Ending the Afghan War Won’t End the KillingRoundup
tags: imperialism, military history, Afghanistan, war
Stephanie Savell is co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. An anthropologist, she has conducted research on security and civic engagement in the U.S. and in Brazil. She co-authored The Civic Imagination: Making a Difference in American Political Life.
The new Costs of War report reveals that the leading weapons causing such damage have changed over time. Even before 2001, when the U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, that country stood near the top of the list of those afflicted by abandoned landmines. The devices remained from the 1980s conflict between the Soviet Union and extremist Islamist rebels, the mujahedeen, backed by Washington and funded and supported by the CIA.
In the wake of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, international and Afghan clearance groups worked hard to clean up those minefields. Their efforts were, however, often thwarted by brutal new conflicts, including an Afghan civil war from 1992 to 1996 and the period from 1996 to 2001 in which the Taliban largely controlled the country. Still, over the past few decades, such groups managed to remove two million pieces of unexploded ordnance.
As the latest data indicates, landmines from the Soviet conflict have still been causing 7% of remnant-related casualties since 2010. Most of those hurt by explosive ordnance, however, are victims of the ongoing, complex armed conflict that emerged from the U.S.-led invasion -- that is, a range of weapons used and left behind by American forces, Taliban fighters, and Islamic State-affiliated groups. These include grenades, projectile weapons, mortars, cluster munitions, and large bombs that failed to explode as intended, but are still live and prone to going off if touched or moved at a later date. Taliban and ISIS militants are also increasingly relying on improvised explosive devices (IEDs) set off by someone stepping on them or otherwise unwittingly activating them. If not triggered at the time of battle, they can kill or injure civilians long after, even in areas in which there is no longer active fighting.
Since 2015, casualties from explosive remnants of war and abandoned IEDs have been rising rapidly. One reason is an increase in fighting between the U.S.-backed Afghan National Security Forces and both the Taliban and ISIS, as well as intensifying conflict between these extremist groups themselves. According to report author Suzanne Fiederlein, improvised explosive devices are growing more common in Afghanistan and other conflicts across the Middle East, partly thanks to the Internet, which has spread knowledge of how to build them. Such information, she writes, is “commonly available now, not just on dark-web sites. Such knowledge is also linked to the manufacture of more sophisticated and complex devices, such as anti-handling devices (booby traps).”
In addition, since 2017, the U.S. has dramatically increased its airstrikes against the Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan, while the Taliban itself, as it gains ever more territory, has expanded its attacks on government targets as well as on Afghan and international security forces. In the past year, as U.S. and Taliban officials have engaged in peace talks, both sides have only ramped up their aggression further, assumedly in order to strengthen their hands in the negotiatons.
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