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

8 - The genesis of humanitarian demining



At five minutes before midday on 15 February 1989 Lieutenant General Boris Gromov, commander of the Soviet 40th Army in Afghanistan, jumped from his armoured vehicle in the middle of the Friendship Bridge, spanning the Amu Dar'ya River separating Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Snow was on the mountains as he straightened his uniform and strode purposefully, without a backward glance, towards the Soviet side. Just before he reached the end of the bridge his 14-year-old son greeted him ‘with a stiff embrace and presented him with a bouquet of red carnations. Son and father marched the last 50 yards out of Afghanistan together.’ It was a dramatic conclusion to the Soviet Union's nine-year Afghan War, and another striking image of the end of the Cold War.

Yet it was as much a beginning as an end. The Afghans were to experience further conflict and suffering well into the 21st century, with the United States invading their country in 2001 and a NATO force supporting the new Afghan Government in further fighting against the Taliban. For Australia, too, it was a beginning. Australian military personnel had never previously served in Afghanistan – a country in which Australia had no strategic interest. But just four months after the Soviet withdrawal Australian Army officers and NCOs were training Afghan refugees in mine clearance procedures just across the border in Pakistan, and by 1991 they were operating inside Afghanistan.