Globe: The Weapons That Never Stop Killing

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In 2016, the decades-long war between the Colombian government and the forces of FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army) finally ended. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos went home with a Nobel Peace Prize, and the Marxist guerillas received political reincorporation. The war, it seemed, was over – at least for a few. While the shootings and bombings may have stopped, there are still weapons participating in Colombia. These weapons, antipersonnel landmines, dot the Colombia countryside, making Colombia the second most mine-contaminated country in the world, after Afghanistan. These weapons were a favored of FARC and are still terrorizing Colombians to this day.

Antipersonnel landmines are essentially small bombs used to terrorize an opposing force. They are often camouflaged or buried beneath the surface, making them difficult to detect. They can be mass-produced or improvised. In Colombia, baby food containers were known to be used as mines. The purpose of landmines is to be placed and forgotten – a reality that means mines weapons often outlast the war during which the mines were planted. When triggered, mines can go off immediately, or even delay detonation till forty minutes later, as some of the Russian mines in Afghanistan have been reported to do.

Those who are not immediately killed by the blast soon bleed out from the shrapnel wounds that have cut through their bodies. Those who manage to survive the blast often find themselves maimed for life. In nations where prospering is a crucible of its own, these survivors must spend their lives chained by amputation in the rugged countryside’s of their respective homelands. The demographics of these victim’s range – but they are often children and young adults. They fall victim to mines set for wars begun by earlier generations.

Though the antipersonnel mines killing and mauling are often from a war that have concluded, there is still mine planting in wars that are raging. In 2012, Syrian army forces planted mines in parts along the Syrian-Turkish border. Many of these mines are in the paths of Syrian refugees. Syrians trying to clear the mines are reduced to using primitive measures such as an axe, rope, and an iron will. Still, people are maimed. Many of the mines planted are Russian PMN-2 antipersonnel mines -which are unique for having more explosives then the average antipersonnel mine.

Other nations in that region also suffer from a sever landmine problem. Iraq, after years of insurrection is in the long process of clearing contaminated areas. It has been reported that mines are being used in the war in Yemen. Purportedly, Myanmar is still actively placing mines. In the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, which fought a long civil war against the insurgent Tamil Tigers, is taking anti-mining efforts.

Though rampant in many parts of the world, no nation has a more severe landmine problem then Afghanistan. It is estimated that of the 29 provinces in Afghanistan, only two are believed to be free from landmines – that is an estimated 724 million square meters of land including agricultural areas, urban centers and roads where the act of walking in the wrong area can lead to death or dismemberment.

 The most heavily mind areas are Herat and the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Other provinces such as Ghazni, Zabul, Paktika, and Farah are also heavily infested with mines. Even the capital of Kabul is not safe from the terror antipersonnel mines produce.

The mines in Afghanistan come from decades of invasion and insurrection. Many of the mines planted originate from pro-Soviet Afghan forces trying to fend of the resistance against the Soviet invasion. In return, the Mujahedeen has allegedly planted mines supplied by the United States. Sine the end of the Soviet incursion into Afghanistan, both Taliban and the United Front (the Northern Alliance) have ruthlessly used landmines in their war against the other – though both claimed to have discontinued the practice. The landmines used span all types and makers. At least fifty types of mines from nations the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Iran, Italy, Pakistan, Singapore, Yugoslavia, Belgium, and Zimbabwe have been identified in the Central Asian nation.

The number of landmines in Afghanistan is impossible to know, though it is estimated that 10 million mines contaminate the country’s infrastructure and land. The majority of the mines are believed the be the Soviet PFM-1, or the “butterfly mine.” During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Soviet helicopter pilots would drop scores of these weapons all over the country.

The design of the butterfly mine allow it to flutter to the ground without detonating. It is that same unique design that compels children into believing the mine to be toys. This deception is why several Afghan children are killed or severely maimed by these mines every day.

There are around 100,000 amputees in Afghanistan, and the number continues to grow. Up to a million Afghans are estimated to have some form of mobility impairment due to landmine injuries.  The task of clearing an area from landmines is slow, dangerous, and excruciating process. Terrain must be scanned inch by inch, and it takes weeks to clear a small area from mines. At the current rate, it will take hundreds of years to clear Afghanistan from landmines.

There have been international efforts to prohibit the use and production of landmines, but like all international legal efforts, compliance is only met when nations are willing to self-regulate. History views weapons regulations unfavorably. In the years proceeding the First World War, the nations of Europe, including the major participants of the conflict, signed a treaty prohibiting the use of chemical weapons.

But when those nations sent millions of their young men to be slaughtered in the act of attempting to conquer of few inches of land, the powers were forced to take a character test: continue as usual, or violate international law in order to achieve results. The decision: at the mutilated battlefields of Belgium, German forces released poison gas onto the battlefield. The Allies would respond in kind in later battles. This would continue throughout the rest of the war.

The Second World War would produce another act meant to protect civilians that would unapologetically be violated. The act of aerial bombing of civilian targets was prohibited in order to protect those who were dragged into war without their consent. But when casualties started mounting, and the most horrendous war in history progressively become more horrific, the bombing of civilian targets occurred. The bombing began as small raids. It then turned into the Axis Blitz over Britain. And then, the Allied relentless and almost nonstop bombing of Germany. It would culminate in the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the years since then, landmines have managed to kill more people than the atomic bombs did in 1945. International attempts to ban mines such as the Ottawa treaty have gained dozens of signatory nations. But there are many who have not signed including the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, India, and South Korea.

To nations like India and South Korea, those still engulfed within the realities of geopolitics, they are put in the position of choosing between human rights or their national interests. The latter usually takes precedent. If measures cold be taken to sway a potential invader, then it is typically taken. But when the current geopolitics shift; when conflicts and tensions finally come to a close, the sleeping weapons hidden beneath the surface will still exist. War does not end for mines – or for the people in the areas contaminated by those mines.