Air strikes against Afghan city of Herat send civilians fleeing, UN reports

Air strikes against Afghan city of Herat send civilians fleeing, UN reports

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Some 70 per cent of the population of the Afghan city of Herat has fled to surrounding villages in the wake of recent air strikes, which included the use of cluster bombs, the United Nations reported today.

The strikes, which occurred on Monday night and lasted into Tuesday morning, prompted fearful villagers to visit the UN-supported Mine Action Centre, according to UN spokesperson Stephanie Bunker, who briefed the press today in Islamabad. "They told the Mine Action Centre that many bomblets were littering their village and that they were afraid and could not leave their houses," she said.

Confirming the peril of these weapons, Dan Kelly, Manager of the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan, said, "Villagers do have a lot to be afraid of as these bomblets, if they did not explode on impact, are very dangerous and can explode if touched." There are normally as many as 200 bomblets in each cluster bomb.

The bomblets contain a small shaped charge, which provides the explosive energy to puncture through 125 millimetres of armoured steel, Mr. Kelly said. "When the bomblet explodes, it splits up into hundreds of high velocity pieces of shrapnel each travelling at the speed of a bullet," he noted. In addition, these munitions will ignite any combustible materials in the immediate vicinity.

The Mine Action Centre Quick Reaction Team in Herat was working to clear paths for the villagers while sandbagging the devices. "They are putting sandbags around the bomblets for a very good reason: Our de-miners are not familiar with and have not yet been trained to destroy these devices," explained Mr. Kelly. He appealed for information about the types of cluster munitions used "so that we can train our people and prevent further loss of human life."