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High-Tech Tools Join the Hunt for Forgotten Mines

In Afghanistan, Angola and Libya, digging out the deadly remnants of war takes nerves of steel and increasingly sophisticated mapping technology. 

An Afghan deminer scans a combat zone dating back to the Soviet invasion at Ahangaran in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan.

An Afghan deminer scans a combat zone dating back to the Soviet invasion at Ahangaran in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan.

Photographer: MOHAMMAD ALI SHAIDA/AFP via Getty Images

Compared to the terrain in the rest of Afghanistan, which is often arid and mountainous, the northeast district of Khwaja Ghar is relatively fertile. For decades, residents earned a living by growing and selling rice, wheat, corn and melons. That changed in 1996, when the Northern Alliance — a predominantly Tajik military group — went to war with the ruling Taliban. Homes were abandoned in a hurry, leaving the area mostly deserted.

The civil war was just one painful episode in decades of bloodshed dating back to the beginning of the Soviet-Afghan War in 1979. It wasn’t just the fighting that was devastating: Millions of anti-personnel mines and other explosive remnants of war were scattered across the country.