Afghan Kid Bombs

Strewn across several hectares are tens of thousands of explosives and live munitions:
Rockets, mortars, grenades and bullets left by a retreating Soviet army two decades ago.
Dozens of BM-12s are in plain view, scattered atop a live minefield
the Soviets built to protect their munitions bunkers.
The USA forces bombed the bunkers in 2001, during the fight with the Taliban
and the munitions were scattered everywhere.


For poverty-stricken Afghans this place has great appeal.
Dozens of boys, some as young as three, gather each morning to collect them.
Using picks, shovels and bare hands they dig into the ground,
searching for unexploded ordnance (UXO).
The UXO has value.

Scavenging for explosives
Afghans dig for rockets that make their way to Taliban
by Brian Hutchinson, National Post, Dec 16, 2006

Said Mohd is a 12-year-old Kuchi, an Afghan nomad. He recently walked hundreds of kilometres to this windswept, pockmarked field, just east of Kandahar. The land is barren. There are no trees, no grass, not even buildings. Just emptiness, punctuated by hills of rock and dirt.

And yet for poverty-stricken Afghans, such as Said, this place has great appeal. Strewn across several hectares are tens of thousands of explosives and live munitions: Rockets, mortars, grenades and bullets. The weapons were left inside earthen bunkers two decades ago by a retreating Soviet army.

U.S. forces bombed the bunkers in 2001, during the fight with the Taliban for control of Kandahar, and the munitions were scattered everywhere. In the process some were destroyed; many were just disabled.

Said is here to collect them. He works alongside a dozen other boys, some from local villages, some as young as three, all of them pushed by adult taskmasters. The weapons scavengers gather here each morning, and using picks, shovels and bare hands dig into the ground, searching for unexploded ordnance (UXO). The UXO has value.

The metal that forms their casings is worth 10? a kilogram in Kandahar. The explosives extracted from the munitions are worth more. "We take them to the bazaars in Kandahar and sell them to people," explained Said, squatting next to a pile of Russian mortars. He doesn't know what buyers do with the explosives, he insisted.

But Abdulhanan, regional operations manager for the Demining Agency for Afghanistan (DAFA), knows -- they are used to make suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices, the sort of things the Taliban use to maim and kill coalition soldiers operating in Kandahar, including Canadians. "This is a very big problem," said Abdulhanan, who like many Afghans goes by one name. "Every time there is a suicide attack in Kandahar, we find fragments from mortars and bombs. These kids are around here all time. What they are doing is dangerous, for the rest of us and for themselves." The metal detonators that once tipped the larger munitions, such as rockets and mortars, were destroyed in the U.S. bombings or have already been removed. But what remains is capable of doing great damage.

The boys and their adult taskmasters sometimes sell the munitions as is. Sometimes they attempt to extract the explosives themselves, by pouring gasoline into the detonator cavities and igniting it in an attempt to crack the thick casings. Accidents are all too common. "There was an explosion here 10 days ago," Abdulhanan said. "Three children were hurt. But they keep coming and we can't stop them. We have tried. These people are very poor and they need the money."

A man approached us cautiously. We shook hands. His fingers were gnarled, his palm deformed. "I burned myself," he said. Abdulhanan looked at him, skeptically. "It was not a burn that caused this damage. It was an explosion." The man grinned sheepishly and walked back to where he had been digging. We followed and saw a pile of 30-centimetre-long mortars stacked beside his pit. "Those are small ones," Abdulhanan noted.

Half a kilometre away, near another bombed munitions bunker, lies scattered a massive collection of larger Soviet munitions. "BM-12 artillery rockets," Abdulhanan said. Favoured by the Taliban, BM-12s are almost a metre in length. Each warhead contains more than a kilogram of high explosive. "There were 45,000 BM-12s stockpiled here. The Americans bombed the bunker but, as you can see, not all of the rockets were destroyed," added the DAFA manager. Most of the stockpile is buried under rubble, but dozens of BM-12s are in plain view, scattered atop a live minefield the Soviets built to protect their munitions bunkers.

Teams of DAFA workers are clearing the area of the anti-personnel mines by hand, but the process is painstakingly slow. Funded by the UN Mine Action Center for Afghanistan, the 16-year-old agency is cash starved. It equips its manual-removal teams with metal detectors, prodding knives and basic protective gear. The men kneel on the ground and poke at the earth with knives. It is dangerous work and in 16 years DAFA has lost 120 men. Six anti-personnel mines have been found and destroyed in this 3.4-hectare area. A staggering 3,445 bombs, rockets and grenades have been removed. Much more UXO remains inside this minefield, including the large BM-12 rockets.

