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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Interview With Paul Heslop

Aired October 20, 2001 - 11:45   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: One possible concern for the Pentagon as the ground war gets underway is what's underground. Afghanistan may be one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. This map shows the areas where land mine concentration is believed to be the highest. It's a problem the U.S. encountered in Vietnam; but will it be a problem here?

Joining us now is an expert of the issue, Paul Heslop, vice president of Halo Trust, a non-profit mine-clearing organization.

Good to see you Paul.

PAUL HESLOP, VICE PRESIDENT, HALO TRUST: Good morning.

PHILLIPS: Well, let's talk about Afghanistan in particular and how it is possibly one of the most mined areas. And go back to a little bit of history here and the Soviet occupation, and how these land mines were laid.

HESLOP: OK, it's all past of Soviet doctrine to plant mines and to use the mines widely in defense of their positions. So when the Soviets invaded in the late 1970s, they widely planted mines around military positions, the sides of roads to protect them against ambush, when they put positions on the top of hills to observe possible Mujahideen forces, all of these areas were mined. And unfortunately mines don't go off, so they're still in the ground and they're still posing a threat today.

PHILLIPS: Does the U.S. military have any type of good record keeping, or record of where these are specifically, or areas that are probably highly concentrated with these?

HESLOP: Well, the United Nations Mine Action Center in Afghanistan has a database of where its known there's been mine accidents, and some records were turned over. But generally, wherever there was a military position or wherever there was any type of fighting took place, there is probably going to be mines.

PHILLIPS: So let's talk about what the U.S. troops are up against right now, and are they able to detect these very easily?

HESLOP: The mines themselves are nearly all former Soviet Union. And they have a high metal content, which means they're fairly easy to detect if you've got a metal detector. Often these troops won't be deploying with detectors, and a mine that's buried under the ground you can't see, and therefore, you know, you won't know it's there until you step on it.

PHILLIPS: Now aren't there some though, for example -- I can't remember the name of it, but it looks like a hockey puck and it's made of plastic so it's very hard to detect with metal detectors, am I right?

HESLOP: Yes. Well I've actually got a mine here with me. And this is a very common mine found in Afghanistan, the PMN-2 which is a Soviet mine. It's made of plastic, but inside it there is actually a lot of metal. So it's very easy to find if you've got a metal detector, but if it's got two or three inches of earth on top of it, you can't find it.

PHILLIPS: Paul, I didn't know you had some examples. Do you have any others there?

HESLOP: No.

PHILLIPS: No, that's the only one? OK. I know there's the butterfly mine. Also those are usually tossed out of an aircraft, right? Are those easy to detect?

HESLOP: Again, usually because they've come out of an aircraft, they'll be on the surface. So as long as it's not too dense vegetation, you can see it. But again, these have now been on the ground for years, so they may have been covered by sand, by vegetation.

And again, they're very sensitive mines. So you may find that people just don't see them. And it takes a few ounces of pressure and they detonate.

PHILLIPS: And then there are the ones with the trip wire?

HESLOP: Yes. I mean, you've got several types of trip wire mine. Basically, these are a grenade on a stick; and if the trip wire's tripped, fragments are thrown in all directions. And you've also got an even nastier variety, which in the U.S. is called a Bouncing Betty which, when the mine is tripped, it jumps up to chest height and throws fragments in all directions.

PHILLIPS: Are these land mines affecting humanitarian drops that you know of? Could they affect humanitarian drops?

HESLOP: They could. I mean, the problem with the drops is they're being dropped from a very high altitude, and they obviously may get scattered over a wide area. So there is the potential of this humanitarian assistance actually drifting into or being dropped into dangerous areas.

PHILLIPS: And I know you've been into these dangerous areas. You've actually been a part of the de-mining expeditions for quite a long time. Have those efforts been put on hold while all of this is going on? HESLOP: At the moment we have something like 1,200 people working for us in Afghanistan. They're on stand-by; so they're not actively de-mining at the moment, although we do have a call-out capacity to deal with any unexploded munitions that may be causing a direct threat to civilians.

So we have a call-out capacity, and a medical capacity to help out in that situation. What we're hoping to be in the situation is, as soon as any form of cease-fire is agreed, our guys will be straight back on the ground and, with the sort of continued support we need, we'll hopefully be clearing mines straight away.

PHILLIPS: And will you be one more to go in there again, Paul?

HESLOP: I'd be very happy to go back.

PHILLIPS: Paul Heslop, vice president of Halo Trust. Thanks for your insight this morning.

HESLOP: Thank you.

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