deminers received the list or its updated versions. Zenk said that HALO Trust was just starting to look at the list in March.262 In Herat, Moorhouse said that he had not seen a new version since November,263 and OMAR was unaware of any list.264 For those who had received the list, it did not come in a usable form. The first two versions of the U.S. list of strikes identified their location by latitude and longitude. Such information had little value to deminers who did not have GPS receivers to determine their coordinates. The March version added a different kind of mapping coordinates, possibly to address this problem.
When the U.S. military has cleared cluster bomblets in Afghanistan, it has not coordinated well with the U.N. demining groups. Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams have worked to clear cluster bombs from Bagram and Rhino Bases, but the U.S. military assumes no responsibility for clearing except to protect its own forces.265 Officials in Herat said U.S. Special Forces completed surface clearance near Takh-te-Sefar, possibly because the soldiers were based in the area, but left a field with subsurface BLUs unmarked. A group of five boys walked across that field on March 24, leaving one killed and four injured. (The boys' relative said one of them picked up the BLU.) In Kandahar, Horner said that it was difficult to liaise with the U.S. military.266 He had warned his staff to stay away from bomblets near Rhino Base. He feared that the military would hear explosions, assume it was enemy forces, and start a firefight before investigating thoroughly. "I'm loathe to put guys near the base until there's a good liaison. If we start making explosions, we'll get Black Hawks coming down on us," Horner said.267 Good communication could prevent that confusion, but his deminers do not have radios that work with the U.S. radios and the United States would not lend them compatible ones. He said he may negotiate a deal where DAFA locates the bomblets and the U.S. military explodes them.268
Conclusions and Recommendations
The United States should contribute to clearance efforts for moral and practical reasons. As the party that dropped the bombs, it has the information and tools to expedite removal of the dangerous duds its munitions released. The assistance would protect U.S. troops as well as Afghan civilians. It would also speed Afghanistan's economic recovery, thus contributing to the defeat of terrorism. Although there is no legal requirement to help with cluster bomb clearance, the mine treaties discussed above offer guidelines for how states should get involved with this process.270
While the international community should focus on addressing the problems outlined in the chapters on targeting and aftereffects, it should at the same time seek to improve clearance because many countries have stockpiled submunitions for future use and others are littered with duds from past wars. Codifying guidelines in a cluster bomb protocol would help clarify responsibilities and standardize clearance, thus reducing the danger of duds. In the meantime, Human Rights Watch recommends the following steps:
· The international community should provide far more financial support for clearance and risk education programs. The United States, or any country that uses cluster munitions, should bear a special responsibility to provide financial assistance to clear its munitions.
The speed of clearance in Afghanistan does not undermine the significance of these recommendations. Implementation of these recommendations in Afghanistan would have reduced the number of civilians killed or injured by unexploded cluster bomblets and expedited the economic recovery of the country. Furthermore, few countries have the demining infrastructure of Afghanistan, which means cluster bombs could pose even more severe clearance problems in the future. In another country, clearance could take many months or years longer, resulting in severe humanitarian consequences.
200 ICBL, Landmine Monitor Report 2002, p. 593.
201 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher-Agha, March 28, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with Tim Horner; Human Rights Watch interview with Gerhard Zenk, Pul-i Khomri.
202 Human Rights Watch interview with Qader Hamdard, Operations Officer, RMAC, Kabul, Afghanistan, March 12, 2002.
203 Ibid. The other two major Afghan NGOs are: the Afghan Technical Consultants (ATC), which does clearance and mechanical excavations, and the Mine Detection Dog Center (MDC), which uses dogs to find mines, especially Iranian anti-tank mines without enough metal to be picked up by a metal detector. Ibid.
204 Human Rights Watch interviewed deminers from HALO Trust, OMAR, and DAFA as well as officials at the RMACs.
205 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher-Agha, March 28, 2002; Human Rights Watch interview with Tim Horner.
206 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher-Agha, March 28, 2002.
207 The deminers work through three rings of debris, small pieces of casing, spiders, and bomblets, while progressing to the most dangerous area. Human Rights Watch interview with Habeeb; Human Rights Watch interview with Tim Horner. Another interviewee described the three rings as burnt parachutes, CBU casings, and bomblets. Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Nasir Ahamd, Assistant Program Manager and Press Officer, HALO Trust, Kabul, Afghanistan, March 12, 2002.
208 See, e.g., Human Rights Watch interview with Gerhard Zenk, Kunduz.
209 See e.g., Human Rights Watch interview with Habeeb; Human Rights Watch interview with Gerhard Zenk, Kunduz; Human Rights Watch interview with DAFA team leader, Mandisar.
210 Human Rights Watch interview with Sean Moorhouse. Moorhouse recommended placing an explosive next to the bomblet and surrounding the area with sandbags instead of using the tripod.
212 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher-Agha, March 28, 2002.
