Sept. 19, 2019 – In public debates and media coverage of the possibility of an official end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, little has been said about the “explosive remnants” of this war that will continue to cause high numbers of civilian causalities even after the conflict is over. A new report released today by Costs of War calculates for the first time the human toll of the landmines, unexploded bombs, and improvised explosive devices that have been left behind in the aftermath of this war’s battles. It also tallies the monetary cost of clearing this debris.
Authors Suzanne Fiederlein and SaraJane Rzegocki of James Madison University report that at least 5,442 people have been killed and 14,693 injured by explosive devices left in or on the ground since the start of the U.S.-led war in 2001. Today only about 7% of these people have fallen victim to landmines remaining from the 1980s conflict between the Soviet Union and extremist Islamic rebels, the mujahedeen. The rest are victims of the ongoing, complex armed conflict emerging from the U.S.-led invasion — that is, of a range of weapons used and left behind by American forces, Taliban fighters, and Islamic State-affiliated groups.
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Since 2002, the U.S. has contributed $452 million to Afghanistan’s humanitarian mine-clearing program. This is just a small fraction of the additional $5.9 trillion the U.S. will have spent on its war on terrorism by the end of 2019. In recent years, however, American funding for mine-clearing in Afghanistan has been dropping precipitously, which will make it difficult if not impossible for that country to reach its goal of achieving mine-free status by 2023.
According to Costs of War co-director Stephanie Savell in an analysis published today on TomDispatch.com, “A multiyear funding commitment to clear the explosive remnants of the war on terrorism would be one small way to carry out a portion of America’s responsibility to the Afghan people after so many years of destruction.”