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Red Cross Condemns Use of Improvised Mines in Southern Afghanistan

The International Committee of the Red Cross has condemned the use of improvised mines and other explosive devices in the Marjah area of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. The Red Cross says such bombs are putting civilian lives at risk and preventing a resumption of normal life.

The International Committee of the Red Cross does not explicitly point its fingers at the Taliban. But, it strongly condemns the use of improvised explosive devices, which are the main weapon in the Taliban arsenal. It calls them completely unacceptable.

The U.S.-led assault on Marjah was launched on February 13 to dislodge entrenched Taliban fighters. The active fighting has ended. But Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno says the large number of land mines and other improvised explosive devices left behind continue to pose a deadly threat to civilians.

"In Marjah, the population is really unable to move about and get access to basic services, including health. We had a first aid post during the offensive where operations had to be suspended," he said. "This first aid post is operational again, but people really cannot access the few medical facilities in the area. So, mines and unexploded ordnances and improvised devices are a major threat to the population."

The United Nations says nearly 28,000 people left the Marjah and Nad Ali areas before the U.S. Marine-led assault against the Taliban began. As of now, the United Nations says only 4,500 people have returned to their homes.

The Red Cross says sooner or later, residents and displaced people will have no choice but to move about, if only to find food and water.

When this happens, Schorno says, casualties will be unavoidable. He notes improvised mines and unexploded homemade bombs do not differentiate between a military vehicle and a boy on a bicycle.

"The use of improvised mines and makeshift unexploded bombs is, of course, runs counter to international humanitarian law," said the spokesman. "The use of those weapons is banned under the mine-ban convention and their use is unacceptable. Furthermore, the ICRC calls on the parties to take the utmost precautions and all efforts to clear the affected areas as soon as possible, so the population can return to a semi normal life."

Decades of conflict have left Afghanistan with a lethal legacy of millions of anti-personnel landmines.

The Red Cross notes international humanitarian law requires that parties to an armed conflict take all possible measures to protect the civilian population from the dangers posed by mines and explosive remnants of war in areas they control after active fighting.

A United Nations report earlier this year found the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties in the Afghan war are caused by Taliban attacks, mostly using improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers.