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Miners on wild roads

ENDURING FREEDOM: Norwegian miners in Afghanistan have not just cleared mines. They also deliberately failed to clear mines to protect US soldiers.


When the Defense Miners were in Bagram under American command, they deliberately left mines behind.

- It often happened that we heard bangs from mines that went off at night. Then we just turned over on the other side and slept on, a Norwegian deminer told Ny Tid's journalist last year.

He was in one of the first two contingents of miners from the Norwegian defense, who in 2002 traveled to Afghanistan, as part of Enduring Freedom, in the US-led war against


Today, the deminer will be anonymous, like most deminers we have talked to. They are proud of the work they have done, support the Armed Forces' foreign service and are afraid to confirm what Ny Tid today can reveal: That Norwegian deminers at the Bagram camp in Afghanistan have not only cleared mines, but also left mines to protect American soldiers against Afghans.

This confirms their US commander and commander-in-chief Colonel Chris Lozano

from US Marines:

- The Norwegian deminers' assistance to force protection was a great help in preventing terrorists from entering the camp. The Norwegians were not only involved in removing landmines, but also in the decisions about which mines should be left to protect the borders around the base, Lozano tells Ny Tid.

In addition, Lozano states that the Norwegians were set to patrol the camp's external borders, and that their thorough reconnaissance helped the Americans find weaknesses in their own defense.

Operation Enduring Freedom

I walked around the lobster and stopped abruptly. At my legs was no boundary marker but a grave. A grave where a MiG jet had stood a few years ago, where soldiers today tend to blow things in the air.

The tomb was neatly and meticulously cared for by someone who loved the person lying there. It was kind of strangely misplaced, but in Afghanistan it was strangely normal. "It's the grave of a child," said a voice behind me. It was one of the Norwegians. I had not seen him come up behind me and turned quickly. "He was going to cross the plain, but stepped on a landmine. He buried the family in the same place. " Just as abruptly he turned and went his way.

The quote is taken from Chris Lozano's travel letter from Afghanistan, dated April 22, 2002, published on the website that his brothers have created to honor the efforts he makes for the fatherland. Lozano has served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the summer he will again leave his job as a lawyer, his wife and six children to return to the forces in Iraq. Lozano came to Afghanistan to take part in Operation Anaconda: the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Every morning he told the Norwegian deminers which mines they should clear.

The Norwegian deminers who traveled to Afghanistan in the first half of 2002 were under American command, as participants in the operation with the overall name Enduring Freedom. Norway's participation in Enduring Freedom has been controversial, primarily on the basis of speculation about the special forces' maneuver under American command. Now it turns out that the deminers have also been put to completely different things than clearing mines.

The humanitarian flagship of the war

The deminers are the flagship of the Norwegian Armed Forces. With cutting-edge expertise in demand in conflict areas around the world, they travel around as the humanitarian face of the armed forces. Afghanistan is the world's most densely mined country, and accidents are daily and serious.

- Bagram is a Mecca for deminers, said one of the Norwegian deminers Ny Tid's journalist last year. He listed all the different types of mines and explosives that filled every meter of the former battlefield where the military camp was located.

Bagram is a disused Russian military airport, between five and ten miles from the Pakistani border. The airstrip itself is three kilometers long, the area much larger. It is surrounded by high mountains on all sides. The airport is surrounded by double fences with minefields in between. The whole area was filled with mines and remnants of ammunition and explosives, of planes with and without bombs on the wings, and there are clear traces of previous battles. Here also took place one of the last major battles between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. In several places there were holes in the fences and paths through the minefields.

These helped the Norwegian deminers to locate and analyze, so that the Americans could close the gaps and strengthen the guard.

- Some places were

personnel mines at half a meter intervals, so you can imagine how much

is located in the area there, says Torbjørn Søterbø today.

He was in the second contingent of deminers and came to Bagram on March 15, 2002. At work as a deminer in Afghanistan, he was surrounded by accidents on a daily basis. In 2002, the Council of the Cross registered 1286 cases of accidents with mines in the country. They themselves estimate the dark numbers to be large and estimate that around half of all mine victims die, they get to see a doctor. The UN estimates that

there are still around 150 accidents every month. On April 5, Søterbø himself became a figure in the statistics, when he was blinded by a mine that was placed at an angle to the ground to injure miners.

- It is one of the oldest tricks in the book – and it works, he says dryly.

Local militia

Søterbø does not want to be photographed, but lets us quote what he has said to Ny Tid's journalist through several conversations:

- We helped to look for what kind of explosives were there, checked for any holes in fences and minefields. When we found holes in the fences and minefields, the Americans went in and set up new fences and security measures. The Norwegian camp is right behind

the prison camp, in a building that looks abandoned on the outside and is surrounded by lots of barbed wire. When I went to the Norwegian camp yesterday, a gang of prisoners in blue tracksuits and handcuffs stood outside, guarded by soldiers. I stared at these sub humans (subhumans, journ.anm.), And while staring I made eye contact with one of them. He grinned at me and I did the only adult thing I could think of: I grimaced.

Charles C. “Chris” Lozano, 22.4.2002/XNUMX/XNUMX

It was out of the question

To remove the minefields around the camp, because as a deminer has said: "Then Al-Qaeda could have walked straight in".

- When the Norwegians found weaknesses in the defense, we strengthened it in necessary meetings. New fences, patrolling and observation were needed, as well as cooperation with local militia to defend the base from the outside, says Chris Lozano.

