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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

9 - Balancing the risks



On a freezing winter's afternoon in January 1992 Captain Mark Willetts flew into Kabul to take up the position of UN mine clearance liaison officer. A friend of a friend had arranged for him to live with another UN employee. But when he arrived at the house, he found it surrounded by a two-metre fence with an equally high locked gate. In falling snow he climbed over, but no one was home. He was already wearing warm clothes, but he opened his bivvy bag and pulled out the quilted US Air Force high-altitude clothing that he had purchased in the Peshawar bazaar and donned it over his other clothes. Then he climbed into his sleeping bag, before trying to get into his bivvy bag. None of this was sufficient to keep out the piercing cold as he huddled on the veranda. After midnight the UN employee returned, having forgotten that Willetts was due that night. In any case, there was no heating in the house and he barely slept for the next three nights. Eventually he found another house.

It was a memorable beginning to Willetts' work in Kabul and yet another aspect of the Australian deminers' operations in Afghanistan between mid-1991 and the end of 1993. The deployment of a liaison officer to Kabul was a major step in the development of the Mine Clearance Program, for the plan was eventually to set up the headquarters in Kabul and to establish training courses in Afghanistan rather than in Pakistan.