213 Human Rights Watch interview with Tim Horner.
214 Human Rights Watch interview with Gerhard Zenk, Pul-i Khomri.
215 MAPA, Chart of Cluster Bomb Clearance and Casualties. Human Rights Watch obtained this chart in November 2002.
216 Pamela Sampson, "Afghan Cluster Bombs Almost Cleared," Associated Press Online, September 19, 2002.
217 According to a HALO Trust official, by November, it had finished clearing the city of Kunduz and its airport, but not the whole province. It expected to finish clearance in Khanabad by the end of November. Many of the areas that remain are in Balkh province and marked low priority because they are located in the mountains or a minefield. Others are inaccessible because of security restrictions. Human Rights Watch interview with Abdul Wasi; RMAC Kabul, "BLU Strike Sites."
218 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher-Agha, Operations Officer, OMAR, Herat, Afghanistan, September 19, 2002.
220 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher-Agha, March 28, 2002.
221 Human Rights Watch interview with U.N. official, Herat, Afghanistan, March 27, 2002.
222 Human Rights Watch interview with Gerhard Zenk, Pul-i Khomri.
223 Human Rights Watch interview with Sean Moorhouse.
224 Human Rights Watch interview with Gerhard Zenk, Kunduz.
225 Human Rights Watch interview with Tim Horner.
227 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher-Agha, March 28, 2002. Capt. Jan-Erik Johansen, a Norwegian mine clearance expert working near Bagram Air Base, "stepped among the Soviet cluster bombs. But [he] gave a wider berth to American cluster bombs, which can be set off by vibration of the ground." Douglas Birch, "Landscape of Land Mines: Any Step Could Be the Last," Baltimore Sun, April 7, 2002.
228 See Landmine Action, Explosive Remnants of War, p. 29.
229 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher-Agha, March 28, 2002.
230 Most of the deminers eagerly absorbed any technical information Human Rights Watch provided.
231 DAFA said the recent war cost it $5 to $6 million in damaged or lost equipment. ICBL, Landmine Monitor Report 2002, p. 600.
232 Human Rights Watch saw several DAFA vehicles that had been destroyed by U.S. bombs at the World Food Program compound outside Kandahar. DAFA had a warehouse on the site, and witnesses said the Taliban occupied the compound during the war.
233 Human Rights Watch interview with Tim Horner.
236 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher-Agha, March 28, 2002.
237 Human Rights Watch interview with Tim Horner.
239 Human Rights Watch interview with Gerhard Zenk, Pul-i Khomri.
241 Human Rights Watch interview with Gerhard Zenk, Kunduz.
242 Human Rights Watch interview with Bob Gannon.
243 Human Rights Watch interview with Sean Moorhouse.
244 For more information on landmine awareness, see ICBL, Landmine Monitor Report 2002, pp. 601-03.
245 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher-Agha, March 28, 2002. Sher-Agha said cluster bomb casualties increased during the New Year holiday when people were out picnicking and celebrating.
246 Human Rights Watch did see a U.S. military awareness poster at the Mazar airport. It had been recycled from Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia.
247 Human Rights Watch interview with Sharif.
248 Human Rights Watch interview with Sean Moorhouse.
249 Human Rights Watch interview with Grah, Ashoga, Afghanistan, March 25, 2002.
250 Human Rights Watch interview with Nangiali, Ashoga, Afghanistan, March 25, 2002.
251 Human Rights Watch interview with OMAR team leader, Herat, Afghanistan, March 27, 2002.
252 Despite the confusion about blue and red stones, only six of the ICRC's reported 127 casualties from unexploded cluster bombs occurred in marked areas. ICRC, November Cluster Bomb Casualty List.
253 Baldwin and Kay; Zielenziger ("A Pentagon official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that the U.S. military does not get involved in clearing unexploded weapons and did not do so in the Kosovo conflict in 1999.").
254 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Col. Tom Seal, Deputy Director, Political-Military/Humanitarian Demining Programs, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., May 31, 2002. See also Amy Joyce, "D.C. Firm Is Sending Team to Afghanistan To Help Defuse Devices," Washington Post, January 4, 2002, sec. E, p. 5.
255 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Col. Tom Seal.
256 ICBL, Landmine Monitor Report 2002, pp. 597-98.
257 The U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. manufacturers frequently use 5 percent as the expected failure rate for cluster bomblets.
258 U.S. Cluster Bomb List-November; U.S. Cluster Bomb List-January; U.S. Cluster Bomb List-March.
259 Human Rights Watch interview with H. Asem, Manager, Mine Action Management Information System, Islamabad, Pakistan, April 2, 2002.
260 In a HALO Trust document comparing the U.S. list to HALO's findings, the GPS coordinates of only two of the forty-two strikes compared were identical. RMAC Kabul, "BLU Strike Sites."
261 Air Force sources indicated that the lists were merely extracted, inexpertly, from mission reports and air tasking orders.
262 Human Rights Watch interview with Gerhard Zenk, Pul-i Khomri.
263 Human Rights Watch interview with Sean Moorhouse.
264 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher-Agha, March 28, 2002.
265 Eric Slater, "Master Blasters Detonate Dangers Military," Los Angeles Times, January 5, 2002. See also Human Rights Watch interview with Tim Horner.
266 Human Rights Watch interview with Tim Horner.
269 ICBL, Landmine Monitor Report 2002, p. 598. The funding included $13.5 million in contributions to NGOs, $43 million to the U.N. trust fund that supports MAPA, and $7.25 million in pledges to that trust fund.
270 See footnotes 52-55 and accompanying text.