Andy Smith
MIne-action specialist
 

Mined areas, section 2

 

Humanitarian Demining

Part 1: Mined areas, section 2 (of 3)

 

 

Even tanks can become overgrown and be a surprise when you come across them.

The same is true of old military installations. This gutted plane is at the side of an old airstrip - and mines were put all around it because the departing soldiers knew that the enemy would be curious.

There may be abandoned machinery at old military camps, but even when there is not there are usually old trench systems. These may be overgrown and hard to see. They are likely to have been mined on the enemy side as a defensive measure. They may also have been booby trapped and mined inside the trench system when they were abandoned. Mines are not the only problem. Sometimes they are not the main problem. In this picture there is a stick-grenade, a mortar and an ammunition box with fuzes inside.

In this trench, mines were found at 30cm depth because the sides had fallen in since they were laid by the retreating forces.

This trench in Iraq was mined by local people, who moved fragmentation mines into the trench to get them out of their way.

An overgrown fence like this is also a good indication of an area defended with mines. This was an army depot. Defensive mines were placed on both sides of the fence. Places where the military had bases are always suspicious and the range of devices left there can be extensive. These may have been placed defensively, or to deny the area to anyone else.

All essential items of infrastructure in the country are also likely to have been protected with mines. For example, this power-line was mined to prevent it being blown up. After the war, the damaged line cannot be repaired because no one is entirely sure where the mines are.

Even when power pylons appear to have been cleared, access may have been achieved using a bulldozer - which means that many of the mines will be left in the berms or may still be in the "clear" area. Several mines were found around this pylon when the real deminers moved in.

The berms by this power line in Namibia were created with a bulldozer - and so have many mines inside them. Notice the unusual concrete triangle warning sign. (The clumps of vegetation on the pylon are actually bird nests.)

Roads may also have been mined by the fighting factions or by bandits. It is easy to conceal a mine in a road like this. If a road is not used by others, it should be avoided.

It can also be difficult to deploy your deminers and equipment over roads like this. Once "surfaced" with tar, it has become tortuous to drive and easy to conceal mines on.

You can see that this road has become a footpath.

This broken tar road has been abandoned because of mines. Mines may be laid in the potholes, or the thin tar may be melted, lifted up and replaced on the top of a mine.

This truck detonated a mine with a rear wheel as it crossed a bridge. There were other mines placed to injure the survivors and make it difficult to repair the bridge.

This train was attacked years ago and the wreckage was mined to prevent the government reopening the railway. A warning sign has been chalked on the front of the train.

This railway line was turned upside down in order to make it difficult to repair. Grenades were placed under the track and mines placed around it. Many mined areas are quite well defined and easy to locate....

This is the edge of a village beside a tarred road. The local people cook using wood, so the trees around a village have usually been cut. In this case, dense undergrowth starts very close to the village and rather suddenly. Villages close to roads were particularly vulnerable to hit&run attacks so they were frequently mined defensively. The mines were placed so that an attacking force that approached on the road, then spread out to attack the village through the bush would run into the minefield. An experienced mined area surveyor would spot this immediately. To others, the general rule is that - if local people avoid an area, you should also avoid it.

It can be more difficult to know where mines are in the bush. The only reason for you to suspect that there are mines here is because it is close to a reservoir. Mines were placed on all of the tracks that led to the reservoir to prevent the dam being blown up or the water polluted. This prevented people getting water for themselves and their livestock - so the government forces accidentally made the locals move off their land and join the displaced people in the towns. The dam was also blown up anyway, but the mines remain.

In wars where one side uses hit&run terror tactics, any place in the bush may have been mined to catch the attackers or to slow down the forces chasing them. This area was once pasture and was mined because insurgents were in the area. The insurgents left years ago and the mines will remain until funds are found to pay for their clearance. Meantime the pasture returns to bush.

This field in Cambodia was also randomly mined to deter pursuit, and then abandoned.

Also this jungle area in Cambodia.

In places that are mined randomly to prevent pursuit or to deny the land to others, huge areas have to be cleared in order to find very few mines. Ways of safely reducing the area that must be cleared are needed and various means of detecting the presence of explosives nearby (using animals and machines) are being researched. In the meantime, clearance is increasingly prioritised so that those areas where people are most at risk are cleared first. The resources on abandoned land (wood, bamboo, fruits, etc) often mean that people living in a marginal economy have to go there to make a subsistence living - so many apparently abandoned areas are the sites of civilian accidents and have a high humanitarian priority despite their low "land value".

Go to Section 3.....