Cleaning up after ISIS: Removing explosives left behind in Syria
While ISIS was dislodged from the territory it once brutally ruled in Syria, the terror group left behind a deadly legacy. Countless land mines and explosives riddle the countryside, threatening lives and preventing displaced families from safely returning to their communities. Last year, Syria surpassed Afghanistan and Colombia as the country with the highest number of land mine victims. A quarter of all land mine victims in Syria are children.
Working with US Special Operations Forces stationed in northeast Syria, Spirit of America teamed up with a Syrian nonprofit to remove the deadly explosives left behind by ISIS and to educate communities on how to avoid them in the first place.
Our partner, known as RMCO, began in 2016 as a group of five veterans with demining experience gained from their service in the Syrian Armed Forces. Extremists were invading the northern and eastern regions of Syria, and land mines and improvised explosives planted during these vicious battles were killing their neighbors and friends. The team shared one overriding goal: save as many lives as possible. What started as five people with good intentions and scant resources grew over the years into a reputable organization critical to the safety of communities in the region.
To bolster their life-saving operations, we provided RMCO with supplies for their headquarters and the tools necessary for safe field operations, including advanced metal detectors. The results have been extraordinary: In the second half of 2021, RMCO removed and destroyed 4,209 explosives, clearing a total of 113,135 square meters of land. In the same time frame, the group organized 70 community education workshops to raise awareness on the dangers of land mines and explosives and how to avoid them. Overall, 28,338 Syrian civilians have benefited from this project, their lives and communities made considerably safer thanks to RMCO.
Spirit of America first worked with RMCO in 2017, when the organization was “still in its infancy,” remembers Ronnie, a leader at RMCO and one of the founders. “Spirit of America providing mine detectors was a fundamental need for our organization to start activities in the newly liberated city of Raqqa, and saved the lives of thousands of civilians in the city and its countryside.”
Because of their know-how and credibility, RMCO can operate in communities more effectively than other groups might. “All residents of the areas where the conflicts took place have suffered a lot in terms of dealing with extremist forces, killings, and displacement, and this makes it difficult for them to trust new visitors. One of the advantages of being a local organization is the ability to speak the local language and share the same suffering, which helps us to build mutual trust more quickly,” Ronnie explained.
Spirit of America’s support “has helped hundreds of civilians return to their homes, cultivate their land again, and allowed schools to receive their students,” Ronnie added. “Spirit of America’s support has very likely saved lives.”