Op-Ed by Ambassador McKinley for International Day of Mine Awareness (April 4, 2015)

April 4, 2015

April 4, 2015 marks the 10th observance of the International Day of Mine Awareness.  On this occasion the people of Afghanistan have many reasons to be proud.  Landmines from past conflicts once remained in nearly every district of Afghanistan.  Thanks to the courage and dedication of Afghan de-miners, along with support from the United Nations and the international community, 80 percent of these former minefields are clear, restored to their original state.

Starting in 1989, Afghan de-miners have cleared over 524,000 anti-personnel mines, 30,000 anti-tank mines, and almost 32,500 explosive remnants of war (ERW).  Historical records show that almost 24,000 people were killed or injured in the same time period.  If not for the men and women who risked their lives to remove these threats, the casualties would be much higher.  Nearly 200 de-miners have laid down their lives for their fellow countrymen, killed by explosions and attacks from armed groups.  Through it all, the Afghan-led mine action community has persevered to become world-class in its expertise and technical capacity, such that they have trained de-miners in other mine-afflicted countries.  These accomplishments are awe-inspiring considering the challenges of preserving humanitarian space for neutral actors in times of war.

The United States has supported mine action in Afghanistan since 1993, investing nearly $400 million in Afghan and international partner organizations to destroy landmines, ERW, and excess weapons and munitions.  This assistance has not only saved lives, it has also opened up access to land for infrastructure development.  As the Afghan government takes increasing ownership in all spheres of security and development, the United States will remain a committed partner.

The achievements of de-miners are one of Afghanistan’s greatest success stories.  Still, landmines and ERW from ongoing conflict cause an average of 38 casualties each month.  Beyond the compelling humanitarian need, mine clearance is an essential first step for building the roads, pipelines, and cities of Afghanistan’s Transformation Decade.  Just when Afghanistan’s Ottawa Convention goal of “mine free by 2023” is within sight, the funds needed to finish the task are diminishing.  The United States continues to do its part, contributing $22 million this year.  This important endeavor must continue to ensure the safety and prosperity of all Afghans.