Egypt battles landmines 75 years after El Alamein

Fighting in the pivotal WWII battle of El Alamein may have stopped 75 years ago but Egypt is now waging another war against a hidden enemy: landmines.

On a recent visit by foreign officials, personnel from the military’s Western Desert Mine Clearance Regiment swept detectors across a stretch of sand as they showcased the painstaking work it takes to remove the deadly legacy left behind by the Axis and Allied troops who wrestled for control along the Mediterranean coast.

An explosion rang out as a remotely controlled vehicle drove over hidden explosive. Later, two mines were detonated from a distance, sending red and yellow smoke billowing skywards.

The battle of El Alamein is heralded as a crucial victory for the Allies that decisively turned the tide on Italian and German forces in North Africa.

But for locals on the ground, the event that British leader Winston Churchill famously called the “end of the beginning” of the war has left a threat that remains three quarters of a century later.

In a bid to tackle it the European Union has funnelled some $5.5 million (4.7 million euros) over the past few years after its military cut funding — but despite some 1,000 square kilometres (390 square miles) being cleared, huge swathes of territory remain untouched.

The battle “left behind a vast amount of unexploded ordnances that remain a major risk for the population”, Ivan Surkos, the EU’s ambassador to Egypt, said during a visit to mark the 75th anniversary.

“2,680 square kilometres of the land in the North West Coast are estimated to still be contaminated.”

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Source: Digital Journal