Andy Smith
MIne-action specialist

Mined areas, section 3

Humanitarian Demining

Part 1: Mined areas, section 3 (of 3)



Here is an area where people have cultivated, then suddenly stopped. Even the dead wood in the area beyond has been left. The edge of the field was mined during the war to prevent people stealing the crops.

The start of the mined area coincides with the start of uneven ground full of tree roots and boulders. If those laying defensive mines have a choice, they will always site the defensive mine-belt on relatively useless land.

The pictures I have shown have been selected because there is something for you to see. In many cases the undergrowth is so dense that there is not. The ground is rocky and uneven, with gullies and boulders, and the undergrowth is so dense that cutting it is the part of mine clearance that takes longest.

You can see a mine sign in this picture. It has been cut in half diagonally before being placed.

Even light forestation is not easy to work in - and the terrain is usually very uneven.

Fighting may also take place in dense jungle, like this part of Angola. Paths through this have been mined, then abandoned and become overgrown.

Another thing to remember is that mines can move, so they may not be where they were placed. In this example, there was a military post at the top of the hill. It was mined to prevent the enemy approaching through the trees at night. The paths to the top were left unmined to allow safe access. After heavy rain, water surged down this path and deposited lots of earth and stones from higher up. Among the stones you may be able to see mines.

The uses of MINES

  • Defensive
  • Area denial
  • Route denial
  • Channeling the enemy
  • Banditry

Briefly, that is what minefields are like - and provides an introduction to why they were laid. To summarise….. Around the world, their main purpose is "Defensive". They may be defending military posts, villages, items of infrastructure, isolated farms, etc. In some places they are used widely for "Area denial". This may be denying access to water sources, food supplies or even homes. The denial of rural villages to their occupants can disrupt an agricultural economy and be effective at destabilising a region. Mining civilian homes can be an effective part of ethnic cleansing. An extension of "Area denial" is "Route denial" when mines are placed on roads to restrict their use by anyone, military or civilian. Western military forces are taught that mines are meant for "Channeling the enemy". This concept generally relies on the enemy knowing (or quickly finding out) where the mines are and being forced into a narrow "killing zone". I have not come across much real evidence of it in Humanitarian Demining. The last use - which may be particularly prevalent "post-conflict" - is the use of mines in "Banditry".

Mined areas are very rarely "fields". By definition, those placing the mines did not want to use the mined land, so when the mines were used defensively they are often placed on land with a low value other than as a potential access route.

This introduction finishes with a brief look at what may be found in mined areas. The picture above shows the items found in an Angolan minefield in a day. While improvised devices are relatively rare, mortars and RPGs are commonly found in any area that was disputed. In many cases, they outnumber the mines remaining. The minefield comprised PPM-2 and MAI-75 AP blast mines and POMZ-2 and 2M AP fragmentation mines. Notice the poor condition in which some were found. The mined area bordered a road on which the solitary AT mine was found. The South African made PRANK switch, (a "toe-popper") det-cord and explosive had been placed at a later date to plug a gap among the blast mines.

In countries where the conflict has been over for a long time, most of the mines found are relatively old and/or unsophisticated. Some become more sensitive as they decay, others lose their ability to function. Many remain functional for several decades. Notice that the use of AP mines as "triggers" for larger mines is common on roads in some areas.

The other thing in mined areas that is often relevant to deminers - is metal. All metal contamination slows down manual clearance with metal-detectors. If an area has been fought over, it is common to find abandoned bullets…..

….and ammunition.

And when there are fragmentation mines, the fragment contamination can be high. Similarly, the remains of original mined-area fencing can slow things down. Go to other minefield pictures. Angola; Kurdistan; Iran.

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