tell their story
<< Back to Deminers tell
their story index page
Q & A with demining organizations
in Afghanistan | 1 March 1998
Questions from a number of participating schools
went out to deminers in Afghanistan via the Schools Demining Schools
project. The Programme Manager of the United Nations Mine Action
Programme in Afghanistan, Ian Bullpitt, gathered answers to those
questions from members of demining organizations that work closely
with the United Nations.
Abdul Jamil (Abdul), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-05, 30 years
old, 1 year experience
Ajab Khan (Ajab), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-01, 30 years
old, 4 years experience
Khail-ud-Din (Khail), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-01, 27
years old, 2 years experience
Assadullah (Assad), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-02, 40 years
old, 4 years experience
Mohammad Nawab (Mohd), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-01, 26
years old, 1 years experience
Lal Jan (Lal), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-04, 30 years old,
4 years experience
Mohad Naeem (Naeem), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-03, 30 years
old, 4 years experience
Mohad Usman (Usman), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-15, 29 years
old, 1 years experience
Abdul Jamil (Jamil), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-07, 46 years
old, 2 years experience
Mohad Karim (Karim), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-05, 33 years
old, 4 years experience
Eid Mohammad (Eid), Deminer, Mine Dog Centre, Team MDG-06, 26 years
old, 4 years experience
Zarwali, MCPA, Surveyor, Team 14, 27 years old, 1 years experience
A. Raqib (Raqib), Team Leader, MCPA, Team 14, 38 years old,4 years
Najibullah (Najib), Deminer, HALO Trust, Team 1
Ghulam Faroque (Ghulam), Deminer, HALO Trust, Team
Faizuddin (Faiz), Deminer, HALO Trust, Team
Ian Bullpitt (Ian), Programme Manager, United Nations, HQ
Are you scared when you do your job?
No, because we came across mines several times and we understood
that if you are careful during mine clearance then you are exposed
to very little danger. On the other hand, we believe in destiny
written by God.
I am not scared when I am doing my job. We are working according
to the strict safety procedures we learned in the courses. We are
all like fully confident soldiers who are never scared of their
Most of the other deminers interviewed said they were not scared.
Do you often use dogs?
No, HALO [the demining organization Ghulam works for] does not have
any Mine Dog Clearance. I personally believe that dogs are not very
reliable and who can guarantee that a dog will not have a bad day
and miss mines.
Yes, we often use the dogs. MDC has experienced dog handlers with
dogs and the dogs are working faster than manual teams. Once each
area is double-checked by dogs, I just inspect those parts indicated
by the dogs.
Yes, we have dogs who sniff the ground to locate any explosive device.
We use two dogs to check each piece of ground we go over. When a
dog indicates a suspicious spot, we check that spot with our mine
The Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan has one of the largest
and most successful mine dog programmes in the world. The Afghan
Mine Dog Centre has almost 150 dogs who are specially trained to
sniff for the explosives in mines. Each dog has to pass very strict
tests before it is allowed out to work in the minefields. We use
two dogs to check every square inch of ground - this ensures that
the area is checked to accpeptable standards.
Do your families go and stay with you?
Yes, we have the privilege of working in Kabul. We work for six
hours then we go home, rest and stay with our family. My colleagues
in northern Afghanistan carry out remote demining in Kunduz, Chemtal,
Salang, etc., therefore they work in cycles. More than 95% of HALO
deminers are recruited locally and there is no requirement for food
and accommodation for them.
We can not take our families with us due to the lack of basic necessities
of life. Also we don't stay in one place - we are like nomads changing
our accommodation after completion of each task.
Our work location is changeable therefore we can't take our families
Most of the other deminers interviewed said they could not take
their families if they are working away from their homes. Some 80-90%
of our deminers have to work away from their houses - often 300-400
miles away. It is therefore very difficult for them to take their
families even though they all said that they very much miss being
away. Demining teams normally work for about 2 months away and then
have 2 weeks at home.
Do you risk your life every day?
Well, in terms of mine clearance yes, but the system of very tight
discipline that we have in HALO along with the visors and jackets
and the mine detecting equipment and other safety procedures give
us enough protection.
Yes, it is a risky job where the first mistake could be the last
What do you think about when you are demining?
I think about safely finishing off my working day and safely going
home with no accident.
I think that I must use the prodder in the safest way to avoid a
mine incident. I do think that if a mine blows up, it will cause
injuries to my eyes, hands and chest.
I think if this mine blows up, then I will become disabled. But
I am satisfied as I serve my people.
Are you specialised in particular kinds of mines?
Yes, I have seen and cleared more than 100 Russian PMN2 AP mines.
Yes, especially in Russian-made mines.
Nearly all of our deminers are taught basic information about the
50+ different types of mines found in Afghanistan. Our current policy
is to blow up the mines without removing them from the ground because
it is usually quicker and safer. Some deminers also receive specialist
training in how to defuse mines and bombs.
