U.S. mine-removal program defuses ISIS remnants

For more than two decades, the United States has helped nations clear land mines and unexploded bombs. Now it is working with a group of partners to clear the path for Iraqis displaced by ISIS to safely return home.

Dealing with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other explosive remnants of war left behind by ISIS is a top U.S. priority, according to Tina Kaidanow, acting head of the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. She spoke recently while releasing the latest edition of  “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” the department’s annual Conventional Weapons Destruction Program report.

“In liberated communities across Iraq and Syria, ISIS left massive numbers of IEDs and other explosive hazards in its wake, with many devices deliberately placed to target returning refugees and the humanitarian actors who would help them,” Kaidanow said.

“While our military was helping clear Iraq and Syria of Islamic State forces, our diplomats were following up with humanitarian aid and assistance, such as clearing land mines, restoring water and power, and getting children back in school.”
~ Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Since April 2016, the U.S. and partners in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS have been clearing IEDs laid by ISIS from critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, water-pumping stations and electrical facilities.

“Explosive-hazards removal is a critical step in ensuring that once ISIS is pushed out, it stays out,” Kaidanow said.

Nongovernmental organizations are helping too. Spirit of Soccer, for instance, ran a soccer-fueled trauma training program for Iraqi boys and girls who were harmed by ISIS-related violence or who are at risk of joining extremist groups.

Destroying weapons around the world

Soldier in front of sign declaring area off-limits (© STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A soldier guards a minefield laid by guerrillas in central Colombia during a presentation of a mine-removal plan. (© STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. is the world’s largest financial supporter of conventional-weapons destruction, investing over $2.9 billion in more than 100 countries since 1993.

One objective in 2016 was to reduce the threat of illicit weapons falling into the hands of terrorists and other destabilizing actors in the Sahel-Maghreb area and the Great Lakes region of Africa.

The Global Demining Initiative for Colombia, led by the U.S. and Norway, was another achievement in 2016. It created a system whereby Colombian troops and nongovernmental organizations work together to clear the country of explosive remnants from its 50-year conflict. The initiative is a pillar of the peace accord reached in November 2016.

Through the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program, local communities around the world are being trained to make their homes safe and peaceful once again.