The men and boys who dig all around the area would love to get their hands on them, Abdulhanan said. One BM-12 rocket would fetch perhaps $10 in a Kandahar bazaar, a paltry sum for such a deadly device that becomes more hazardous once in Taliban hands.

The area is a 15-minute drive north of Kandahar Airfield, the large operating base for about 2,500 Canadian soldiers. Every day, Canadian military convoys travel along Highway 4, passing within two kilometres of the munitions site and live minefield where the scavengers work, supplying the Taliban insurgents with material for their suicide bombs and deadly improvised explosive devices. Several blasts that killed Canadians and Afghans in recent weeks occurred on the highway.

Yesterday, spokesman Lieutenant Commander Kris Phillips called the harvesting activities "a concern." But, he added, "You can't blame people for trying to find a way to survive and provide for their families. That's why we have to continue working with Afghan authorities and to develop legitimate means of employment." That may be a distant prospect for boys such as Said Mohd. He has never attended school, and likely never will. For now, he digs for bombs and sells to those who want them, whatever their intention.

Canada's new Afghan offensive
To oust Taliban, deliver assistance
by Brian Hutchinson, National Post, Dec 16, 2006

Canadian soldiers and their allies launched a new military offensive in the dangerous Zhari and Panjwaii districts yesterday, vowing to drive out the Taliban and deliver essential development assistance. Dubbed Operation Baaz Tsuka [pronounced Bazooka], or Falcon's Summit, the campaign starts almost exactly three months after the conclusion of Operation Medusa, a brutal two-week fight with the Taliban in which five Canadian soldiers died. Led by Canadian troops, Operation Medusa was also staged in Panjwaii district, about 30 kilometres west of Kandahar city.

The new operation involves both International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops and Afghan National Security forces. It is intended to send a strong and direct message to the Taliban that the people of Afghanistan want them to leave, said British squadron leader and coalition spokesman Dave Marsh. How dangerous the mission ends up being depends on how the Taliban reacts in the coming days to an increased presence of coalition troops. ISAF and its Afghan partners "are prepared to once again demonstrate their ability to combat and defeat the Taliban."

Speaking last night at Kandahar Air Field, where 2,500 Canadian soldiers are based with British, Dutch and American troops, Mr. Marsh would not discuss specific troop movements or troop strength. A squadron of Canadian tanks was deployed in Panjwaii district earlier this month, and Canadian soldiers and artillery guns are also positioned in the district. Operation Baaz Tsuka "may or may not include some manoeuvres," added Mr. Marsh, suggesting Taliban insurgents in the rural districts could face an immediate, lethal threat from ISAF coalition forces. But he stressed a key objective is to deliver development assistance to Afghans living in the region. Village elders in the two districts have been "extensively consulted in the build-up to this operation," according to ISAF.

Several Canadian military officers have told CanWest News Service that while Operation Medusausa succeeded in eliminating hundreds of Taliban fighters in Panjwaii, more insurgents have returned to the area in recent weeks and have resumed launching attacks on Canadian troops there.

ISAF members accept there was a failure to inoculate Panjwaii district from the Taliban after Operation Medusa ended on Sept. 17. Most blame this failure on a lack of Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police strength and presence. Since then, both Afghan forces have undertaken extensive training and patrolling exercises with Canadian troops in Panjwaii. The goal is to "put an Afghan face" on coalition efforts to cleanse the region of Taliban, and to reassure farmers and villagers foreign troops will not be a permanent part of the landscape. Just underway, Operation Baaz Tsuka is part of that plan...

NATO mulls smaller Afghan bombs (to drop on civilians when looking for Taliban) & UN sceptical about smaller bombs (might drop more to compensate). BBC/IRIN Jul 31, 2007. Go to JFK SAID MILITARY ARE MAD & NATO KILLS FOR DRUG TRADE & AFGHAN NARCO-STATE NOW & 12.Minipeace & 22.Doublethink

'Reaper' robot planes to Afghan & Iraq (each with 14 Hellfire bombs). Telegraph, Jul 18, 2007

USSR's foreign minister advises Canada (to continue war in Afghanistan) & Canada gives war decision to General (no parliament vote or people consent)., Mar 7, 2006


Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~