Is it possible to re-use mines?
It is possible, but it is a very bad and risky practice. We destroy
the mines without removing them from the ground. In some cases,
if the mine is near a school, mosque or other building, we have
to remove the mine, rather than destroy it, using a safe method
so that it does not destroy the building.
Not all mines but certainly more than 80% of mines that we find
and destroy in situ can be re-used
It is a very risky practice because you do not know if the mine
has been booby trapped or not.
Yes, it is [possible], but very difficult and very very dangerous.
The Programme has a very strict policy of destroying all mines "in-situ"
(where they are). This helps to prevent the possibility of people
removing mines and using them elsewhere.
Are there many casualties?
Well, in 1997, thank God, we had no mine accidents in the south
and in the north. But I witnessed a couple of mine accidents in
Maidan Shar where some civilians were injured and evacuated by HALO
ambulances to Karte Se hospital.
We have only had one accident in our MDG - one of the deminers lost
one leg when he was investigating (prodding) an anti personnel (PMN)
Not many for deminers, but there are about 10-20 casualties each
day among the civilians in Afghanistan.
In 1997, there were almost 45 demining accidents in the Mine Action
Programme for Afghnaistan. In most cases, these happened when deminers
were not strictly following the rules and procedures correctly.
Fortunately, good protective equipment (such as helmets with visors)
has reduced the injuries. Unfortunately, some of our deminers still
received serious injuries or even died. There are no specific figures
on how many civilians are injured because most of the hospitals
barely work. We estimate that maybe 5-10 people every day (150-300
per month) may still be having mine accidents.
Do your families agree with your choosing this
Initially they were not happy, but since I make money and I am
looking after an extended family and our living standard improved
a lot they are now very happy. But they keep telling me to take
great care while clearing mines.
Not at all. I have to work as a deminer to support my family and
solve my family's economic problems. My family has therefore agreed
to me doing such a risky job.
Yes, I am doing this risky job to make Afghanistan free and safe
What is a typical day for a deminer?
My typical day starts with morning prayer. Then we have
breakfast and move to minefields. We work in a minefield for six
hours and return to the base camp for lunch. In the afternoon, I
play volleyball with my friends and in the evening prepare the daily
activities report. I also
listen to the radio and study books in the evening.
Zarwali's answer is quite typical for most deminers. Most teams
about 6 hours per day at the minefield (usually in the morning).
heat of summer, the teams might start as early as 4 or 5 AM to avoid
extremely hot midday and afternoon heat. Deminers usually relax
aftrenoons - playing volleyball, reading or listening to the radio.
Leaders usually have to work in the afternoons preparing reports,
plans for the next days or conducting mine awareness training for
people in or near their camp.
Can you do this as a career or is it always a
It depends on the situation in Afghanistan. You know before I
joined HALO I was a civil engineer and now I am a deminer. I really
look forward to working again as a civil engineer or HALO can find
me a job where I can be more useful and be closer to my speciality.
Now this job is a career for me. I do not think of my job as a
temporary job because we learned the rules and methods of demining.
I selected this field after attending the demining courses and know
what the procedures are.
I think I will do it as a career.
How much do you make per month?
A normal HALO deminer gets something like US$109. This is enough
for us for the moment. Our wages have been revised every three months
and adjusted to the USD exchange rate.
KHAIL: I make about
JAMIL: I make about
ZARWALI: I make about
RAQIB: I make about
How are the sites to be demined chosen and by
The local people, local authorities, UN agencies and NGO's come
with a request to RMAC. The RMAC refers the request to survey teams.
The survey teams, with the support of mine dogs, first narrow down
the area where possible and make a 2 meter safe line around the
edge of the minefield for the clearance teams. The survey team also
makes a map of the mine field. The survey team brings the map to
RMAC who hands over the map to the Demining agencies who deploy
their teams for clearance. We usually make our camps near the minefield.
Mohd has given a very good answer. In addition, the Mine Action
Programme has established a set of priorities and rules to help
us select the important or urgent work. This is very important as
there are hundreds of minefields to be cleared which will take at
least another 5-6 years. We have to make sure that we clear areas
that are actually going to be used first. For example, if there
is land that no-one ever uses (such as a useless piece of land in
the middle of the desert), we would make this a very low priority
and not clear this until last.
What are you particularly careful about?
We are very careful not to miss mines and to make sure that we dig
the ground carefully and not expose ourselves and other people to
any mines missed by us.
I am very much concerned about the safety of my team members.
Which tools/accessories do you use most?
We use our visor, jacket, mine detector, probe, and trowel very
often, because we dig the ground in residential areas to the original
level. We even found mines at a depth of 80 cm in Silo and Dewan
Mine detection dogs, Mine detector, Prodder, Helmet, explosives.
Dogs, mine detector, prodders, helmets, mine markers, rope, binoculars,
medical kit, ambulance, explosives, detonators.