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UN Group Undertakes 'Dicey' Job of Bomb Defusion in Afghanistan - 2001-12-03

One of the first international agencies to return to Kabul since the collapse of the Taleban government there is the U.N. Mine Action Program. One of the group's first and most urgent tasks is to locate and defuse the bombs which fell and did not explode during U.S. air strikes.

Ross Chamberlain is deputy coordinator of the United Nations Mine Action Program in Afghanistan. He has surveyed about 10 sites where the U.N. has to locate and defuse unexploded bombs.

He showed journalists the three safest.

"One of the major reasons we brought you here is to show you this as a target but we will have wanted to you look behind you and that is a hospital, so they had to be spot on to hit this, because if they went wrong there was going to be a big problem," he said. "So we brought you here just to see that they did this one right."

The 500-pound bomb accurately hit a building only hundreds of meters from Kabul Childrens hospital. The bombs have a computer guidance system on the front directing them to their targets. But Ross Chamberlain says that in the city of Kabul some of the bombs went astray. He estimates that 30 civilians lost their lives.

"Yeah, there are more bad sites here than good sites," he said.

When asked if he was talking about Kabul, he replied, "only Kabul, not outside of Kabul, although they probably hit what they meant to hit out there but there are a few errant bombs in Kabul."

Ross Chamberlain's job now is to locate them all and coordinate the safe removal of any unexploded bombs. There are four which must be defused as a matter of urgency, two in the city and two at Kabul airport.

One of the unexploded bombs at the airport is very deep in the runway. Its location and removal is a challenge according to Peter Le Sueur, a subcontractor working with the U.N. Mine Action Program. "Yeah, that is deep that is going to be quite a difficult job to do," he said.

When asked if that was one of the reasons that airport has not been opened, he said, "they are still repairing the damage to the runway at the moment. That will take about two weeks. So what we hope to do is locate and destroy the bomb that is in the runway so that they can repair that section and get the airport up and operational as soon as possible."

One of the unexploded bombs is in a residential district in Kabul. It was one of three dropped in a line targeting Taleban commander's homes, which were assessed by Washington officials to be command and control centers. But the computer control guidance units in the bombs appear to have failed. One bomb destroyed a vehicle, another leveled a shop across the road from a Taleban commanders house and a third landed in the kitchen of a house owned by an Afghan businessman, where it failed to explode. Standing in the kitchen you can see "500 pounds, Made in U.S.A.", inscribed on its side. The general purpose (low drag) bomb was dropped from an FA-18 fighter jet on November 12, the night the Taleban fled Kabul.

The bomb is buried tail down, which makes things harder for Ross Chamberlain.

"The bad news about this bomb is it turned itself over in the air and its gone through the roof tail first so the tail is in the ground where the fuse is and we have the head, the pointy end of the bomb, sticking out of the ground, which does not have a fuse in it, so what we are going to have to do is get the bomb out of the ground and get the fuse out," he said. "There are going to be a lot of people down here with a lot of sand bags, protecting everything around here with sand bags, build it up and and then go inside and cut the bomb out from the ground."

When asked if that wasn't a "dicey" maneuver, Mr. Chamberlain said, "It has to be done."

That process was finally completed this week. Once the bomb was cut out it was detonated on the spot.

When this task is complete the mine agency can go back to its main job, clearing Afghanistan of the 735 million square meters of land contaminated with land mines.