BAGRAM, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Better known for defusing bombs in Iraq in the Oscar-winning film “The Hurt Locker,” actor Jeremy Renner braved a live minefield in Afghanistan on Sunday to draw attention to the tireless work of clearing mines that kill and maim years after being buried.
Despite years of effort to dig up mines planted during decades of civil war and Soviet occupation, more than 650 square kilometers (250 sq mile) of Afghan territory are still considered active minefields.
While 2009 saw a significant drop in numbers, thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by mines or explosive war remnants over the past 30 years with many losing limbs or suffering serious scarring.
To emphasize the scale of the problem, 39-year-old Renner teamed up with the United Nations in Afghanistan this week, visiting an Afghan de-mining team north of the capital Kabul.
“It’s tremendous,” he told Reuters during his visit to a minefield in Bagram, about 100 km (60 miles) north of Kabul.
“Seeing the guys firsthand is a wonderful gift for me,” he said. “I don’t think there are many guys in my position -- I‘m just a silly actor -- that get an opportunity to come out to Afghanistan at a time of war and get to experience this.”
“The Hurt Locker,” which picked up six Oscars including best picture last year, follows an elite band of soldiers who disarm roadside bombs on the streets of Iraq.
At the center is Renner’s character, Staff Sergeant William James, a reckless rebel. In one scene, he strips off his protective gear before strolling up to defuse a roadside bomb, despite protests by his fellow soldiers.
On Sunday, Renner played it safe, donning a Kevlar suit and protective mask before venturing onto the minefield.
Abdul Latif, a bearded veteran who has worked as a de-miner for 16 years, waved his metal detector slowly across the ground, demonstrating the task to Renner. Renner asked through an interpreter whether he gets a sense of pride from the job.
“I do it because I love my country,” the Afghan replied.
Renner said he had decided to visit Afghanistan because he wanted to see the tangible work being done.
“The possibilities are what I‘m so attracted to here. The possibilities are endless for the communities and I think they deserve it,” he said.
While a lot of progress has been made, the U.N. mine clearance center (UNMACCA) which oversees all mine clearance programmes in Afghanistan says there are more than 2,000 communities still affected by landmines.
Between January and May this year, more than 11,000 anti-personnel mines more than 380,000 other explosive remnants were cleared, UNMACCA said. Under an international treaty, all anti-personnel mines in Afghanistan are to be cleared by 2013.
On top of Afghanistan’s problem of landmines are the thousands of improvised explosive devices (IED), or homemade bombs, now being laid by insurgents.
In a report on Afghanistan this month, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said there had been an “alarming” 94 percent rise in the number of IED incidents in the first four months of this year compared to the same period in 2009.
Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Peter Graff