Afghan Children Die by the Dozens because of Explosives U.S. Left Behind at Firing Ranges

Friday, April 11, 2014
Afghan amputee Mohammaed Mahdi lost his foot in an explosion (photo: Emilio Morenatti, AP)

The open fields of Afghanistan have become lethal for many of that nation’s children due to scores of unexploded ordinance left by U.S. military forces.

 

Dozens of Afghan children have died after wandering into abandoned U.S. firing ranges filled with undetonated artillery shells, rockets and grenades, according to The Washington Post.

 

It is estimated that an area twice the size of New York City (about 800 square miles) is littered with American and allied explosives just waiting to go off if touched or kicked by unsuspecting civilians.

 

The United NationsMine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan says at least 70 civilians—62 of whom were children—have died since 2012 in and around U.S. or NATO firing ranges or bases.

 

But the Post found 14 casualties not included in the U.N. data, raising concerns that the death toll may be much higher than official estimates.

 

In most cases, the victims entered the fields to find scrap metal, collect firewood or graze their animals. The residents of nearby towns who have amputated legs, said to be a common sight, serve as evidence of the dangers lurking in the abandoned ranges.

 

Thirteen-year-old Sayed Jawed, whose family lives 100 yards from a NATO firing range, wandered into the area with a friend looking for scrap metal to sell. He was blown up when he stepped on a 40mm grenade. “The left side of his body was torn up,” his father recounted to the Post. “I could see his heart. His legs were missing. If the Americans believe in human rights, how can they let this happen?”

 

U.S. military officials blame a lack of planning and funding approval for the death traps they are leaving behind. “Unfortunately, the thinking was: ‘We’re at war and we don’t have time for this,’” Maj. Michael Fuller, head of the U.S. Army’s Mine Action Center at Bagram Airfield, told the Post.

 

One recommendation from the Pentagon was to build fences around the fields to keep people out, but an official rejected it as prohibitively expensive and ineffective.

 

To date, the U.S. military says it has cleared only 3% of the territory covered by the firing ranges. Finishing the job could take anywhere from two to five years and cost $250 million. But that’s assuming the U.S. government will follow through on such hazardous work once the military is forced to leave the country. Already there is a lack of personnel to conduct the work and fewer troops to provide security for doing so.

 

“It will take time and expense to complete this work, but it’s critical to the safety of the Afghan people and it is the right thing to do,” Edward Thomas, a spokesman for General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Post.

 

In addition to the firing ranges, there are more than 300 battle sites where American ordinance—mostly from airstrikes—remains. Military officials said those will never be cleared by the U.S. because no one knows where they landed.

 

“This is our home. This is where we’ve been told to live,” Abdul Hadiq, who assists a community disabled association, told the Post. “The Americans say it would be too expensive to build a fence. Do they know how much a human life is worth?”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman

 

To Learn More:

A Rising Number of Children Are Dying from U.S. Explosives Littering Afghan Land (by Kevin Sieff, Washington Post)

Next to U.S. Firing Range in Afghanistan, a Village of Victims (by Kevin Sieff, Washington Post)

Killing Children in Afghanistan…As Americans Say Enough is Enough (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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