Shah Mohammed’s father rushed him to Kabul’s Emergency Surgical Center for War Victims last week. Once there, doctors plucked pieces of shrapnel from his head and body.
In the neighboring room, Abdul Rahman, an 18-year-old from the same village, recovered after an American grenade exploded while he grazed a herd of sheep near his home this month. Part of his left arm was amputated. His face was speckled with shrapnel.
Four years earlier, Rahman lost part of his right arm much the same way — when a 40mm high-explosive dual-purpose American grenade exploded in his hand as he was collecting metal at the range.
Rahman held back tears when he spoke about the incident that took his remaining hand. Younger and unable to conceal his fear, Mohammed’s chest heaved as he wept into his father’s scarf.
The villagers near Bagram are some of Afghanistan’s poorest residents. Most are recently returned refugees from Pakistan who were given free housing by the Afghan government’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation. Some are former nomads who have settled after years of crisscrossing the country by donkey. Many have no source of income aside from collecting metal from the firing range and selling it as scrap, at a dollar for 15 pounds.
“The Americans haunt us even after their training exercises are over. Some of their weapons explode and some of them don’t,” said Mohammed’s father. Before Mohammed was injured, the family had been saving money to move.
American officials say they attempt to prevent civilian casualties by placing firing ranges away from inhabited areas and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with local elders.
But in the past year, civilians have been maimed and killed on or near NATO firing ranges in provinces of Ghazni, Paktia and Kabul, according to MACCA. One of the agency’s incident reports, obtained by The Washington Post, includes graphic photos of a de-miner taken seconds after an American 40mm grenade tore off his arm and leg while he was clearing Russian anti-personnel mines near a range in Kabul.
In bold letters, the report describes the ammunition: “Country of origin: United States.”
De-miners are not permitted to clear or inspect ordnance on NATO sites, so officials have been unable to assess how much live ammunition remains on the coalition’s firing ranges. As NATO troops withdraw, there is mounting concern among de-mining advocates that the foreign troops will leave behind poorly marked sites full of unexploded ordnance.