Unexploded NATO ordnance killing Afghan civilians

Unexploded ordnance left behind by NATO troops as they leave Afghanistan is killing and injuring a rising number of civilians, a UN demining group said Sunday.

Mohammad Sediq Rashid, director of the Mine Action Coordination Centre, told AFP the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) must fully clean up military bases and firing ranges being vacated ahead of a final withdrawal due next year.

A total of 53 Afghan civilians, mostly children, have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance found in or around ISAF bases and firing ranges since 2008, he said.

The 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, signed by most ISAF contributing nations, requires militaries to remove all unexploded ordnance from areas they vacate.

All ordnance, including those left by Soviet troops and mujahideen, caused 363 civilian casualties in 2012 compared to more than 240 between January and June 2013: a rise from an average of 30 a month to 40 a month so far this year, Rashid said.

"We believe if this problem is not sorted out, the casualty rate is very highly likely to increase because there are many people looking for unexploded ordnance to be sold as scrap metal," he told AFP.

"I think the main reason (for this increase) is because of these firing ranges," he said. "The evidence suggests there is a problem, this job is not being done properly," he added.

He said weaponry left behind included unexploded mortars and grenades.

In January, three civilians were killed and five injured in a village in Kohi Safi district of Parwan province, adjacent to the largest US-run base Bagram, Rashid said.

His team found more than 400 items of unexploded ordnance in the area, where a military base had been abandoned and there was also a firing range nearby, he said.

In February, two teenage boys were seriously injured in Bamyan province.

"We deployed another team there and so far half of the job is done, more than 500 items unexploded ordnance were found, most of them munitions that belong to ISAF," Rashid said.

"We think this is a major issue. There are hundreds of military bases... a considerable number of them will be closed, some of them will be handed over to local forces and some will be abandoned, so we think the casualties will increase," he added.

ISAF told AFP in an emailed response to the accusations that "the safety of civilians is one of our highest priorities".

"We're aware of reports concerning unexploded ordnance on the firing ranges of former bases in Afghanistan," Lieutenant Colonel Will Griffin told AFP.

"We have standard procedures in place to mitigate unexploded ordnance on firing ranges at ISAF bases throughout Afghanistan. These procedures include mitigating ranges that are no longer in use", he said.

But Rashid said the military was not doing enough.

"We want ISAF to pay attention to this. They are spending huge amounts of money and resources in this country. Why they are not paying attention to this issue?" he said.