British Forces based in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, deployed as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), have launched a programme to raise awareness of the dangers posed by landmines.
Having cleared Taliban forces from much of Helmand Province, British Forces have now begun the task of assisting the Afghan government in reconstruction and development programmes. It is hoped this will enable Afghanis to return to their villages and farmlands to begin a new life.
Eliminating the threat of landmines is essential to the revival of the Afghan economy, and to safeguarding the lives of the Afghan men who support their families by toiling in the mined areas.
The Red Cross reports that "boys under 15 years of age account for 20% of all landmine casualties" with Afghan towns having a disproportionately large number of amputees. People picking up an unexploded mine out of simple curiosity or combing through rubble to find mine parts to resell in order to support their families can result in death or serious injury.
Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Jones, Commanding Officer of 26 Royal Engineer Regiment, is the man in charge of the landmine programme:
"Mines are an indiscriminate killer," he explained, "they do not differentiate soldier from civilian and unfortunately young children are most vulnerable. The aim of this programme is to provide life saving education for children on the dangers of landmines and other explosive devices which litter the war torn province of Helmand."
Landmines have been used indiscriminately in Afghanistan since the arrival of Soviet Forces in 1979 and are still used by the Taliban against British, ISAF and Afghan Forces. As a result, hundreds of thousands of mines lie unmapped and undiscovered in large areas of the country making Afghanistan the most mined country in the world.
After receiving training from Royal Engineers of 26 Engineer Regiment, soldiers from the Afghan National Army in the town of Gereshk took the lead at a landmine awareness day to show children the types of mines that litter the country and how to mark and report them.
Royal Engineer Captain Anna Swan, who arranged the specialist support for the event, said:
"Seventy varieties of mine still scar the earth and over an average month up to 100 Afghans are injured or killed from mines, and most of those are women and children.
"Tragically, one such device claimed the lives of three children in the Upper Gereshk Valley. As with many such incidents, the children had been playing with an explosive device when it detonated, killing two children and severely wounding the third.
"Despite the efforts of soldiers of the Afghan National Army at the scene and British military medical staff at Camp Bastion, the third child, aged just eight years old, died of his injuries."
Sponsored by the Mayor of Gereshk, Sayed Darani Shah, and the Commanding Officer of the 1st Kandak Shir Khan, some 250 local children and their families attended the event, the first such event in Helmand Province. Mayor Shah said:
"Following the success of this first event, the Director of Education in Lashkar Gah has given his permission to roll out such events to schools throughout Helmand before the three month long school holidays, when children are likely to be playing in the local area."
This first landmine awareness day provided each child with knowledge of the basic steps to undertake when encountering a device. Afghan National Army soldiers taught the children how to identify, mark and report explosive devices so they can be destroyed without causing harm.
Captain Swan concluded:
"We hope to save thousands of young lives ended needlessly by making the children aware how dangerous mines are."