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A concrete wall marks the beginning of the Bagram air base firing range. Some of the firing ranges left behind by U.S. forces will be transferred to the Afghan army. About 40 ranges belonged to nations in the international coalition, and they will have to determine whether to clear them. (Photo: Lorenzo Tugnoli/For The Washington Post)

US Has Littered Afghanistan with War's Deadly Garbage

Afghan children and poorest citizens most vulnerable to unexploded bombs and toxic materials of thirteen-year war

Jon Queally

As in the abandoned battle fields and scarred countrysides of southeast Asia a generation ago, the U.S. military's footprint in Afghanistan is leaving a deadly legacy of unexploded ordinances and toxic materials that will continue to kill and permanently harm the nation's children and others for years to come.

According to the Washington Post on Thursday:

As the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan, it is leaving behind a deadly legacy: about 800 square miles of land littered with undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells.

The military has vacated scores of firing ranges pocked with the explosives. Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked. Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.

Clearing the rest of the contaminated land — which in total is twice as big as New York City — could take two to five years. U.S. military officials say they intend to clean up the ranges. But because of a lack of planning, officials say, funding has not yet been approved for the monumental effort, which is expected to cost $250 million.

“If the Americans believe in human rights, how can they let this happen?” asked Sayed Sadeq, whose teenage son and his friend were both killed when one of them stepped on an unexploded grenade near a U.S. firing range in Ghazni province.

Spokespeople for the U.S. military confess that cleaning up the garbage of the U.S. military occupation has not been a priority.

"Unfortunately, the thinking was: ‘We’re at war and we don’t have time for this,’" Maj. Michael Fuller, the head of the U.S. Army’s Mine Action Center at Bagram Airfield, told the Post.

According to the UN, too little has been done to address the problem even as the statistics soar.

The Post reporting continues:

Even before the U.S. military arrived in 2001, Afghanistan was the most heavily mined country in the world. When the Soviets withdrew in 1989 after a 10-year occupation, they left about 20 million pieces of unexploded ordnance scattered nationwide. The munitions have killed and wounded thousands of children. The U.S. government has helped fund efforts to clear those devices, a massive project expected to be completed in 2023.

The firing ranges aren’t the only places where U.S. military explosives may be lying undetonated. There are 331 known sites of battles against the Taliban where some American ordnance probably remains, especially from airstrikes. U.S. officials say they will not attempt to clear those sites.

“We’re probably never going to be able to find those [munitions], because who knows where they landed,” said another U.S. official who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The United Nations says a more robust effort to clear those sites is necessary.

“The battles happened in areas where people live, work and attempt to earn their livelihoods. The contamination needs to be addressed,” said [one UN official].

In response to reports of civilian casualties, the U.S. military has posted additional barricades around some firing ranges. But American officials have refused to construct fencing, which they said would be prohibitively expensive and probably ineffective.

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