Over the past three years, well over 3 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes by ISIS. But even as Iraqi armed forces and their Global Coalition allies continue to uproot ISIS from the territory it once occupied, landmines and unexploded ordnance threaten those refugees who would return to their homes.
“As ISIS retreats, they are leaving behind thousands of deadly explosive hazards, particularly around critical infrastructure like power and water utilities. Before Iraqi families can return home and rebuild their communities, these hazards must be thoroughly cleared,” wrote Rachael Chen in a recent blog post. Ms. Chen works in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, at the State Department’s Office of Congressional and Public Affairs.
The disposal of landmines, improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, and unexploded ordnance is necessary to help stabilize areas liberated from ISIS, and make them habitable again. And this effort presents its own set of challenges.
In the past, humanitarian clearance of explosive hazards began once the fighting stopped, these days, much of the clearance takes place in inhabited urban areas close to active conflicts. That means that civilian de-miners work side by side with military personnel.
“Humanitarian clearance operators are neutral parties concerned with protecting civilians,” wrote Ms. Chen. “Working closer to conflict often requires extra measures to maintain that neutrality.”
Or take the myriad of IEDs, a favorite weapon of ISIS fighters. Some are workshop-made, identical devices produced by the dozen, while others are put together on the spot by experienced bomb makers. Such unique IEDs are particularly tricky for humanitarian clearance operations.
Since 2003, the United States has invested more than $300 million toward the clearance and safe disposal of explosives and weapons in Iraq. Through the State Department’s Political-Military Bureau’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, the U.S. Government works with a combination of humanitarian mine operators and contractors to clear explosives from areas liberated from ISIS.
“Humanitarian clearance operations are vital to protecting civilians on the edges of conflict,” wrote Rachel Chen, “The United States urges the international community to work together on these important efforts dedicated to making communities safer and enabling civilians to return home.”