He says that he ordered the Norwegian deminers to inspect the entire border fence around the area on foot, and that they had done this and reported all the information. They also participated in the surveillance of the fence and reported to the Americans all signs of life. In the areas of these patrols the minefields were to be located, the deminers only took a few random samples to check what kind of mines were there.

Both Lozano and all the Norwegian deminers we have spoken to say that what they call "local warlords" often placed restrictions on where and what kind of mines could be cleared. The local groups had their own areas around the old military airport, and they wanted to preserve the minefields for their own protection. Therefore, they often refused the miners to work in their areas.

- A general even asked the Norwegians to give him some landmines so he could lay

them out yourself, says Chris Lozano.

- When we refused because of the danger that they would leave, we asked why he did not let one of his soldiers do it.

"Because I do not want them to know where they are," he replied. The mines helped the local commanders protect themselves, and helped us protect the base from local terrorists.

After almost five years of service abroad in Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, Torbjørn Søterbø's career in the Armed Forces ended with blindness and eventually also compensation from the Government Pension Fund. Today he lives in a cozy apartment in Oslo with his wife and children. He says that the Norwegian deminers assisted the Americans at various meetings during their time at Bagram.

- We cleared the areas where the soldiers were to live for mines, and were also involved in support of some patrols.

- These patrols, were you then out of the area on patrols that took part in Operation Anaconda?

- Yes.

Søterbø willingly says that it was the Americans who decided where and how much was to be cleared. He describes in detail how deminers work. But he is hesitant when we talk about the work in the areas where the mines should not be removed. The deminer who first told Ny Tid's journalist that they “obviously had to stay behind, we had to protect ourselves too, has subsequently withdrawn his statements. Søterbø has also been "advised" not to appear in any picture in the media. For as he says to New Time:

- Americans are unpopular employers.

Popular colleagues

But the Norwegian deminers are highly regarded allies. Lozano says that he loved the Norwegians for their hospitality. He ate every meal with them, and after Torbjørn Søterbø's accident he also moved into their camp.

- As a US Marine, I fit in much better with the Norwegians than with the US Army. I would enjoy a chance to serve with them again.

Lozano says that the Americans greatly enjoyed the Norwegians' efforts at Bagram. First, most Norwegian deminers had experience with the same type of work in Bosnia and

Africa, they had better equipment and could train the Americans in demining. Second, they were authorized to remove or move mines instead of blasting them on the spot.

Finally, I would like to highlight the good feeling of coalition. As Major Espen Simonsen said to me: "This is not just their battle". The Norwegians were proud to contribute to the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and their participation is good for the friendship between our countries and the military.

Lozano says that when he was in Kuwait to plan the invasion of Iraq, he asked the Norwegians if they could participate.

- Unfortunately, the government refused their participation, even though the Norwegians offered us equipment.

Order from above

Captain Jan-Erik Johansen, a deminer from the Norwegian Army, stood on top of a mound a few hundred meters from the runway at the military camp and stared blankly at the stage in front of him. He pointed out the highlights of the visit. "Welcome to hell," he said.

Baltimore Sun, April 7.4.2002, XNUMX

In recent months, Ny Tid's journalist has spoken to a number of the Norwegian deminers who were in the first two contingents at Bagram under American command. When we first spoke to them, several confirmed that they repeatedly left mines in the areas where they cleared, both on orders from the Americans, justified by force protection, and because "local warlords" wanted it. Several also claimed that the Americans put out so-called

Claymore mines, stumbling blocks or triggers operated by a soldier. They also said that the Norwegian deminers themselves brought Claymore mines with them in the pack, but did not use them. The deminers were open to the fact that there were frequent accidents with mines around the camp, and the Norwegian paramedics also worked with the Americans at the hospital in the camp. There, the Americans and Allies who were injured helped. Injured civilians from the surrounding area, with no connection to the camp as a place of work, had to manage without help from the sanitation when they were injured in accidents.

After Ny Tid's journalist had worked on the case for a while, the flow of information and the willingness to speak came to an abrupt end. Some admitted that they had been told by their superiors that they were not allowed to speak to journalists. Many of the deminers went back on most of what they had admitted in previous conversations. Some said they were afraid of not being able to serve abroad again. They would no longer appear in any interview.

Torbjørn Søterbø is careful to emphasize that the Norwegian deminers in Enduring Freedom were not on a humanitarian mission. The humanitarian organizations will remove everything that is in the ground and create 100 percent free areas. For the military, speed and maneuverability are the most important.

- When the military makes its way, there may be mines left, he says to Ny Tid.

- There were many accidents on the minefields around the camp. Do you have any idea about the scope of


- There were a number of accidents, there is no doubt about that. But in the morning there were only traces of blood left, so it was not easy to know the extent – and we received no reports of lost lives.

- You also took random samples in areas that you did not clear.

Others have pointed to it as one cause of the many accidents; that the civilians saw that you were in an area and thought it had been cleared…

- Yes, the entire airport was a former combat zone where there was an abundance of mines, aircraft bombs and rockets, both inside and around the area. We looked for what kind of threat it posed inside the airport and between the airports.

- You had a so-called demo pit where you blew up mines and explosives. When you were going to blow up what you found, did you just use this place or more?

- The demo pit was one area that the Americans chose, but we also blew up several places. A lot was done behind the ramparts and something on the spot where we found the explosives. It was blown up a bit here and there, so to speak.

- In the demo pit, there was a grave of a child who had walked over the area. Do you know when the accident happened?


No, i do not know. But it does not sound unlikely that it happened.


READ MORE ABOUT THIS IN THE PAPER EDITION OF MODERN TIMES NO 5 – 2006. It is available for purchase in most kiosks, grocery stores and petrol stations.

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