Iraq News

Mine removal teams work to clear Manbij

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Life has been slowly returning to the Syrian city of Manbij after the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' was ousted. [Photo courtesy of Ayham Issa]

Life has been slowly returning to the Syrian city of Manbij after the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' was ousted. [Photo courtesy of Ayham Issa]

Since liberating forces drove the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) from the northern Syrian city of Manbij, engineering teams have been working to remove a large number of mines and booby traps the group left behind.

Members of mine removal teams affiliated with the Manbij Military Council (MMC) said ISIL had planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and booby traps on area roads and farmland as well as in private homes.

Team members say they have removed IEDs hidden inside domestic pots and pans, refrigerators and washing machines, as well as in beds and sofas, noting that these devices were clearly intended to harm civilians.

In their sweep of the city, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), MMC and other liberating forces captured a number of ISIL warehouses containing mines and IEDs, said Sinan Qamishlo, who heads an SDF de-mining team in Manbij.

The IEDs had been packed with serrated iron and nails, he told Diyaruna.

"The devices were obviously ready to be planted," he said, adding that "the speed with which the [liberating] force advanced must have precluded planting them".

The same warehouses contained hundreds of kilogrammes of chemicals used to manufacture explosives and dozens of explosive belts the group’s fighters wore in battle, he said.

Targeting civilians

The IEDs were planted to hurt residents who refused to submit to ISIL's rule, Qamishlo said, and "to slow down and impede" the advance of the liberating forces.

Through the use of this tactic, he explained, ISIL is trying to slow the advance of the liberating forces, who need to deploy de-mining specialists and engineering teams to sweep the routes they want to use.

"Dangers continue to persist to a significant extent," Kataeb Shams al-Shamal fighter Abdel Fattah Nasreddine told Diyaruna.

This is largely due to the thousands of mines planted by the group inside the city, in its rural areas and on the outer edges of the region, he said, "particularly along the routes used by residents to flee to liberated areas".

Many residents in liberated areas have suffered grave injuries, dismemberment and death as a result of incidents involving mines and IEDs, he added.

These are sometimes set to detonate if a door or a piece of furniture is touched, he said, pointing out that in some cases household appliances such as refrigerators had been rigged to explode if the door was opened.

It is not possible to ascertain the precise number of mine-related deaths due to the vastness of the area of operations against ISIL, he said, and as the injured are scattered among several hospitals and field medical centres.

"However, at least 200 injuries and more than 40 deaths have been recorded so far," he said, noting that minor injuries are treated at mobile and field clinics, while critical cases are generally transported to hospitals in Kobani.

Mine removal under way

Many of the injuries involve children, Nasreddine said, while the bodies of those killed while trying to escape Manbij are still strewn in the fields near the city, as it is impossible to retrieve them amid the ongoing hostilities.

Engineering teams have so far dismantled more than 7,000 mines and IEDs planted by ISIL in Manbij and its surrounding farmland, said Mustafa Ceylan, member of a de-mining team affiliated with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that is working in co-ordination with the MMC.

The high number of mine-related injuries and fatalities is due to ISIL's decision to rig household items, such as coffee and teapots, children's toys and furniture, refrigerators and washing machines, with explosives, he told Diyaruna.

"Also dismantled were booby traps in beds and sofas that were rigged to explode when sat on, and sound-sensitive booby traps," he added.

The security forces and various engineering teams are working to inform residents who wish to return to their homes about the danger of mines, he said.

"A decision was issued not to allow residents to return to liberated areas until they are confirmed to be free of mines and IEDs, and de-mining teams have completed their work in them," he said.

The process could take a long time due to the area’s terrain and the spread of farmlands and residential areas across vast geographical areas, he said.

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